I work with young girls all the time and one thing I am very proud of is that I never make them wrong, never question their likes and dislikes and always look for the positives in what they tell me. One thing I know for sure is that I will never get through to young girls by telling them they are wrong, by disagreeing with their choices or even suggesting that perhaps they look elsewhere for a different solution.
I don't believe the way we improve self esteem, confidence and self efficacy within young girls is by telling them all they believe is wrong.
A private girl's school in Wimbledon however is doing just that and has decided, after a poll of its student that their role models, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift for example, are not good enough. So they have embarked on a programme with the intention of replacing the likes of Kim Kardashian with Cleopatra. The school says it wants to persuade pupils to adopt Rosalind and Viola as role models instead of social media stars.
OK, so I am all for giving girls a rounded education and introducing them to as many influential females past and present as possible, but to give out the notion of one being better than the other? No!
If we are to ever to influence young girls we need to meet them where they are, not insist they come over to our side of the fence to have the conversation. Surely the really smart thing to do would be to use celebrities and social media stars that girls are familiar with to explore what values resonate with them as well as those that don't. We will never bridge the gap we have with them as adults by slamming everything they believe and hold dear in favour of more respectful, in our eyes, role models. While you may think Kim Kardashian is vile, she has achieved a lot. You may despise how she got there and all she stands for, but wouldn't that make a great discussion.
And Jane Kenyon from Girls Out Loud agrees saying " When we host events for girls we always ask about their role models and KK is mentioned often along with other reality TV stars. Even if we are crying inside because we wanted them to choose JK Rowling or Jessica Ennis-Hill we never judge them for their choice, we simply dig a little to find out what inspires them about Kim Kardashian. They always say she is pretty and she is; they always say she is famous and she is and they always say she is rich and she is! Then we ask is this all you need to be a role model then? Allowing girls to be heard and to have their views validated gives us permission to take our conversation deeper."
Holding one woman up as better than another does no good at all and often these kinds of things are done in the guise of feminism. Feminism means not bashing one women because she choose something you did not, feminism means not making someone wrong because you don't agree with her methods. Surely feminism is about respecting all women and their choice to do what they want to. This school is just perpetuating the notion that as a woman you can be successful but you had better do it a certain way. We should be telling young women that they can be successful in whatever way they want and being Kim Kardashian is no less than being Teresa May. I mean, who has more influence?
Kim Kardashian is not my sort of person. I don't share her values but if a young person cites her as their role model, do I judge them? No. I ask questions and figure out the reasons behind it. I don't make her feel less than for having an unacceptable role model. Who am I to decide for another what is acceptable? Would I prefer she not look up to Kim Kardashian - perhaps, but that is her choice and I value it as I do mine.
Social media stars get blamed for pretty much everything, from low self-esteem in girls to our apparent lack of empathy and ambition. But is that really true? Did Madonna turn all us 80's chicks into hedonistic thrill seekers? Did TV really make our eyes square? No, and neither will social media make or its stars make our children shallow and self-cantered.
All that will happen, if we continue to have conversations that slate social media and its stars, is that our young girls will stop listening, will stop trusting us and will think we are so out of time that we are irrelevant, and I for one don't want to see that happen.
Let's continue this conversation over on Facebook.
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