22. Female role models: it’s all good…

by Belle

Carey Mulligan

A friend died yesterday, she was an accomplished woman and a female role model from my childhood. I don’t known if or how I can talk about her here, not now at least. For now I am going to put out some random provocations about female role models …

1. An article from Saturday’s Guardian, The dark side off Carey Mulligan by Simon Hattenstone – part human interest, part celebrity gossip.  A week ago Hattenstone’s feature was about hanging out with gorillas  part of the Do something challenge  series; prior to that I recall reading his (rather predictable) interview with Daniel Radcliffe. Gorillas, well that’s harmless stuff. The Mulligan interview seems altogether more intrusive. Hattenstone touched raw nerves, knowingly, and he has laid them bare. To what end? Isn’t it enough to share in Mulligan’s work, do we need to know if she has pigs at home? An Education was exceptional. Maybe Far From The Madding Crowd and Inside Llewyn Davis will be too.

2. Secondly, a ‘funny’ video: What if Guys and Girls Switched Roles in the Gym?     Except I didn’t find it as funny as some of my friends did. Neither funny nor serious, it just looks like more boring and inaccurate stereotyping. Am I missing something?

3. Finally, a biography of Jennifer Aniston.  This was on the you tube list alongside no. 2, above. How it relates, well you decide…  

This biog video contains the ‘usual’ pop psychology, celebrity seeks privacy amidst a glamorous lifestyle story. Is Aniston an icon of female empowerment? One clip describes her as on the prowl for Mr. Right Now (not Mr. Right). Aniston prowls, while George Clooney, also famously single, works and looks dapper.  The media’s fixation with Aniston’s personal life rolls on – finally a baby for Jennifer, is she pregnant, does she want kids? Clooney’s singledom receives comments such as, Gravity – “[It’s] the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.” Or, at 52, maybe he just wants to be with a woman who can conceive.

My generation adored Friends, and Aniston does seem real, authentic, funny and warm – but the unhealthy obsession with celebrity is not harmless. Does she bring it upon herself? As celebrity role models go she isn’t a bad one. Aniston is a successful woman, and disciplined in her devotion to her health and wellbeing which means i) she probably feels good, mentally and physically, and ii) looks great in photos. Is it all about looking pretty on the red carpet?

As for her ‘fight’ with Bill O’Reilly. I hadn’t heard of this guy. For those who don’t know (and can’t be bothered to watch the you tube clip) he is a television host who said that the message in the 2010 film The Switch was distructive to society, diminishing the role of fathers and promoting single motherhood. His comments touched a nerve and Aniston responded publicly via a People Magazine article “… many women dream of finding Prince Charming, but for those who haven’t found their Bill O’Reilly I’m just glad science has provided a few other options… “. O’Reilly’s comments were seen as insulting a lot of woman out there; families come in all different shapes and sizes and Aniston said so in a clear and polite way.

The interviewees in this biog say Aniston has “charm from a very real place”, and that she’s  “… a strong independent woman” … “not wanting to be defined by a man…”. Maybe. She is attractive and has the gift of comic timing. I can’t comment on the ‘doesn’t want to be defined by a man’ stuff because I don’t know what that means and I don’t know Aniston. The picture I am walking away with is the final shot – her warm smile and the words “… it’s all good, it’s all good.”

Our other female role models include… well, who?  The wives of prime ministers and presidents? Cherie Blair (foundation to help women in business), Sarah Brown (works to reduce infant mortality), Miriam Clegg (Lawyers’  Circle, which supports Oxfam’s work on women’s rights across the globe) and Michelle Obama. Broadcasters and commentators… such as Mariella Frostrup (The Great Initiative),  Caitlin Moran  and Penny Smith.

BUT what about the ‘average’ single woman in her late 30′ or early 40’s who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids? Oh, just me then. No way Jose?! The poles are those  living the Sex in The City/ Hollywood dream or suffering heinous crimes in the developing world. Where are your average ‘doing our best’ women dealing with the mortgage, the bills, the career, the pressure not to look like the back-end of a bus and the a*holes who judge us because we are doing it alone women?

It’s tough. Who else out there walks this walk? One of my coping strategies is  helping others, but it doesn’t pay the bills and I am struggling now. No, the welfare state doesn’t support single women with mortgages and no kids.

I’d like to read more written by single professional women in their 30’s and early 40’s who don’t have kids. Can we be something other than career-focused-husband-stealing-bitch or sad-lonely-spinsters?! Because those stereotypes suck. If you’re one of these women, or know of one writing out there please get in touch. In the meantime I am walking away with a warm smile and the words … it’s all good, it’s all good.