This morning I read a post shared by my husband, Kaveenga Wijayasekara, on a social media website. He has always been a very vocal supporter of women – one would say he has to be, to be married to yours truly – but this particular post touched something very deep in my heart and I [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The importance of being…a female role model


This morning I read a post shared by my husband, Kaveenga Wijayasekara, on a social media website. He has always been a very vocal supporter of women – one would say he has to be, to be married to yours truly – but this particular post touched something very deep in my heart and I felt it best to simply share it in its entirety.

In his post, Kaveenga says, “Almost as soon as a girl is born, she learns that it is men that lead and rule. In most homes the father is the bread-winner who goes ‘out into the world’. The mother’s more sacrificial role of nurturing is not so exciting as it happens ‘inside the home’. In politics it is men who dominate, who debate, and thus have the opportunity to give rousing speeches. The Sri Lankan Parliament has under 5% female representation, despite the population being nearly 52% female.

She sees how men are exalted and deified for their physical prowess – in sports, in the military, and how female physical accomplishments are glossed over. Seldom will the young girl hear about ‘relative strength’. That her body will secrete 10-20x less total testosterone than her male counterparts, so that when a woman runs 100 meters in 10.49s she is actually more effective and efficient than Usain Bolt over the same distance.

All founders of mainstream religions that she is likely to venerate are male – Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed, Krishna. So too are those who lead those religions today – Bhikkhus, Priests, Muftis. The organised forms of all these religions include some form of institutionalised female oppression – yes including Theravada Buddhism.

From leaders, to heroes, to spiritual liberators, she grows up seeing that these roles are male roles. Eventually she believes it to be so.”

I read this with a sense of growing sadness. With each paragraph, my sorrow…deepened. Every word was so heartfelt and in some ways, was a revelation. Most of us know these facts independently. They’re things we live with and know and understand on an individual basis. However, taken as a whole, it was almost alarming to notice that it was so…all encompassing.

The importance of Role Models is something we speak about and hear about often. We know the undoubted impact having diverse figures in important and key positions in society and in different spheres of life, has on all of us – particularly the impressionable young. Whether it be in Leadership, Sport, Religion, Art, Politics, Corporate, Education – each sphere has a significant impact on us and moulds and shapes our thinking, aspirations and ambitions.

As Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne discusses in Psychology Today, “Who do you most admire? A former teacher, a world leader, a neighbour, your boss? As adults, we tend to give little thought to the idea of having a “role model,” as we regard this to be a quality that children seek from the adults in their lives.  However, if you stop and consider who most influences you now, and why, you’ll no doubt agree that the people you admire now are giving you your most important life lessons…Studies of aggressive learning in children show that through a process known as vicarious reinforcement, we start to model the behaviour of individuals whose actions seem to be getting rewarded. In vicarious reinforcement, your tendency to commit a behaviour that someone else gets praise or attention for increases almost as much as if you were actually getting the rewards yourself. Unless the public figure who’s acted out is thoroughly and utterly disgraced and then completely disappears from public view, vicarious learning will occur in those exposed to that public figure’s actions. Most of the time, though, these people do anything but disappear. After the usual mea culpa’s, the media forgive them and we, the public, come away with the lesson that anyone can achieve redemption and make a profit at the same time.”

I believe Kaveenga wrote what he did as a reaction to a lost opportunity with the result at the recent US Presidential Election. Political beliefs and allegiances aside, as a woman I felt, in many ways it was an opportunity to reaffirm, on a very public and global scale, what many of us already know and believe:That women have no limits and no boundaries. That, in a very simplistic and rudimentary sense, we are capable of achieving anything and being anything we want to be, if we are given the right opportunities, circumstances and have the mindset, drive and support to get us there.

As Good Housekeeping Magazine mentioned in one edition relating to honouring women, “Some made music, some made noise, some made all the difference. We celebrate 125 women who, during the past 125 years, broke records, broke ground, blazed trails, and suffered trials, shattering ceilings of glass and even tougher stuff. While some are obvious choices and some are obscure, all acted to increase our liberty, safety and prosperity…we honour these matron saints and their work that continues to bring pleasure, save lives and widen the scope of little girls’ dreams.”

I would take it one step further and say there are many extraordinary women who not only widen the scope of little girls’ dreams, but have also pushed the boundaries far and wide for us grown up women, during different stages of our lives. Usually they come during the course of our daily routines. At the work place, at social events, at random moments. But the way I see it, the most effective way would be to witness it in our own homes. I have often been very vocal about the fact that my strength and belief in a woman’s endless potential and power comes from having a very strong and capable mother. To this day, she remains my most powerful, significant and definitive female Role Model. Obviously Kaveenga too had a similar upbringing with a strong and inspiring mother, which is reflected in everything he writes and says and in all he is.

So the moral of the story becomes almost obvious: We women are the most effective role models within our own homes and with every thought and deed inspire and affect the behaviour of those impressionable people – young and old – around us. The baton is clearly passed into our hands very early on – the question is, are we doing all we can? And are we willing and able to collect, keep it secure and pass it on, to the best of our ability, when the time comes?

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