Helen Martin: Vive Lagarde as a real role model

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IT’S been a long time coming, but at last European women have a worthy role model. One look from Christine Lagarde has experienced male broadcasters “smitten” and tongue-tied like pubescent schoolboys.

But it’s her effect on women that is quite remarkable yet, at the same time, only to be expected. Because in almost 60 years on the planet, I cannot remember another woman like her on the world stage.

As the head of the International Monetary Fund, and a former corporate lawyer and finance minister, she is clever and smart (which are not necessarily the same things). Having had two boys (and two marriages, before her current partner) she hasn’t sacrificed motherhood or companionship for her career.

She is beautiful and attractive, but not “girly”. She is, after all, just short of 6ft tall. Her make-up is natural and her hair is silver-grey. She wears business-like clothes and often rather sensible shoes. Yet she is said to exude an effortless and quite uncontrived sexiness and elegance. People speak of her sense of humour, compassionate nature and her authority.

We certainly need someone to provide an alternative to the ghastly Katie Price-Cheryl Cole-Geri Halliwell (insert any other desperate-to-be-famous-for-nothing name of your choosing) “role model” which so many British girls cite on surveys today.

Choosing a role model should mean more than who they would like to look like in five years. Their ambitions should extend beyond having their sex lives charted in lurid headlines or being able to afford as much cosmetic surgery as their over-anaesthetised young bodies can stand.

Aspirational figures for women have never been easy to identify, though it might have been easier in the 50s before women were expected to do anything much apart from competently run a home and rear children. They might dream about being Marilyn Monroe or even a less frightening, ditsy Doris Day. But in reality it came down to finding a happy marriage to a man with a good job.

In the “liberated” sixties, Mary Quant could be said to set a fair example – a brilliant designer, an astute businesswoman, a headliner to be sure, but one who built an empire, albeit out of “fluffy stuff” like fashion and interiors.

And then there was Maggie Thatcher. As the first female British Prime Minister she should have been a contender. But what woman wants to be strident, dictatorial, masculine, and brim full of the worst kind of macho self-belief that repels even sensible self-doubt? As she was also about as fashionable and cute as a charging rhino, she never made it off the starting blocks as a female role model. If it wasn’t for Joan Bakewell or Cagney and Lacey imports (and one of them played an alcoholic), girls would have had nowhere to turn.

Today, we seem to have a monotonous succession of youthful alleged role models struggling under the heavy burden of mascara rather than difficult decisions, and better known for their hair styles than any cerebral functioning that might be taking place below.

To them, the worst thing that can happen is losing their hair straighteners or passing 50. It hasn’t done “natural” Helen Mirren much harm. But look at Joan Collins, still pushing glamour and make-up at nearly 80 when she should know better. She is their future – a “senior” mascara-bearer, a Barbara Cartland in the making.

Of course, Lagarde would have to be from France where, looks aside, grace, authenticity and style without adornment seem to be in the genes, even for government ministers. It would have been nice if someone like her had emerged from the UK but, with few exceptions, our female politicians haven’t really pulled off the sexy charisma thing. Mo Mowlam was much-loved, of course, as is Ann Widdicombe. Locally, there’s Jenny Dawe. I rest my case. Having the whole Lagarde package is rare.

We do – and how could we forget, this year of all years – have Her Majesty the Queen, who is an example to us all. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. But no-one can aspire to her role or model themselves on her life because one has to be, literally, born to it. As a role model she is as realistic and as attainable as Catwoman.

Lagarde by comparison, could yet be the 21st century superwoman who actually does save the world.

Scrubs up nicely

AFTER a woman in Oxgangs was moved into a council flat that had almost been turned into an electrical death trap by feral squirrels, a council spokesman said: “It is council policy for all properties to be fully cleaned and repaired before being let out to tenants.”

I have seen the state of a few council properties when the new, previously homeless, tenants moved in. Anything’s better than the street, and putting on a pair of Marigolds never killed anyone.

But the claim that all council lets in Edinburgh have been “fully cleaned and repaired” must have given some tenants the best laugh since the last leccy bill.