I don’t remember a lot about my childhood (most likely a result of all the heavy drinking and drug abuse. The 90’s, am I right?). There are however, a few memories that have followed me to adulthood, like the psychological equivalent of adult acne. For example, I vividly remember one stunningly embarrassing conversation I once had with my mother when I was ten year old.
We were driving in the car, on our way to my daily swim team practice. My mom had been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the drive while I, oblivious, bounced around in my seat, excited to see my friends and to show them my brand new modified-Anakin-Skywalker haircut.
For context, I should explain that Attack of the Clones had just been released to theaters, and I was completely captivated by all things Jedi, bless my heart. Also, if you’re curious as to what a modified-Anakin-Skywalker haircut looks like, it’s really just a short pony-tail without the goofy little side braid. Mom had to draw the line somewhere.
We were almost to the pool, when my mom blurted out, “Whit, do you wish you were a boy?”
I was a little taken aback. “Um, yeah, sort of.”
I knew right away that I had said the wrong thing. To this day, I have never seen my mother look so crushed. I rushed to explain.
“Boys just get to do all the fun stuff, and they are always the good guy.”
My mom didn’t look any less devastated. I tried to summon all the eloquence at my ten-year-old disposal. I told her that I didn’t like princesses. That I related better to the male heroes I saw on screen. That I wanted to be like them because I just saw more of myself in them. That I’d give anything for a girl protagonist that spoke to me, but that I couldn’t find one. To this day, I’m not sure if I ever really made my point, and mom never brought it up again.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized that my mother and I had been having two very different conversations. Her concerns were, um, worldly in nature. I was simply trying to explain to her that, as there weren’t many kick-ass women on screen for me to emulate, I was making do with what I had on hand. Shortly thereafter, I decided to shake my tomboy persona. I chose to hang up my lightsaber, rather than have that conversation ever again.
Maybe it’s because the pop culture landscape has changed so much, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how that little girl felt. Now girls have Hermione Granger, and Rey, and Katniss, and Peggy Carter. All she had were a handful of Disney Princesses who made her feel that a woman was only really valuable if she was beautiful, a message that became even more crushing the day she realized she would only ever be average-looking, at best.
If I could, I would go back and tell her about that not too distant future. I would tell her about the surge of on-screen female heroism that would finally help us reconcile the words femininity and feminism. I’d probably tell her about Wonder Woman‘s Diana, a character who’s ass-kicking capabilities are exceeded only by her compassion and selflessness.
So thanks, DC, for making the movie that I needed fifteen years ago. You and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but because you and other studios are making strong women a priority, other little girls won’t have to make the choices I did. They won’t have to decide between the heroine that most closely resembles them biologically and the hero that speaks to who they are and who they want to be. Keep making movies for those little girls, and the mothers who cut their hair.