Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Role Model Conundrum

This is a post I’ve been contemplating for aaaaages. It dates back to a few months ago when Kim Kardashian was in the country for...well whatever it is she does. She got so much press coverage and it slightly terrifies me that girls consider women like her and Paris Hilton role models, that they aspire to be like them.

That got me thinking about role models. It’s a concept I’ve always found slightly odd because I never really had one – at least I didn’t think I did. I never looked up to someone and thought when I grow up, I want to be like you. There are women however that I admire/d, of course there are – a lot of them are fictional, but still. So, I thought I might compile a list, and what are blogs for if not for precisely this silly reason?

The first woman I adored was neither real, nor human. She was in fact an anthropomorphised Dalmatian called Princess Dalma from my favourite television show as a child. In English the show is known as Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, an animated adaptation of Dumas’ novel about d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. I of course saw the show in Afrikaans and I loved it so much, you have no idea. My mother taped it for me and I’d just watch it over and over again – I have in fact transferred it over to DVD, and have every episode except 3, I think. A small number anyway.

Anywho, Dalma appears in the second season, The Return of Dogtanian, and is the cousin of Louis XIV King of France. Invited by Queen Anne, she travels up from Italy and the Musketeers are supposed to meet her at the border and escort her to Paris. On the way however, they are distracted by a masked stranger robbing a coach. A fight ensues but the masked stranger is too good for them and escapes - leaving only a black rose as a calling card. Disheartened and pressed for time, they have to let it go and meet Princess Dalma.

What follows is a three or four episode arc (can’t quite remember) of this brazen thief robbing everyone, including the guests at a ball held in Princess Dalma’s honour, and Cardinal Richelieu – the Musketeers come up with a cunning plan to catch the stranger but it intersects with the major story arc of the whole season that involves the King’s evil twin (based on Dumas’ The Man In The Iron Mask) and anyway, long story short, the thief is ‘rescued’ by the evil twin who wants to form an alliance. The thief however refuses and escapes, and this time joins up with the musketeers to fight off the evil twin’s men. In the end, the masked thief promises to forsake criminal activity in France as thanks for being rescued and agrees to be unmasked...dun dun dun
Black Rose Bandit Princess Dalma

Yep, the thief that’s kicked everyone’s ass for 90% of the episode arc is one and the same as the King’s delicate cousin, Princess Dalma. Blew my mind, it did. And sure, it’s about as obvious as Clark Kent being Superman, but I was 4 at the time and it’s a kids show, give me a break. She’s clever, funny, skilled, and totally charming. She rocked my world. I got a sword and a cape shortly thereafter, and have had an obsession with black roses ever since.

I’ve gotten all giddy thinking about this show actually. I just adore it so much, to this day even. Some parts of childhood will never lose their magic. It’s actually even more hilarious these days because the Afrikaans insults they constantly throw about just cause all sorts of ridiculousness for days in my house if it’s mentioned.

That’s where it started, and if I had to draw up a short list of chicks I think rock, this is what it would be:

> Belle – Beauty & the Beast

Following on Princess Dalma was Belle, the girl who never quite fitted in, lived vicariously through her books and dreamt of adventure. Instead of sitting around waiting for stuff to happen, like Cinderella, Belle goes out and gets right into things. She’s impulsive, will speak her mind, and not afraid to flaunt convention. She isn’t superficial or selfish – hell, the one thing she always craved is freedom and adventure, yet to save her father she gives that all up in an instant. It will come as no surprise that she is my favourite Disney Princess.

Who needs friends when you have books?

Gaston: How can you read this? There's no pictures!
Belle: Well, some people use their imagination.

> Max – Dark Angel

Max Guevara (aka X5-452 and she’s got a barcode on the back of her neck to prove it) was the protagonist of the television show Dark Angel, possibly my first real immersion in a sci-fi based universe, and steampunk sensibility. Played by a then relatively unknown Jessica Alba, Max is a genetically enhanced super soldier who escaped a covert military facility known as ‘Manticore’ as a child. She spends her time trying to live a normal life as a bike courier in a post-apocalyptic Seattle, and trying to find the eleven others who also escaped the facility, while avoiding re-capture by the government. She becomes involved with the cyber-journalist Logan Cale after she robs his apartment, and the pair then join forces – she helps him to fight corruption in this bleak world, and in turn he helps her track down her family. This show was canned after two seasons, and the second was pretty terrible I suppose, but I love Max. She’s sassy, daring, and ready to take on anyone – she’s was the coolest nineteen year old on television in my mind, and she had a nice bike.

It's not just a bike, it's an extention of my soul Stealthy Max is not so subtle

“Girls kick ass, says so on a t-shirt.”

> Abby Sciuto – NCIS

Here’s the thing, Abby Sciuto is cooler, cuter and cleverer than you. Abby (short for Abigail, but only Ducky is allowed to call her that) is a forensic specialist at NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service), the institute from which the show takes its name. From the same fictional world as JAG, NCIS is essentially a crime show about, well, naval crimes. Abby I feel is best described by Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, “a paradox wrapped in an oxymoron smothered in contradictions in terms. Sleeps in a coffin. Really, the happiest goth you'll ever meet.” Sums it all up really. She’s bouncy, completely over- enthusiastic, is addicted to a caffeine-based drink called Caff-Pow, never goes outside without her parasol, listens to death metal while she works, has the best repartee with Gibbs and is nothing short of brilliant at her work. She is played by Pauley Perrette, who actually has a degree in criminal science herself and is an all round amazingly accomplished person. Abby is the most adorable person on television at any one time, but don’t let the happy exterior fool you – people have tried to mess with her before and they’ve all come off second best.

I'm one of the only people who can kill you and not leave any forensic evidence

”Good news and bad news Gibbs. Good news is I'm still cute. Bad news, the bomb squad got a little trigger happy."

> Ziva David – NCIS

Speaking of NCIS, I am forever thankful Sasha Alexander decided to leave the show, necessitating the killing off of her character Caitlin Todd and paving the way for Ziva David, played by Cote de Pablo. Ziva is an Israeli Mossad agent assigned as NCIS liaison after a Mossad agent goes rogue and assassinates Cate. That agent turns out to be Ziva’s brother, who she has to kill herself in order to save Gibbs’ life. Ziva is a product of her environment, raised in tumultuous circumstances in Israel with her father being the director of Mossad, while her younger sister was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing when she was 16. During her time at Mossad, Ziva was part of a special unit that specialised in assassinations, paramilitary operations, sabotage, and psychological warfare. She is a competent soldier, always in control, completely calm and aloof, drives like a lunatic, isn’t intimidated by authority, and is generally not one to be trifled with. She has an air of confidence about her, but as the seasons go on, she reveals vulnerability and she’s torn between her past and the life she’s found at NCIS. Her misuse and misunderstandings of pop culture and slang as she settles into American life is a great source of humour for most of the show so far. I’ve always admired Ziva for her skill and her ability to be calm and controlled, and her ability to get under Tony’s skin, but I totally came onboard with her during an episode where she strong-arms a red-neck sheriff for slandering Islam to a Muslim suspect in hospital. She’s amazing – and she can kill you in eighteen ways with a paperclip.

American idioms drive me up the hall!

Ziva: When you insult his religion, you insult mine and your own. Tell him you're sorry.
Deputy Tyler Barret: [quietly] Sorry.
Ziva: I don't think he heard you.
Deputy Tyler Barret: I'm sorry!
Masoud Tariq: Apology accepted.

McGee: You know that's how Houdini died.
Tony: Ziva, did you kill Houdini?
Ziva: It is possible. I do not remember all their names.

Cool, calm, collected

Abby: Wanna talk knives?
Ziva: Always

Side note: This show is actually very good, you know. The characters are brilliantly rounded and the team interaction, between every single one of them, is utterly believable and engaging.

> Veronica Mars – Veronica Mars

As a devourer of Nancy Drew books as a girl, I was destined to fall head over heels for Veronica Mars, a show that’s been described by Stephen King as Nancy Drew meets Phillip Marlowe. With its incredible noir sensibility, the show follows Veronica Mars as she progresses from High School to College while moonlighting as a private investigator, The first season is concerned with discovering the truth behind her best friend Lilly Kane’s murder, an event that caused her own life to fall apart. Her father, Keith the former county sheriff, loses his job over the incident and he sets up his own private detective business where Veronica, alienated from her old friends, picks up tips of the trade if you will. Veronica, played by Kristen Bell, is resourceful, sharp, snarky, and embodies a true outsider-and-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Veronica is stead-fast and committed to her cause, no amount of personal drama will slow her down. Sometimes she jumps to conclusions, and she can be single-minded if she thinks she has the answer, but that’s what makes her human. At the end of the day, everything Veronica does, she does with attitude and skill.

Veronica Mars, marshmallow

Veronica: Did you hear something last night?
Keith: What kind of something?
Veronica: Like a loud thump from upstairs.
Keith: I don't know. But you know me, I can sleep through an earthquake. Why?
Veronica: I don't know. It sounded like a falling body. It really freaked me out.
Keith: A falling body?
Veronica: Yes, a falling body.
Keith: Would you describe the sound as "Hitchcockian"?
Veronica: I'm glad you're able to entertain yourself.
Keith: Oh, sweetie, don't sell yourself short. I find you completely entertaining.

> Martha Jones – Doctor Who

Look, I’ve ummed and aaahed and given it some thought, but the more I think about it, the more I think Martha is my favourite companion. I know this is not the popular or fashionable call, but I don’t care. I think Martha gets a rough deal in the fandom, barely anyone seems to like her – frankly I think it’s just the Rose lovers harbouring resentment, which is cool, I get resentment, but I’m setting up camp with Team Martha for a number of reasons. For one thing, the Doctor is a real jerk ninety percent of the time in Season 3 – time and time again; it’s up to her to make her own way while Mister Time Lord keeps her dangling on a string. Hell for the first few episodes, he keeps saying he’s taking her home. Martha is in love with him (of course she is, it’s only logical) but I never found her pining to be annoying – Ten was doing just as much pining over Rose really, when you think about it. Considering this, Martha is by far the strongest companion, both emotionally and physically. She had to be. She had to constantly handle things without the Doctor – in Family of Blood it’s on all on her to protect him, in Blink she’s the one who has to get a job while they’re stuck, and then she has to wander the earth for a year in order to save the world. Can you say raw deal? Her emotions never compromised her ability to do what was needed of her, and she never asked for anything from the Doctor. Martha, as a trainee doctor, is intelligent, compassionate and has the patience of a saint. There’s no way she would have been able to put up with the crap above if not for these qualities. She has her insecurities and her failures of course, it’s to be expected, but to me her sensibility, judgement, determination, humour and intelligence wins out. She has such a good-natured spirit and she means well, and in the end she’s has the strength and common sense to walk away when she knows it’s necessary. Martha didn’t need the Doctor anymore, and in fact, through that entire season, the Doctor needed her more than she ever needed him. She never stops helping him though, essentially doing what he does just on earth and fighting the good fight. In the end, she isn’t even bitter or resentful about any of it, she is genuinely happy when the Doctor finds Rose again. It was all going so brilliantly until they had her end up with Mickey. Blargh, damn idiots. Martha is so much better than that (What’s worse according to the guys at the TW panel, it was all done as a last ‘Smith & Jones’ joke. Sigh. Honestly.)

Not stepping on butterflies I'm Dr Martha Jones, who the hell are you?

Martha: What’s that?
The Doctor: Sonic screwdriver.
Martha: What else have you got – laser spanner?
The Doctor: I did, but it was stolen by Emmeline Pankhurst. Cheeky woman.

The Doctor: Just think. When you get back, you could tell everyone that you've seen Shakespeare.
Martha: Yeah! And then I could get sectioned!

The Doctor: Martha Jones, you saved the world.
Martha: Yes I did. I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best, but you know what? I am good.

Honourable mentions go out to Emma Peel from The Avengers, Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Sydney Bristow from Alias, and Amy Pond of Doctor Who for being the quirky thing she is.

These are all fictional women, because I think it’s much easier to latch onto these representations that real people – I can know characters completely, I can’t know famous people. Still, there are other options out there besides Kim Kardashian and the Paris posse – Megan Gale, for example, who would have to be the latest addition to my list of fabulous women. Just take a look beyond tabloid media, and they’re there, being awesome.

While I've never considered myself to have a role model, I think there’s something to be said for the fact that the first ever character I adored to bits was a kick-ass princess thief, and that I’ve always been drawn to strong, empowered women who could look after themselves, and the woman I consider myself to be. Of course this is in no small part also due to my mother who raised me to value those very things. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am if it wasn’t for her, and I tell her that regularly. My mum rocks, and so do the women on my list.

Music: Hey Jude - The Beatles
Mood: Relaxed


  1. GLEE! Did you watch it? I seriously loved it so so much.

  2. Haha well when I come visit again I will bring my (extremely dodgy) DVDs and we can have a marathon. Old school lol!