Comment: Don't ask me to ape Cherie or Linda

AFTER RELIGION, politics and fame, the biggest peddler of hypocrisy, deceit and myths has got to be the creation to which today's woman is allegedly incurably addicted: the role model. It is the RSJ of the daft conviction that the chosen few among us are Having It All. These few are supposedly fulfilled in work, family, sex life, love, friendship and wealth without so much as a bruise to relationships, integrity, leisure and sanity. In short, they achieve the impossible.

The role model has become a modern-day goddess to be worshipped and admired and emulated. Except that where she has magical powers (also known as housekeepers, nannies, fitness trainers, plus a PR machine that knows a hundred ways of disguising from the outside world - until the price is right - crumbling marriages, resentful children, work half-done and periodic depression), the rest of us have only ourselves to fall back on.

We fail (and blame ourselves) but we expect only a continuum of coping from the best of the RMs. So it's all the more dangerous when a role model- cum-goddess proves to be just as mortal as the rest of us.

In yesterday's Daily Mail, Cherie Booth, promoted as a role model (more dutiful wife than over-stressed career woman) by Labour's spin masters, wrote as patron of the charity Breast Cancer Care, about Linda McCartney. The charity is selling one of her photographs, Stallion and Standing Stone, to raise money for the support it gives to those suffering from cancer.

Cherie Booth says of Linda McCartney, "Nearly everyone... reflected on what a strong role model she was, not only as a wife and mother, but also as an original creative woman." And she adds, "Many also admitted to the terrible anxieties that her death had triggered in them. A common theme of their letters was, 'if Linda McCartney can't beat breast cancer, what hope have I got?'"

Linda McCartney's death was tragic, as are the deaths of even younger women, among them the journalist Ruth Picardie, who wrote so movingly about her anger and sorrow at leaving very young children. We can admire Ruth without transforming her into a role model. What drew many of us was not that she embodied an illusion of perfection but that she was heart- breakingly human; just like us. Everybody hoped, but few truly expected her to win the battle. Role models, in contrast, are required to have an illogical, near-mystical ability not only to live life in the round but also to defy premature death.

Mythology surrounds our role models like wrapping around an Easter egg - there's a lot of it, and it doesn't amount to much when examined with a clear eye. It doesn't lessen the courage of Linda McCartney to say that she was a woman with a sound marriage who was a good enough mother, loved animals, took OK photographs and couldn't sing, but seemed to know how to make the best of life. Vegetarianism didn't grant immunity but it did provide her with a healthy income from her products. If the image-makers hadn't determined to turn her into a role model (not least as a boost to sales of soya sausages), cancer patients wouldn't now be feeling defeated and in despair because Linda lacked what they believed she had to possess: the luck of the gods.

A few years ago, I met a woman who was successful in the City, wrote novels, and had two children. How did she squeeze it all in? She explained that she spent a couple of hours a day writing in office time. She couldn't tell the truth in interviews because that would reveal to her bosses that she was short-changing them. A year or so later, we met again. She told me that a son had become involved in drugs and her marriage was under strain. Profiles, interviews continued to appear, buffing up her image as the one who Had It All. In her wake, no doubt, dozens of gullible women (and, yes, we all need to read between the lines a little more adeptly), rise at 5am to write the novel, before an over-long day's work, returning too late to read a bedtime story, before sinking exhausted into bed repeating the mantra, "If she can do it, so can I." The truth is, she can't, without a price to be paid. Every choice has a consequence.

Women, in the main, carry the burden of balancing work and home so they are hungrier than men for mentors. Even so, they should become more like men - admire a person's individual actions without nursing illusions about the success of an overall life, setting impossible standards to attain. In short, treat role models as fairy stories for grown-ups. Then, as with the death of Linda McCartney, it wouldn't come as quite such a devastating shock for some when the happy ending is, sadly, sometimes denied.

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players