This week Year 5 have been thinking about role models. They have explored the town of Bedford looking for blue plaques and finding out more about local role models. They were particularly delighted to meet the mum of Etienne Stott, 2012 Olympian gold medal canoeist. They struck up a conversation and hope to hear more about his story on becoming an Olympian in future weeks from this chance encounter.
Later that day, in the dining room, a Year 5 student asked me who was my role model. My immediate thought was my mum because she has been the constant voice of reason throughout my life. But I realised that our life is influenced not just by one person but by many. I have been lucky; there are many people who have shaped me, impressed me, people who have I wanted to be like, whose respect I have wanted to earn, whose voice I have listened too and whose ideals have influenced me.
It made me recognise how important it was for each and every generation to have role models. I reflected these thoughts to the Year 9s at their weekly assembly, asking them who were their role models and indeed reminding them that they too were role models for each other and for the younger girls on the hockey pitches, in the school play, in the music performances and in the classrooms.
So it was with sadness that I read a report recently written by Geena Davies, an American actress, who was bemoaning the lack of role models for her young daughters. She has set up a charity If she can see it, she can be it which was in response to watching movies with her young daughter. She was staggered by the woeful depiction of women in family movies. They were often invisible on the screen and their roles were largely to serve and support the male characters without any identity of their own. To illustrate her point she watched the top 100 grossing family films and found that for every female speaking character there were 2.5 – 3 male characters. Women spoke for 36.3% of the time and only 22.5% of the women portrayed on screen had jobs. Of all the speaking characters 30.8% were women and even in crowd screens women were largely invisible making up only 17% of the crowd.
If girls can’t see it, they can’t be it. Damming statistics show the more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. When women appear in film as role models the number of women wanting to study that career rapidly increases. ER increased the number of women wanting to work in emergency rooms in hospitals; the Scully Effect saw a dramatic increase of women in forensic science, as a result of the long serving TV drama the X Files.
I was reminded of a recent visit I made to the Science Museum, in London, where I only found one image of a woman in the whole museum. If girls can’t see it, they can’t be it. This is why I believe so strongly in girls’ schools; they are surround by female role models, not just amongst the staff, alumnae and the wider community but also amongst themselves. We believe all of our students are role models, we show them how to believe in themselves and to recognise that their skills and experiences provide positive models to others; as I reflected on my conversation with the Year 5 student I smiled knowing one day she would be a role model to many others.