Representation Matters

My Heroes Were Women

When I was a kid, my heroes were women. I loved Nala from the Lion King because she had spirit. I loved Jasmine from Aladdin because she knew she wanted to be free from her father and the palace. But their stories were shadowed by the male narrative. Young feminist me may have been able to surmise deeper meaning, but that’s not how those movies were marketed. They’re about the male story. They’re named after the male protagonists.

Even movies like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty indicate that the male holds the power. The prince presents the shoe and saves princess. The prince uses his sword to rescue the princess. I never saw these women as weak. Sometimes it felt like the male role had been written in later. A young girl scrubbing floors could just as easily learn how to battle, study code in her free time, start a bakery, or find any other way to be self-sufficient in her freedom. Simba could have enjoyed the freedom in the forest, choosing not to fulfill his duty as King. I’m pretty sure Nala could have figured it out. But that doesn’t really fit with the masculinity narrative.

In 2017, there isn’t much tiptoeing around. Moana is about a woman. It’s named after a woman. And a man doesn’t save her. She saves a man. The same could be said for Wonder Woman.

Sometimes to achieve equality you have to start with finding some semblance of equity. That means giving women more opportunity to make up for the historical and systemic lack of equality. More movies. Bridge the gap. Break the ceiling. Let it in.

Let’s Take Stock

I read in the newspaper today that the representation of women has changed in stock photos. Ten years ago the photos look light and innocent. Women laying in beds, eating salads, looking mute and disinterested. Today they’re hiking, climbing, mixing chemicals, coding, standing in front of their women-owned businesses with tags like CEO. PRESIDENT. BOSS.

I didn’t see these images when I was a kid.

I imagined my heroes as the leaders of their own show. I had no misconceptions about their independence. But in some way, it was a kids fantasy. Taking what was given to me and making it what I wanted it to be.

I didn’t grow up having anyone tell me that I could be the boss of anything. I just got told that I could do anything. That’s abstract, that’s good parenting. But it comes from a generation that doesn’t see what we see now. The details of what you can do anything means. The struggle that you have to take on to do anything. The privilege some people have that makes it easier. The tools to make anything really happen. The books that line the shelves at Powells. CODING FOR KIDS with a little girl on the cover. The feeling of pride when, briefly, we really believed that we had a chance at the first female PRESIDENT. Hearing podcasts like GIRLBOSS and being members of movements like BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN.

I feel like I’m climbing the edge of a cliff wet and slick with the tears of everyone who came before me. Bare hands, red knuckles, blisters and sweat. But my kids are getting climbing gear!

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