Column: My childhood female role models still inspire me today
These girls and women, real and characters from books and movies, taught me to be bold.
Apr. 23, 2014
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
As I’ve often commented on, seeing girls and women in positions of power, in popular media and in literature is really important. Every budding feminist needs her own set of feminist role models to help shape her into the strong, independent-thinking woman she will become.
My crew of bold ladies lives on as memories in the back of my head and reminds me of times past. But it’s nice to remember them as more than just characters once admired by a younger version of myself. So after a bit of digging in the depth of my memory, I scrounged up a line-up of both real and imagined girls and women who helped inspire me to become an inspiring woman myself.
Madeline has been inspiring young girls since 1939, when Ludwig Bemelmans’ first children’s book was published. Madeline is a precocious little girl from Paris, living in an orphanage with 11 other girls under the care of a loving, overbearing nun. Of the twelve girls, Madeline is the smallest, but also the bravest.
As the book says of our title heroine: “She was not afraid of mice. She loved winter, snow and ice. To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said, ‘Pooh-pooh.’”
Madeline’s popularity seemed to swell when I was a young girl; her stories became a television show in 1993, and I played Madeline computer games. In 1998, Madeline took to the big-screen, and I was smitten.
In addition to inspiring a childhood obsession with all things French, Madeline taught me an important lesson: no matter your size, you can accomplish anything. Madeline often refers to her own physical stature, but I think the books represent more than that. Madeline taught me to overcome other things that kept me “small,” like fear, obstacles and naysayers.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
I read books filled with the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. First, I read children’s picture books, which always made my weekly library rotation. Then I had “chapter” books, which adapted the stories from Laura’s novels for a younger crowd.
Laura, like me, was impatient and didn’t like to follow rules. She would rather learn how to spit than sit still inside her one-room log cabin home. Laura’s stories were a window into the past for me. I could go back in time and be with Laura while she challenged expectations for young girls. Laura showed me that girls have been restless since the 19th century.
I played soccer through elementary and middle school, and I had one role model to look up to: Mia Hamm. At a time when women’s soccer was at the height of its popularity, Mia Hamm emerged as the spokeswoman for the sport.
It wasn’t the fact that Mia Hamm was one of the most dominant women’s soccer players of all time that made her a great role model. I never wanted to be a professional soccer player. But what I did admire was Mia’s poise, and her strength as an athlete. In a world where female athletes are not heralded by the media the way male athletes are, Mia Hamm had the exposure necessary to inspire young girls everywhere to sweat and move their bodies in the name of sport. Mia Hamm inspired me to compete and work hard on the field in a way male athletes never could.
My childhood role models taught me to be bold, tenacious and tough. It was their inspiration that gave me the guts to call myself a feminist today. I was lucky to have great female role models, and I hope young girls everywhere have their own role models to inspire them.