Kill the role-model…

… let us – women – live !

Something always bothered me with the popular role-model rhetoric. I have never said I had one, nor aspired to become one. I have never considered that women should be labeled that way either. However, I hadn’t specified what that bothering “something” was until I read about the inevitable, negative counterpart of such a liberticide concept: the “anti-role model.”

But primo, what’s a role model? A role model is a person whose behavior or success can serve as an example and be emulated by others. This term is valued to address the problem of gender equality in the workplace but is complementarily used to refer to personal life and ethics (due to boundaries between personal and professional lives being increasingly porous). Role models are supposed to inspire women to become their better selves and, consequently, succeed in their careers.

In the past few years, articles about role models have multiplied… “Why having a Female Role Model will help you Succeed,” “How to Be a Role Model for Girls,” “Best Female Role Models to Look up to” became recurrent banners … Ineluctably, role models started to be classified… Some were good and positive, others were bad, even terrible … and finally, many women would get labeled as anti-role models! There it is again: the long-established, oppressive dichotomy between the good and the bad woman, the mother and the whore.

By promoting certain behaviors and rejecting others, the role-model rhetoric holds not only hints of Manicheism*, but also that of discrimination; making distinctions based on acceptable social values and regressive, patriarchal principles. In the end, the good role model is the one who conforms to such values and principles. According to the media and most enthusiastic supporters, the “good” role model looks serious (“don’t smile too much”), hides the most skin (suits are a plus), looks “natural” (“don’t wear too much make up”), and “please tie back your long hair” or “cut it short”… She is the one who lowers the tone of her voice to fit with men’s. The one who succeeds at work while being, at the same time, a loving mother and a devoted spouse; an intellectual spirit in an athletic body, an open mind in a sacrosanct body… A good, reasonable figure. As such, the role-model rhetoric is indeed disturbingly reminiscent of the bonus pater familias standard – a legal extension of the father figure model. In other words, the good role model is the one who adopts the codes of the father-figure model.

The role-model rhetoric is a fraud that pretends to empower women but binds them into accepted domination: the domination of the father-figure model. To that extent, the role-model rhetoric should be considered a soft power tool: a tool for social conformity and status quo. Women who want to/can adopt the father-figure model are co-opted and defined as the good ones. Those who challenge those standards, claim the power of femininity and undertake unconventional or unusual behavior are despised: either censored or discredited, downgraded to anti-role model status. The role-model rhetoric is adding insult to injury.

Just as serious is the pressure the role-model rhetoric puts on women. The standard to be a good role model is indeed so high that most women (actually most human beings) can’t comply with it, creating frustration and putting women into competition: the competition to be on the “good” side of the role-model hierarchy. The role-model rhetoric pits women against each other for social endorsement. The good versus the bad. The mothers against the whores. Divide and rule, they say.

As far as I’m concerned, the malestream rhetoric of the role model is definitely canceled. I support women living the way they want without being judged nor classified, without being praised then despised. Let a woman be a woman the way she decides to be. Let her express her femininity the way she wants to and respect her for that. Let a woman be a woman according to her own standards and criteria. Don’t judge nor classify. Don’t praise then despise.

Let us – women – ******* live !


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