Forget Cleopatra: Women Should Idolise Real Women, Not Shakespeare's Heroines

An academic claims women should model themselves on fictional characters from Shakespeare's plays, rather than Kim Kardashian. But, we have a better idea

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Who were your female role models growing up?

Emeline Pankhurst?

Nora Ephron?

Malala Yousafzai?

Well, one head teacher suggests we should use Shakespeare's heroines as our role models instead of reality stars like Kim Kardashian-West.

At the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference yesterday, head teacher of Wimbledon High School Jane Lunnon said girls should focus on fictional characters like Cleopatra 'who wield power and influence in a man's world'.

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'Cleopatra shows that you can be both flawed and brilliant,' Lunnon explained, following a poll from the south-west London girls' school that revealed many students look up to popular culture stars such as Taylor Swift and the Kardashians.

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While we understand that idolising women on the basis of their popularity, fame and beauty isn't such a great practice, we're not quite sure Shakespeare's heroines are a good alternative.

Let us explain.

You only have to look at plays such as Macbeth, Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew to see Shakespeare's women are often depicted as weak, deceptive, submissive and often, cruelly, are also often secondary characters to men.

When women are portrayed as independent, strong or virtuous in the cases of Hamlet's Ophelia, Juliet Capulet or Lady Macbeth, they often end up being sexualised, killed as a result of lost innocence, raped, depicted as witty but unmarriable, have their tongues cut out, reduced to the archetypal femme fatal or wrongly accused of adultery.

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Snaps for Shakespeare...

Even Cleopatra – who is a powerful, strong-willed character in charge of an army – is portrayed as being obsessed with her lover Anthony, trying to win him back by pretending she killed herself (great plan, love) and ultimately commits suicide with snake poison.

Basically, it sucks to be a woman in Shakespeare's plays.

There's a pretty expansive gulf of time between Cleopatra and Kim Kardashian, which is full of complex, inspirational and intelligent women we can choose from to look up to.

Besides, why look to fiction when you can take inspiration from real women who have fought for equal rights, campaigned against injustices and empowered other women across the world?

We've rounded up our list of current day female role models that continue to inspire us:

Natasha Bird, Digital Content Editor

Camilla Long, not for all things in life, as I don't always agree with her, but because her transferred epithets are on point and she inspires me to keep my writing creative.

Chelsea Handler because I feel like she's my spirit animal. She's irreverent, ridiculous, sometimes utterly shameless, hilarious and challenging to a lot of idiot male egos out there. She's also proof you don't have to be perfect or sage or angelic to be happy and successful and have good friends.

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Unsah Malik, Social Media Manager

Mindy Kaling FTW. She's so real, honest and open about all the struggles females face – and is also very headstrong and talented. I love that she's the creator and star of The Mindy Project. Plus, are you following her Twitter? She's hilarious!

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Elizabeth Cooney, Senior Designer

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The characters in her novels are raw and relatable; with them she tackles issues of feminism and race in a sensitive, but fearless way. And her TED talk 'We should all be feminists' is one of the most eloquent speeches about gender equality that I've heard. The printed transcript is one of my most prized books.

Bibby Sowray, Digital News and Features Editor

Goldie Hawn. I grew up with Goldie. Private Benjamin, Death Becomes Her and HouseSitter are the films I remember most from childhood, and they are the reason I loved her initially. She was witty, beautiful and independent. But as I've got older I've realised that off-screen she's just as fabulous, but in a totally different way.

I love that she's never tried to be edgy. She's imperfect and happy to talk about it, a keen philanthropist and activist, but above all she's a true optimist – I think that is an invaluable quality to aspire to.

Sara Semic, Features Intern

Rupi Kaur. She's a Toronto-based author and poet who wrote the poetry collection 'Milk and Honey' which recounts experience of love, loss, abuse, survival and what it is to be a woman in really beautiful and personal way. Reading her work was a soothing, cathartic experience for me because the truth in her minimal but exquisitely worded poems made me think about female empowerment in a new light.

Who are your female role models? Let us know @ELLEUK

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