Why are female role models important? You’re never too old to need inspiration
“But why couldn’t she vote, Mom?” Why not?”
We’re looking at a statue of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, and the question comes from my four-year-old daughter.
They learned to vote in kindergarten, and Maya has been to the polls with her dad and me many times, so she understands the basics. What she fails to understand, however, is the idea that women are excluded from the democratic process.
In one respect, it’s wonderful. The huge progress we’ve made over the last century means she already has the confidence to believe she can be anything she wants.
But, I’m also immediately struck by a strong sense of duty to ensure that she doesn’t take the sacrifices of those who came before her for granted, that she recognizes her responsibility to carry the torch for those who come next. , and that she isn’t happy with the hills yet to be climbed, both here in the UK and around the world.
— #WOMENSART (@womensart1) June 5, 2021
We discuss this a little further. Like me, she is extremely curious and won’t leave the subject aside until she understands it.
The story is ugly. A blurb next to the sculpture reveals that Davison was force-fed 49 times during hunger strikes then, in 1913, he died after a collision with King George V’s horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby. Some say she was trying to pin the suffragette colors on the animal, others that she deliberately got in her way.
I hesitate before reading it aloud, fearing it’s too much information for such a young mind, but I keep going, because sometimes things are too important to sanitize.
Success inspires young people to believe in themselves
The plaque also features photos of people lining the streets for Davison’s funeral, prompting other “whys?”. I tell Maya it’s because she had the courage to challenge the status quo and inspired others to do the same.
She was a role model, I say, although, unfortunately, she was initially judged harshly for her actions. Indeed, the telegram from Buckingham Palace to injured jockey Herbert Jones referred to the “abominable conduct of a brutal madwoman”.
We’ve heard a lot about female role models recently, after the Lionesses won over Germany in the Euro 2022 soccer final. Great too.
How brilliant that this group of players delivered when it mattered, in some cases in the face of repeated online gender abuse. And – despite questions about the lack of diversity in the England squad – their success will no doubt inspire many youngsters to believe they too can achieve the highest level.
Another example that comes quickly to mind is Jamaican sprint legend Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who became the first person to win five world titles in an individual running event when she won gold in the 100 m at the World Championships in Athletics last month. Still in the shadow of Usain Bolt’s fame, at 35, she is now the oldest world champion in an individual track event.
I grapple daily with the insidious thought that my time in the sun is over, that I won’t be able to achieve the way I did before.
Oh, and did I mention she’s a mother? Her son was born in 2017 and two years later she became the first mum in 24 years to win a world 100m title.
Likewise, Lady of Great Britain Jessica Ennis Hill won her third world heptathlon title in 2015 after giving birth to her first child the previous year. She then finished second at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Models are for all ages
At my current stage in life, as I begin to reflect on what working mom Lindsay might look like, I find the exploits of these last two women particularly impressive. Because with hard work and a commitment to regaining both their physical prowess and their emotional strength, they were able to regain their dominance after having children.
I realize from personal experience that it is very easy to lose confidence after becoming a parent, to constantly question yourself, especially if you choose – like me – to take a break from your career.
I grapple daily with the insidious thought that my time in the sun is over, that I won’t be able to achieve the way I used to – a clearly ridiculous notion when, deep down inside, I know I can, and when I have more years of work ahead of me than I have done so far.
So having role models like these women (as well as my mom, other women in the family and friends) to look up to really helps. In fact, it’s as vital to me as ever, if not more so.
We tend to use the term ‘role model’ in relation to children and young people, which obviously makes sense as they are just starting out, with their whole lives stretching out ahead of them. However, the mandate must be broader than that.
Let’s remember that – although the support we may need at different times in our lives will change – we must not and should never stop relying on others to guide us as we grow and age.
Lindsay Razaq is a journalist and former political correspondent for P&J Westminster who now combines freelance writing with being a mum
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[Why are female role models important? You’re never too old to need inspiration]