Oh, I got into trouble for this once in school!
When I was in Sixth Form, we were required to take an AS Level (half an A Level) in General Studies, a subject so vague, nebulous and useless that they couldn’t even give it a name worth remembering. There were units in science, art, religious studies and…um…I can’t remember. I stopped listening, I think.
Anyway, in one class I remember that we were asked to give a short presentation on our role models. I picked two that meant something to me, but after I had given my presentation the teacher, who was the Head of Sixth Form, was incredibly angry and accused me of not taking the assignment seriously. That annoyed me, because I was probably the only person in the room who had taken it seriously!
I’ve added another role model since then, although I should have probably included her at the time. So then, in no particular order:
Number One: Miss Piggy
Yes, I know she’s a puppet, but seriously, there’s a lot to admire here. Some may call her an attention-seeking diva with a ridiculously short fuse, but that’s never stopped some of the great divas from behaving in exactly the same way!
Miss Piggy is all about her career, and that’s no bad thing for a woman to be. She’s the headline act of the Muppet Show, and demanding the respect she’s due isn’t a crime.
Miss Piggy only has eyes for one frog, and that’s her beloved Kermit. Say what you like about their tempestuous love life, but she’s never looked twice at another frog. Or pig. Or bear. Or whatever. She’s loyal, which has to be a good thing.
Miss Piggy has never needed anybody else to stand up for her. If somebody’s giving her crap, she karate-chops them across the room. Tell me that isn’t bad ass. Tell me that isn’t something every woman should be able to do, if they need it.
Miss Piggy, role model.
This next one is a little more obscure, but came about due to my incessant reading during my teenage years. This is a photograph of a woman who called herself Anna Anderson. She also called herself the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanova until the day she died.
Now, we all know the truth. The Russian royal family – the Tsar, the Tsarina, and their five children – were all murdered in 1917. The story is gruesome and I won’t repeat it here, but ambiguity first arose when only five of the seven bodies of the murdered family were recovered. The Tsarevitch Alexei and one of his sisters were missing, and several women came forward claiming to be the youngest Romanov daughter, Anastasia.
The most famous was Anna Anderson, whose real name was Franziska Schanzkowska. Her claim to be Anastasia was met with confusion by the people who had known the young royal. They were split; while some were sure that Anderson wasn’t Anastasia, others really did believe. There was a court case that ruled that she wasn’t, but notoriety can be more powerful than legalities. Anna Anderson, as she eventually became known, bounced around the homes of crowned heads of Europe and wealthy Americans for most of her life. While she was alive, nobody could prove that she was Anastasia. More crucially, nobody could prove that she wasn’t.
Of course, DNA tests on part of her intestine removed during an operation in America have since proved that she shares no genetic relationship to surviving relatives of the Tsarina. She was what so many people said she was: a mentally unstable Polish factory worker who lied about her identity.
This woman, who undoubtedly was suffering from severe mental illness that drove her to a suicide attempt in Berlin and some very disturbing behaviour during the rest of her life, managed to do something quite remarkable. She somehow managed to convince people who had actually known the real Anastasia that she was, in fact, a member of the Russian royal family. These people weren’t just humouring her. They truly believed that she was Anastasia. She kept this up from the 1920s until her death in 1984. That’s sixty years! Sixty years! More than that, the people that didn’t believe her (and quite rightly, it turned out) couldn’t gather enough conclusive evidence to turn her supporters against her. Not until DNA testing became available.
Not bad for a poorly educated factory worker, who wasn’t even from Russia.
So yes, she lied. She lied long and she lied hard, but my god, what a life she had. You have to admire her ability to make what must have been a horrible life into one materially a lot better. That’s why she’s a role model – she did what she needed to do, no matter why her confused mind told her she needed to do it.
My third role model is Granny Weatherwax, a character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. She’s a witch, which is rather obvious by her pointy hat, which she wears largely for reasons of Headology and, in the later years of her life, to cover You, the small white kitten that had adopted her and liked to ride on her head.
Granny is clever, fearless and utterly convinced that she knows best about everything, which, to be fair, is true most of the time. She’s faced down vampires, evil elves and Death himself in order to protect the people of Lancre, the village that respects her more than likes her. She even took on her own sister, a Godmother, and walked away victorious thanks to her iron will, self control and expert knowledge of magic, which she tries to use as little as possible.
She charges into life at full ramming speed, expecting everything else to get out of her way. She is the best at what she does, and she knows that the price that she has to pay for being the best is having to be the best, no matter what. Every threat to Lancre is hers to deal with because only she can deal with it. In a way, that resonated with me. I was a clever kid. Not genius level, or anything, but usually I was the smartest person in the room when I was growing up. Sooner or later there became the expectation that I would be the first to put up my hand, get the highest test scores, be the first person in my family to get good examination passes, go on to university, make something of myself. The pressure, although well-meaning, was intense. I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, that I’d slip somehow, that I’d let everybody down. Knowing that there was somebody else out there that understood that pressure, even if she was fictional, really helped.
I met Terry Pratchett once. The only time I skipped school, I went to a book signing.Such a rebel! I deeply regret not being able to tell him how Granny helped me get through those teenage years. He’s gone now, a victim of a horrible disease that robbed a family of a husband and father and the rest of the world of a writer of exceptional wit, humour and humanity. He took Granny with him, which is perhaps fitting. I couldn’t imagine wanting to be without her either.