Martha Thomases: Wonder Women and the Men Who Don’t Get Them

Conan O'Brien San Diego Comic Con

I wasn’t at the San Diego Comic Con last week, but I kind of feel like I was. I watched Conan O’Brien every day. I read updates on line. I watched movie trailers from panels I probably couldn’t have got into. It was just like being there, except I didn’t have to wear underwear, I could knit, and I had a cat on my lap.

Still, I missed seeing my friends, and people who aren’t exactly my friends, but we know each other well enough for them to hug me.

And I missed seeing a comic culture that, finally, accepted women as true fans. Instead of raging about Twilight fans (which is my last memory of SDCC), or bitching about cosplayers, the reports I read from SDCC 2015 were remarkably cheerful and inclusive and accepting. Crowded, and with long lines for the bathrooms, but full of good will.

And then I read this. Two veteran Hollywood reporters lamenting the “fact” that movies today are all about women heroes, and that the “real” men can’t catch a break. Never mind that nothing they say is even remotely factual.

Look, I get it. They’re old, and the movies they grew up with are no longer fashionable. In some ways, I share their feelings. I love John Ford westerns. I adore the free-wheeling movies from the 1960s and 1970s, before movies cost so much that the marketing departments took over the studios. But my nostalgia for my lost youth doesn’t blind me to the fact that those movies, for all their brilliance, for all their art, ignored the existence of most of their potential audience, and denied the experiences of people who weren’t white and straight and conventionally beautiful.

At the same time, the United States women’s soccer team won the World Cup and Serena Williams conquered Wimbledon. Now, I generally couldn’t care less about sports, but even a curmudgeon like me was excited to see talented, motivated women win.

In parallel to the ridiculous old men who wrote the piece in Deadline linked above, there were men who used the occasion to bewail Selena Williams lack of “femininity.” These ranged from the Newspaper of Record to the ungovernable Twitterverse.

To me, Serena Williams looks the way Wonder Woman is supposed to look. She’s a big girl, with solid muscles because she needs her strength. She dresses for competition the way I imagine a super heroine would dress, in clothes that allow her a full range of movement and provide support where she needs it.

Serena Williams is not the only woman with a body that’s heroic. There are body-builders and gymnasts and runners and swimmers and soccer players, too. There isn’t just one kind of strong body for women, just as there is no one kind of strong body for men. None of them look like the tits-and-ass fantasies of too many artists, but I think that style of art is losing popularity.

In times of change (by which I mean, forever), some people will always get upset. They will be threatened by the change and worry that they will lose something, whether that something is power or privilege or just stories that they like.

(I’m like that, sometimes. Move a favorite television show to a different time-slot, and my world falls apart. Even knowing how to use the DVR doesn’t make me feel any better.)

People who are not powerful know there are no guarantees in this world, that there is no stability, no permanent comfort. It’s those who are complacent in their wealth and power and privilege who are surprised. At best, if we find ourselves uncomfortable in these positions, we can hope to have empathy. At worst, we can dig in and be jerks.

(Last week, I was kind of a jerk. I’m sorry about it, and I appreciate those who cared enough to educate me.)

Relax, uptight men. Most movies still focus on heroes who are white and male and straight. So do most comics. No one makes you pay for any stories about women or people of color or queer folks.

But some of us want those stories. We’re going to tell them and watch them and read them.