It’s a term being lauded about quite a bit these days–sometimes to demonstration how important it is for humans to see themselves in different roles, and sometimes it’s used to try and fling mud back and forth and turn the world into an us vs. them scenario.
There have always been female role models in fiction and Hollywood, but whether or not those role models were truly representative of the broad spectrum of women in the world is another matter entirely.
As a child, I was Red Sonja. I was She-Ra. I wanted to be Wonder Woman with her lasso of truth. I really wanted to be Ripley (Alien) and Sarah Connor (Terminator), but when I said this out loud, I was told they were she-men. That they weren’t women to “aspire” to become because they weren’t eye candy or womanly enough for society. As a young child, this was crushing to me. So then I decided I needed to be He-Man.
I thought I needed to be a man because being a woman wasn’t enough for the world.
The strength I portrayed made me too callous for many people who wished I would be softer spoken and more submissive. My honesty was a flaw to them. Traits that made me a leader were too manly and thus, people found me harsh, abrasive, and bitchy. (They often still do.) I found myself and often still find myself in a limbo of not being accepted for who I am because a woman can’t be strong, honest, or blunt. She can’t kick-ass on Monday while mourning a cat on Tuesday. Or at least, that’s what society and by extension, Hollywood, would have us believe.
I can’t express the joy I felt as a young adult and adult at seeing shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but by then, I was no longer a child. I was already a strong, young woman. I had also made the mistake of convincing myself that representation was meaningless because it would never happen. This is what happens when we lack representation.
Throughout television and film is the ever-rampant idea that a woman must be “easy on the eyes” to be worth something, that any strength she possesses is a weakness, and being strong means she can’t ever, ever have a moment of vulnerability.
I won’t lie. I cried during the opening fight sequence of the new Wonder Woman film. Seeing women, young and old, of varying body types on the screen like that, complete with thigh jiggle, was amazing in ways that I’m sure I’ll be trying to formulate words around for years. Strength & vulnerability. Empowerment. Representation.
Last week, BBC announced that the new Doctor in Doctor Who would be a woman, specifically Jodie Whittaker, who I greatly enjoyed in Broadchurch. While some fans threw fits over the announcement, stating that the Doctor couldn’t be female because he’s always been a man, I rejoiced.
Some media even went so far as to slut shame her by posting nude pictures of the actress online without her permission, as if these photos some how negate her ability to act or to be our next Doctor. I watched a few fellow science fiction writers moan about the death of Doctor Who because now it would “be about tampons, ice-cream, and slumber parties.”
That a woman acting and being paid equally to her male counterparts could so entirely break the Internet tells me that we have a long way to go before equality is a reality. Despite this knowledge, every little step is a giant one for some little girl out there looking for representation.
Rather than being delegated to the roll of Companion, a person who is sometimes disposable and always left behind, girls and women everywhere could see themselves in the roll of the Doctor, something that’s been hinted at but never achieved before now.
The original creator of Doctor Who wanted a woman Time Lord. When Matt Smith’s doctor regenerated, he was disappointed he wasn’t a woman. We’ve seen women Time Lords throughout the Who-verse, both in Classic Who and the reboot (hello, sweetie!).
I suspect the first time I see our new Doctor on the screen, I may cry. The child in me will rejoice at the idea that I can be strong, yet possess emotions; that beauty comes in all different types; and that perhaps, one day, equality will be something that just is. In the meantime, I will be me for me and for every little girl out there who needs to see herself in others.
And if you need another reason for a box of tissues, this is a super-cute encounter from SDCC this past weekend where a small Wonder Woman meets Gal Gadot and the Justice League. Read the article too–Ezra Miller’s (The Flash) comment is everything.