Guides claim lack of female role models 'could be damaging'

The cast of The Only Way Is Essex Reality TV shows like The Only Way is Essex have been blamed for shaping unrealistic views of what life is really like

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A lack of positive female role models is damaging the future prospects of girls and young women, Girlguiding UK has claimed.

A study of girls aged between seven and 21 reveals many use reality television and celebrities as a blueprint for how they should live their lives.

Girlguiding UK have identified a link between a narrow range of role models, and limited future aspirations.

One in three girls said they looked up to their mother the most.

Around 55% of girls and young women questioned agreed there is a lack of strong aspirational women in general.

Tracey Murray, head of guiding development, told the BBC that the "glitzy champagne lifestyle" of some celebrities is giving girls an unrealistic view on what life is really like.

"The type of role models that they were talking to us about tended to come from the world of TV and rich and famous celebrities, rather than the broader range of role models, like women who work in business, sport and other walks of life.

Start Quote

Karren Brady

Strong role models at home and in the local community are vital to showing girls and young women that they are capable of achieving great things”

End Quote Karren Brady Businesswoman and TV personality

"We want to hear that girls are exposed to a broad range of women, so that they can have aspirations and interests, and are encouraged to make the right choices for them in future".

Towie 'shapes behaviour'

Many of those interviewed struggled to name a single female sports star, even in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, but could name several singers and actresses.

The report - Girls' Attitudes Explored… Role Models - found that reality TV programmes such as The Only Way is Essex (Towie) and Made in Chelsea "shaped the girls view of relationships and their own behaviour".

Other shows, such as the Channel 4 drama Skins and US import Jersey Shore, have been accused of normalising and glamourising promiscuous sex, drinking and drugs.

Ruth Wrigley, the executive producer at Towie, told BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast she was not worried about the image of women the show portrayed, and believes it is a realistic view of how certain women in today's society live their lives.

"I think a lot of the girls in Towie are entrepreneurial, and run shops and a beauty salon.

"I grew up in a society where if I went to the doctors, it was a man, or to the dentist, it was a man. My daughters now experience women in all sorts of roles.

"Within a generation they can see women achieving more or less whatever they want, and I hope that as their mum I have given them the inspiration and encouragement to do that, if they so choose," she added.

Girl guides playing in the park Mothers were considered the strongest female role model by girls aged between seven and 21
'Jobs for the boys'

The study also found that certain careers - such as engineering - are being dismissed as "jobs for boys".

Around one in six girls said they were put off an engineering career, because they do not know of many women who work in the industry.

Start Quote

There aren't many visible role models who can explain how rewarding and exciting these careers are”

End Quote Ruth Wilson The UKRC and WISE

It said that young women "often conform to conventional - even stereotypical - [career] preferences".

Equality group The UKRC and WISE - the "leading organisation" for gender equality in science, engineering and technology - said it was not surprised by the findings.

The organisation's Ruth Wilson said: "We're up against convention and stereotype on the one hand, and the low numbers of women in many areas of science, engineering and technology, on the other.

"So there aren't many visible role models who can explain how rewarding and exciting these careers are."

She said The UKRC and Wise helped women in these areas to build their profile so they could become role models and also encouraged industry to recruit and retain girls and women "and maybe help them get right to top".

The study suggested that about 12% of girls want to become teachers, 10% hairdressers, 7% a doctor or nurse or vet.

The report added that some want to work in music or television, but only aspire to success as a singer or actress rather than considering the other paths in those industries.

The girls asked could only name a handful of successful businesswomen, most of them because they have an established celebrity profile.

Many girls would consider setting up their own business, but others were daunted by the "pressure and responsibility" it would involve.

Karren Brady, one of Britain's most high-profile businesswomen and star of BBC One show The Apprentice, believes strong female role models are essential.

"Our next generation of successful and influential women need strong role models if they are to match and, hopefully, surpass the current generation.

"This doesn't just apply to the business world - it's true in all walks of life. Strong role models at home and in the local community are vital to showing girls and young women that they are capable of achieving great things."

Almost all the girls surveyed wanted to have children at some stage in their lives, but are aware this would have an effect on their working career.

Girlguiding UK say they are working with Everywoman - a UK-wide membership organisation for women in business - to create a series of "day in the life" videos, featuring successful women in a range of different careers shedding light on the reality of their professions.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    26. Marlais
    Whilst the likes of Katie Price and numerous Essex girls have made small fortunes from having bra sizes of 46 (or so) and similar IQs why should girls aspire to anything else?
    As an Essex Boy I can assure you that a surfeit of pretty girls with IQ's the same size as their bras isn't necessarily a bad thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    contd We are crediting ALL todays young with little intelligence by assuming they ignore the good role models around them, at close proximity, in favour of the glamorous but air-headed 'icons' put forward by the media. My daughter is motivated to become a vet, doctor or work in education mostly because of the female role models she's seen around her, working hard in her community.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    As long as the media (including the BBC) pushes anorexic or mammary celebrity young girls will be conned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    There are plenty of female role models. What MR.TRUCULENT wants to see is more films with Leading female baddies, such as ," Basic Instinct ", "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" & " Fatal Attraction" Most films they are men.There are a lot of "Jezabels" out there be assured.. All women are intrested in is trying to be mutton dressed up as mutton, by Getting hideous tattoes

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    So the girls in the survey couldn't name a British female sports star in the run-up to the Olympics? Just goes to show that SPOTY needs to work harder at promoting successful sportswomen such as Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Rebecca Romero, Becky Adlington and Rachel Yankey to name a few. Even as a bloke I've always admired Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson for what she's achieved

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    What do you expect? They have a choice between ridiculous pseudo-feminists like Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer, or airbrushed, air-headed models. Then again, if you expect everyone in the media to be a beacon of morals and discipline for your children, you're either deluded or just plain lazy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Mum go to work, no bad mum stay at home, no mum you benefit scrounger go to work. Mum can you stay late tonight its good for you career, bad mum you missed your kids bedtime. Mum go to work, mum you working is making your kids run wild, bad mum. Dads left..mums fault...Mum you look very tired try brushing you hair once in a while like the WAGS. Mum the most important role model in a girls life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Perhaps the most bizarre example of this is the current fashion to irrationally despise anyone who is "rich" via their own substantive business or career but regard anyone who is "rich" by virtue of some kind of generally spurious celebrity status as a hero(ine).

    The first (and last) time I saw "made in Chelsea" I thought it was a spoof like "The Office" - had to check it up on Wiki.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    20. Name Number 6

    I would add Aung San Suu Kyi
    But we all know what women are like shopping :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Why does a role-model have to be the same gender, ethnicity or any other meaningless label as the person who looks up to them?

    If I wanted to be an Olympic sprinter, it wouldn't bother me that Usain Bolt is a black bloke, it's his RUNNING that's important, not the colour of his hide, or the fact he's male. Women run the 100 metres too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Whilst the likes of Katie Price and numerous Essex girls have made small fortunes from having bra sizes of 46 (or so) and similar IQs why should girls aspire to anything else?

    Having said that I get slightly peeved with the whole concept of role models. Make your choice, do your own thing and if your peer group give you grief it's their problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Impressed significant number of girls named mum most important female role model. Girls also likely to have sisters, aunts, older female cousins, mums friends they look up to/admire; probably not broached this survey.
    Those I looked up to most besides family were inspiring/encouraging teachers & nurse who cared for me when needed stitches

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I don't agree.
    There are plenty of incredible women out there.
    The problem seems to be lazy media companies who make a faster buck highlighting all the useless ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    In the trashy, media-driven, English-speaking world that may be so, but maybe less so elsewhere.

    The generally cretinised consensus of adults here offers a dismal lack of hope for early change in this regard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "It said that young women "often conform to conventional - even stereotypical - [career] preferences"."

    Wow, it's almost like males and females are different in some way. Has there been any further research in this area?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    If you watch an old film from the fifties or earlier, good always triumphed and evil was punished.
    Women were pretty (Doris Day) and chaste (Doris Day, again.) Sometimes too they were heroic.
    OK, it was HIGHLY unrealistic, but maybe better than hollow selfish characters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Theres always the BBC's very own newsreaders
    JK Rowling
    Hope Powell
    Tania Grey-Thompson
    Kelly Holmes
    Carol-Ann Duff
    Margret Thatcher

    The Last one is optional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What about Rebekah Brooks? She's a strong minded leading force within her profession!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Whether we like it or not, each one of us as an adult is a role model. If kids see us doing it, they will think it's acceptable. The choice is ours - to be a good role model or not?

    What the media portrays is perceived to be what society wants to consume, otherwise the producers etc wouldn't make the show. Another personal choice - do we want to consume these TV role models?


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