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Role models’ most perfect imperfections

A recent NY Times article claims that “Imperfect Girls Make Perfect Role Models.”  It made me think about my role models over the years.  As a child, I loved Wonder Woman, dancer Cyd Charisse, and Charlie’s Angels.  As an adult, I leaned more toward Alias’ Sydney Bristow and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

According to the aforementioned article, “role models inspire by showing us what is actually possible.”  Okay, so perhaps taking down a super-secret spy network or killing the un-dead wasn’t actually possible.  (At least, not in Thunder Bay.)  But my role models told me I didn’t have to be meek in the face of adversity.

However, the article also says that seeing real-life female heroes fills many young women with self-doubt.  They believe they can’t possibly live up to those standards.

Instead, what they need to see is more “work in progress” models.  They need to know not the final polished model, but what pains and failures led to their success.  But nobody reports on something until its shiny finish.  Ford didn’t launch the Model T while it was still in pieces, did it?

So the only way to see the role model develop is to wait for the movie biography.  Or to look for fictional ones.  Like those on TV.

I didn’t have a lot to choose from as a teen.  Daisy Duke ranked simply because I liked her white Jeep.  (I still want one.)  It wasn’t until the 90’s and onward that there was a solid resurgence of female role models.

That’s when I discovered Buffy and Sydney.  And I realized, I really do prefer characters who are still a “work in progress.”  And because the writers need something to develop, a few flaws give them just what they need to make a good story.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the saviour of the world – a lot.  But she yearned to be a normal teenager and college student.

Sex in the City gave us four different less-than-perfect women who continued to make romantic mistakes on the road to their personal happily-ever-after.

The Closer’s Brenda Leigh Johnson was as tough as any male cop and could get the truth out of any suspect.  But in the real world, she was, quite frankly, socially awkward.

Scandal’s Olivia Pope considered herself and her team to be “Gladiators” who fought for the little guy.  Yet she lived in the shadow of her mother and was always manipulated by her father.

This season, Call Me Kat’s namesake fearlessly gave up her professorship to start a business by herself at nearly 40.  But she still questions her single status and potential motherhood.  There’s also All Rise’s Judge Lola Carmichael, FBI’s Agent Maggie Bell, and The Rookie’s Officer Nyla Harper.

Today’s television continues to bring a cornucopia of female role models into our homes.  Not so real that we compare ourselves and fictional enough, that they’re actually allowed to make mistakes.  And with a broadening spectrum of genders and identities out there, hopefully, we’ll soon have literally something for everyone.  Imperfect as they may be.