My cousin got married on Saturday. The approach of her wedding has caused me to ponder why I feel so happy for her. To be honest, I feel like this wedding is more satisfying than either of my siblings – as if this one was waited for longer, worked for harder. She is 27, and both my siblings were 23. But still. I feel so much joy for her right now, and I said that in a toast at the rehearsal dinner. I cried a little, it moved people, it was lovely. But as the ceremony got closer, I started thinking about my cousin, what she means to me. She’s like my second older sister – the cool one who was nice to me but only around in the summer.
My cousin is one of my role models. As I’m getting to know myself better, I’m finding that I can see who my role models were in childhood and adolescence. Not only that, I can see how they’ve shaped me, how I modeled myself on them – the net influence they’ve had on my character.
My cousin is smart, confident, independent, and kind, among many other things. I’m lucky to have had her in my life, to have been influenced by such a wonderful woman.
But what happens in the absence of role models?
Growing up in a sheltered Christian home, I was not impressed with most of the women I saw in higher positions. They were mothers. They cared for their kids and ran households, and, to my eyes, didn’t do anything else. They weren’t people in their own right – they were defined by motherhood. And they excelled at it. But it was all they had. I’ve learned to respect this, especially as I’ve seen my sister become a mother, but it still isn’t what I want for my life. I saw men who had senses of self, careers, lives outside the family, but not women. In a way, I grew up without role models.
Many find their role models in the media, and, as I gradually found ways to expose myself to pop culture, I did just that. I saw movies like Easy A and Mean Girls and wondered if this was what regular high school was like. I assumed it was because I certainly didn’t have a regular experience. But I wanted to know for sure. I had to see for myself. Being an experiential learner has gotten me into some tricky situations. But I’ve learned a lot of lessons!
J. Cole raps about this on his song, “No Role Modelz,” saying he “don’t want no bitch from reality shows.” These bitches on reality shows – who are their role models? And are the bitches on reality shows role models for girls today? I hear Kylie Jenner’s name far more often than I think she deserves, based on my limited knowledge of her. But what does that say about our culture? The chorus goes, “Don’t save her / she don’t wanna be saved.” It’s true. She doesn’t know any better.
But I learned. And I realized how valuable my cousin has been in my life – one of the guiding lights of womanhood that brought me back around the bend. And I’m grateful, especially because I know how rare she is.