Models to offer our daughters

23:42, Jul 25 2011

As the father of a daughter who is still in her impressionable years I am constantly on the lookout for good role models for young women.

These are not as easy to find as you might imagine. Perhaps it has always been difficult but in an era when the most popular local television programme for both educated and uneducated women is NZ's Next Top Model, you can see the challenging nature of the task.

What, for instance, is a young woman to make of the recent "slut walk"?

This was a protest, you might recall, in which scantily clad women took to the streets to make the point that women should not have to worry about what they wear in order to discourage sexual assault. This was a bit like saying pedestrians should not have to worry about the behaviour of motorists to stay safe.

When women take to the streets to pursue the right to dress like tarts, you can see why I am often forced into the realms of fiction to find exemplary womanhood.

My most successful foray in this endeavour was taking my daughter to the ballet Cinderella, put on by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. It was a splendid performance, even for someone like me, who has been known to fall asleep during such cultural exchanges. Aside from the superb stage design and dancing, the ballet had a profound lesson for young women. Redemption through housework. If Cinderella had spent all morning in bed and barely lifted a finger in the house, would her fairy godmother have stepped in for a life makeover? I don't think so.

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My other big fictional hope for a good role model has been the Harry Potter series. My daughter doesn't read much so I have to rely on the films, which have ended with the finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, currently screening.

Emma Watson's Hermione Granger is a father's answer to the prayer for a feisty, studious, stylish, hard-working, chaste, loyal and courageous young role model. J K Rowling could not have done a better job. Hermione is walking proof a young woman can be a swot and have lots of male friends. She is also fetchingly self- deprecating. In one of the films she says to Harry:

"Me! Books! And cleverness! There are more important things - friendship and bravery and - oh Harry - be careful!"

Actually I would like to see young women devoting a bit more time to books and cleverness and less to friendship.

The trouble with fictional role models is just that. Their female counterparts are so one- dimensionally evil the departure from real life is all too obvious. Life is seldom so black and white. Fiction can also be used against you. In a moment of stress you might tell your daughter, "Why can't you be more like Hermione?" only to be told, "OK, Voldemort".

Role models can be found in the strangest settings. Who would have thought, for instance, the Murdoch saga unfolding in London could throw up a great role model for young women?

Rupert Murdoch has been getting a rough time over revelations some of his staff on the News of the World obtained stories by hacking into the voicemail of innocent people. Women figure quite strongly in this. We have, for instance, the flame-haired Rebekah Brooks, who, it must be said, looks like a grown-up Hermione Granger gone over to the dark side.

On Murdoch's other side is his third wife Wendi Deng who has borne him two children.

American media commentator Jack Shafer makes this observation: "I find Murdoch to be a paper tiger, all growl and no bite, beyond the occasional paper cut. The Chinese figured this out very quickly in the 1990s, as he volunteered all manner of concessions and favours to the government in return for the right to set up his satellite-TV business in China. They played him for years, and all he got for his troubles was a third wife."

On Wednesday Wendi Deng was sitting behind her octogenarian husband - she is nearly 40 years his junior - when a comedian tried to push a shaving foam pie in his mush. Deng, pounced, not unlike a loose forward protecting his half back, in a manoeuvre widely admired, I suspect, by every male around the world.

What a marvellous display of standing by your man. I know the wives of politicians and Frenchmen are notorious for forgiving dalliances but here was a sophisticated, wealthy woman springing literally to the defence of her accused man.

What made it so edifying and unusual, is the modern husband is very accustomed to his spouse taking every side but his. Not true, I hear you protest, but just take note at the next dinner party how often women take the opposite view to their husband, no matter how brilliant or noble his position might be. Then also notice how women will make a spectacle of their husband's deficiencies by making unfavourable comparisons with other men in the group. It is as if a gathering provides women with a licence to be disloyal.

Not that this has ever happened to me or Rupert.

The Press