When the movie ended, tears welled up. My throat closed. I was overwhelmed with emotion.
Not a tear jerker movie, so why?
I always enjoy superhero movies. We all do—or lots of us, anyway. The possibility of good prevailing. The presumption that there is good. That there are people devoted to doing the right thing, fighting injustice and evil, for the sake of all the world. These heroes have grit and brains, sometimes brawn, and often super powers to boot. What’s not to love?
As I sat with my adult daughter in the theater watching the opening scenes—powerful, dauntless women exhibiting their prowess with weapons and their badass skills, swiftness, and strength—I was thrilled to my core. That feeling never stopped until the final scene. Diana’s evolution into Wonder Woman is superb—the way she always speaks her truth, calls a spade a spade, kicks ass, calls the patriarchy on its shit, does what’s right and not only what is expedient, is not willing to settle for “good enough,” and does not care one sliver of an iota what anyone thinks of her. She even loses the man she loves and… well, she survives.
While I relished every moment, at the same time I was thinking about all the little girls in theaters across the country watching the movie this summer. Not just being inspired by a real-live woman hero, but one for whom there are no excuses made for why she is what she is and why the men defer to her, admire her, and put their faith in her. The little girls sitting with wide shiny eyes in dark theaters across the US are seeing what little boys have absorbed their entire lives. (And by little boys I mean white little boys because little boys of any other color are always dealing with a different paradigm too.)
Our sons, not to mention our sons’ fathers and grandfathers—grew up in a world where this paradigm was their everyday reality. Not just in movie theaters where they saw men and boys ruling, being the coolest, fighting, winning, dominating, saving the women, saving the world, bossing and managing and commanding others—but in every history book, on every street, in their homes, in their schools, at their jobs, on billboards and in TV ads, in the halls of power, on the news. The very fabric of their reality was that they could, would, and do have the “right stuff.” That they can do whatever they want. They’ll be admired and rewarded for it. They will probably even be given a pass on a lot of bad stuff they also apparently “can do.”
For me, my sisters, the women I went to school with, my friends, our daughters—and every girl child born on this planet, pretty much since history was a thing—has NEVER had that. EVER. That thing the boys just get automatically. A system infused with an acknowledgment, endorsement, and affirmation of their power, goodness, potential, and significance in every sphere of life. Every sphere of life, you get me? They grow up just KNOWING they can and do rule. As in—the world.
When Cleopatra reigned over Egypt, Queen Elizabeth I was queen of the most powerful empire in the world, and Catherine the Great was empress of Russia, every advisor, every colonial governor, every other person in power in their countries and every other country at that time, in the time before, and the time after—were men. And the sacrifices they made to do what they did were not any that male leaders have ever been expected or obliged to make. So don’t throw these fabulous outliers at this situation as proof that what I’m saying isn’t true, because you know it is. The unbelievably rare exceptions call the rule into stark, horrific relief.
In spite of the beat-us-down reality with which we are flooded every moment of our lives by not just the media but life-as-we-know-it, women have made truly significant inroads. Painfully, inch by inch, up against odds no man can imagine. Not the odds created by being inferior and having to make it against their natural superiors, since that is a myth of mythic proportions that no civilized human says out loud any more. No. The odds created by the status quo and how comfortable everyone seems to be with it. The sexist objections and roadblocks coming from all quarters.
And still, we persist.
But imagine. Imagine a world in which every CHILD was infused and flooded with a different truth: that all humans have equal powers of wonderfulness. Every child can be fast, strong, cool, smart. Anyone can do any job, with the right skills and aptitude. (Let’s be honest, you don’t want me doing your taxes.) Anyone can invent, heal, design, create, govern. Anyone can learn how to save the world through science, theology, philosophy, technology, scholarship, political or economic reform, education, and love….
In that world, neither gender and no race could or would ever be able to get away with dominating another because all of us would have grown up with these beliefs instilled in us. No man would proposition or deride a woman on the streets. No man would get away with a slap on the wrist for raping anyone. No woman would have to accept less money for the same job, let alone accept that she is “less than.” Women in equal numbers would be senators, governors, CEOs, engineers, brain surgeons, heavy machinery operators, and airline pilots.
The pressure would be off men to carry all that responsibility. Who asked them to, anyway, poor guys?
I know and love the fact that more and more girls are wielding “swords” in the playgrounds of America this year thanks to Wonder Woman. They feel a glimmer of that feeling—that empowered feeling that they deserve.
So why did I cry when the movie ended? Why was I so choked with helpless emotion? Because even the most empowered of my gender, raising our daughters to know and to feel their own worth, their own stunning strength and brilliance, will never really know that feeling—to be ENTITLED to your power. Because there is a different and tragic law of the land, accepted by most without even thinking about it—a law that governs everything from the color of our Legos to the length of our shorts. From the dreams we have about our future to things we do on a Saturday afternoon. From the best possible scenario we can envision for ourselves to the darkest fears we harbor in our hearts.