Jessica, save us from the cult of girly-girls!

Click to follow
The Independent Online

What a difference a few months make. Was it really only this summer that we were celebrating womankind's (Olympic) achievements for something other than the width of their thighs and the colour of their red carpet frocks?

I ask because those great "role models of the future", the Jessica Ennises and Ellie Simmondses, not to mention Mary Kings and Helen Glovers, have long since been knocked off their front pages.

Only yesterday, visitors to Mail Online, the world's most popular newspaper website lest we forget, were invited to ogle "Society's hottest sisters: the Delevingnes" and marvel at how, even when young, Chloe, Poppy, and Cara, stood out "for being particularly skinny, leggy and gorgeous even in a school full of skinny, leggy and gorgeous girls". Yes, I barfed a little too.

It gets worse. A recent poll of Hollywood's highest-paid women, as compiled by Forbes, laid bare the global dearth of inspiring females when it placed 22-year-old Taylor Swift in third place for the $57m she earned last year, and Katy Perry, 28, fourth, with her $45m. This pair of pop princesses with their saccharine song lyrics and cultivated 1950s personas is, by virtue of the ubiquity that has resulted in their colossal fortunes, what passes for role models for a worryingly large, not to mention immensely impressionable, section of the population.

To some, like the American writer Camille Paglia, society's constant exposure to pervasive candy-coloured images of Swift and Perry is wreaking serious damage on the feminist advances made since the heyday of the women's rights movement in the late 1960s. She thinks the duo is throwing society back to the "demure girly-girl days of the white-bread 1950s". And frankly, it's hard to disagree.

Paglia points to Taylor Swift, America's latest sweetheart, "beaming beatifically in all her winsome 1950s glory" from the cover of the latest Parade magazine, lambasting the singer's carefully nurtured self-deprecation that is completely at odds with Swift's shrewd glam dress sense. This, might I add, is my eight-year-old American niece's favourite singer and has been since she was six.

Perry fares worse, with the "yawning chasm between her fresh, flawless 1950s girliness, bedecked in cartoonish floral colours, and the overt raunch of her lyrics". To Paglia, the singer makes a mockery of the sexual revolution launched by the baby-boom generation: "Katy Perry's schizophrenia – good-girl mask over trash and flash – is a symptom of what has gone wrong."

What's a girl to do? Everywhere she looks, older women are being banished to the sidelines. On television, in the movies, on the stage: an actress friend recently bemoaned that at 38 she was already struggling to get parts because casting agents prefer younger models. The BBC has come under so much criticism for banishing anyone north of about 30 from its airwaves that it's now desperate to lure them back. The corporation is training up female experts in science, history, politics, business or engineering at a special training day next month so it can boost the representation of women as presenters.

Until schemes like this are more than mere PR-induced stunt, the drip-drip message, that women are best suited to clothes horse work, will continue to prevail. And that can only wreak serious damage on young girls' aspirations, throwing yet more obstacles in the way of the feminist movement. Failing that, can we have Jessica Ennis back on the front page for her athletic achievements? Please?