Gender Studies, Media

Becoming Obsessed With Strong Female Characters: My Hopes For a Post-Wonder Woman World

Do you guys remember when Edward Cullen was everywhere?  To call him an obsession is an understatement.  Parallel to this Cullen-mania, I developed an obsession with, well, Edward Cullen obsession.

How meta is that?

Back in November 2008, I wrote how the only thing that seems to be able to cure this Cullen-mania was to have something new to obsess about—but as written by Joel Ryan, amongst others, women-oriented movies remain too few and far in between, barring the obligatory year-round chick flicks.  And, let’s be honest, there is a big chunk of women like me who just can’t take that many, if any, chick flicks in.

With the recent, historically successful release of Wonder Woman on the big screen—the beginning, hopefully, of a new and long franchise, it seems like there just might be something healthy to be obsessed about now, and that instead of obsessing about a boyfriend that lurks in the dark outside our bedroom watching us sleep (which still totally creeps me out), woman can start obsessing about putting their innate strengths of courage, compassion, and love, amongst others, towards the work of cleaning up the mess of a world we are living in.

And honestly, there are so many women, young and old, who are decisively contributing to making their communities and the world better.  There is, of course, Malala; but there is also Madison Kimrey, Oliva Hallisey, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and Rihanna.  Yes, that Rihanna.

I have worked with a lot of young women, starting with giving alphabetisation classes when I was 12-years old.  I “only” worked, at that time, with five young girls, and I was “only” assisting the main teacher, but that left an indelible impression on me that fuels, to this day, my desire to contribute, in however small way that I can, to making the world a little bit better.

One common conversation I have had with many of these young women was how they felt misrepresented.  In relation to Edward Cullen, one of the 12-year-old girls I was working with at the time admitted to me that, while she pretended that she, also, wanted a boyfriend just like him, she actually didn’t understand the attraction.  She confessed that she would rather have someone who was her best friend, a straightforward guy in a straightforward relationship with love of love and romance but no drama.  She found some of Cullen’s actions creepy, and was deeply bothered by how much her friends wished for a guy to act like that with them.

Even more disturbing, however, is that this 12-year-old girl refused, quite adamantly, to reach out to her friends.  She understood that the possibility that at least one or two others might feel the same way, but she didn’t want to risk being shunned.  It was easier to go with the flow, rather than to be ostracized.

I don’t blame her at all.  Even if she was older, I would understand her.  I, too, do not want to be shunned.  Because when we have interests that are not mainstream, we are considered geeks, nerds, weird, abnormal.

Back when The X-Files first aired, despite being too young to really understand why, I connected with Dana Scully at a very deep level.  Here was the beautiful, well-dressed, smart, and confident woman that I wanted to be, someone who was talked to with respect by her male partner.  She wasn’t called bossy because she knew what she wanted; she wasn’t put down because she wasn’t wear low-cut tops or short shorts; she was never objectified or vilified, but respected and listened to.  That was something that I could aspire to be when I was older, if I survived the annoyances of childhood and teenage years.

When Buffy The Vampire Slayer first aired, it hit me: I didn’t need to wait until I was older.  I could aspire to be respected now.  I started calling people on their hypocrisy, when they would insist that they were feminists but would comment on my physical appearance in a derogatory manner, for example.  I could be someone dedicated to activism and community-building, and yet still be beautiful, well-dressed, smart, and confident right then and there.

What I am hoping that Wonder Woman will do for a new generation of young girls is to be an example of how female characteristics such as love and compassion can be the source of strength, and not of weakness.  While the comic books provided me with this insight when I was younger, there is something so much more potent about seeing it on the big screen.  And I really hope that an increasing number of regular, non-superhero women will appear on screen, sooner rather than later, as the main protagonists whose loving hearts and compassionate souls will be one of the main driving forces of a movie.  In these movies, things like fashion and romance will have a place—but secondary to a main plot of this woman being an active contributor to something much bigger than herself.

And if Hollywood doesn’t make it happen, well, there is always self-publishing—so stay tuned!

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

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4 thoughts on “Becoming Obsessed With Strong Female Characters: My Hopes For a Post-Wonder Woman World

  1. GIRL POWER!!! Well said. I live in a house of all boys, so I pretty much exert my power every day (primary breadwinner, house manager, boo boo fixer, etc.), but it’s nice to see it play out in pop culture as well.

  2. I’ve always wondered why Hollywood thinks that women want to be represented in those ways?! I don’t think I have any friend that has ever said that they connected with characters like Bella…. so It confuses me why they’re so widespread. Is it because women feel like they don’t know any better?! How can we empower future generations?

    I do hope that we have more movies like WonderWoman and Pretty Little Lies that have lead female characters that are empowered and strong and not obsessing only over their looks and love interests!

    http://www.elleisforlove.com

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