I follow a lot of stuff on Facebook. I follow a lot of pages about strong women, as I am really hoping to raise one, and on some days, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, be one. I read a lot of stuff about what to say and what not to say to girls and women, about women in the press, about women in films, about women in the workplace, about body image, about resilience. I read a lot of stuff produced by Geena Davis and Amy Poehler. It makes me think, it makes me a bit mad sometimes, it makes me realise that I have been reading for two and a half hours when I should have been doing my marking.
There are so many strong women and girls out there for all of our youngsters to look up to and although I realise that there are still massive inequities when it comes to gender issues, I honestly think that this is an exciting time for young girls in particular. The minx has so many books about girls who save themselves or save each other, or who don’t get themselves into situations where they actually need saving in the first place. There are no handsome princes in these books (and as she said the other night when we were reading one edition of The Sleeping Beauty, they are not always that handsome anyway. But then she does have a type already. She favours the Mediterranean look). She’s not interested in books about men saving women. She finds them a bit boring. She does, however, like books about animals that pass wind. Or books about little girls that will not clean their teeth or brush their hair.
She is at the age where she is quite vocal about her opinions on all sorts of topics, which again is a blog in itself, so that started me thinking about me as a youngster. What was I like? (Chatty and not shy with others until secondary school knocked me for six, friendly, vocal, bright but not world-changing). What did I read? (Books about adventures and animals and then when I was a teenager, nuclear war, because it was the 80s and Threads had been on the telly and we were all shitting ourselves). Who did I look up to? Now that is the question, and one that I have been pondering for some time. And I think I have cracked it – my definitive list of female role models, women I have loved or looked up to or wanted to be just like.
Here we go…
1. Sarah Williams – Labyrinth
I have watched this film about 87 times. There was a time in the late 80s when I could recite every word. I loved everything about this girl, this film, the music. I loved the opening credits, the swooping computer-generated owl promising the fantastical that turned into a real barn owl which hovered over Sarah in her dress-up costume as she swooshed through what seemed at first like a magical kingdom, reciting lines from a play to an unseen audience. I loved the fact that she didn’t seem to give a shit that someone might be walking through, what turned out to be, a public park as she told her, what turned out to be, dog that ‘through dangers untold and hardships outnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city…’, and that that person would have had every right to call the authorities to alert them to the fact that a 16 year old girl was talking to her dog in the park in full costume and might need some kind of special care, or tranquilisers. Sarah Williams simply could not give a shit. Until it started to rain obviously.
I loved that she was a bit spoilt.
I loved her bedroom. Absolutely full of lovely junk, and her bed was amazing and girly and gorgeous.
I even loved her shirt and waistcoat combo and I spent a long time, and still do, trying to find a shirt that looked like hers. I have, as yet, failed.
But more than that, I loved THAT dress. Even though I was never a girly dressy girl, the thought of getting married in a dress like that was the stuff of dreams. The sleeves that come to a point at the wrist. The lace. The silvery bits. Her perfect, waxy-pale shoulders. The thought of having hair that long and glossy and poufy, not a weird, angular bowl cut…
I am not, however, sure about the choice that she made at the end of the film, with the words ‘you have no power over me’. Let’s weigh this up. A life of middle class drudgery, no friends, no life, babysitting every Saturday, mourning a mother and hating a step-mother a la every matriarch-based fairy story ever written, or living it up with Jareth, a hot elf who looks fucking great in leggings, has promised he’ll be your slave if you just adore him (no probs there Jareth), and an army of goblin babysitters on tap. Hmmm, let me think…
Maybe, in hindsight, what she should have said was, ‘You have no power over me at the moment, because I’ve been running around a lot, and my calves are burning, but if you give me a half an hour and a cheese toastie, you can absolutely have all the power you want over me. How would that suit you?’
I bet she’s kicking herself.
N.B Since writing this blog, I have watched Labyrinth with the now 7 year old minx. She told me she really liked it, although I’d forgotten that there are a couple of characters that are slightly nightmare inducing. A further upside is that she now also really likes David Bowie. It also reminded me what a bloody brilliant film this is.
2. Princess Leia – Star Wars
Where do you start with Princess Leia Organa? I mean really. Where?
She’s just badass. She is the epitome of the mighty girl. She has a witty line for everything and everyone and if anything does actually faze her, she doesn’t show it (except when her home planet is disintegrated by the Death Star in A New Hope, but you can kinda forgive her for that one). She doesn’t fall for Solo’s charms straight away although he was, and let’s face it still is, hot. She can shoot a storm trooper at 50 paces, she comes up with ideas when the men just stand around idly, and she’s a general now, and that’s pretty cool. And she has nice hair.
I didn’t realise how strong my affections for this character were until I loudly and snottily burst into tears when she walked out of the rebel transporter in The Force Awakens. That took me by surprise a bit, I can tell you. And the bloke sitting next to me in the cinema.
N.B It is Wednesday March 8th, #InternationalWomensDay, and Carrie Fisher has left us. What a dreadful couple of days that was. I never thought that, when writing this originally, we would be mourning her a few weeks later. The outpouring of grief from women and men around the world just showed what a powerful role model she was as an actress, a writer, a humanist, a daughter. You are missed Carrie.
3. Linda Evans – Wonder Woman
What was not to love about this 70s superhero? As her everyday secret identity, Diana Prince, she looked marvellous in denim bellbottoms, she had perfect boobs which would sit as soft and perky as a pair of panna cottas, and her hair was thick and glossy and poufy. And then when danger reared its ugly head, she would simply spin around and transform into Wonder Woman!
She had an amazing theme tune, all rock and bass guitar and 70s funk. She had a costume to die for; it was at once patriotic and sexy, a look which is very hard to pull off let me tell you. When she fought off the bad guys and jumped tall buildings in a single leap, at no point did one of her tits pop out. She had a little crown and a whip, like a sexy princess dominatrix. What’s not to love? And she sure was pretty.
I wrote to Jimmy Saville once, asking if he could fix it for me to become my hero for a day. I’m not sure if he could have made me into Wonder Woman, but I am sure that if I had made it to the show, and given the chance, he would have tried to make me into a woman…
4. Mrs Whitehall – Chaddesden Park Junior School
Mrs Whitehall was my second and fourth year Junior School teacher and she was simply marvellous. In the second year, her name was Miss Hall, and then she got married and I remember that being quite exciting.
She had lovely hair. It was shoulder length and bobbed, but flicked back and bouffant and it was the most gorgeous caramel colour. In the winter, she wore a camel-coloured, knee-length coat and it had a thick fur collar, made of mink or something, and I thought she looked lovely. She would run her hands under it to fluff it up round her chin before she went outside. Funny what you remember…
She was the kind of teacher who never really raised her voice or made a scene, but you hated to disappoint her so you just got on with your work and silently hoped that she would catch you being good.
She caught me eating in class once, behind the lid of my desk. I had stuffed my mouth with sherbet pips under the guise of looking for my ruler. I thought she wouldn’t notice. She did. She called me to the front of the class and she told me off, quietly but effectively.
Worst day of my young life.
5. Floella Benjamin – Play School
Cheerful, cheerful Floella Benjamin. The kind of person that you could never imagine having a bad day, or a tantrum, or cracking a filthy joke, you know, like “Brian! Brian! You’re a facking Cant!” and finding that hilarious. (If you are not a British child of the 70s, you may have to look that one up. It’s a really funny joke. I promise.)
I believed that the toys were dancing when she was dancing with them, and I believed that I could make a chandelier with a paper plate, a pencil and a blob of plasticine, because she told me I could.
I often thought about threading the sweets from candy bracelets or Polos into my hair so that it would clatter when I moved like hers did.
But the best thing about Floella, was that she was not repulsed by Hamble. That plastic, Chucky-looking fucking doll, with its weird squished face and tightly curled brown hair. Not quite white, not quite black, not quite Asian, just someone’s ugly, middle-aged-looking plaything from the 60s that they found in an attic and decided to terrify toddlers with.
Which window shall we throw Hamble through today? That’s right, the round window.
Breath, Michelle, breath. Think about Floella and come back from the dark place.
6. Sarah Connor – Terminator and Terminator 2
We have two very different Sarah Connors here. In the first film, she is a little annoying; she’s jumpy and screamy and a bit flapping-her-hands-in-front-of-her-face-y. But she grows on you. When Kyle Reece (who has been sent from the future to impregnate her) is badly injured outside the industrial compound where he will (spoiler alert) eventually die, she picks him up and carries him in and saves his ass – that time anyway.
In the second film, Connor is incarcerated in a mental institution as she tries to warn the doctors and the general populace that if they do not get their shit together they are all going to die in a massive nuclear explosion. They do not listen. She makes her sparse bedroom into a makeshift gymnasium and does some pull ups. I love that scene. I love the shot of her delts and biceps as she goes for another rep, and then the close up as she turns around slowly to look at the doctors who are peering at her like some sort of exhibit through the small porthole window in her cell door.
The look on her face.
Very much like the look on my face when I am teaching and someone at the back of the class is talking.
I love the fact that she is a momma who makes mistakes, and that by trying to protect her son, she fucks up, constantly. Kind of sums up parenting for me. I love the fact that she has friends who have an arsenal of guns, and bazookas and grenades just waiting for her return. And I love the fact that she knows exactly how to use every piece of artillery in that lock up. I love the fact that she had dedicated her entire adult life to one cause, no matter what.
And then in the next film, she has died of leukaemia. And that is that for Sarah Connor.
6. Private Vasquez – Aliens
Of course it goes without saying that Ripley was, and even after a couple of crappy sequels, still is a massive hero (oh how I crave to shout the line ‘Get away from her you bitch!’ in an increasingly aggressive volume at someone one day, even if they are not doing anything).
But it was Vasquez who floated my boat when Aliens was released. Muscular, bad ass, bandana wearing Vasquez. Again, like Leia, she had a witty comeback for everything. Consider this exchange with Hudson, played by the late, great Bill Paxton:
Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?
I also like the insult ‘Pedejo jerk off’ which she uses towards one of the more useless officers– I have no idea what that is, but I shall endeavour to use it at some point in my life. The thing I liked the most was that she was respected. She was the only female marine who saw combat, (and wasn’t just killed at the controls of her transporter), a sole woman in a testosterone-fuelled world but still accepted as one of them. And she dies a badass too. Oops, spoiler alert. Am I meant to say that first? Yes, she was masculine in appearance, but then that is how directors seem to cope with strong women – it’s either big muscles or big tits.
A further N.B – When I first published this blog, I sent it via Twitter to all the women mentioned, and only one got back to me.
Vasquez answered my tweet man! I could not breath when I saw this…
7. Cleo Rocos – The Kenny Everett Television Show
Big boobs, poufy hair, my first real introduction to a quite blatant sex object who I understood to be, and agreed was, sexy. That is all.
8. Servalan – Blake’s Seven
Remember her? I bet this one has just taken you right back.
I loved the fact that she was so deliciously manipulative. She had mastered the art of the disparaging raised eyebrow, and the shorter her hair got, the more disparaging the eyebrow became. Here are some insults thrown at her or said about her…
“the sexiest officer I have ever known”
“a credit to your background – spoilt, idle, vicious… and greedy”
“a tasteless megalomaniac”
“perfidious as a snake”
“any attempt to embarrass her personally is an exercise in total futility”
“she has all the sensitive delicacy of a plasma bolt”
…and yet she still ruled with grace and lovely hair and a very clear sense of purpose which she dedicated herself to. She did not appear in the finale of Blake’s Seven, so who knows what happened to her. Perhaps she found the starship trooper of her dreams, settled down and awaited the patter of tiny eyebrows.
9. Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman – Dirty Dancing
I don’t care who you are, where you are from, or what kind of school you went to, if you were a girl of the 80s, you loved Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. And if we are all honest, it is not because she wanted to go join the Peace Corps after she graduated with honours from high school, or that she stood up to her doctor daddy and made him see what a strong independent woman she was, or that she looked great in pedal pushers and a bra top.
It is because, whether you like it or not, we all clung on to that desperate dream that one day we would go on holiday with our parents, and we would meet the man of our dreams, our Johnny Castle, and he would whisk us away and show us what it is to be a woman. Whenever a good-looking boy would walk past, you would be like, ‘this is it, this is the one. He lives on the beach, and he is going to wink at me and take my hand and enlighten me in the ways of love.’
Unfortunately, when you holiday at Mablethorpe Chalet Park, your options are fairly limited, unless, of course, Keith the cross-eyed carney takes your fancy (and quite possibly your purse), or Lee, the bloke who cleans the slot machines and has one top tooth and, unfathomably, a love bite necklace.
So there you have it, my Top Ten. All were strong personalities and single-minded ladies committed to a cause, whether it be entertaining the masses, saving the world or shagging a dance instructor, and apparently I also liked poufy hair and boobs. Go figure.
So go on then – have a think. Who were your role models growing up? Answers on a postcard, please, to:
Shepherds Bush Home For Retired Props