Big Debate: Is Kate Middleton a good role model for women?

PUBLISHED: 22:26 03 March 2013 | UPDATED: 22:39 03 March 2013

The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Following controversial comments made by author Hilary Mantel during a lecture entitled Royal Bodies during which she described Kate Middleton as a “plastic princess”, we are asking: “Is Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, a good role model for women?”

Our debate comes as we this month celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.

Alicia Francis, the secretary of Forest Gate Women’s Institute gives her own personal view, while the chairman of the British Monarchist Society, Thomas J Mace Archer Mills, defends the duchess.

Secretary of Forest Gate Women’s Institute, Alicia Francis, said: Research by Girlguiding UK suggests young women seek guidance from their role models on a range of issues including work-life balance, careers, partners, sex, body image, and health. It found that young women felt, good role models helped others (61 per cent), were brave and courageous (59pc), and attractive (26pc). Not surprisingly, many of their role models are drawn from the narrow world of ‘celebrity’.

Kate Middleton provides more of the same, though with the exception that her image is more crafted and protected than most celebrities. While she is attractive, and her championing of ‘Cinderella, charities and causes is positive, few of us know whether the ‘real’ Kate possesses any of the character traits that young women look to for inspiration in their role models.

The focus on her looks adds to the pressure on young women to emulate media-driven norms of female beauty and this can impact negatively on a young person’s self-esteem. In the same survey 54 per cent of young women said that pressure to look like a celebrity causes stress.

Young women need more role models, as well as those drawn from a wider range of careers. Last year’s Olympics has added many female Olympians and Paralympians to the list of role models, but where are the scientists, engineers, charity workers, the stunt women, theatre directors and community activists?

They are out there, but the challenge is to find ways to expose young women to a wider range of female role models, especially those whose lives and circumstances are more similar to their own, and whose achievements can be more realistically emulated.

Young women need to know that there are varied, inspiring and achievable paths to a satisfying and fulfilled life, many of which they will never have dreamed of.

Chairman of the British Monarchist Society, Thomas J Mace Archer Mills, said: The Duchess of Cambridge is unfortunately an easy target for those in the media who are minded to attack the monarchy for their own ideological or political ends.

The recent criticism she suffered from author Hilary Mantel is at best a misunderstanding of her as a person, and at worst an unfair and unwarranted character assassination in whatever context it was originally intended.

As a role model for women and girls alike, the duchess represents far more than most high-profile celebrities. She is an educated woman, who gained her qualifications, and continued to study at university earning a degree in the history of art. Her Royal Highness is a young, recently married woman who is in love and expecting her first child. In a modern world, she represents (even if your views on family differ from those of the traditional) stabilising and family orientated values, which are something that for many women (and men) are worthy of aspiring to.

Her increasing work load and involvement in public life, along with her help for charities serves to highlight the sometimes forgotten causes that can be overlooked in favour of more high-profile ones.

The Duchess of Cambridge displays admirable qualities, such as a genuine personal warmth, a caring nature, common-sense and a down-to-earth manner, which are lacking in many modern celebrities and media personalities.

In a world dominated by reality TV and superficiality, want and excessive ego, the duchess is a breath of fresh air and an excellent role model, giving a unique, relevant, modern and positive interpretation of traditional values, without undermining women’s equality.

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