Shu Uesugi

The difference between role models and idols

Several of my female friends in Japan have told me that one day, they’d like to become a role model for career-oriented women in Japan. I admire them, considering the grim picture of gender inequality in Japan:

Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, below that of Tajikistan and Indonesia, coming in 104th out of 142 assessed countries in 2014, according to a study released Tuesday by the World Economic Forum. (source: The Japan Times)

However, I often feel that some of them are doing it wrong. I’d hate to say this, but instead of becoming role models, some are becoming idols. Idols can be role models, but I argue that there is a distinction between the two. Here’s how I see it:

Role Models say: Look at my work!

Idols say: Look at me!

Both types can be recognized as “a role model for X” in the short term. But in the long term, I believe that people will admire the look-at-my-work type much more so than the look-at-me type. Why? Well, ask yourself: who do you look up to?

Of course, this applies equally to men, and to people in other countries.


Thank you George for your comment:

Adding to the message: Role models help explain how to get there. Idols exist on a different plane that none of the crest us can reach.