Search This Blog

Monday, 9 May 2011

Role Models for Girls

A while ago I wrote a series for Radio 4 about girls comics. In the first episode which was about Girl comic and set in 1952, I learned that the comic editors wanted a story about a girl pilot. It was to be called Kitty Hawke and her All Girl Air Crew! Sounded fabulous, but their readers didn’t want girl pilots steering planes over mountainous ranges. So the story was changed to Angela the Air Hostess. Oh well. Twenty years later, the mighty Bunty magazine featured working class girls who had ambitions to go to grammar school – despite what their mean uncles and aunties had to say about it. ‘You’re getting ideas above your bleedin’ station!’ roared one particularly mean uncle to the plucky heroine who only wanted to wear the badge of St Plum in the Gob. My own favourite was Catch the Cat featuring a girl in occupied France who wore a very dodgy looking cat suit and went around foiling some seriously stupid Nazis. But scoff all you like – these were girls who did stuff. They didn’t just sit there looking pretty in between getting their kit off for men’s mags, crying on cue and occasionally beating up women in toilets did they Cheryl Cole? But hey – guess who The Girl wants to be when she grows up?

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding all po-faced, but who has heard of Hermila Garcia Quinones? The female police chief of Meoqui, Mexico was gunned down on her way to work. A short while later another young girl, Marisol Valles called ‘the bravest woman in Mexico’ took the job. She was twenty! After several months and many more death threats she had to flee to the US, but who has heard of her? Let’s try someone else. Maria Bashir. When the Taliban banned girls from getting an education, she set up a school in her own living room and risked death every single day. Now she's the first female prosecutor in Afghanistan. I would imagine she’s got more to worry about than whether Heat will print a picture of her arse looking a bit fat.

I’ve just put an idea into Radio 4 for Women’s Hour, about Ida and Louise Cook. Never heard of them? Well, they were two ordinary young women in 1930s Wandsworth, who fell in love with opera, and saved up to travel across Europe to see their favourite opera stars. During this time they began to notice the persecution of the Jews. Meanwhile, to fund their operatic travels, Ida started writing for Mills & Boon. And the money she made enabled the sisters to provide sponsorship and a place to stay for some 29 desperate Jewish families. Ida and Louise smuggled these people out, under the noses of the border guards, priceless diamonds pinned to their scruffy cardies. They stayed in expensive hotels to show they had nothing to hide and once, Louise was chatted up by Joachim Von Ribbenthrop, Hitler's Foreign Minister. 'He thought I was just another admiring fool,'. They were named as Righteous Among the Nations in the sixties. I reckon the reason that nobody has really heard of these amazing sisters is because they were naturally self-effacing, from a time when women didn’t seek publicity for themselves but also because they weren’t particularly pretty. But if they had been – they would probably have gotten married and never had such extraordinary lives.

My producer doesn’t want to call it Ida and Louise because she thinks it recalls Thelma and Louise. But it’s stuck in my head and they were around before Thelma and Louise. And they don’t drive off a cliff at the end – they merely go back to Wandsworth.

So, I’m just saying that there’s room for Cheryl and that one from The Only Way is Essex, the models, the actresses and models, and other gorgeous girls who’ve got somewhere with their good looks. I’ve got no problem with that – just that they shouldn’t be the only role models for our daughters to look up to. After all, as Ida said once, ‘in the end, you are what you do.’


Hannah said...

I'm not usually moved to comment on blogs - all take, me - but, well, I couldn't agree more. I wish you well with Ida and Louise Cook - I'm off to have a little read about them now...

Jane said...

Thank you Hannah! I hope R4 like it too. Really - it's just a great story and deserves to be better known. xJane

Jennysmith said...

I remember those on the radio, about the comics and everything. They were great!

Yes, I still treasure my Bunty Annuals, full of stories of girls going to grammar school in their posh looking uniform. Instead of the old secondary modern around the corner!

And yes, there was always a selfish and evil aunt and uncle standing by!

Jane said...

@Jennysmith - Bunty was such an iconic comic for me. And it was the first girl comic aimed exclusively at girls who hadn't gone to boarding school! (true)

Gillian said...

I read the story of Nancy Wake when I was a teenager. She was a brainy feisty go-get-em lady. Yes we need more telling of these lives.

Women who did fly planes in the war, nurses, spies, ordinary people who saw something that needed fixing and just did it.

Good luck! YOU go-get-em Jane. : )

readcutting said...

Ah,Saturday mornings in the '70s.. Bunty,Debbie and a big bag of'Black Jacks'!Have some old copies knocking about which my 10 year old daughter adores. Think Gillian is spot on.I love hearing about people who'just do'amazing things against the odds..
Definately Nancy Wake(WOW!),Sheila Scott(pilot),Hilary Lister(quadraplegic solo sailor),Sarah Outen(described by Ranulph Fiennes as'definately mad,definately marvellous',Chrissie Wellington( currently smashing all the Iron Man records by miles whilst smiling?!)
Best of Luck from me too!