In a recent interview I did [edit: no longer online], I was asked a question about role models, and wrote this:
I always find that interesting that women usually grow up perfectly able to imagine themselves as male characters, or as female versions of male characters. Like, when you first started watching Mad Men, you certainly didn’t want to be Betty or Midge. And you root for Peggy, but you don’t want her life. And you didn’t want to date or work with Don Draper. You wanted to BE Don Draper — except keeping all the awesome parts and taking out all the sexist, racist, douchebag parts. Right? I mean … right?
But the reverse isn’t true. I’ve asked a small sample of men about this. And even my male feminist buddies look at me in wonderment – they can easily give you a list of women they respect, admire, and/or are intimidated by. But at least the men I asked had never thought to imagine themselves AS those women, or to model themselves after those women. It’s like some inner last frontier of gender equality.
On this topic, a male friend of mine who grew up in a conservative, rural (U.S.) environment wrote this:
I have some distinct memories of being a kid (maybe like ages 5-7?) and having female role models in the aspire-to-be-like-them sort-of way, but when the grownup men in my life caught wind of this, the response was sudden and violent. I don’t think I realized that I didn’t have many female role models until much later, maybe sometime in my early to mid-twenties. I remember women I admired but I’m not so sure there were many I aspired to be like, at least not on a conscious level. I probably aspired to be like some of them and had some distinct feminist ally tendencies kind-of early on, but it wasn’t the same as with the men, where I would actually say “I want to be like X” where X happened to be female. (I remember once I was in [a student club] talking to [two mutual acquaintances] and suddenly had to stop and say, “Wait, are we at least in agreement than women are equal to men?” and they both smile-scoffed and got silent and dodged the question and talked about things like “long history of evidence and facts” or whatever, so this type of thing lasts past childhood.)
The more disturbing general phenomenon that you write about — men’s failure to simply identify with female characters to the point where we imagine BEING them — has also been at play here. I think maybe Buffy was the first female character I actually imagined BEING as an adult, in large part because she has so many awesome friends. But I definitely, definitely imagined it as a kid with a lot of female characters before it was beaten out of me by culture/family/etc. Maybe a lot of men go through some version of having it “beaten” out of them.
On further thought, maybe there were glimmers of identification throughout even teenagehood for me — like I remember imagining myself in the shoes of different female authority figures, like my math teacher. But they were glimmers that I have to rake my brain to remember, unlike with male role models. Sad!
My friend went on to suggest that women (who date men) implement the following as a date-screening question:
“Who’s your biggest female role model?”
If they look startled and have no answer, that’s probably the end of the date.
I mean, think about it — if a guy can maybe tell me some women he likes and approves of, but can’t give me a single female role model, he’s pretty much telling me that he’s better than every single woman on Earth.
Oh, and if all he can come up with is sci-fi/fantasy fighter hotties (hi, Daenerys), the date is definitely over. I don’t think you can recognize the full humanity of women unless you are able to admire qualities held by women you don’t find sexually attractive.