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Role models in girlhood: the problem of representation

How does the problem of representation for role-models amongst young women and girls shape their ambitions towards leadership? It is generally assumed that when people recognize themselves in the leaders they see, they will believe that these roles are for them too, and may then in turn seek to achieve it for themselves. But as this paper shows, it’s all a bit more complicated than simple ‘role-model solutions.’ Check out the abstract below, and then click through to the main article to learn more: 

‘I don’t want to be known for it’: Girls, leadership role models and the problem of representation

Peer-reviewed research by: Michele Paule and Hannah Yelin

An absence of role models in girlhood is a popularly cited cause of the shortage of women in decision-making positions in adulthood. The power of leadership exists in a close relationship with public visibility, and this relationship is regularly foregrounded in adult interventions that seek to stimulate girls’ leadership aspirations through the public pedagogy of role models. We explore the problematic nature of such popular solutions through a framework suggested by feminist critique of the ‘fetishisation’ of representation, by their media effects foundations and by their alignment with neoliberal logics. Drawing on group interview workshops conducted in five English state schools, we find that role-model solutions offer an overly simplistic view of girls’ engagements with public figures, and that they recognise neither the contemporary conditions of women’s visibility nor how such conditions regulate girls’ imaginings of power along axes of ‘race’ and class as well as gender.

Click here to read the full open-access article, published in 2022 in the European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Full Reference //

Paule, M., & Yelin, H. (2022). ‘I don’t want to be known for it’: Girls, leadership role models and the problem of representation. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 25(1), 238–255.

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