Wonder Women

So, two things before we begin. First: SPOILERS are possible below. Likely, even. If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, you might skip this one for a while. But there’s going to be some non-WW ranting first.

Second: this is going to be fairly stream-of-consciousness, possibly even more so than my usual non-academic writing. So, you know, you’ve been warned.

We’re in what feels like a weird time, politically, culturally, and pop-culturally, as women.  We fully expected, last November, to elect the first woman President of the United States. I don’t particularly care if you don’t share my opinions on Hillary Rodham Clinton – I think the woman is brilliant, I think she’s kind, I think she is one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for President, and I don’t buy most of the criticisms of her that have been floated over the course of 30 years – just so we’re clear, negative comments about any of that won’t get past my filters.

But we didn’t do that, did we? We elected the most unqualified man ever to seek the office in a serious way. We elected someone the polar opposite of everything liberal, progressive America stands for. And that includes an intense misogyny, a desire to put women back “into their place”. It’s horrifying, frankly. And the news media? Still trying to put the blame for her “loss” onto Hillary Clinton. Never mind that she got 3 million more votes than he did. Never mind that she got more votes than ANYONE ELSE in the history of the Presidency, except Barack Obama in 2008 (and the turnout was higher that year). And never mind that turnout was lower than previous years because of voter suppression efforts in precisely the states she lost but should have won if you look at Obama’s maps. And never mind that there was Russian interference in the election, and she STILL GOT MORE VOTES BY A HUGE MARGIN.

Despite that, we’re stuck with the Misogynist In Chief. It’s a hard thing to get used to, when you really believed a majority of your country had moved past this crap.

Culturally, then, the “being a woman” thing is also strange, because, in the U.S., white women, at least, have it better than any other women in the history of the world. We are, for MOST intents and purposes, regarded as independent, adult humans – which has typically not been true for women through most of world history. There are issues, yes – white men still meet in boardrooms to decide what sort of healthcare is appropriate for women, as if we’re children who can’t decide for ourselves. (Hint: if you believe someone is an adult, you GET THEIR OPINION about decisions that affect them. You even use that opinion as a key component of the decision-making process. Maybe by having lots of them on these committees of yours, assholes in Congress.)

We still face daily challenges that men don’t. The list is long, and annoying in the extreme. For example: women in my field still get told that, if they have children while on the tenure track, they might be seen as not taking science seriously enough. Or they’re advised to “plan to have their babies in summer” – like that’s a thing you can really do. Do you think men ever get these sorts of comments? (Hat tip to Janet Stemwedel, of SJSU’s Philosophy Department, for bringing this incredibly obnoxious aspect of academic culture to my attention again this week.)

We still can’t walk safely alone at night, and if we are assaulted, people are still apt to ask, “Why was she walking alone at night?” Again, dudebros, a tip: people should be able to walk alone any time without fear. The real question is why you think women should be appropriately considered targets and should have to live in fear.

There are numerous other examples, which I’m not going to discuss here. I have other posts you can probably read about this.

So, yeah. We are in a good place, historically, the women of America, and that makes the ways in which it still sucks to be a woman all the more obvious to us.

Pop culturally…there’s an interesting trend the past couple of years. Almost a backlash, in some ways, against dudebro culture. Lots of feminism pervading movies and television. Lots of attempts to begin to balance movies and TV out. (Did you know that only 17% of women in crowd scenes in films and TV are women? Did you know that 75% of speaking parts in movies and TV go to men?) And, yeah, it’s sad that attempts at balance automatically read as “feminism”. If you try to make your art resemble the real world, you’re a liberal, a feminist, even “pandering”.

So. This past couple of years, there have been two Star Wars films with female leads (though it should still be noted that women are still massively underrepresented in these films). The new Ghostbusters was gender-flipped. (All of these choices, especially the Ghostbusters thing, caused massive dudebro hurt feelings on the internet. Which made me love the movies all the more.) Supergirl (the television series) is unapologetically feminist. The Handmaid’s Tale is a grim view of where a large part of the American government (the GOP, let’s be frank, here) would like to put women, with a side of, “Oh, by the way, you can’t oppress people without having some of the oppressed population helping you.” Oh, yeah…even The Walking Dead has a “women are going to save the world” thing going on lately.

Which brings us to Wonder Woman. You will have noticed that most superhero movies are dude-heavy. (Or you may not have noticed – that’s the thing about cultures with baked-in biases – you don’t notice them until you start looking for them, often.) When there is a woman in a superhero movie, she’s one woman surrounded by five or six men. (See for example: The Avengers. I love The Avengers, but they have the usual dude-to-chick ratio problem.)

Wonder Woman will eventually be subsumed in the same way – she IS part of the almost-all-male Justice League, after all. But Wonder Woman, the current movie, is all about the women. Strong, confident women abound, from our hero, to her family (the all-female Amazon culture from which she comes), to Etta Candy (Steve Trevor’s secretary and, in the comics, Diana’s best friend), to, yes, one of the two major villains (Doctor Poison).

Also, the way in which Diana is “feminist” is striking. She simply is who and what she is, and she has no time or patience for the “rules” of WWI London society. She was raised not to know about her perceived secondary status in most of the rest of the world, and she’s not having any of it – to the point of not even acknowledging that “it” exists. She’s an adult, and she’s going to be making her decisions as an adult, and nobody is going to tell her otherwise.

She isn’t “resisting” sexism. She’s impervious to it. And it is glorious to watch.

Because isn’t that how we all want to be? I know I would love to simply reject the crappy misogynistic soup I walk through on a daily basis, and substitute my own, better version of reality. And, to a degree, that’s exactly what I do. But you can’t always just pretend it’s not there…unless you’re Diana of Themyscira.

So, yeah, a long digression to get around to: it rocked, for all the usual reasons, and for a few that are specific to being a woman in 2017.

It’s an interesting time to be a woman in the United States. We’ve progressed a long way in just 100 years, and there’s a cultural backlash that’s profound and painful. And then…there’s the pop cultural backlash against that. “You’re unhappy about women having power and personal agency? Here’s some art I just know you’re gonna hate. We made the Ghostbusters women and ruined your childhood!”

I have nowhere else to go with this. I just find it interesting. Now, I gotta go. I have experiments to design, papers to write, and the patriarchy isn’t gonna smash itself, you know.


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