Here’s to Strong Women

When I was thirteen years old, I started to get into comic books. At the time, I was particularly partial to superhero comics. And as a young girl, I heard all the jokes about how, of course I was so absorbed in a genre that followed traditionally handsome, muscular men dressed in skin-tight clothing. It didn’t seem to matter much if I said that that wasn’t what drew me to the genre; everyone was simply convinced that that must be what it was.

I had a hard time convincing people that, when I opened a Batman comic, I didn’t do it for the sad, rich boy with abs; I was there for the tragic cat burglar who wanted love, but never at the expense of her freedom or independence. I wanted to read about the clown girl who fell head-over-heels for the wrong man, and then learned to recognize the abuse, and, with the help of her best friend (another woman who had faced mistreatment from an entitled and careless man) she got herself out of that situation.

I am, of course, talking about Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, respectively. Three fictional characters who are not only strong, capable, and fiercely independent – they are, quite simply, unapologetically female.

When I was thirteen years old, these were the sorts of fictional characters that I was attracted to, in all forms of media: power fantasies. More specifically, feminine power fantasies. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because she was allowed to (un-ironically) love shopping and make-up and gossiping, while still being able to kick some demon ass and stand up for herself. I loved Wonder Woman, because she was fierce and strong, but nurturing and loving all at once. I loved Xena, because she could be both warrior and princess without question.

When I was sixteen years old, my attention began to turn a little bit more toward celebrities, because I suppose that’s what you do when you’re a teenager (or, it was what me and my friends did, at least). The celebrities that I sought out were much the same.

I loved rocker chicks, like P!nk and Joan Jett, women who weren’t afraid to challenge what was expected of women. I loved celebrities like Lady Gaga, who insisted on expressing themselves in the way that they saw fit. I loved Emma Watson, and any woman who was willing to brand themselves a feminist or stand up for women’s issues.

I loved female celebrities who will go unnamed here, simply because there is not time and space to mention all of them.

When I was eighteen years old, I became more aware of the women in my own life, in my family (as you tend to do when you’re facing the possibility of moving out and moving on).

I heard stories about my maternal grandmother, and how much of a firecracker she had always been. I heard about this five-foot-tall woman, growing up with nothing to call her own and having to build her own life from scratch. I heard about the time that her own brother made fun of her until she could stand it no longer, and she stabbed him in the hand with a fork.

I remembered growing up with my mother, who was covered almost head-to-toe in tattoos and dyed her hair a new colour every week. I remember her pictures being published in tattoo magazines, her name being made as a small-time tattoo model, even when she had two fully grown daughters. I remember her telling me that the people who thought she shouldn’t be who she was at her age didn’t matter. I remember her telling me how important it was to be true to yourself, and to be proud of who you are, no matter what that means.

I remember growing up with my sister, who has never once considered not speaking her mind. No matter what, even if what she says is considered rude or incorrect, she will say it. If others tell her that she should be humble, then she will climb to the highest rooftop just to scream out how much of a gift she is to the world. If someone tries to hurt or slight her, then she will do precisely what she needs to do to protect herself, because that is precisely the sort of strong, independent woman she is.

Now, I am twenty-two years old, and I am more aware now than ever that strong women are a gift upon this world.

As women, we are too often told to be something very particular; we are told to be soft, humble, passive, sweet, whatever – my point is, whenever a woman does not subscribe to this limited definition of what a woman can be, the effect can be truly inspiring.

Because the fact of the matter is, women don’t have to be one thing. Women shouldn’t be one thing; there are millions and millions of us, and we are all different. We all look different, act different, think different, love different, and we should reflect all that in how we live our lives.

A woman who does not perfectly reflect society’s definition of beauty, and yet still loves herself and owns what she has, is a rare and beautiful thing – specifically because society tells women that they shouldn’t do that.

A woman who unapologetically owns her quote-unquote ‘unfeminine’ traits, like ambition or assertiveness, is, again, a rare and beautiful thing.

A woman who is, quite simply, herself, regardless of what that might mean, is a rare and beautiful thing.

And the reason why am I writing this, more important than simply reminding the world that strong women are a gift, is because we need to remind the strong women in our lives that they are strong, that they are amazing, that they inspire us. We need to support our fellow women, to encourage them to continue being themselves. Because we exist in a society that sometimes seems intent on tearing them down, but if we can remind them that what they do is important, then maybe they can find the strength to continue.

As women, we need to build one another up. We need to be there for one another, to make one another better, instead of constantly trying to prove that we are better than them. On top of telling women what they should be, society has also tried to trap us in a constant cycle of competition with one another: we must be the pretty-est, the most loved, the best mother, but the truth is, we don’t need any to accept any of this. We have the option of supporting our fellow women, of helping them to become stronger. Because we all deserve to be and feel strong.

Advertisements

Why Wonder Woman is Important

If I had to choose between DC and Marvel (and many geeks do), I would probably choose DC. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel, and one of my favourite superheroes comes from Marvel (Nightcrawler from the X-Men, if you were curious), but I’ve always seen DC as just a little bit edgier, a little bit more willing to take risks. And not to mention, Harley Quinn and, for that matter, everything to do with Batman would probably have to be my favourite things from any superhero comic. So when DC began their own cinematic universe, I was downright dying to see it all come together.

But truth be told, their first three movies left me feeling disappointed. I personally considered Man of Steel to be an awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Batman Vs. Superman was a bit cheesier, and I loved the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, but it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. And although I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, I had some huge problems with the Suicide Squad movie, mostly because they romanticized the abusive relationship between Harley and the Joker.

I say all of this because, by the time that the release of the Wonder Woman movie became close enough to get excited about, I had begun to doubt that DC could put out a good movie. But nonetheless, I wanted to get excited. I really wanted this to be a good movie, because this was just such an important movie.

There have been superhero movies with female leads in the past. In 1984, the world saw the release of a Supergirl movie, in 2004 we had a Catwoman movie, and again in 2005, we had an Elektra film, but none of those films were critical successes, and more importantly, they were a vast minority, and both of those movies were released before Marvel’s great success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I write this, Marvel has released fifteen films, and not one of them have a female superhero as their lead. Their first superhero movie starring a female superhero, Captain Marvel, is set to be released in 2019, and it follows twenty films with male leads. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is DC’s fourth film, following two films with male leads and one film that divides its attention between one male lead and one female lead.

Not only that, but this film is Wonder Woman’s first live action cinematic appearance. She has had a television series of her own, but she has not had a mainstream movie of her own until now, which is miserable when you consider her male counterparts within DC. Batman has starred in seven live action films, whereas Superman has starred in nine.

So why is it that we have received so many films with male superheroes and so few with female? Well, because studios have doubted for years that the typical movie-going audience will be interested in a superhero film starring a woman! For years, movie studios (including Marvel) have cited the previously mentioned flops of female superhero movies as a reason to avoid making more of them. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal that DC was willing to release a mainstream Wonder Woman film, especially so early into the game. And not only that, it’s a pretty big deal that they chose a woman, Patty Jenkins, to direct, because of the top 250 films released in 2016, only 7% of those were directed by women.

So this movie needed to be good. It needed to be, because if it wasn’t, the future of female-led superhero movies was in jeopardy.

So how was it, really?

Well, I am proud to confess that, upon seeing it, not only is it the first legitimately good movie released in DC’s extended universe, but it gave no disappointments. Truly, it is the sort of movie that future superhero movies will try to emulate, and I couldn’t be happier.

In some ways, Wonder Woman captured a side of superhero story lines that I have always loved, and that is the idea that all people, good and bad alike, are worth saving. Wonder Woman explores the idea of empathy, who deserves it and who doesn’t, and a lot of the focus of the film relies on the strength of emotion and of love – two ideals that, interestingly enough, have been labelled feminine and, in a lot of ways, have been excluded from other superhero movies.

And I’m not saying that love is completely excluded from other superhero movies. Many of them feature love stories, and although it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Amazing Spiderman 2 dealt with a superhero’s reaction to the loss of his love. But Wonder Woman deals with this differently. For Wonder Woman, love is her strength. She quite literally gains strength through her love for her significant other, her love for her friends, and, even more interestingly, her love for human kind en masse, including her own villains. In Wonder Woman, love and emotions are her asset, not a weakness. Not something that makes her silly and illogical. It makes her walk across a battle field and face fire from enemy troops, and it makes her win the battle in the end. And although I won’t say that this is an aspect that would not be represented in a superhero movie made by and starring men, I will say that this is an aspect that is unique to this film.

And it is so important that this aspect is available in Wonder Woman, because love and emotions have been labelled as ‘feminine’ for years, and more than that, they have been labelled as inferior. Emotions are seen as illogical, but Wonder Woman argues against that. Wonder Woman states that, yes, she is a woman, and yes, she is emotional and loving, but that is her strength. That is what helps her protect people, what helps her defeat her villains. That is what makes her amazing.

And there is so much more that I can say about this film. As I said, this is very much a movie about empathy, and it shows empathy towards everyone – toward people of colour who have faced discrimination or historical genocide, toward people who were born in the wrong time and place and are just trying to do the right thing, toward people who have given up trying to do the right thing and have turned instead toward hurting others. Wonder Woman is a loving and wonderful film that I cannot recommend enough. And even though it took a long time for the DC extended universe to put out a great film, I am so glad that when they did, it was this one.

The Strength and Goodness of Superheroes

In many houses around the world, today is known as the day when a fat man with a bushy, white beard and an addiction to sweets breaks into your house and leaves you nice things. And as the fact that I am DC Comics trash is known as wide and far as the North Pole, Batman and Wonder Woman swag was an easy choice for Santa to leave me.

And as I am opening what must have been my fifth or sixth present that revealed the DC Comics logo beneath the snowflake wrapping paper, I find myself asking a question that I actually don’t consider all that often: what is it about superheroes that I love so much?

Well, my sixth present does, in fact, offer me some sort of hint: I unfurl the entire Wonder Woman workout outfit, and I’m filled with excitement for the inspiration I’m going to receive from it. Because, strangely, superheroes make me feel powerful.

You’d think that it would work opposite. After all, I (unfortunately) don’t belong to a race of Amazons like Wonder Woman, and I’m not nearly as wealthy or mentally ill as Batman. I can’t dress up in a costume and fight crime, and I don’t know if I’d want to even if I could. But nonetheless, whenever I look at these characters, I’m filled with their strength – more their emotional strength than their physical strength.

Because a common theme in many superhero story lines is the theme of never giving up. Of being beaten up and knocked down and losing everything, and yet still getting back up and doing what you know is right, what you know you have to do. Even if I can’t relate to hiding my identity behind a mask so that I can go out at night and beat up the Joker, I can relate to being emotionally damaged and wanting to give up. I can relate to losing all will to continue, and thinking that it would be easier to just let it stop, just giving in to the common flow of life. And whenever I feel this way, I can just turn to my favourite superheroes to remind me that I can’t do that. I have to stand up and I have to fight for what I want and what I need – not necessarily physically, the way that they do, but most certainly mentally.

And, in a way, that leads me to the second theme in superhero story lines that I love so much: the theme of hope and optimism.

Certain superheroes turn to this theme more often than others, but it’s present in all superhero stories. In fact, it’s an almost essential part of the genre, because every single superhero (not anti-hero, necessarily) relies on the belief that there is at least one person out there who is capable of possessing ultimate power and using that only for the good of humanity.

Every single superhero looks at the world and sees a world worth saving. They see people who are, ultimately, good, even while they fight people who do the ugliest, cruellest deeds imaginable. In fact, there are many superheroes (including Batman, despite his reputation for being a more ‘dark’ superhero) who outright refuse to kill their villains, regardless of what the crimes they are guilty of, because they still hold onto the belief that these are people who are simply in need of help, who are capable of being reformed under the right circumstances.

It’s difficult, sometimes, to maintain hope and optimism in a society such as ours, filled as it is with social injustices and war and Trump, but whenever I’m starting to feel a little bit down, all that I need to do is turn to my superhero friends, and they help me to see the good in society once again.

Superhero stories reveal the good, while still refusing to conceal the bad. They explore an endless variety of social themes, from mental illness, drug abuse, physical/mental abuse, social inequalities, ect., but at the end of the day, no matter what happens in the course of the text, there is always this one great, powerful figure, this one man or woman who desires nothing more than to help. And they remind me of the good, strong people that exist in our society, the ones who truly do strive to make a change. They remind me of the sort of person I want to be – the strength that I wish to adopt, the goodness that I wish to embody. Maybe I can’t dress up in a costume and beat up criminals, but I can go out into the world and make a change. And that is all that I need to do.