Why it’s so important to have “role models” to identify with

FEMINISM – What is a “role model”? A person whose attitude in a certain area tends to imitate others, as defined by Merriam Webster’s American Dictionary. In other words, the source of inspiration, which in the current usage of the term comes from both cultural production and the economic environment. It can be both an artist and the CEO of a large company.

And sometimes a “role model” is even a fictional character. A classifier invented by sociologist Robert King Merton, “role model” refers to the (logical) “model” upon which one can project and model oneself, the trajectory of which reflects our professional and social environment, our life experiences, our political allegiance…Thus , it is increasingly used in the feminist movement.

In feminism, “role model” goes hand in hand with an increasingly pronounced emphasis on figures who have been taken into account and voluntarily swept away by history, as well as personalities (artistic, scientific, sports) who write what is today. However, is this need to make women visible enough to explain the importance of “role models” in our society? And besides, why are these “models” so important?

We asked a question.

Basic psychological function

Is society hungry for “role models”? One can be seriously surprised, since the English definition of this term, very global, gives rise to a thousand and one memories. Many recent works appreciate this need for inspiration and eloquent stories through which many women can identify themselves today.

Success in bookstores The great ones are forgotten: why history erased women (Titiu Lecoq’s feminist history textbook featuring many inspiring personalities), quirky biopic Spencerdedicated to the romantic anguish of Lady Diana and aired last January on Prime Video, or even first ladya forthcoming Showtime series centered on the first ladies of the United States (including Michelle Obama, who has already become an icon of her bestseller Become) demonstrate the appeal of the public, especially the youth, with symbolic silhouettes of (re-)highlighted, sometimes female power figures, always evocative.

Should we swear only by these models? To change the interrogation, perhaps it would be wrong to disparage them. Véronique Barfeti, a clinical psychologist at the University Hospital of Lille, suggests that we reconsider them. But he will not talk so much about inspiration … as about identification.

“Identity patterns are important for everyone, children and adults, because our personality is partly built in connection with our interaction with our social environment (family, friends), professional, but also cultural,” the expert deciphers. And this, “consciously or unconsciously,” our interlocutor clarifies.

In a word, whether we like it or not, each of us has our own “role models” – an entrepreneur, an artist, a mother, a father, a friend. “In short, culture is everywhere and completely part of how we imagine and how we are going to build ourselves. Construction that does not stop when you become an adult,” adds Véronique Barfeti.

Thousands of sources of identification crystallize through Rimbald’s “I am the Other”. In order to become oneself, one has to rely on more or less direct insights of people and personalities that gravitate into our world – intimate, intellectual. And at a time when mainstream series and films are more concerned with diversity of representation (sexuality, gender, race), this identification is all the more allowed and powerful.

… But a complex concept

“When we say ‘role model’, we don’t really know what we mean by that,” emphasizes Isabelle Germain, however. News website founder New news and author Journalism for Gender Equality: A Pen in the Wound of SexismThe journalist offers training to women to enhance their professional careers.

For Isabelle Germain, “role model” is first and foremost a term widely used in the economic world. He defines women in power, in particular CEOs, as a guarantee of guaranteed or inevitable professional equality. Models featured regularly in business magazines such as Forbesin particular, thanks to the annual ranking of the “most powerful women in the world.”

But as sexy as it is, this notion of a “role model” depoliticizes many issues. Valued in companies, this qualifier tends to elude the hurdles women leaders face. “Talking about a role model is not enough. Women leaders have a terrible pressure on their shoulders, as they will always be discredited: they will either be too “masculine”, that is, “authoritarian”, or “super-feminine”: too gentle, kind, amiable, so many stereotypes. attached to women, ”Isabelle Germain regrets.

On one side or the other, it is difficult to free oneself from these suffocating traps. “It’s like becoming a woman of power meant losing your femininity. Women leaders are said to be worse than their male counterparts and are always cited as an example by Margaret Thatcher. I was often told that two or three years is enough for a female leader to gain a reputation as a terrorist,” the journalist and trainer notes.

Ultimately, their hard experience is explained by two circumstances: on the one hand, the habit of seeing “men in leadership positions”, and on the one hand, the little economic value attributed in the capitalist system to the so-called “female” functions of power. on the other hand: “We associate women more with “care” (with care professions – ed.) than with growth,” Isabelle Germain notes again. In fact, female “role models” in the corporate world are under a lot of pressure… though less often.

And this applies not only to business. Singers, actresses, athletes feel the brunt of this sexism, which is aimed primarily at discrediting them, at recognizing them as illegitimate in the role they occupy in society. And this is regardless of whether we think about the attacks that the singer Angelè is subjected to, or the criticism that a sports champion such as gymnast Simone Biles can cause.

On the part of dedicated artists, the slightest word or gesture will be enough to put their feminism in direct question. And it doesn’t matter what age: just look at the strong reaction caused by the change in appearance of Billy Eilish, who at 19 years old still rules the world of pop music. In this context, the notion of a “role model” makes it possible to reinforce the background and values ​​of individuals who are not spared by the patriarchal system. But it can also act as additional pressure on key stakeholders.

Look also at The HuffPost: Which actor or actress would suit you for a role in a biopic?