Why is it so important to have “role models” to define yourself?


FEMINISM – What is a “role model”? As defined by the American dictionary Merriam Webster, a person whose attitude in a particular field tends to be imitated by others. In other words, a source of inspiration from cultural production as well as from the economic environment in the current usage of the term. He can be an artist as well as a CEO of a large company.

And sometimes the “role model” is a fictional character. Invented by sociologist Robert King Merton, the qualifier, “role model”, denotes a (logical) “model” to reflect and model oneself on, its trajectory reflecting our professional and social environment, our life experience, our political commitment. .. As such, it is increasingly used within the feminist movement.

In feminism, the “role model” goes hand in hand with an increasingly prominent emphasis on figures counted and willfully eliminated by history, as well as the personalities who write the present (artistic, scientific, sports). But is this need to make women visible really enough to explain the importance of “role models” in our society? Also, why are these “patterns” so important?

We asked the question.

A primitive psychological function

Does society want “role models”? It’s seriously curious, because the English definition of the term is so global and has a thousand and one connotations. Many new works value this need for inspiration and the meaningful stories that many women can define today.

success in bookstores Forgotten great: why has history erased women? (revealing Titiou Lecoq’s handbook of feminist history and many inspiring personalities), bizarre biopic spencerIt’s dedicated to the romantic tortures of Lady Diana and aired on Prime Video last January, even first ladyFuture Showtime series dedicated to American First Ladies (including Michelle Obama, who has already become an icon with her best-selling book) Be), showing the appeal of the public, especially the youth, for (re)emphasizing symbolic silhouettes, sometimes power female figures, always evocative.

Should we just swear by these models? Perhaps it would be wrong to belittle them in order to reverse the questioning. Véronique Barfety, clinical psychologist at Lille University Hospital, invites us to rethink them. But he talked more about… identification than inspiration.

“Identity models are important for everyone, child or adult, because our personality is built in part in relation to our social environment (family, friends), professional as well as cultural interactions,” says the expert. And this determines our “conscious or unconscious” interlocutor.

In short, we each have our own “role models” whether we like it or not – the entrepreneurial figure, the artist, the mother, the father, the friend. “In short, culture is everywhere and it is entirely part of our representations and the way we construct ourselves. It’s a structure that doesn’t stop when you’re an adult,” adds Véronique Barfety.

Thousands of sources of identification crystallize through Rimbald “I am other”. To be yourself, you need to rely on more or less direct inspiration from the people and personalities – sincere, intellectual – who are attracted to our world. And at a time when mainstream TV shows and movies are more concerned with the diversity of representations (sexualities, genders, races), this identification is much more permissive and powerful.

…But it’s a difficult concept to bear

However, “when we say ‘role model’, we don’t really know what we’re putting behind it,” says Isabelle Germain. News site founder new news and its author Journalism fighting for gender equality: The scar of sexismThe journalist offers training to women to advance their professional careers.

For Isabelle Germain, “role model” is first and foremost a term commonly used in the economic world. It identifies women in power, particularly CEOs, as a promise of guaranteed or near professional equality. Models regularly highlighted by business magazines such as forbesespecially with the annual ranking of “the most powerful women in the world”.

But as sexy as it may be, this notion of “role model” distracts many issues from politics. Valued in companies, this qualifier tends to break free from barriers faced by female leaders. “It’s not enough to talk about the ‘role model’. There is terrible pressure on the shoulders of female leaders because they will always be discredited: they will either be too “manly”, that is, “authoritarian”, or they will be “super feminine”: too kind, too kind, cute, too many stereotypes. depends on women,” laments Isabelle Germain.

On the one hand, these suffocating traps are hard to get rid of. “As if being a strong woman meant losing your femininity. Female leaders are said to be worse than their male counterparts, and they always give the example of Margaret Thatcher. I have often been told that two to three years is all it takes to establish a female leader’s reputation for terrorism,” says the journalist and trainer.

On balance, two situations account for their difficult experience: on the one hand, the habit of seeing “men in positions of power” and, on the other, the little economic value attributed to so-called “feminine” functions in the capitalist system. On the other hand: “We associate women with ‘care’ (care professions, editor’s note) more than growth”, says Isabelle Germain again. In fact, female “role models” in the corporate world are rarer… but under more pressure.

And it’s not just limited to businesses. Singers, actresses, athletes feel the burden of this sexism, which, above all, aims to discredit them, to illegitimate them in the role they occupy in society. And that’s whether we consider the attacks that singer Angèle has suffered, or the criticism that a sports champion like gymnast Simone Biles can generate.

By dedicated artists, the slightest word or gesture will suffice to directly question their feminism. And no matter what age: See how Billie Eilish, who, at 19 years old, dominates the pop world, evokes the violent reaction to the change in her gaze. In this context, the concept of “role model” makes it possible to strengthen the backgrounds and values ​​of personalities that the patriarchal system does not distinguish. But it can also act as additional pressure for the key parties involved.

See also The HuffPost: Which actor or actress for your role in a bio?