Role Models

Besides my parents and a few other adults, I’m not sure who my role models were when I was growing up. Han Solo, perhaps? Then I locked onto military history, and while there was not one single individual I declared, “I want to be like that person,” I found a lot of values and ideas I tried to live up to. Ditto in certain fiction, because I was in a place where I needed inspiration along the lines of, “If she can survive that stuff, then I can get through High School.” If William Slim could reorganize and rebuild an army and then start fighting back, I could survive High School. And so on. Reading about Marie Curie and other women in medicine and science was interesting, and I remember all the big news about Sally Ride, but the fact that they were women wasn’t so important to me.

Later, I also had someone serve as a horrible warning as far as how not to treat coworkers and associates. He was an anti-role-model of sorts.

None of my role models looked like me. None were nerdy, overweight girls growing up in the Midwest or High Plains. Perhaps Lessa of Pern and Talia from Valdemar might have been close. William Slim certainly wasn’t, neither was Admiral Chester Nimitz, nor “Pappy” Boyington. Nor Erwin Rommel, not all the submarine commanders whose books I devoured. But there was something about what they did, and their approach to the world, that made sense and that made me want to behave like them, even though my circumstances were very different from theirs. The fact that they were military men, or fictional characters, didn’t matter to me. It wasn’t important that I have a role model who looked like me. Since my Mom was in a science field, I knew that girls could grow up to do science, or anything else.

I was thinking about this as I read a new military biography of Prinz Eugene von Savoy. His private life was . . . private, much to the frustration of later historians and writers. He didn’t have any flamboyant affairs. His wife was not well known (too well, in the end) in the royal court like John Churchill the Duke of Marlborough’s, in part because Eugene never married. He might have had a mistress, or he might have looked at his mother’s adventures in the court of Louis XIV and have decided that power and military campaigns ranked far higher on his list of interests than did physical intimacy*. No one knows. However, since his enemies accused him of, to use today’s term, being gay, he has been lauded and praised as “the first great gay general since Alexander the Great or Richard the Lionheart.” Except Richard has been dropped because he was an icky crusader. Funny, no one claims that Tilley, the great general for the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years War, was gay even though HE never married.

The argument seems to be that “because this historical figure never married, and was accused of being [whatever], therefore he/she/it is the role model needed today by young people who might be [whatever].” Role models are people who accomplished a great deal, not people who accomplished a great deal and look just like or act just like [characteristic]. At least in my world. If kids are told “Oh, no one like you can be a pilot,” well, the adult is to blame unless there is a solid, physical reason for the denial. For example, anyone who still tells girls, “No, you can’t fly the plane, but you can be a flight attendant if you want!” should be thumped with a wing spar, or landing gear leg.

I grew up in the benighted years of the patriarchy, and Reganonomics, and it didn’t matter that I was a girl. I’ve had people turn me down for a job because I’m too small (valid in one case, not so in another), and in one case because they couldn’t take the legal risk of hiring another women after a Spectacular Horrible Warning soured the chances for a whole lot of people. [No, I was not informed officially, but tell-a-pilot and the flightline grapevine are very effective. I wasn’t surprised, just peeved at the Horrible Warning.] Girls, poor kids, kids who don’t look like their heroes, it doesn’t matter – kids need role models who can inspire and encourage, who show how to do it. That’s what society needs to be teaching and showing.

*The more I read about his childhood, the more convinced I become that Eugene von Savoy preferred power, wealth, and military success to marriage. Once he made a name for himself, his mother trying to match him up with various noble women in order to advance her own position probably just iced the cake.

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10 thoughts on “Role Models

  1. Thinking back that far, my role models were the members of my family . . .parents, aunts and uncles, grandmothers.
    The family attitude was–if it needs to be done, you can do it.
    Not–if you want it badly enough you can do it.
    The only time gender made a difference was when sheer physical strength was required (and that’s why machines were invented . . for example: with a crowbar I can move some very heavy rocks).

    • Totally off topic–just looking for sympathy: Something lost a dispute with a skunk last night . . right under my bedroom window. I will be sleeping on the living room couch for the next few days.

      • Ooooohhh, my sympathies. Several years ago, a skunk went off in a den under one of the rooms at Day Job. Said room was evacuated and not used for over a week. And then the Eau du Skunk had only dropped from “can’t breathe!” to “only gasping for air once every fifteen minutes.”

        • Gloomy sigh. There is a reason that the scientific name of the striped skunk is Mephitis mephitis.

  2. Thanks for this. The evil stupid marxist trend of “my role model has to be exactly like me” needs to be tortured in a medieval dungeon until it confesses its crimes against humanity. I remember hearing Bob Kane voice his annoyance at the creation of Robin to partner with Batman because, “our readers are young boys, and they need a role model.”

    I also met women writers from the 50’s and before who said, they identified with the protagonist of a book, not the female sidekick or damsel in distress. My earliest role model was Ty Cobb, not for his casual racism which I only learned about later and which, to be fair, was probably not worse than the casual racism of my own parents. He was a role model because he had a relentless drive to make himself better just like a later role model, Tony Gwynn. Role models are people with traits that you admire and want to cultivate in yourself. And even if they have other traits that you abhor and want to avoid, they should still be role models for the traits that you want to nurture in yourself.

  3. ‘That’s what society needs to be teaching and showing.’ THIS, so much this… except they aren’t. Pushing the ‘woke’ versions of ‘role models’ that are anything but actual role models is not only dumbing down our children, but leaving them without TRUE role models that could help them better themselves. Mine were also family, and close family friends. Honesty, integrity, and willingness to work were ‘prized’ by my role models.

  4. Role models? Not many for me. My parents, certainly. Mr. Spock, I suppose. The analyst, the one who (in theory) never let emotion color his reasoning.

    It occurs to me that one’s approach to the question of “role models” will be based on, and indicative of, one’s approach to “diversity”. If you believe all humans are one people, then any moral, ethical, decent human can be a role model for any child. If you believe humans should be split into many groups, then and only then does the race/ethnicity of a child’s “role models” become significant.

  5. Most of my role models were relatives too. On the historical side, I can maybe come up with St. Joan of Arc.

    Fictional characters I admired as a kid/teenager/college student: Tintin, Sherlock Holmes, John Carter, Thorin, Aragorn, Eomer, Sham in King of the Wind, Reepicheep, Princess Leia (mostly A New Hope), Colonel Brandon, Elizabeth Bennet, Scotty, Benjamin Sisko, pretty much all the good guys in Hunt for Red October (but especially Captain Ramius and Seaman Jones), Constable Odo (seasons 1-5), Van Helsing (Horror/Brides of Dracula), Finrod Felagund, Galadriel, Sir Gareth Beaumains (Idylls of the King).

    I’m a woman, and there are female characters in that mix (and a fair number of male characters who might be mistaken for wimps…once). But I don’t feel any particular affinity for fictional women as women, or fictional Americans as Americans, and if there had been more interesting nonwhite characters kicking around in literature/pop culture at the time, I think I would have been open to them. (I was not very far past my college years when I first got curious about Bollywood, for instance.)

  6. Considering that the first woman pilots showed up only a few years after the first male pilots existed, it’s pretty dumb.

    (Although the Horrible Warning of the great Harriet Quimby was “Wear a seatbelt/harness” and “Don’t carry an obese male passenger not wearing a seatbelt/harness.”)

    • Yes. But everyone looked at the flood of former military pilots after WWII, the bulk of whom were male, and assumed that women were too weak, couldn’t do the math, didn’t “have the nerve” (whatever that meant), or couldn’t deal with ground crew. The last one had a bit of truth to it, IF you look at non-US airlines. (It’s still true in some places. Some Chinese carriers refuse to hire women [or so the job ads stated], as do a few others. Or you have 100% female crew in both the cabin or cockpit.)

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