Does anyone remember “Spanglish”? That somewhat serious, sappy film starring Adam Sandler about the unorthodox relationship a wealthy American family has with its Mexican housekeeper? I do. I was 11 years old, and I remember watching it in theaters with my mom. The narrator of the film is the housekeeper’s daughter, Cristina Moreno, who recaptures the summer she stayed with her mother’s employers in her application essay to Princeton University. As the movie progressed, I felt captivated by Cristina’s character. In the funny moments, I laughed with her; in the sadder moments, I empathized with her. By the end of the movie, I wanted to be just like her. At one point during the movie, I remember turning to my mom and telling her I wanted to go to Princeton now. My mother replied that I could achieve this goal so long as I worked really, really hard.
This dream of mine — to work really, really hard — only evolved as my middle and high-school years progressed. The image of Cristina stuck with me in the back of my head. She became a model for how I should live my life and what my priorities should be.
Ten years later, what model of women are we projecting to young girls? I’m afraid that young girls today are not exposed to decent young female figures like Cristina, or even the more widely popular role model Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde.” Even though Elle — our much adored childhood female role model — valued many of the same superficial things as reality stars like the Kardashians, an education ultimately transforms her. She learns to instill in herself the values of hard work and intelligence. In the end, Elle ends up ditching her scum of a man, shifts her focus to the practice of law and diverts her attention to other hard working, passionate people more worthy of her time and energy.
Girls today are instead exposed to young female figures such as Kylie Jenner. Jenner is a teenager who earned her success for no reason other than her wealth, physical appearance and familial connection to her reality-star sisters. With models such as Kylie Jenner and the Kardashians, young girls of today are lacking inspirational female characters with solid values.
You go to the University of Michigan, which means you must have worked hard to get here. You must have stayed up late junior year of high school, tirelessly working through sample ACT math problems. Senior year, late nights were spent picking apart your Common App essay until it was perfect. And so somewhere along the way, you began to value hard work and intelligence, seeing a link between these two qualities and success. But by watching shows featuring female characters who lack these qualities — even when it’s just when you’re folding your laundry — you are endorsing and even promoting the kind of female figure the Jenners or Kardashians represent. The very reason these characters — and yes, they are characters, reality TV doesn’t make them any more real — are getting so much airtime and attention is because we are giving it to them. Popular media only creates these caricatures of women and perpetuates this image of the female role model because, by watching their shows, reading their blogs and following them on Twitter, we are saying it’s OK to do so.
Now I know these female characters are addicting as hell to watch. When I was in 10th grade, I think I watched the Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Theresa and her table-flipping scene at least a dozen times. But as alluring and entertaining as these women can be to watch, we owe it to ourselves, and to society, to begin tuning them out. We certainly don’t hold the same values these female characters are representing, and so we shouldn’t promote them. What sort of values and principles do you hope your brother’s kid or that little girl you babysit acquire? Do you want her to want to be like Kylie Jenner, or do you want her to want to be like the funny and charmingly nerdy middle-child Alex on Modern Family — the only respectable figure I have seen on TV as of late. Realize that just by switching the channel you have the power to shift the popularized image of the female figure from that of the Kardashians to one that young girls, like you once were, can look up to.
Samantha Pinto is an LSA junior.
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