CHRISTINE M. KNIGHT

An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Author Christine M Knight's Blog

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Looking outside the box for role models for girls

Recently, Taylor Swift said she looks to no one – at least in her own industry – as a role model. During a Time magazine interview, she wondered with open embarrassment what her grandchildren would think if she behaved public more like her peers, such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, exposing herself and selling her image through her body.

Taylor Swift has a point. Girls and women mirror what they admire and adopt the values of their role models. I always keep this in mind as a storyteller as I explore the many roles women play throughout their lives, their choices, and assumptions that shape how they behave.

To provide better role models for tweenies and teens, we need to think about who their role models are. We often think of role models as people with outstanding qualities or with high public profiles such as music or movie stars, sportsmen, and the like, but we all function as role models. In particular, parents and family members are powerful role models during childhood.  Indeed, girls form their understanding and expectations of male and female roles and how to interact with the other gender from what they observe and learn within the family unit. In my debut novel, 'In and Out of Step', I explore the far reaching ramifications of childhood role models on Cassie Sleight and Mavis Mills.

Children, teenagers, and even adults learn through observing and modelling others. We first see this with small children at play. From their earliest years, children learn how to interact in a variety of settings and situations by observing the people around them and seeing the reaction to a variety of behaviours. It is from this observation that children identify and then learn about what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity, makes them a target and so on.  

The influence of parents and family leaders as role models appears to lessen as a child nears and goes through adolescence. This change is a reflection of an adolescent’s journey to adulthood, the move toward independence, and driving need to develop her/his own identity.  At this stage, tweens and teens not only have a wider situational awareness than they did as children, but they also mix with many more people of different age groups in an ever increasing range of situations and settings.

Adult readers, I’m sure, will have memories of their own journeys through adolescence, the widening circle of influences on them, the swirling emotions and the conflicts that arose as they sought to establish their own respective identities. They'll also be aware that, as part of the journey to independence, the lens through which teens and young adults view their parents and family leaders changes.

In order to provide better role models, we need to realize that there are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. So it is important that we demonstrate through action and lifestyle the values that we hold dear and want our children to consider modelling.  Importantly, we need to consider and scrutinize the values actively and passively modelled by the world at large. We need to initiate discussion with our children about that world to better help them understand it and develop discernment. If that dialogue is established early enough, it will continue in the difficult years of adolescence. That doesn’t mean adolescents will accept or adopt their parents’ perspective, but a childhood of conditioned response means that perspective is taken under consideration by teens even though the immediate response could appear to reject it.    

Related to the journey to independence is the strong genetic drive to belong. In order to belong, tweens and teens need to be in step with the day's culture and so they look to leaders in that culture. That culture is driven by the entertainment industry, including magazines.  

As adolescents grow up, they often try on different role models just as they try on different styles of clothing and experiment with fashion styles. They’ll walk a mile or two wearing that role and make decisions about its suitability for them. They look for what roles fit comfortably into their lives, what helps them fit in and be liked. All the time, adolescents observe and gauge the reactions it brings. If it brings unwanted reactions or doesn’t achieve what they seek, they change because being liked and accepted is part of belonging. Importantly, girls change role models and adapt their behaviour as they grow into womanhood and evolve. If you are a teen music, film or television star, your evolution is reported as a series of mistakes rather than role play experimentation. Those mistakes may result in notoriety and an unhealthy cycle of behaviour that interferes with real growth.

Tweens and teens are highly impressionable. They are vulnerable to the culture of the day. Those years are a time when they experience everything on a much higher emotional level – ask any mother if this is not so. As adults, we need to be situationally aware of that culture and its embedded messages.

We appear to live in an era that is intolerant of diversity among women, an era where being sexy and being a particular size and shape and having a youthful appearance is more important than anything else. An era where real women are airbrushed, photo shopped, and manufactured to represent a commercial image that denies the reality and diversity of womankind. An era where material culture is promoted and sold directly and indirectly. In the entertainment and other image preoccupied industries, it doesn’t seem to matter that cosmetic chemical and surgical intervention to halt the aging process makes people a parody of youth rather than youthful. The embedded messages to tweens and teens is one that devalues aging and reduces a person’s value to how well the person fulfills the stereotype – a narrow external image that is driven by commercial motivation and that reduces women to objects. Objectification supports a culture of misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace and in public. Given the denial of female diversity and the rising trend to objectification, it isn't surprising depression for tweens and teens is on the rise.

In order to counter this, we need to see and hear about strong, confident and inspirational real women from all walks of life regardless of whether or not they fit the stereotype. We need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value of diversity as well as a person’s talents, traits, qualities, and achievements.  Longevity is a gift not a curse and should be celebrated. As part of that celebration, we should talk about and celebrate the diverse roles that women have played in history including how they have contributed to shaping the world. 

Images of women sold in magazines and shown on television have a huge impact on the target audience, tween and teens especially so, moreso than a pop diva or pop dio (the male equivalent of diva). While the audience and written content of magazines may differ, there is an alarming similarity in the images selected to represent women. Those images box women into a narrow category (beauty and desirability being ranked as important) with little attention to any woman's intelligence, talents, inner qualities, admirable traits, achievements, or how she positively contributes to society. The focus is on material culture instead, and women are repeatedly told that their personal fit is a simple matter of purchase.

Our bodies are merely the vehicle in which we travel though life. The body does not represent the sum total of any woman's value. It is important that women of all ages have this reinforced to them especially by magazines and shows that purport to be for women and run by women. As a society, we need to see and hear about more women who are content to be their age at every stage and valued because they are so.

Increasingly, images of women in magazines and on television represent myths and propaganda that shape our culture, influence attitudes toward women, and alter what we as a society accept and value.Television shows do the same thing. For instance, there are lots of action TV series and movies that have tiny women in high heels with martial arts skills giving as much violence as they get. Such shows mislead and potentially put young women in danger because they are misled into thinking they could defend themselves or even overpower a stronger man. The men’s world boxing championships have weight divisions for a very good reason. A champion lightweight boxer cannot overpower a heavyweight. By showing women in such violent situations, the shows are shifting our view on what is acceptable. It could be seen as a covert way of condoning violence against women. It covertly undermines the white ribbon campaign whose slogan is Say No! to violence against women.

As a society we need to challenge misrepresentations of what is heroic in women and encourage girls to look outside the box for heroines. Heroic women are strong women. I don’t mean physically strong (although some women are) but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.

Strong women have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. Love and romance in the real world is very different from the romance genre. Strong women enjoy love on their own terms and actively avoid being treated as objects and discarded due to an expiry of a use-by-date. Truly strong women have the ability to act independently, to make their own wise, well-considered choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences and make decisions with their own good and the welfare of others in mind. Such women draw affection, love, and importantly respect.

 As a society we need to encourage story tellers, journalists, the media, and workplaces to value diversity, and portray and represent the beauty, strength and diversity of womankind in all of its forms. My novels do this.

Consider also reading http://www.christinemknight.com.au/poetry-2/a-model-for-the-modern-woman

 The lyrics 'Take It Off' also deal with this issue. http://www.christinemknight.com.au/author-christine-m-knights-blog/take-it-off-a-song-from-song-bird

'Take It Off' features in 'Song Bird' and is sung by two fictional characters - singing sensation Nikki Mills and international rock star, Rick Brody. 'Song Bird' is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other online sellers, and many bookstores in the USA.

If you wish to comment, please send me your comment through the contact page. I've had to close my blog for direct comments because of spam.

Note to international readers. An Australian, I use the British spelling system.    
 

   



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The Month's Posts


    LATEST BLOG POSTS

      Saturday, August 12, 2017

      Life Song - a story of metamorphosis

      Saturday, August 12, 2017

      Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel.  Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey. 

      At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of  the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.

      At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.

      'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'

      Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.

      The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.

      Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.

      I recommend you listen to two songs from that novel: Sunshine Days and Life Song (A Vision Splendid) to get a feel for this story.

      There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.

      As part of your journey in reading this blog,  I suggest you listen to Move On.  In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.

      Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song

      Notes:

      Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it.  The Keimera Series is an opus.

      Keimera does not in any way allude to chimeraa monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.

      If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby.  Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.



      Read more

      Sunday, June 25, 2017

      The story behind my song 'The Flame'

      Sunday, June 25, 2017


      'The Flame' features in my novel ‘Song Bird’. In the novel, it is sung by rock legend Rick Brody who serenades Nikki Mills (the central character in the novel). In real life, it was sung by Funnie Williams and Thanapat Yarchartoen (aka Film). I produced the song through Karma Sound Studios in Thailand.

      BACKSTORY TO 'THE FLAME' - The Singer or the Song?

      In ‘Song Bird’ and its prequel 'Life Song', Nikki Mills - the Girl from Oz - is a survivor of domestic violence. Once an innocent, she believed the very convincing serenade of her first significant love, Terry Kikby. Long before Nikki met Rick, his song 'The Flame' resonated with her.  She believed that Rick's songs really expressed his own ideas and values.

      Having been at the top of the music industry for sixteen years, Rick finds his music is dropping in the charts. Defined by his 'bad boy' image, he has lost sight of his real self. Consequently,  his music has lost its connection with his fan base. Interested in Nikki as a woman as much as in her skill as a lyricist, Rick collaborates with Nikki on a new album. 

      Flattered by Rick's interest in her and impressed by 'The Flame', Nikki embarks on a relationship with him.  A subplot in the novel explores the ramifications of that decision.  Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had?  Will Nikki be hurt or healed by the relationship with him?  The answers are found in my novel 'Song Bird'. 

      Readers of this blog may also find the pop rock song 'Masque' and interesting insight into Rick and Nikki's relationship issues.

      I currently have 8 songs on CD Baby and iTunes. You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. Online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

      Read more

      Sunday, June 25, 2017

      The Story Behind Pop Rock Song 'Masque'

      Sunday, June 25, 2017

      'Masque' is a duet between charismatic rock star, Rick Brody, and singing sensation Nikki Mills (the Girl from Oz). They are fictional characters in my novel, ‘Song Bird’, which is on sale through Amazon, Book Depository, and other online booksellers as are my other novels' 'Life Song' and 'In and Out of Step' - in paperback and eBook formats.

      'Masque' features the vocal talents of Australians, Skye Elisabeth and Nic James. I am the composer and executive producer for all of my music. Although I am a musician, I no longer perform publicly but use talented session musicians.

      I use music as part of my writing process when developing a novel as it allows me to explore character perspectives, challenges, and personal journeys.

      My song ‘Masque’ evolved out of my exploration of Rick and Nikki’s relationship when developing 'Song Bird', the novel . The song helped me better understand rock legend Rick Brody, the impact of being a rock star on Rick's relationship with Nikki, and the core obstacles they faced. Rick Brody is one of four pivotal men in Nikki Mills' life.

      Wider Relevance
      The song has relevance for anyone who feels compelled to be what others expect the person to be rather than being true to self, something that is much easier said than done.

      'Masque' also has relevance for a diverse number of people. For instance, I play many roles: wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, author, musician and so on. I understand how the expectations and demands of others put me under pressure not to let others down. In trying not to short-change others, it was so easy to forget about who I was separate from those roles and what my being real meant.

      The context behind the song 'Masque'
      In ‘Song Bird’, Rick Brody is charismatic rock star who has been living the cliché - sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Like the Tinman from Oz, Rick is injured by his trade. For the Tinman, it was his axe. For Rick Brody, it was his status as a rock star and image of 'bad boy’. He became defined by those roles. Life became a masquerade.

      In both cases, the Timan and Rick become manufactured men in want of heart.  Rick’s preoccupation with living the cliché meant that his music lost its heart and the appeal that had drawn audiences to him as he rose to the pinnacle of the music industry.

      By contrast, Nikki refused to sell out in order to achieve success. She was determined to get to the top on her own terms and to not be treated as a commodity in the industry.

      At the Australian Recording Industry Awards, Rick asked his manager to connect him with Nikki after seeing her perform. Rick claimed his primary interest in Nikki was musical collaboration, but his libido and history of conquests shaped his reason for collaborating with her and definitely shaped the way he interacted with her.

      Although Nikki pretended not to be attracted to Rick, she was flattered that he was ‘interested in her of all people. Unlike his fans, Nikki did not have an urge to flash her breasts, hand over her panties, or suggest a threesome.’  She maintained a mask of cool indifference and stayed work-focused throughout the early stages of their musical relationship. Consequently, Rick viewed Nikki as a challenge. Committed to the long game in winning her, he courted.

      A survivor of domestic violence, Nikki was cautious about the men with whom she mixed.  ‘Song Bird’ explores the ripple effect of her decision to work with Rick. Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had? Can he become real with her? Will Nikki’s relationship with him injure her?

      You can read more about 'Song Bird' here and on other pages at my website.

      You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. The online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

      Note: As the novels are set in Australia, I use the British spelling system and language conventions. There are minor differences to the American system.

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