Girls urged to follow Cleopatra not Kimmie

Role models: Kim Kardashian West as herself (left) and Kim Catrall as Cleopatra in 2012 (right)

A leading head teacher has some advice for her female students: there are better role models than Kim Kardashian West. Look no further, she says, than the plays of Shakespeare. Is she right?

She is one of the richest and most famous women in the world. Beautiful and seductive, she carefully controls her own image with exquisite clothes and jewellery. Other women adore her. Many powerful men fall in love with her; others dismiss her as a ‘whore’. She is strong, confident, self-absorbed — and determined that no one will bring her down.

No, this is not Kim Kardashian West. It is Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. And when young girls are looking for role models, they should look to her, says Jane Lunnon, a leading British headteacher. ‘Cleopatra shows that you can be both flawed and brilliant,’ she explains.

She was speaking about her new project to teach girls the merits of Shakespeare’s heroines, who ‘wield power and influence in a man’s world.’ The idea came after her students named Kim Kardashian West and Taylor Swift as their biggest role models. ‘I just thought there is something concerning about this,’ she said.

Kim Kardashian West shot to fame after a sex tape was leaked without her permission in 2007. Later that year, the first episode of her family’s reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians aired. Since then she has released perfumes, apps, a fashion line, and a book of hundreds of selfies. She is the fifth most followed celebrity on Instagram, ninth on Twitter, and she is worth over $53m.

But ‘look at Rosalind, look at Beatrice, look at Viola,’ proclaims Mrs Lunnon. Those are true heroines, with ‘the capacity in challenge and dilemma and pain, to love, to be vivacious, to be resourceful, to be resilient… It’s not that terrible things happen to them, it’s how they respond.’

These are crucial questions. Last week, a survey found that young women are at the highest risk of mental health issues in England. Another found that girls as young as seven feel pressure to ‘be perfect’. Positive role models are key to improving their self-esteem. But where should they find them?

‘Though she be but little, she is fierce’

In Shakespeare, insists Mrs Lunnon. These are some of the most complex and iconic women in literature. They defied society’s conventions by refusing to stay silent. They survived shipwrecks, ruled empires, and railed against the sexism which surrounded them. After 400 years we are still captivated by their stories; they have a lot left to teach us.

Hang on, say Kardashian fans. Those are fictional women made up by a dead old man, and their stories all end in marriage or death. Kim is a real person who took an awful experience and eventually built a multi-million-dollar career for herself. She has taken full control of her life in a male-dominated world. What could be more inspirational than that?

You Decide

  1. Is Kim Kardashian West a good role model for girls?
  2. Are Shakespeare’s female characters still relevant in the 21st century?

Activities

  1. Who is your biggest female role model? Create a short presentation which explains your choice to the rest of your class.
  2. Choose one of Shakespeare’s heroines and rewrite her story in 2016.

Some People Say...

“It doesn’t matter if you have a valentine or not — just love yourself and be your own.”

Kim Kardashian West

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m a boy. Should I care about this?
Yes — women and girls are important! Around 93% of girls aged 11 to 21 say that they are judged more on their appearance than their ability — that’s a huge, worrying majority, and it implies that it is a problem with the current society we live in. That won’t entirely be about who they idolise. But it’s one place to start.
I’m a girl. Why does it matter who I look up to?
It’s entirely up to you of course, and different people can be inspirational for all sorts of reasons. But those who are concerned about Kim Kardashian West fear that she is encouraging girls to prioritise their looks and wealth above all else. If true, this is unhelpful — being happy, confident and sure of your abilities are all more important.

Word Watch

Fifth
She has 84 million followers on Instagram. Only Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Ariana Grande have more.
Ninth
She has 48 million followers on Twitter, making hers the 11th highest tally (including the official Twitter and YouTube accounts).
$53m
According to Forbes, as of December 2015.
Rosalind
From As You Like It, Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s strongest heroines. She is as intelligent and witty as she is beautiful, and dominates the entire play.
Beatrice
From Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice is a funny and sharp heroine who refuses to marry for convention’s sake.
Viola
From Twelfth Night, Viola survives a shipwreck and dresses as a man in order to find a job and make her own way in the world.
Highest risk
The National Study of Health and Wellbeing found that 26% of women in this age group had symptoms of common mental health disorders, compared to 9% of young men.
Seven
The 2016 Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that 23% of girls aged seven to ten felt pressure to be perfect, and 38% felt they were not pretty enough. This rose to 66% for 11- to 21-year-olds.