When Michelle Obama met her littlest superfan

Girl power: Parker’s mum says the two-year-old does not know Barack Obama exists. © Instagram

Are celebrities the best role models for young girls? On International Women’s Day, a viral photograph shows two-year-old Parker Curry in awe of Michelle Obama’s official portrait…

When former first lady Michelle Obama unveiled her official portrait last month, she said she was thinking of all the young girls — especially girls of colour — who would see “an image of someone who looks like them” on the walls of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. “I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

Her words have come true. Less than a month later, a photograph of an awestruck two-year-old girl named Parker Curry has gone viral. Her mother says that Parker is “fascinated” by Obama. She thinks she is “a queen, and she wants to be a queen as well”.

On Tuesday, the pair met in real life. Obama posted a video of them dancing to Taylor Swift on Twitter. “Keep on dreaming big for yourself”, she wrote, “and maybe one day I'll proudly look up at a portrait of you”.

The heartwarming story has fallen during the week of International Women’s Day (IWD) — a worldwide event, celebrated today, which campaigns for women’s equality.

IWD often focuses on the importance of role models like Michelle Obama for young girls. The idea is that by seeing women in positions of power, girls will be inspired to do great things too.

The evidence largely supports this. One study shows that when a country elects a female head of state, the proportion of women in politics jumps up by around 6%.

Another found that women gave better, more confident speeches when they were looking at posters of female politicians like Hillary Clinton. (A similar effect did not occur with men.)

The world is slowly catching on. Last year, Wonder Woman became the first female lead in a superhero film. This year, Barbie is celebrating IWD by releasing 17 dolls in the image of real-world “sheroes” like Amelia Earhart and Frida Kahlo.

And on Sunday, Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand asked all of the ceremony’s female nominees to stand, and then told Hollywood’s elite that “we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed”.

How important are celebrity role models for girls?

Girl talk

Incredibly important, say some. As the activist Marian Wright Edelman once said, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Female celebrities and politicians show the world what is possible. The more visible they are, the more the culture shifts and changes in response.

Maybe not, say others. In business, having a few “superwomen” at the top of their fields can sometimes discourage other women from trying to join them. This may be because they cannot see all of the work and hardship behind the scenes of the glamorous persona. This IWD, we should celebrate “real models” instead: the ordinary women doing extraordinary things all around us.

You Decide

  1. Who is more inspiring: Michelle Obama, or a woman you know in real life?
  2. Should more books, films and TV shows have female leads?

Activities

  1. It’s time to create your own artwork for International Women’s Day! Look at the portrait of Michelle Obama, and then draw or paint a picture of another woman who inspires you. They can be a celebrity or someone you know in real life.
  2. The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911. Create a timeline of women’s history around the world, from then until now.

Some People Say...

“There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices and persistence.”

Michelle Obama

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
International Women’s Day is held on March 8 every year. It was first marked in 1911, when one million people marched for women’s rights to work and vote. This year’s theme is #PressForProgress. It aims to capitalise on recent women’s rights movements, specifically #MeToo and #TimesUp, which were launched in response to a wave of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men.
What do we not know?
Exactly how much of a difference female role models can make to women’s rights. In the UK, for example, men earn around 18% more than women, and women only make up 32% of parliament. Although there is plenty of evidence that women in power help to inspire other women, a lack of role models is not the only reason that these inequalities exist.

Word Watch

Official portrait
Beginning with George Washington, it has been traditional for an “official” portrait to be made of every American president and first lady. Michelle Obama was painted by Amy Sherald and Barack Obama was painted by Kehinde Wiley.
6%
This number is relative to countries which have not elected female leaders. It is based on research by the One Earth Future Foundation.
Better
Judged by the speakers themselves and observers. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2013.
17 dolls
Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson also got a Barbie, as did 14 contemporary women in arts, sport and business.
Amelia Earhart
The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
Frida Kahlo
A Mexican artist who lived between 1907 and 1954.
Discourage
For example, the number of non-white or female CEOs appointed to America’s largest 500 companies declined sharply in 2015. However, some think this may also be because, once a few women have been appointed, there is less pressure on boards to hire more.

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