May 06, 2008
If every woman had a cape
A few years ago, my husband and I went with some friends to see a movie, the name of which I've completely forgotten. The plot of the movie was as forgettable as the name of it, and mostly I remember the way that Staten Island Woman and I mocked the movie while we watched it, much to the annoyance of the two men with us, who both claimed they prefer to watch movies without a running commentary. (Yes, I know. How crazy is that? Our insightful comments were CLEARLY the best part of the experience.)
It was a comic book movie, except with human actors and actresses instead of drawings, and I couldn't help but analyze the corny dialogue as we listened. The movie was a wonderful illustration of the black-and-white thinking in which people fall neatly into the categories of villain, victim, or hero. Even with all kinds of cool special effects, it's incredible how tiresome those narrative can be. And more than tiresome; it's downright sad. I know real life people who get stuck in those narratives.
Anyhow, the main character, a female superhero whose special powers involved throwing knives around and then disappearing without a trace, decides to avenge her mother's death by going to battle with the villain. There is a dramatic scene in which the camera focuses on the villain, who is of course evil to the core with no complex or redeeming qualities, and then shifts dramatically to show Female Superhero standing in the doorway, ready to throw knives. The drama of the moment was spoiled when Staten Island Woman and I both started laughing aloud.
See, it turns out that Female Superhero, in her fit of revenge, had felt the need to stop and buy lingerie on the way to battle. A convenient wind blows away her cape to show her standing in the doorway in skimpy spandex underthings and — of all ridiculous things —high heels. Before reaching for her knife, she wastes valuable time to throw back her hair and push out her breasts. Staten Island Woman convulsed with giggles, "Oh, god, my mom would kill me if I showed up wearing that outfit to avenge her death!"
It's the peculiar assumption of the comic book world: women can only be powerful if they have large breasts, long legs, and tiny waists. And they must be willing to dress like sex objects. I can't tell you how many times I've cringed at the sight of a small child wearing a superhero outfit that included fake cleavage. The messages that these superhero narratives give to our children fit in nicely (of course!) with the goals of patriarchy.
So I've decided to start a campaign for a new kind of superhero. I'd like to see superheros of all sizes and shapes. Superheros with grey hair. Superheros who make their kids' lunch on their way to battle. Superheros who recite poetry instead of cliches. Superheros who wear sensible hiking boots or sneakers. Superheros who stop to talk to the villains and see what's bothering them before throwing knives.
And the one part of the costume worth saving, it seems to me, is the cape.
Posted by jo(e)