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Last Updated: Monday, 8 March, 2004, 10:38 GMT
Buffy to slay girls' meekness
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy
"A strong fictional female character if there was ever one," says Mr Bell
Girls need more positive role models such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, says the head of the education watchdog, Ofsted.

Chief Inspector of Schools in England, David Bell, says that even though girls are ahead of boys in exam results, they still need more encouragement.

Mr Bell warns "the success girls enjoy at school is all too often not mirrored later in life".

The Ofsted chief wants girls to leave school with more self-confidence.

And he argues that television characters such as Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, had a part to play in promoting a more assertive and dynamic image of young women.

'Golden prizes'

In a speech in London marking International Women's Day, the chief inspector highlighted how the widely-recognised academic success of girls is not converted into economic advantage in adulthood.

Advertisements aimed at boys are noisy and action packed with powerful images. It is unsurprising that overall, children's perception is that it is better to be a boy
David Bell, chief inspector of schools

This academic prowess now runs right through the education system - with women substantially outperforming men at GCSE, A-level and degree level.

But Mr Bell says women are still not getting the "golden prizes" in the workplaces, with too few women in the most prominent or best-paid jobs.

Women were also lagging behind in pay, even in similar areas of employment, he said.

This lack of pay equality, he suggested, was fed by assumptions about gender roles, which were perpetuated by the media.

And he said women still tended towards the "caring" professions which often delivered lower financial rewards.

Postwoman Patricia

"It is easy to mock the whole idea of role models and what children pick up in the media," Mr Bell said.

But if we believe that television can be a powerful influence on young lives - and who doesn't - then having a balance of "strong" and "gentle" characters of both sexes is important.

"So, I'm not suggesting that Postman Pat is accompanied on his rounds by Postwoman Patricia in the interests of fairness and justice.

"But more power to the elbow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a strong fictional female character if there was ever one.

"I'm being facetious to a point, of course, but it is not 'political correctness gone mad' to want to ensure that different kinds of characters of both genders are well represented in the media.

"Advertisements aimed at boys are noisy and action packed with powerful images. It is unsurprising that, overall, children's perception is that it is better to be a boy."

Mr Bell said that reflecting these strong male images, girls can be less confident than boys in class - and he said some schools were experimenting with single-sex classes to offset this.

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