Why Role Models Are Important
Written by Corrina Lawson
Picture a world without an internet, even one without cable television, and a time when a girl wanting to play Little League baseball was seen as weird. Picture a time when soccer for little kids wasn’t a thing and bookstores were few and far between.
That was me growing up in rural New England in the 1970s. In many ways, it was idyllic: plenty of places to wander, freedom that today’s kids are missing, and a great, supportive family.
But I was still the oddball, the tomboy, the girl who liked all the guy stuff. There were things I wasn’t “supposed” to do and did them anyway and things I wasn’t allowed to do at all.
So how did I go from there to a journalism career and to one of the founding editors of GeekMom.com?
I had role models.
My mom was one, of course, because she could handle anything. But she wasn’t a writer and she certainly wasn’t a geek. The women who showed me what I might become were real and fictional women far outside my immediate surroundings.
When I was six, Batgirl showed that girls could be superheroes too and Lois Lane proved that women could have a really cool job. Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine first introduced me to the history of C.L. Moore, who wrote the pioneering Jirel of Joiry female sword & sorcery stories. I subscribed to the old Science Fiction Book Club and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern trilogy arrived one day. Not only could a women write short stories, they could write bestsellers in a genre that otherwise seemed male-dominated.
Because I got the other message too. Some women could do it but they were outliers. This wasn’t “supposed to be” for women. C.L. Moore disguised her gender. So did Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.).
At the time, that was okay for me. The most important part of their story was that women could do these things. That they had to “pretend” to be men just proved that they could prevail when the deck was stacked against them. I actually submitted a short story to Asimov’s when I was 15. I called myself C.L. Son, as a tribute to C.L. Moore.
What would I have done without those examples?
I’m not sure. I fear I wouldn’t have done nearly as much as I have because there were dreams I veered away from because I knew I wasn’t welcome.
I wanted to be a comic book writer. Jim Shooter had done it he was a teenager. But when I looked at the comic industry, the message I got in the 1970s was “this is for male writers.” The female names were few and far between and never wrote the most high-profile books.
I also wanted to be a sportswriter but when I was in college in the 198-s, harassment of female sportwriters was ongoing and intense.
I didn’t have the courage or self-confidence to bash my head against that wall.
But, in regular journalism, I had Lois Lane. Nellie Bly. Linda Ellerbee. Edna Buchanan. Barbara Walters. They were there. They were visible. They mattered.
And in writing, I had McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mary Stewart and later, Mercedes Lacey and Julian May.
Later, when I left journalism and starting writing prose novels, I had the wonderful luck to fall in with a whole boatload of female writers who were delighted to mentor a newbie. What I owe to them I can never repay. I can only pass it forward.
I had examples. I had role models. I had a path to follow, even if it was small.
And that’s why role models are important.
Not all of us are brave on our own. That’s why it’s important that not only to create the path but widen it for the generation after us.
Corrina Lawson is the Content Director for GeekMom.com and the author of seven very geeky romance novels. She was part of the “Romance is a Feminist Genre” panel at Geek Girl Con in 2013.