By Christopher Rosa. Photos: Getty Images.
I'm a 24-year-old guy, and all of my role models are women. They always have been.
Ever since I can remember, I've gravitated toward the advice and stories of the women in my life more than the men. I have an incredible mother and older sister. Nearly all of the teachers who shaped me in high school and college were women. My bosses are women, and every day I think about how I'd love to be them someday. I'm even inspired by the women in the music, movies, and TV I consume. (Madonna and Britney Spears are vital people in my life. I'm not kidding!) My track record of only female role models hasn't been intentional, either—it just happened. What's so weird about that?
A lot, apparently. This recent Entertainment Weekly interview with Emma Watson explains why: In the magazine, the Beauty and the Beast star reveals the disheartening way she thinks young boys choose their role models. "If I asked a young boy what superhero they looked up to, I feel a lot fewer would say a female one than in reverse, which is a shame because I feel like we need to live in a culture that values and respects and looks up to and idolizes women as much as men,” Watson said. “I think that’s starting to slowly change, but it is something that does actively need to be addressed.”
She's right, now that I think about it. Looking back, I was heavily teased in elementary school for idolizing female performers like Spears and Kylie Minogue. Meanwhile, no one made fun of the boys who looked up to G.I. Joe, Superman, Indiana Jones, or Michael Jordan. I originally thought the reason people ridiculed me back then was because they thought I was gay, but now I have a different theory: Did those kids just not understand why I had female heroes?
I didn't idolize Spears in a sexual, exploitative way like my male peers did. I admired her talent and strength. At 10 years old, she was my superhero, and I tried to live my life as openly and fearlessly as I thought she did. Back then, that meant performing her intricate choreography at recess, which typically led to more bullying incidents. I didn't care. When I danced to Spears' music, I felt invincible—and I get that same feeling now when I listen to her. (Though I now reserve the dancing for dark, sweaty nightclubs on Saturday nights.)
Admittedly, dancing to Spears in front of my classmates in suburban South Carolina made me seem rather effeminate. This, paired with my tendency to swap football for reading during free period, made me a frequent target of hate. I see now that at the root of every insult hurled at me was an inherent disapproval of my desire to emulate a woman. It's almost as if my peers—specifically, the guys—thought it was wrong or ridiculous to view women in this context. To them, women weren't accomplished or worthy or "cool" enough to be idolized. These lyrics from Madonna's song "What It Feels Like for a Girl" perfectly sum up this idea:
"Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots—'cause it's OK to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading —'cause you think that being a girl is degrading."
Unfortunately, I think this mentality still applies to today's kids. Gender equality has come a long way, but our culture still rewards and glorifies men infinitely more than women. This grossly inaccurate idea persists that women can't do the same things as men—that they're somehow "weaker." As long as this (wrong) message exists in the zeitgeist, young boys will continue to think it's "weak" to look up to women. They will never view women as potential role models.
There are ways to combat this mind-set! My parents instilled progressive values in me at a young age and showered me with enough love to effectively drown out the bullies. And I learned from them—as well as some incredible teachers—that both men and women can be superheroes.
Women are solely responsible for making me the person that I am. Because of the flamboyancy of performers like Spears, Madonna, and Lady Gaga, I found the inner strength to come out of the closet and live my truth—fully. Because of my (female) high school English teachers and writers like Vanessa Grigoriadis, I discovered my passion for journalism. Because of my mother, I learned to love myself. Simply put, I would be a different man without these women—and so would the world.
Here's hoping people realize this sooner rather than later and start encouraging young boys to hang photos of both Hermione Granger and Harry Potter on their walls. (Or Madonna, but that's just a personal request.)
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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