Girls should turn to Shakespeare for role models rather than Kim Kardashian, private school head says

A top independent school will explore Shakespeare's characters in PSHE this term

Tes Reporter

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Young women should turn to Shakespeare’s heroines for role models – rather than just looking up to reality TV star Kim Kardashian, a leading private school head has said.

Teenagers could learn more about projecting a positive self-image by studying Shakespeare’s heroine Cleopatra than by following social media posts from the American selfie queen, Jane Lunnon, from Wimbledon High School in west London, has argued.

Speaking to the media at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), held in Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, Ms Lunnon said: "I think Shakespeare was saying with Cleopatra that you are allowed to be flawed and powerful and brilliant and still have enormous influence.

"The thing about Cleopatra is it's about image and how she sells the myth of Cleopatra. Kim Kardashian is selling the myth about Kim Kardashian."

She added: "It sounds trite to say [Cleopatra] had enormous self-confidence, but that's what you would be getting kids to recognise – how I see myself and what I project."

Ms Lunnon has launched a pilot scheme at her school where pupils will study Shakespearean heroines in PSHE lessons from this term, re-imaging them in contemporary surroundings.

It was prompted by a straw-poll of pupils at the school which found that girls were more likely to consider Kim Kardashian and pop star Taylor Swift to be their role models, rather than education campaigner Malala Yousafzai and US First Lady Michelle Obama.

'More than just celebrities and diamonds'

Ms Lunnon said: "I have nothing against them but I wonder to what extent Kim Kardashian as a role model is a lot to do with inches – either column or physical.

"It’s well documented that there is a paucity of role models that are speaking to girls at the moment in Western society, and it made me think where else can we look for them?"

She added: "I'd like the role model pool to be a bit wider and and a bit broader. I'd rather we weren't just responding to those celebrities that are speaking with the size of their diamonds."

The school has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to launch its pilot programme, which will focus on the protagonists from comedies As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night to help girls learn from the way they deal with adversity.

Ms Lunnon said: "As an English teacher, I'm very used to using Shakespeare as a great source for intellectual stimulation and exploration – but really probing and using Shakespeare as a pastoral educational too I thought was really interesting and, in particular, that focus on Shakespeare's characters as potential role models.

"Look at Rosalind, look at Beatrice, look at Viola, the capacity in challenge and dilemma and pain, to love, to be vivacious, to be resourceful, to be resilient – they embody it so vividly, and that is a really powerful message."

"It's not that terrible things happen to them, it's the way they are responding. I think that's a really importnt message." 

The school, with the help of the RSC, hopes to broaden the "Women of Will" programme out to its local partner state schools. 

Jacqui O'Hanlon, director of education at the RSC, said: "We want to remind ourselves and the young people in our education system that Shakespeare's work is not just about passing an English exam.

"Actually, it is an artist that sheds a light on their experiences. It's about Shakespeare's contemporary relevance."

She added: "You don't have to work very hard to get young people to engage with the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare's work.

"As soon as you start putting them in the shoes of the characters and getting them to speak the text and think about the dilemmas those characters are in, that is automatically making reference to their own lives."

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