Girls encouraged to drop Kim Kardashian for Shakespeare’s Cleopatra

Guardian, 05.10.16, a London school programme will persuade pupils to adopt Rosalind and Viola as role models instead of social media stars. HMC member Jane Lunnon, Head of Wimbledon High School is quoted speaking from the 2016 HMC Annual Conference.

Girls are to be taught to see Shakespearean heroines such as Cleopatra as positive role models to supplant social media superstars such as Kim Kardashian, in a programme being launched at a London secondary school.

Jane Lunnon, headteacher of Wimbledon High School, said she devised the programme after discovering that many pupils at the £17,000-a-year independent school named Kardashian and singer Taylor Swift as their role models.

Students will be given classes introducing them to Shakespearean female characters such as Cleopatra, Viola from Twelfth Night and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, given a contemporary makeover.

“My school is full of really aspirational, delightful young women, but they are just as likely to cite Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian as a role model as Malala[Yousafzai] or Michelle Obama. In fact, slightly more likely, and quite passionately defend them as being great businesswomen.

The pilot being run at the school sees pupils studying the characters and then exploring issues involving Shakespeare’s heroines in hour-long lessons, in which pupils are encouraged to explore how they would react in a modern setting.

“We’re in early stages of it but it’s been really fun,” Lunnon said.

Jacqui O’Hanlon, education director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said the RSC supported the effort.

“What we are acknowledging is that Shakespeare, like any great work of art [sic], helps us to explore big questions about the world we live in and each other and ourselves,” she said.

“We want to remind ourselves and the young people in the education system that Shakespeare’s work isn’t just about passing an exam but [that he is] an artist who sheds light on their experiences.”

O’Hanlon said Shakespeare’s female characters raised a host of relevant issues: “Do we view Cleopatra differently, do we judge her by different kinds of rules, because she is female leader as opposed to a male leader?”

Lunnon said: “The thing about Cleopatra is that so much of the character is image and how she sells the myth of Cleopatra. Kim Kardashian is selling – let’s face it – the myth of Kim Kardashian. Cleopatra did the same thing, or at least Shakespeare’s Cleopatra did the same thing.”

She added that recent evidence showing that 27% of women aged 16 to 24 suffered serious mental health problemsdemonstrated how important these issues were.

“Anyone who works in education with girls has spent a lot of time trying to work out what is happening and why. Social media and all of the messages that come through it and the roles models it promotes are incredibly influential,” she said.

“Teenagers are naturally solipsistic, as we know. And things like WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat have reinforced the discussions among people like themselves, all liking the same things, promoting the same things.”

Characters such as Rosalind, the glamorous, quick-witted protagonist of As You Like It, offered girls an alternative to their “24/7 conversations” on social media.

“Look at Rosalind, look at Beatrice, look at Viola. Their capacity, in their challenges and dilemmas, to laugh, to be vivacious, to be resourceful, to be resilient, they embody it so beautifully. And that is a really powerful message.

“It’s not that terrible things didn’t happen to them. It’s the way they respond. I think that is a really important message: to know what matters. Getting kids to laugh at themselves – it’s very important. And Shakespeare does that.”

The HMC also heard how girls’ self-confidence and anxiety issues were being affected by bullying on social media.

“There is lots of evidence that the issues relating to girls and their self-perception, their confidence and anxiety around perfection, is massively amplified by the impact of social media, and the very clearly gendered differences in the way that individuals behave on social media,” Kevin Stannard, director of the Girls’ Day School Trust, told head teachers.

Read more © Guardian News & Media Ltd