Female role-model

Why is it so hard to find a decent female role-model in the Australian media?

Last year Bindi Irwin turned nine before a public audience at her family’s Crocoseum. If in ten years time the child star is still in the public eye, chances are it will be for drug addiction, excessive drinking and falling pregnant to a string of different men. Apparently that’s just what ‘young ladies’ do these days. Going by the recent arrests and rehab stints of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Nicole Richie, it seems that young women are simply out of control.

Never mind that teenage girls are considered more mature than their male counterparts. Never mind that girls continue to out-perform boys in the HSC. Never mind that girls aged 16 to 24 are safer drivers and have higher tertiary enrolment rates than boys in the same age group. And don’t even consider the drastically lower incarceration rates of young women compared to young men.

The problem is not that young women are irresponsible, but that the media is only interested in the few that are. The moral panic around young celebrity females is so intense that many people forget that young men are actually more ‘at risk’ than young women, yet curiously there is no moral panic surrounding young boys.

As a 23-year-old woman, I have very few female role models my age to look up to. It’s not that they’re not out there. Young women are doing great things. The problem is one of visibility. The media very rarely reports on young women in an affirmative, empowering way. In between the prepubescent Bindi Irwin and the equally saccharine Nicole Kidman, there is surprisingly little on offer.

It’s not exactly empowering to have a precocious nine year old as my most accessible role model. As a young woman, unless you fit the category of innocent virgin, vulnerable victim, self-sacrificing mother or polite seasoned actress, chances are the media will vilify you. In the past, being a female celebrity in your twenties attracted epithets such as slut, vamp, whore, addict and ‘heir head’. You can now add ‘criminal’ to the list.

But why is there such a witch-hunt for young female celebrities? Just as many young male celebrities take drugs and do stupid things. Not only has Prince Harry been busted with weed but he also made the social gaff of wearing a Nazi costume to a party in 2005. Call me crazy, but I find that a lot more offensive than Britney getting about minus a pair of knickers. So why the double standard? And how does the double standard fuel the moral panic around young girls as vulnerable and highly susceptible to negative influences? More to the point, are paternalistic offers of protection really just veiled offers to control young women?

Associate Professor Catharine Lumby suggests that the sexuality of teenage girls produces a cultural anxiety which results in the social scrutiny of young women’s bodies and behaviours. When teenage girls develop curvy bodies and active libidos they can no longer be neatly categorized as innocent asexual beings.

This unsettles others, especially older men, who find themselves disturbingly attracted to girls young enough to be their daughters. These men then deal with their anxiety by projecting it back onto the bodies and actions of young women through extreme regulation and control, Lumby says. Old men police young women as a way of policing their own uncomfortable desire for them.

Similarly, some older women, who are threatened by younger women’s sexualities, deal with this anxiety through scrutiny and insult. That’s not to say that the Hollywood ‘rat pack’ should be let off the hook simply because they have been subjected to such intense scrutiny. If they have done the crime, they should do the time.

Driving under the influence or driving on a suspended license, as Paris Hilton has done, is a criminal offence. These women have acted with an error of judgment. But this error of judgment is comparable to that demonstrated by Australia’s legal elite, namely former NSW Supreme Court judge Jeff Shaw who admitted he’d been drinking before he crashed his car in 2004.

As a young woman, the only sympathetic media attention you are likely to enjoy is if you suffer some terrible, unjust ordeal at the hand of a violent criminal. Last year Nicole Miller rose to unfortunate fame following a tragic incident where she suffered severe head injury after a rock was thrown through a car window. A year and a half prior Lauren Huxley suffered a similar head trauma after being viciously attacked in her Northmead family home. These women are incredibly inspiring and I applaud them in their efforts to overcome such adversity. Nonetheless, the range of role models my age on offer should not be restricted to comatose victims of crime.

Surely there are young women making a name for themselves as something other than victims turned survivor. Princess Mary may be a case in point. But Princess Mary, in all her polished glory, is not necessarily a woman I can relate to. A mother in her thirties, she never has a hair out of place, never has a ladder in her stocking and never speaks out of turn. She doesn’t inspire me, she makes me feel defective, and worse, she makes me feel like I should flirt shamelessly with rich men in the hope that they might whisk me off to their Eastern suburbs mansion via their daddy’s yacht.


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Narromine is located in central western NSW. The unique flatness of the countryside and the red and black soils are an incredible sight – the NSW outback is amazing. The young people living in and around Narromine are just as amazing, the Youth Council of the Narromine Shire are doing some great youth projects.

The Narromine Youth Council aims to promote and support the health and well being of young people by providing opportunities for young people to:

  • access resources that meet their needs for recreation and information
  • be involved in the community, develop new skills, have new experiences and meet new people
  • have a voice about the issues which impact on their lives and
  • to be involved in social action.

The Narromine Youth Council have completed an alcohol awareness campaign that is a lot different from the usual youth campaign. Why? Because it’s really local and relevant to the young people living in the region. They have created the campaign from the ground up.

How did they do it?

In May 2005 the youth council had an interest in working on a drug and alcohol project. They wanted more advice on how to do a youth project so they got Priya MacDonald involved. Priya is an adolescent health improvement officer, drug and alcohol services with Greater Western Area Health Service. In consultation with Priya the youth council decided to find out what young people’s thoughts were first concerning drug and alcohol and what the issues were so that they knew where to focus their energy.

How did they get young people’s thoughts?

The youth council created the street talk survey. The youth council came up with a number of questions to ask the young people in their region. Mick Bell, the Narromine, Gilgandra Shire Councils Road and Safety Officer said “it was a great idea because the young people did face to face interviews, so it worked well”. The survey aimed to find out ‘what young people think’ and helped to shape the direction for future youth projects.

Why did it work so well?

“It was a small survey and a simple procedure that collected information about young people’s thoughts on alcohol” said Priya. Also, it was a youth driven project and having young people interview other young people is a great way to gather information.

Where to from here?

Priya put all the information from the surveys into a useable document that presents the information from the surveys clearly. The youth council discussed the results from the survey and came up with some aims for the next stages of alcohol awareness campaign. The aims include:

  • Talk to young people about ‘what they think’ about alcohol usage
  • Increase community awareness about the impacts of young people using alcohol
  • Assist young people to make positive choices through education of safe partying techniques, responsible choices and alternatives to having a fun time without drinking
  • Help provide activities for young people to participate in that are drug and alcohol free
  • Seek support and help to continue more educational projects regarding the incidence of underage and binge drinking amongst young people.


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Another positive outcome of the survey was that it led Greater Western Area Health Service and Narromine Shire Council to team up and raise awareness about the increasing incidence of teenage parties during the festive and holiday periods and how to host a fun and safe party.

The Narromine Youth Council has got off to a great start in addressing drug and alcohol issues in their community. The street talk survey is a fantastic idea that involved young people in a new and creative way.…

North Richmond Youth Centre

North Richmond Youth Centre has been allowing up and coming bands to get off the ground with their monthly band nights for a long time now. However, the young people organizing the event found it hard to get bands off the ground, when they didn’t even have a stage for the band to play on. Bands were happy to play of course, in North Richmond they love having an audience, however several young people thought it simply wasn’t good enough. And from that thought grew what has blossomed into Rock Across The River.

Rock Across The River is set to be a one day music festival on 2 June, with a youth focus combined with a family festival attitude. The whole day is aimed at making money for a new stage for the bands from now on, so it’s music for music’s sake, and also to give the local people something to do, and local bands an audience to play for with a big name act.

I met up with a few of the girls on the steering committee for the event and was amazed at how this had all come together. From their description it seemed to have grown almost unassisted out of a tiny idea. Apparently a few girls got a spark of inspiration, and ran with it, then some other people came on board. Then some people got off board and it just happened. It took a bit of talking to coax the harder stuff out of them, but once they got started it was hard to stop them.

According to the girls, their area isn’t the most youth friendly place to live. One young woman even told me that kids from the area go other places because they are so isolated. The name of their event reflects her concerns.Rock Across The River is an invitation for young people to cross the river for some great live music. Pamphlets and fliers are being distributed as far as the Hills District and the Blue Mountains, thanks to the dedication of all the girls (and let us not forget the hard working male) who have been working hard on this project. One of the young women involved, Brittni, is a local musician herself and understands that young people in the Hawkesbury area don’t often have a lot of opportunity to have their music held. She loves the fact that North Richmond had the monthly band nights, but thought this event was really taking local youth music in the area to the next level.

The girls explained to me that it had been hard but fun working with this group of people, one of them told me that they would not take a project like this on again unless at least one of the same people was there as well. Perhaps it might be easier to do another time, the girls are involved in full time work or study, in fact Brittni is in her HSC year this year. The dedication and camaraderie between the girls made the whole process seem more fun. I wondered why there weren’t more boys on their committee, and was about to be disappointed in the male community of North Richmond, but the girls put my fears to rest, telling me that the boys were working hard performing on the day and networking to get bands like the big name Bagster to perform on the day. I felt satisfied knowing the boys were in fact working hard. The one boy I did meet, Anthony, was drawn in by an article in the local paper about the event, which just goes to show the positive power of your local paper. In fact local sources got most of the committee involved. People brought friends or sisters along to a meeting and if they liked what they were doing they would stay and help. Seems easy enough, if you have friends willing to share your cause then get them on board. It certainly worked for this group, who seem to have had their membership confirmed by the time I got to see one of their meetings.


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What I saw of their meeting, where I learned most of what was going on, made the whole event look easy. And as the girls and women explained to me, it has been. Under the supervision of North Richmond’s Youth Development Officer, Michelle, the team has come up with some truly ingenious ideas. Michelle says that once everything was structured it became very easy, though the young women tend to think she did a lot more than that, attributing a lot of their funding success to Michelle’s “snazzy words” and flair for letter writing. On further research I found that they received an initial funding grant from Indent (see below), after sending a great package of promotional items for their already existing band night. After that, it was up to hard work and community support. Rachel, the youngest member of the dynamic group, aged only sixteen, put together a very enticing sponsorship kit which went out to local business, with a fair bit of money coming in from that. The other members of the group saw her extreme dedication to the event as a clear reason why publicity and sponsorship had happened. Of course, a lot of the money came from hard work in the community. On Election Day this year the young people were at the voting booth hard at work selling sausages and raffle tickets.

Of course it hasn’t all been sunshine and lollipops for the group, but as one of the girls, Mel, pointed out to me “If you have a good team willing to put in the effort, you can achieve anything.” I quickly learnt that a good team is great, but a connected team is better. Every single girl in the group (Michelle included) knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone who could help. I thought about that …


The Eurobodalla Shire is located on the South Coast of NSW. It has a population of approx 36,000 that swells to three times this size at peak vacation times, with people coming to holiday on our beaches and estuaries.

One of the issues that repeatedly appears in our Shire’s Social Planning processes for young people includes the need to address issues around teenage driving.

Our Youth Committee developed a simple project that promoted the well-being and safety of local young people. Their discussions highlighted the lack of great effect that printed promotions have on driving behaviour and felt that a social marketing model of promotion where young people provide the message to young people would be more effective.

The project Steering Young People Straight funded via NRMA Road Safety funds targeted young people over our peak summer holiday period in 2005/06 as a two-pronged marketing project, ie. radio ads (below) at key driving times and cinema advertising prior to every movie (as cinema is one of the major recreational attractions in our area).

It was argued that if the communications are provided in an audio format and targets young people in their vehicles at key times of the day, the key messages will be timely and have a situational effect. With the message being reinforced in a visual manner, we help drivers think about their behaviour and provide a local value for our future drivers also exposed to the messages.

project goals

  • To reduce the incidence of youth casualties and fatalities in the Eurobodalla Shire caused by vehicle accidents over key holiday periods.
  • To increase young people’s knowledge of the main causes of youth related vehicle accidents
  • To involve young people in the public promotion of community messages
  • To increase young people’s skills and knowledge in working with the media and developing and presenting age appropriate information.
  • To reduce the number of young driver infringements issued for speeding and illegal alcohol levels.

The Youth Committee spent the $5,000 and several months workshopping the content of the ads in collaboration with local road safety experts. They wanted the messages to be confronting and to target the key issues effecting local young people. The key areas targeted were:

  • Blood alcohol levels – Reminding ‘P’ platers that they should have a ‘0′   level and that the day after a party that they may still be over the limit.
  • Experience – targeting mum and dad to give young people more opportunities for driving experiences
  • Decisions – Reminding young people to think about who they are getting in a car with especially if the driver has had a couple of drinks
  • Peer pressure – the results of impressing your mates can lead to losing your mates.
  • Risk taking – Reminding drivers to think about the consequences of taking risks whilst driving eg. texting, not wearing seatbelt.

The Committee auditioned representatives to provide the voice-overs for the ads and spent time in the local radio studio producing the ads.

The same brief was developed with our local cinema owners who sponsored the development of quality digital visual ads. The cinema owners actually gave the project a high number of free screenings over the project time, which went beyond the expectation of the project.

The advertising also helped to promote our youth committee being active in the community.

Anecdotally we have checked with police about youth traffic offences during this time and we believe that this project, along with other RTA, NRMA and police initiatives, contributed towards the decrease in reported offences.…