Buy One, Get One of Lesser Value Free

Last week James Cameron caused a million female eyeballs to roll skyward when he opined that contrary to what millions of women were proving with their dollars, Wonder Woman was not a strong female protagonist. Cameron then went on to list female characters he felt were better representations of strong women.

It should come as no surprise he listed his characters from his own movies. (See: Sarah Connor form The Terminator franchise)

It should come as no surprise I spent hours  I will never get back spent arguing with strangers on the internet.

Fast forward and the word on the corner of Hollywood and Vine is a remake of Lord of the Flies. The catch? It’s going to be made with girls instead of boys! How very…

Wrong?
Frustrating?
Odd?
Blindingly oblivious?

The entire premise of Lord of the Flies is a rebuke of the toxic masculinity endemic in English public-school mentality. Once you consider that it seems odd to try to remake it with..girls.

Come on, Hollywood!  You can’t remake Lord of the Flies with girls without changing the entire plot. Because girls? Wait for it….

are not boys.

An island full of girls would not behave the same way an island full of boys would. They would organize themselves differently. That is not to say they would sit down and sing Kumbaya around a campfire braiding each other’s hair, but it would be a different story. You know why?

Because girls and boys, women and men are not interchangeable.

You can’t give a woman arm muscles and a giant gun and call her a strong protagonist. You can’t swap out girls for boys and say, “look how feminist we are!”.

I accept the blame for a lot of this confusion, and what I must assume are well-meant intentions. There seems to be a general misunderstanding regarding equality and equity. Perhaps it’s the framing of the feminist message itself.

Because in our strive for equality, what we sometimes neglect to mention is this: we are not trying to be interchangeable. We do not want to be swapped out for boys. We do not want to take the place of men. We don’t want or need male assigned characteristics simply transferred to us and slapped with a sticker proclaiming “equal”. We do not want to be judged on whether or not we can compete with, act like, govern like, or look like men.

Women don’t want to be men.

What we are looking for is equal value.

A woman with defined biceps is not necessarily strong, just as a man without them is not necessarily weak. What so many women right now are seeking is not apples for apples equality, but apples to oranges value.

Feminists are looking to reframe what is viewed as important, good, worthy, valued.

Men, on the whole and individually, have their own ideas of what strength is. Those ideas often differ from a woman’s idea of strength. And that is ok. What’s not ok is assuming one is better than the other, assigning one importance and the other half-off status.

This is what many feminists are talking about when they speak of assigning value.

I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to look like a man, or act like a man, or pretend to be a man. Neither do any of the women I know. Writing or creating women with masculine characteristics does not automatically confer equality on women (I’m looking at you, Brienne of Tarth). Taking a story viewed through a masculine filter and merely swapping out the sexes does not make for a compelling story.

Why?

Because we have our own stories.

Male stories are often epic in scale. Physical journeys across ice caps and continents. Covered wagons and perilous ocean journeys. The drive to explore, conquer. Stories of courage in the trenches and theaters of war.

My disinterest in those stories does not take away from their value. It is merely to say this: there are other stories which are no less important simply because they may not be as grand in scope.

Often the stories of women are the stories in between the lines. The ones left behind to continuously mend the fabric of a society rent by constant war. The stories of the sometimes small, but excruciating choices women face to keep their families safe. When we watch movies about the horrors of war, it is often confined to the horrors of bloodshed and battle. Rarely are we exposed to the internal horrors faced by those left behind, the ones tasked with keeping not so much the home fires burning, but the will to continue.

How often do we hear the stories of the internal struggles of women to manage their own desires against the weight of motherhood? How often do we see movies about the quiet friendships of women which sustain them through the perils of their own lives? While male stories are told through the metaphor of chasing whales and galloping to poles, women’s stories are told in tea leaves and conversations.

It’s ok if men are not particularly interested in those stories. I get it. I’ve never been interested in Apocalypse Now or reading Hemingway because those stories, told through the filter of maleness, simply do not resonate with me.

What I resent is those male stories being the yardstick from which everything else is measured. What I resent is the implication there is something intrinsically wrong with me because I don’t enjoy David Foster Wallace or The Big Lebowski. That I am lacking the intelligence to appreciate these very masculine stories or that the stories I enjoy, watch, read, and yes, write, are merely a derivative. Less than.

If stories are buy one get one half-off? Women’s stories are the cheap designer knock off.

When I speak of equality, it is this: I want our stories to count as much. Not more than. Not less than. Equal value.

What I want is to acknowledge that our stories are just as valuable to the human experience and deserve the same space. I don’t want my stories merely to be a copy of or a derivative of, the stories of men.

I want them to be valued in their own right.

Buy one, get one of equal value.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Wonder Women

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind….

Wonder. Woman.

I wasn’t expecting to get emotional over a movie based on a comic book character, especially one in which I was going to have to look past the sexy push-up bra and the cascade of dark, glossy locks.

But I did.

Here’s the thing: Unless you belong to a group which is un or under represented–in movies, television, books, politics, life–you probably don’t appreciate the emotions that come with  finally witnessing that representation–ten feet high on a movie screen. But trust me, it’s one of the reasons there’s so much hype surrounding Wonder Woman, especially and notably, from women. It’s not that it’s not a good movie in its own right (it is), it’s that a new generation of girls and boys, sitting in a darkened theatre are seeing, many for the first time, a superhero who looks like their mother, or teacher, or cousin or sister saving the world and kicking ass. Sans push-up bra.

Science-fiction and super-hero movies seem like a laughable place to begin in the fight for equality, but in reality, it makes perfect sense. Kids need a safe space to fantasize. Fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy, those genres give kids that space. For a long time society has assumed that girls only fantasized about playing dolls and princesses in towers waiting to be rescued. No one stopped to think that’s what girls fantasized about because that’s all we’ve ever allowed them. What will those dreams look like, how will they differ, when we give kids the freedom to dream big? Movies like Wonder Woman make it safer for girls–and boys– to dream. It’s where you get to work out complex feelings in the relative comfort of fantasy play. Safe places to grow and spread their wings.

And girls? Girls have had their wings clipped for centuries.

One woman in block heels and a golden armbands won’t change that.

But it’s a step in the right direction.

**********

There’s a nice little sequence in which Diana must exchange her battle garb for more restrictive Edwardian dress so she won’t draw attention to herself. And then there’s this: When asked who she is, Diana starts to answer only to be interrupted by the film’s main male character. Not knowing how to explain the Amazon beside him, he refers to her as his secretary. Because—what else would she be? Women’s places are well-defined and described. There is no way for him to accurately describe Diana, no easy path to comprehension and understanding and so we fall back on the obvious. A secretary. A helper. Coffee fetcher, typist. Gal Friday behind the scenes.

And in the space of that one line, that one instant–Diana Prince becomes EveryWoman.

How many women who read this or who have watched the movie have been asked to fetch coffee, or order lunch, or work below her pay scale or title rank because she’s been assumed to be something less than what she actually is?

It was the moment that changed the movie for me, from an action adventure movie starring a woman to a feminist film, whether it was intentional or not.

**********

My favorite scene however, the one which had tears threatening to spill out from under my 3-D glasses, was when three male characters held a piece of armor on their backs for Diana to spring from. They were, quite literally, giving her a leg up, the support she needed to launch herself into a battle to save them, and a town under siege. Diana has always been sure of her destiny, and in that moment, the men were sure of it as well. And instead of trying to stop her, they instead gave her what she needed to get there.

What woman among us hasn’t thought she would be the one to change the world, a man, a life? Women have always been there, behind the scenes, assisting and fetching, trying to save the world.

Do not assume women are naive enough to realize some battles will not be won without fighting or without sacrifice. And do not assume we are not willing to fight and sacrifice when it is necessary. Give us a shield to climb upon, to propel ourselves up beyond that glass ceiling and into the stratosphere and watch what we can do.

It took me a moment to recover from that one.

**********

Wonder Woman the movie wasn’t perfect, but neither are wonder women, the reality. We are flawed. We have weaknesses, we falter, and sometimes, we fail. We fail to save the ones we love. We fail to change the world. We lose our way, we get lost. All of that? It just made me love the movie even more…because we don’t need to be perfect in order to effect change. We don’t have to be all things, it’s ok to be some. Warrior, lover, savior, failure.

If you doubt the effect that movies like Wonder Woman have, I leave you with this. In the dark of the theatre, my son’s friend leaned over and whispered, “she’s like The Hulk AND Superman in one!”

At 46 I can still dream big. My dream is this: the girls and boys sitting in those theaters won’t doubt the commanding presence of a female super hero–on-screen, in the board room, or at the dinner table.

Let girls dream big and they can save the world. Give them a shield to launch themselves from and they will soar.

 

The Perfect Imperfect Man

Alan RickmanAlan Rickman died today.

That may not mean anything to you, but I promise you, millions of women around the world felt their hearts break a little, tiny bit with the news. Millions of women who over the years willingly and easily forfeited a small piece of their hearts and fell in love, just a little, with Alan Rickman. I know, because I was one of them.

Men surely must think to themselves: “Who? The baddie from Die Hard? Him? The guy who told his henchmen to shoot the windows? Why on Earth?

They are right, to a degree. Alan Rickman was a strange choice of a crush, an odd man to get sweaty and swoon-y about. He wasn’t the best looking or the most muscular; he could even be a little pasty at times, a little doughy round the middle. His nose was beakish and his eyes were squinty. Yet I promise you I am far from the only gal who swooned every time his name was mentioned. On more than one occasion I witnessed a virtual smack-down on a mommy board about who loved him more. On more than one occasion I have referred to him as my Hollywood boyfriend.

He remains an unlikely sex symbol. He wasn’t the most obvious choice for heart flutters and butterflies. But oh, that voice. That smooth, honey drip of a voice that sinewed and slid into your eardrums and snaked its way straight to your heart and turned it into a mushy mess. Or maybe it was just me.

My husband, knowing how much I adored him, used to walk around saying “Shoot.the. windows.” in a fairly decent impersonation of that syrup drawl. Today when he called to tell me the news of his death, I told him the phrase was hovering in a no-fly zone.

“Too soon?” he asked.

“Too soon,” I said.

Most of us loved the man Rickman because we loved the men he played on-screen. And we loved the men he played on-screen because hidden in those men are the men we all long to fall in love with. Often there was more than a little bit of the men we did fall in love with. He was Everyman, yet just an every man, and that’s exactly what was so endearing about him. He was nothing special, and yet so very special. From Colonel Brandon to Severus Snape there was always a humming undercurrent of longing which electrified those men and elevated them from two-dimensional characters to men you wanted to bring home; to your mother, to your bed. On some level, most of us yearn for someone to pine for us the way Colonel Brandon pines for Marianne Dashwood, someone who will wait for us, who will forgive us our imperfections, who will indeed, revel in them.

That is what so many women found attractive and sexy. That is what women swooned over.

Even in his most hated moments, when his callous, selfish, dick-ish behavior caused Emma Thompson to hold back tears in Love Actually you couldn’t help but think to yourself this is a man I could marry; perhaps even a little this is the man I did marry. A man deep enough to sink your teeth into, a man who would allow his ghost self to fade quietly into the afterlife just so you could find love again; a man who would watch from afar, just to make sure you’re happy.

That’s why women loved him, because he played so well the men we all want to love, who we want to love us back. Yes, even the prick he played in Love Actually.

They were characters of course, but Alan Rickman was the man who brought those characters to life–he brought them into our living rooms and movie theaters and in so many cases, our mushy hearts. He made us love them, all those perfect imperfect men. And in doing so, made us love him.

So excuse me while I stitch back up the little hole in my heart.

 

 

Why the Movies of My Youth Could Never Happen Today

maxresdefaultI’ve seen E.T. at least a dozen times. No matter how many times I watch it, I still get a little thrill every time Elliot and E.T. fly across the moon. I weep with little Gertie as she holds out her flower-pot parting gift. I snuffle and gulp down a sob every time E.T. holds out his glow stick finger to Elliot’s forehead and tells him,”I’ll be right here.”

I watched it for the first time with my boys the other night. It took some convincing on my part. They are used to Marvel and Galaxies protected by Guardians. Special effects and CGI. The family adventure dramas I grew up with are too slow-paced for them. Not enough stuff gets blown up.

Even though I know E.T. backward and forward, watching it with my kids I was struck by something new this time. Maybe it’s been on my mind. Maybe because I now have a kid around the same age or older than Elliot.

E.T. could never happen today. I’m not even talking about the extra-terrestrial part of E.T. In fact, the sentient alien being part would likely be more believable than the fact that for the most part, kids were left alone. For long stretches of the afternoon and evenings, after school, on weekends, in the mornings, alone. Alone. Without adult supervision.

If E.T. were made today, Michael and his friends would have been lined up on the couch playing Minecraft on a server, too busy to order a pizza. Elliot never would have tracked down E.T. because Elliot never would have been allowed outside on his bike by himself. His access to sugar and Reese’s Pieces would have been strictly managedHe would have had to lure E.T. back to his home with kale chips or fruit kabobs. Gertie was left on her own in the house, Michael was backing cars out of the driveway. Kids were drinking unlimited cans of Coke. Grade schoolers were encouraged to use scalpels and given access to chloroform. Kids were allowed out on Halloween by themselves.

It was just like I remember.

If E.T. was made today, he would have simply used a phone home app.

goonies-9385

The Goonies? They would have all been in sanctioned after school programs. Data would have been in Chess Club and Early Engineers. Chunk would have been on Weight Watchers. Mouth? Mouth would still be Mouth. There’s a Mouth in every generation. But no treasure hunts, no long stretches of time to go exploring or spelunking. Not without grown-ups hovering nearby.

How about Home Alone? Child Protective Services would  swoop in faster than you can say aftershave to take Kevin into custody. Some neighbor surely would notice; not the increase in activity at the house mind you, but a ten year old kid walking outside by himself. This is the stuff that gets noticed nowadays.

The Karate Kid? No way Daniel-son would be allowed to hang out with Mr. Miagi. An unmarried middle-aged man? Are you kidding? Hello! Pedophile Alert!  If Daniel of today showed early promise in karate, he would be signed up for classes. The travel team, club tournaments. There would be no classic “Sweep the Knee!” for the win because everyone’s a winner!

The Princess Bride? No thanks, Grandpa, you don’t need to read to me, I can binge watch Netflix or YouTube videos to learn how to strengthen my archer queens.

The Breakfast Club? Over-involved parents would call meetings to discuss their child’s detention and threaten to sue if the decision isn’t reversed.

Back to the Future? Skateboarding without a helmet? NO way.

All those things we took for granted because it was the norm. Biking around for hours, swimming unchaperoned, roaming and hanging out. Smoking in the woods. Ok, ok, smoking in the woods wasn’t such a good idea. But I never thought I would look back on the movies I grew up with and feel sad for my kids because they’re growing up in a time when most of those things seem more unbelievable than coming across an alien from another planet.

There’s a reason why the blockbusters of today take place between the pages of a comic book, or increasingly, in a postapocalyptic world. It seems the only place where kids are free to roam around un-supervised is in Sci-Fi.

etKids haven’t changed, not really. John Bender was surely a Dauntless the same way Data was an Erudite before there was Divergent. The Outsiders were the rebels of District 9 before The Hunger Games. And before the Age of Ultron there was a simpler extra-terrestrial named E.T. and a movie about a boy who was free to grow up with the magic of possibility.

My kids prefer their own generation’s movies, as they should. The movies I grew up with have a rawness they aren’t used to. Sometimes the emotions are too real for them, too overwhelming, especially for my older boy who shows the same sob swallowing tendencies I did. (I do.)

I promised my son I would try not to cry too loudly and snottily as we sat together on the couch the other night. Of course I failed, though I tried mightily to stifle my sniffles. I watched out of the corner of one glistening eye as he cried too. We were probably crying for very different reasons, but he got it. He has a heart light.

There’s still enough magic in those movies to hit home, even if the world they take place in is almost as unrecognizable to my kids as the Marvel universe is to me.