A week or so ago, I was puttering about Twitter on a break at work and saw this:
When I was a kid, I used to love the Ninja Turtles. At the time, I had all their headband colours memorised as well as the specific weapons they used. I saw all the live-action movies as they came out, and giggled at my friend’s baby brother Isaiah as he pretended to be Shredder.
But one memory sticks out in particular. I have a lot of clear memories of pre-school. From a teacher telling me not to pick my nose (hey, I was four) to naptime with Kenny Sours and holding hands for the first time. This one has stuck:
You can’t be a Ninja Turtle. You’re a GIRL.
And a tiny feminist was born.
I didn’t want to be April (which, of course, the source of the above quote went on to assert). I wanted to be Donatello, with his smarts and his bo staff. April was stupid and boring and spent the majority of her time getting deep into trouble so the Turtles would have to rescue her. Even as a four-year-old, I knew that was lame.
As I grew up, I fixated on shows like X-Men and the Power Rangers. I loved Rogue and Storm and wanted more. I wanted to be the Yellow Ranger and thought it was annoying that they made the Pink Ranger pink because she was a girl. I remember the flash of epiphany when I realised Blue Ranger was a dude and Pink Ranger was a chick. And and worse that the Yellow Ranger was Asian and the Black Ranger was Black — the 90s were a lot of things, but racial cogency was apparently not one of them. Hello, awkward.
Then 1992 rolled around, and with it the camp-tastic Kristy Swanson film: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I was eight. I didn’t care that the film was cheesy. Luke Perry was THE 90s dude, and he was in it — and he got his butt saved by Buffy. I fell in love, unknowingly, with Joss Whedon. Years later, I of course discovered how much that project got mutilated between Joss’s brain and the silver screen, but at the time it was more than I could dream of. There was a SuperWoman. And I loved her.
I wanted to be her. I looked for more, and I found little to none. I still had my X-Men and my Power Rangers, but it wasn’t enough.
When we moved to Montana, we went without television for eight years. In that time, Buffy the Show came and went (we arrived in Montana in 1996 and I moved to Denver for university in 2003), and I missed the inception of the female character who would become my own personal hero.
I won’t go over my introduction to the new and improved Buffy, but what I noted in the early 2000s was that no one seemed to really take this idea and run. Buffy was iconic — a true hero. She didn’t need the -ine suffix. She was a hero. Period.
And yet where she shoved her foot through the door, Hollywood still decided to push back against it. The phenomenal Veronica Mars got canceled abruptly after three seasons. And when it came to the big screen, female heroes were difficult to find.
There was an article in TIME about this very issue, which was tweeted by Whedonesque. You can read it here.
In the article, they assert (rightly, I believe) that women don’t fancy superhero movies because they’re sick of seeing skimpily-dressed damsels getting rescued or making stupid decisions. Anne Hathaway was a phenomenal Catwoman, and I loved Scarlett Johanssen in Avengers, but they were only two in still very male-dominated films. And it shows in the critic reactions to their performances — where they tout the nobility of the conflicted male hero in tight pants, they spend more time discussing what was on the women than in their heads. Brave was another good poke at the status quo, but I’ve heard more arguments against it than for it.
Remember when Joss got chosen to make Wonder Woman? Oh, you don’t? Well, it happened. But the project never got off the ground.
I want female superheroes. I know my readership enough to know that a lot of you want that too. I want them so bad that I wrote a novel with a female superhero — and right now my inbox looks like a sea of NO.
Do you want female superheroes? Raise your voice. Be heard. Mobilise social media — and not just so that my book will see a shelf.
Think back to when you were a kid. What difference would it have made to you to see women being powerful? What difference can it make to little boys to see strong women? What shifts could this make in the dynamics of how women are perceived?
Last night I watched Silent House. I spent the first two and a half acts hoping the damn protagonist would magically grow a spine. Then when she did, it was a weird, deus ex machina sort of moment that was poorly set up and even more poorly executed. Instead of cheering for her, I was ready to turn it off. (Though props to Elizabeth Olsen, because her acting was spot-on. Pity she didn’t have a better plot to work with.)
I’m still searching for SuperWomen. If you are too, make some noise. While Cobie Smulders and Scarlett Johanssen and Emma Stone and Anne Hathaway are all making strides, they’re still running to catch up.
What difference would it have made for you as a child if you didn’t have some little boy say you couldn’t be Donatello? What if that exchange had gone like this instead?
I want to be Donatello. You can be SuperWoman.
Every child needs to want to be someone. In playing make-believe, in going to sleep each night to dream. Even though I would have still wanted to be Donatello, if there had been a SuperWoman for me to be, I might have chosen her first. But in 1988, my world was full of Aprils.
Tell Hollywood you want SuperWomen.
I’ll keep writing them. And so will Joss.
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