When I was younger, the word "hero" was virtually synonymous with the word "man".
Sure, there were princesses. But those women were generally rescued by men, or so enraptured by a handsome prince that any of their independent strengths were overlooked. I dressed up in play ballgowns, and daydreamed about my very own handsome prince, who would whisk me away on grand adventures. Then my life would really begin.
And sure, I had Hermione. But the books aren't called "Hermione Granger and Her Brilliant Mind." They centered on a boy, of course. A chosen boy. A special boy. A boy with a destiny, and beliefs, and values. A boy who saves the day and defeats the bad guy.
And yes, there are tales told in print and on the big screen of real women being real-life heroes in their communities, fighting the good fight in classrooms, courtrooms, corporations, their living rooms, and everywhere in between.
But it wasn't enough. I still found myself wondering what it would look like to see a depiction of a more traditional "hero," with a woman front and center as the title character.
After transitioning to writing professionally, I began hunting out female heroines in speculative fiction. What I've found (thus far) is just plain sad.
Apparently, the modern fantasy or sci-fi heroine is broody, violent, prone to outbursts of anger, and frequently some sort of assassin or other killing machine. But she still finds time to like puppies, be adored by every man in the room, and also feared by everyone around her.
I'm all for flawed characters, friends. But is this really how we want to represent ourselves as women?
So the question becomes... What does it mean to be strong and female? I think I will continue to ask myself that question for a lifetime. It is a question that is central to every writing endeavor that I consider and pursue, and one that I ask myself regularly as a woman in our society.
But yesterday evening during my weekly date with Andrew, something awesome happened. And my experience felt very much like a tiny step closer to defining feminine strength.
Was Wonder Woman a perfect film? Heck no. As with many films, there are plenty of plot holes, lots of contrived dialogue, and significantly more emphasis on romance/sex than I'd prefer. However, the experience of watching this movie as a woman was so liberating and empowering that I didn't give a crap about any of those problems.
During several scenes, I was overcome with emotion because it was so special to see a woman (or in some cases, many women) being so epically strong and dominant on screen. It was bittersweet to realize how many things I was seeing for the first time in my entire life: an incredible army (and entire culture!) comprised only of women. A woman leading men into battle. A woman saving the lives of men, women, and children over, and over, and over again. A woman calling men out repeatedly for being hypocritical, cowardly, or dishonorable. A woman who never, in the course of the entire film, is saved or rescued by a man. A woman who defeats the bad guy, on her own.
Yes, Diana's outfit is tiny and her hair looks stupid perfect after kicking so much butt and sprinting through war zones. But Wonder Woman's strengths are clearly not her looks--she succeeds because she is courageous, determined, strong, resilient, compassionate, committed to her beliefs, and firmly aware of her independent identity. She has some mad warrior moves, but unlike many of the broody heroines I've encountered in fiction recently, Diana fights to save the lives of others. And through it all, she retains her femininity and compassion and spirit.
It's tragic that I'm just now experiencing these moments in the year 2017. And I'm certain I missed some other fantastic heroines in film and literature--if so, I'd love to hear your recommendations. At the very least, I'm sure Wonder Woman and other heroines are amazing in the comic book world, which I have yet to delve into. But in the meantime, I will be savoring the message that Wonder Woman sends to girls and women of all ages, and delighting in the possibilities that unfold as a result of its tremendous success.
If nothing else, take a deep breath with me and celebrate the fact that the DC world finally managed to release an above-average superhero film that doesn't make us beat our heads against a wall in agony. And it was Wonder Woman--not Batman, not Superman--that achieved that level of success and audience impact.