Tag Archives: Feminism

Why I Cried During Wonder Woman

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Princess Buttercup No More

 

This article also appears on Creators.Co

I went to see Wonder Woman the week that it was released and was immediately struck by how absolutely average it was. (Bear with me here). Superhero movies normally have a very prescribed formula, something that doesn’t appeal to me quite as much. Wonder Woman follows this formula through the origin, the journey and the final battle with a villain making it a very standard typical superhero movie. And that is what is so remarkable.

The fact that a female-driven movie followed the same structure and performed just as well as male-driven one is groundbreaking in and of itself. While there was a lot of hype surrounding the movie and a lot of wonderful reactions to it, the movie is largely entertaining and incredibly accessible to various audiences. Like other block buster action movies it seemed to drag at some parts but was overall satisfying. So why was I so emotionally wrecked by it?

I cried. A lot.

Looking online, this seems to be a common theme. Women are finding themselves emotional and crying during the battle scenes like when Robin Wright kicks total ass as Diana’s Aunt Hipployta or when Wonder Woman marches across No Man’s Land. There’s an emotional catharsis here. I doubt anyone would argue that Robin Wright’s character in House of Cards is not strong, she very clearly is, but it’s a different kind of strength. One that is more reserved though nonetheless important. There’s been a growth of these kinds of strong women in the media but there is something different about seeing females in positions of physical strength. I could have watched the Amazons fight all day.

There is the emotional catharsis of seeing women depicted in such a strong way and there is relief at how the movie is doing justice to the story; it lived up to the insanely high expectations set for it. For me, the most emotional part was seeing Diana as a young girl watching her Aunt and the other Amazons fight, wanting so desperately to be one of them. I was an emotional puddle thinking about the young girls who will see this movie and be inspired by these amazingly powerful women on the screen. It’s the same reason I get emotional when I see little girls dressed up as Rey or as characters from Ghostbusters. Representation matters and this movie shows why. In the wake of its release teachers and parents have shared their stories of young girls wanting to be Wonder Woman.

Diana is the perfect hero to accomplish what she does. She’s a fighter but she also stands for love and justice. They were a bit heavy handed with Wonder Woman’s message of “true love conquers all” and many reviewers complained about how saccharine it is. This message however, isn’t a bad one to be teaching young people, and is very true to the original Wonder Woman in the comic books. I keep hearing friends of mine complain about this and I’m tired of trying to defend it so I’ll just say that it didn’t bother me. (What did bother me was the character of Chief. It’s great to see a Native American actor represented on screen but the whole characterization was reductionist and made zero historical sense to me, but that is a whole other article. In the sequel, because there will be a sequel, let’s hope the demigod theories are confirmed).

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a huge superhero fan. Maybe if a movie like this had come out when I was younger I would have been. Not that I grew up in a barren wasteland devoid of any female role models. As I mentioned Anne Shirley was a heroine to me, as were the traditional “smart girls” like Hermione Granger and even Rory Gilmore to an extent. This speaks to my outlook on life and experience as an academic nerd. Not everyone is me and not all girls will relate to the same female characters that I did. It’s been said over and over, but I’ll say it again, representation matters and Wonder Woman is bringing us one step closer to a more well rounded pop culture environment for women and girls.

The Problem With Anne

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This Post Contains Spoilers for the Netflix Series Anne With an E

Much has been written about the joint CBC-Netflix show Anne with an E, with many reviewers feeling as though the series has ruined the magic of the book. (Magic that was in contrast, encapsulated by the 1985 movie). Like many young girls growing up in Canada, Anne holds a special place in my heart and I was sceptical about the iteration of her story. (I did not watch the American version starring Martin Sheen or the BBC Version). This deep-seeded love of the free-spirited Anne is the reason there was so much backlash against the grittier story Director Niki Caro decided to bring us. I however, don’t mind a darker Anne.

From the opening credits set to The Tragically Hip’s Ahead by a Century I had tears in my eyes. This was going to be a Canadian-driven production and it would be true to the story. I fell in love with Amybeth McNulty and the casting of R.H. Thompson and Geraldine James as Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert respectively was likewise on point. The sweeping picturesque scenes filled me with a warm appreciation for my country and I was totally engrossed in the story. Even Anne’s flashbacks, which signal a dramatic departure from the original tone of the book and 1985 movie, moved me. It’s realistic for Anne to have suffered from PTSD as being an orphan in the Maritimes at the dawn of the century would not have been easy. I was willing to accept this artistic choice, but then they changed some fundamental things.

My one main problem with the new series is that the creators lack a full understanding (as I see it) of what made Anne so inspiring. As a young girl I wasn’t outright bullied with name calling or threatened with physical violence, but I was a social outcast. I knew I was different from the other girls in my class because I loved to read and I loved to learn. I was an awkward looking girl with little interest in boys, or at least they had little interest in me. For me, my sense of who I was came, and still does come, from my academic achievements. Characters like Anne, Matilda, and Hermione got me through my rougher years in grade school and taught me that things get better; smart girls can rule the world.

In the new series, Anne isn’t the brightly shining student she is in previous incarnations. Yes, she loves to read, but when it comes to math she seems to fall behind. She even drops out of school for a while due to unrelenting bullying, something unheard of for the Anne Shirley I know and love. I understand trying to make Anne a more sympathetic character, someone other kids being bullied can identify with, but this series weakens her, especially in her relationship with Gilbert Blythe.

In the book, and 1985 movie, the entire relationship between Anne and Gilbert is founded on an intense academic rivalry. He is a charming blowhard who Anne has no romantic interest in until much later on in their lives. In the Netflix series, Gilbert initially meets Anne in a forest after he rescues her from a bully threatening to harm her. The series rewrites their relationship turning Gilbert into an sensitive brooding boy who can bond with Anne over their shared orphan-ness. The series turns Anne into a damsel in distress which is an interesting choice, given that the rest of the time the series seems hell-bent on convincing the viewer she is a feminist icon.

The thing is, Anne already was a feminist icon. Not because she is inspired to “be her own woman” by Aunt Josephine, or because she bests a bully telling her to literally “get back in the kitchen.” She was a feminist icon because she took school seriously at a time when women weren’t supposed too. The need to “better than the boys,” that innate feeling, is one that will resonate with many young girls whether is be competing with men at school, with sports, or at work. I could write at length about how hard it is for women and girls in higher education and the workplace because young girls are taught to be nice while boys are taught to be brave but I won’t do that here. (Reshma Saujani did an amazing TED Talk on this subject).

The competition appears mid-way through the series but doesn’t feel authentic to me. It’s forced and is simply a means to the end: The two are a romantic pair from the start and Gilbert is later removed entirely from this academic setting. The two trade barbs but do so cautiously in a way that highlights a different connection between the two, one based on an emotions rather than on one of intellect.

Previous versions of Anne never let anything hold her back, she knew she was smart and went for it even though she was constantly having to prove herself as a woman. She’s a feminist icon because she’s a fighter. She fights to stay at Green Gables; she fights for herself in school and repeatedly ends up at the top of her class gaining a scholarship and attending university despite all the societal pressures working against her. When she ultimately ends up with Gilbert it is only after years of academic rivalry out of which grew a deep mutual respect for one another.

The series overall isn’t bad. It’s worth it for the artistic shots of Ontario and PEI alone, and puffed sleeves and raspberry cordial still play prominent roles. For anyone watching for the first time however, I urge you to go back and either read the books or watch the 1985 film version. I am interested to see if they do another season and if any of these aspects of Anne are reclaimed. I recognize that this is my own personal bias but she was an idol for me, someone I looked up to and wanted to be. Girls, and boys, being introduced to Anne today deserve to have her as their role model too. To ignore Anne’s intelligence is to do her a complete and total injustice.

Kate Bolick – Spinster (2015)

Spinster“Spinster” is one of those terms that is not as commonly used as it once was. Having used to refer to a woman who remained unmarried whether a conscious decision or not, the term has fallen into disuse, or when used conjures up images of severe middle-aged “spinster librarian” types. (A stereotype that, as a librarian, I dislike). In her book, titled Spinster, Kate Bolick explores what it means to be single and seeks to reclaim the term.

In this book (an outgrowth of a 2011 Atlantic Article, “All the Single Ladies”) Bolick traces the lives of five great female writers (all of whom never married) and interlaces their lives with stories from her own personal journey. I’ve never read anything quite like this before, that blends memoir/autobiography with non-fiction. I was unsure at first, but as I kept reading I really began to like Bolick and drew my own inspiration from her.

Unlike Bolick’s article in the Atlantic, which was much more “fun” featuring one-night-stands and whirlwind romances, Spinster, is full of contemplative ponderings and the joys of solitude. I bought this book at a time when I too was trying to find joy in being alone after a tumultuous relationship and maybe that’s why it spoke to me so much. If anything it made me realize that I was going to be ok, and being alone, as much as I disliked it at the time did not make me a failure.

I feel like this book will split readers down the middle with some loving it and other hating it. It’s interesting and I fall on the side of those who loved it. Spinster is above all a product of Bolick’s long-term goal; a rejection of the traditional female role for something that she finds more fulfilling. Agree or disagree with Bolick, it is still an insightful and interesting read.

Recommended Reading: How to Be Alone from Thought Catalog. This is an older article but is still in my bookmarks, and I revisit it often.

Recommended Listening: A podacst episode on Self Care produced by Bitch Media for Valentine’s Day. 

Sarah Waters – The Paying Guests (2014)

PayingGuestsWith her novel The Paying Guests, Waters looks at postwar 1920s London, but through a very unique lense. We are first introduced to the Wray family, spinser Frances and her mother who live together alone in a townhouse. Due to the deaths of the men in the family, Frances and her mother are forced to rent out a room in their house to a young couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber. While initially Frances is suspicious of the the couple, she then strikes up a friendship with Lillian which develops into something much more.

Without giving too much away the story is essentially about the blossoming friendship and eventual affair that occurs between Lillian and Frances set against the backdrop of 1920’s London, a time in which class and gender structures were very much in flux. While I very much enjoyed the story as well as Waters’ writing style, so much of this book seemed so very long. There were parts that dragged on forever without ever really coming to a conclusion. Waters’ writing is great, but the editor really should have cut this book down about 100-200 pages. The unnecessary dialogue and inner thoughts detracted from the rest of the book.

As a feminist scholar specializing in female sexuality in Victorian England, Waters certainly knows her subject and sets the scene beautifully. She is not unfamiliar with creating a dramatic story and does so quite well. Even though the book runs a bit long in places, it is still a worthy read and a great piece of historical fiction.

Frances Hill – A Delusion of Satan (1995)

89522I love reading about the Salem witch trials. Obviously anything to do with witchcraft will seem intriguing and is easily sensationalized, but the trials, because the were so confined to a specific time and place make them so interesting to study. Why Salem? Why 1692? These are questions that have bothered American historians. While many are apt to pass over the witch trials or view them as simply an anomaly in American history, there are a number of scholars who have attempted to give this event a significant amount of attention.

Frances Hill’s book is one of the better accounts that I’ve read. For those unfamiliar with the trials, the historical record is shaky at best, and absolutely impossible to get through at its worst. There are so many families involved, many sharing names and way too many people to keep track of. Factor in the debts owed and the grudges held and wading through the history of the Salem witch trials becomes a giant mess. Hill does a good job however, writing clearly and focusing on the prominent community members so the reader does not get lost.

What was especially interesting was Hill’s ideas about what started the whole paranoia about witches. As most know, the panic started when a number of teenage girls appeared hysterical and claimed to be possessed by other women in the community. Hill blames this on the nature of their existence. Growing up in the Puritan faith would have caused young people a great deal of stress and anxiety. While boys had a physical outlet for these feelings (it was permissible for boys to play outside, fight, etc), girls had no such way of dealing with these emotions. Hill believes the mass hysteria that gripped teenage girls in the community was a result of this. They blamed women who were outcasts in society to begin with and as Hill points out, this episode became one of the first episodes of women-on-women bullying.

It is definitely a feminist perspective on the whole episode in Salem, but seeing as the trials involved a majority of women (only one man was convicted of witchcraft), viewing it through a feminist lense is not off base. Hill does a great job in dealing with this very interesting, but aso muddled subject.

Florence King – Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

ConfessionsofaFailedSouthernLadyFor some reason reading this felt kind of like reading Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, if that book had been written for adults and if Margaret had turned out to be a lesbian later in life. This was a great read in which Florence King details her life growing up in Washington DC under the tutelage of her Grandmother, determined to make Florence a lady despite failing with her own daughter, Florence’s mother.

While this book is Florence King’s memoir and tells the story of her life from growing up in the 1950s in Washington to her pursuit of higher education before falling in love with professional writing, Florence’s grandmother is by far the best part of this book. Her grandmother’s obsession with feminine weakness, even to the point of competition with other women over whether nervous breakdowns, or “female troubles,” were the true marker of femininity, is the most hilarious part of Florence’s story and becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the whole book.

Even though King writes about her grandmother with a sense of humour, she still maintains a great deal of respect for her and it becomes clear how much of an impact having such a strong willed grandmother, and mother, albeit in a different sense, had on her life. King writes beautifully which makes her memoirs a treat to read and enjoy.

Rebecca Solnit – Men Explain Things to Me (2014)

MenExplainThingsToMeRebecca Solnit’s book, published in 2014 has been has been lauded as having “become a touchstone of the feminist movement.” As I find with many collections of essays, some are a hit, while others miss the mark. Most however are strong, well thought out and provoke heated debates.

Her first essay, the titular “Men Explain Things to Me,” is so on point it’s hard to believe that no one had really vocalized this before. Basically Solnit details her experiences with various men who patronize women and “Mansplain” things. In fact this piece is credited with launching the term “mansplaining,” which has found its way into popular vernacular.

Her essays dealing with rape culture and sexual violence as well as the notions of gender equality are no less important, and she carefully balances thought provoking arguments with hard facts in an emotional plea for justice. She reiterates a widely held perception; that we live in a world that teaches don’t get raped instead of don’t rape, something that needs to change. In one of her more nuanced pieces, Solnit challenges opponents to gay marriage stating that such opponents do not want to preserve traditional marriage, but rather traditional gender roles. A same-sex marriage is a union between equals, and that is more threatening to right wing conservatives than simply the idea of “gay” marriage.

Solnit however is hopeful. She writes about the ways in which rape culture is being dismantled on college campuses and does acknowledges that she knows many kind, gentle, and decent men. Still her essays are important for showing us not only how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.