6. Role Models
* * * * * * * * * * by Evelyn Battell * * * * * * * * * *
I HAVE BEEN an Adult Basic Education instructor for 20 years in Alberta and B.C. I have always loved writing curriculum and have written for students at many levels, in many subjects and many learning situations. Each time, the first time we use the new material is a revelation in the richness of people's lives and ways of understanding and learning. This project has been rich, not only because of the desperate need for material which celebrates the strength of the women in our classes, but because of the thrill of working with instructors from such varied backgrounds, all of whom have a passion for this work and for the women we teach.
The purpose of this chapter is to consider role models. Who are they, and what purpose do they serve? When we are young we might have said, "I want to be just like her." As adults we no longer feel so open to possibilities. We are pretty much fully formed and we may feel trapped by our circumstances. But we are influenced, guided and inspired by women around us and by those we read about or see in the media.
In this chapter I have used female pronouns wherever possible. When you are posting lists or posing questions, you can easily change the pronouns to "she/he" or "her or him" as necessary. But try using all female pronouns sometimes in gender-mixed classes and you may discover there is no negative reaction. The positive effect for the women will be very subtle.
You can also suggest both women and men students try to think of female role models - if they can't think of a woman, then ask them to do the activity with a male role model in mind. By suggesting it, however, you legitimate women's choices of women as role models.
Who are role models for us and our students? Here are some suggestions:
For women, being admired or reviled are often opposite sides of the same coin. Women who are caring wives and mothers are much admired and emulated. On the other hand, if unmarried women choose to stay at home with their children rather than hold a series of low. status, poorly paid, temporary jobs, they are considered welfare bums.
Although it is true that women are no longer restricted to the private sphere, they are not welcome to challenge the long-standing rules of the public sphere. They may be applauded for being "Superwoman," but they shouldn't complain about lack of day care facilities.
Most of the women presented in this chapter took a personal struggle out into the public arena. Because they went public, they became role models for many people. Yet the very act of going public left them open to criticism from the publici some who might have supported their wishes privately could not abide their making a public stand. So for some of us they have become role models, and for others of us they are "acting inappropriately."
All of this is to say, that, as we look for role models, we need to understand why we want to be like these women and why others may not approve of them. We also need to ask who approves? Who doesn't? In answering these questions we will clarify some of our values.
This chapter looks at some women role models, and goes on to invite students to look at themselves as role models for others. Your students may find it quite a leap to go from the personal story of "Kirsten" to the more explicitly political stories of Sheila Gilhooly, Sue Rodriguez and Phyllis Chelsea. For this reason, you may want to look at the material about Kate Braid, a trades woman, who is featured in the chapter "Women and Work," after you have done Section C of this chapter, "Courageous Spirits."