Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015: year of the awesome woman lead?

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I have the distinct impression that things are changing. I think I see a sea change happening around me. It's been coming, but now I feel like I'm on top of the cresting wave, able to look behind and ahead, and what I'm seeing is a shit-ton of truly awesome women leads in movies and T.V. shows for what feels like the first time ever.

Rey is pretty darn good
with that bo staff
Obviously there have been women leads in the past, and there is nary a bigger fan of A League of Their Own or Sex and The City than me to be found. But even the SATC women weren't leads like I'm talking about here, because they were all focused on men. They existed in the world of men, and for men, and men were what shaped their lives and gave them meaning. What I think I'm seeing now is a remarkable swing toward seeing women leads that talk to each other as people and give their own lives meaning. Leads like Jessica Jones, Carol (and Therese), Imperator Furiosa, and Rey, to name a few. We even got a badass woman engineer-spy in Gaby in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Finally women are playing multidimensional characters! These women are SURVIVORS, and they're RESISTERS. They're smart, self-willed and independent, experts in the STEM fields, physically able to defend themselves, crack shots with rifles, emotionally wary and unavailable... Though maybe that last one isn't something we should encourage in our characters of either gender since it's a little too much like playing traditional masculinity, which really isn't necessary. And being able to recognize and talk about one's emotions is an important part of relationships and self-care. But really, fuck it, if men characters are allowed to be emotionally stunted fuckwads, then so are women. You do you, Jones. Just watch the drinking. And maybe the best part? None of these women characters are trying to be sexy, to fall in love, or to be saved by the Knight in Shining Armour. They've got sports bras on underneath their own armour, thank you very much.

BIG CAVEAT HERE THOUGH: all of these women are (appear to be) white. Especially in the Hollywood blockbusters, the badass women leads of 2015 are white.

Furiosa can and will
use your shoulder
as a rifle stand
So here I am, feeling visible and vindicated and voiceful as a white woman, but what about women of colour? I honestly left the theatre after watching Star Wars last night feeling good about myself, because Rey was such a cool character. I didn't feel like I'd just sat through a two-hour long attack on my personhood, consisting of hundreds of tiny sexist moments on-screen, and that has certainly happened before. I felt seen, and recognized. The next step is for WoC to have that feeling, and that means that WoC need to get those leads and play those roles, so that it's not just white women leaving the theatre feeling seen, but all women, and not just white women who get to be mechanics and crack shots, but all women.

2015 is just the start of getting women into amazing and powerful roles, and it's a good one. I'm really amazed that it's taken so long but also that it's happening at all, when patriarchal systems and institutional sexism are still so very strong. I feel the change, I see it happening, and I'm eager to see it keep going, to see women of all colours in amazing roles in the future, so that we can all be recognized as the multidimensional people that we are.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Black Stripe: One step closer

Drew got his brown belt, too!
This week in Taekwondo, I got my black stripe belt. It's one step closer to the main event. Because I'm right in the middle of training for my black belt, and I have five more months of super hard work ahead, it almost doesn't feel like getting my black stripe is a big accomplishment. But it is an accomplishment, and it's the official nod of the head that sets me on track for black belt in the new year. So, I felt I should acknowledge it here, even just to remind myself that this is really cool.

This week's grading ceremony required me and my co-red-belts to perform two forms (patterns/katas) for the audience, break three boards in different ways, do some three-on-one self-defence, and do kicking demonstrations. It was really fun, and I felt really prepared for it, so I wasn't too nervous.

Tomorrow's classes are the last ones for 2015, and we have a two-week break over the holidays. Then we will be ramped back up to total-dedication-six-days-per-week training. I'm so grateful for the break! I will do some light training I think, but I really need my shins to heal! I've been plagued by shin splints all autumn - and I still haven't figured out what the British term for this ailment is. Rest assured, I'll be saving some birthday/yuletide gift money for new running shoes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Self-Worth and Fuckwithability

One of my former professors and Facebook friends recently posted an image with a word and a definition. The word was 'unfuckwithable,' defined (loosely - I'm paraphrasing) as not being in any way affected by the opinions or thoughts of others about one's self. I understand the sentiment, and think it's awesome that some people reach unfuckwithability in most areas of their lives. I have an element of unfuckwithability in my life; if someone makes some dumb comment about my appearance these days I'm not going to give it a moment's notice. I did enough noticing of other people's opinions in my 20s. However, when it comes to my PhD, and my future career prospects, I am utterly, despairingly fuckwithable.

I've been pondering this idea lately, wondering about how people can push on, even when they feel fuckwithed. How do people pursue new challenges, even when they think they might fail? What makes someone think that they and their ideas are worthwhile even when they do fail? My quarterly bout of PhD-related panic about the future and about failing at publishing things, not becoming an academic, or ever being employed again (though according to the Current, 1 in 5 Canadian PhDs will get a tenure track position - thanks CBC, I feel weirdly optimistic about my odds now), dovetailed nicely with some reading I've been doing and some conversations with friends.

Another Facebook friend, someone who I was friends with in elementary school but hadn't seen or spoken with for over a decade until we saw each other at a mutual friend's funeral a couple of years ago, sent me a message after reading my recent post about black belt training. With her permission, here is an excerpt of her message and our ensuing conversation. Remarking on the things other than money that our parents can give to us when we're growing up, she commented:

It was an interesting conversation, because even though neither of us came from affluent backgrounds, we had very different experiences growing up. My family placed a lot of value on education, and my sister and I were raised into the idea that we would attend post-secondary schools of some kind, even though no one in my family (minus my grandfather, who died before I was born) had gone to university. I say 'raised into' because there is no moment that I can recall being told that I would go, or I should go, to university; there was just a kind of assumption in the air around us that after high school we would do more school, like a natural next step.

We were expected to do well in school, so good grades were met with approval and some praise, and not-so-good grades (for me, OAC physics.... ouch) were met with questioning looks - because my parents thought that, fundamentally, we were capable of success in all things. My friend said that she was not raised with these expectations, nor the idea that she was capable of success in whatever she was doing. Rather than just leave her without the motivation to push herself forward, she took the lack of these positive attitudes into herself and believed herself to be lacking.

People like Natalie Stojar, Carolyn McLeod, and Paul Benson do a lot of thinking and writing about how a person's self-esteem is influenced by others. Self-esteem, and feelings that we're valuable and worthwhile, does not come from inside us - at least, not originally. We get our self-esteem from other people throughout our childhood, and maybe even into our 20s. We have to learn from other people that we are valuable just because of who we are, and others show us that we are valuable through the ways in which they speak to us, listen to us, and expect certain things of us. This, to simplify, is why some people can gain systematic power over other people - tell them (individually or in groups) that they aren't worthwhile from a young age or over many generations, and they could largely come to believe it's true, even though I suspect that each person always carries deep within them a nugget of positive self-regard. Large parts of humanity live in a constant state of ultrafuckwithability, but we can resist being fuckwithed, we can protest the messages that undermine us, and we can redefine who we are.

It seems to me that my family's belief that I was capable of success in things, even when I wasn't showing success, shaped my sense of who I am and what I can do. At this point in life, failures sting my pride and poke my insecurity, but can't cut into my feeling of overall competence deeply. After a few days of wound-licking, I tend to realize that I'm a worthwhile person, that I know how to work hard and not get lazy, that I'm interested in my work, and because of that I realize I'm driven, and deep down I think that I'm capable; I near unfuckwithability. These self-regarding feelings start with other people, and if it wasn't for my family teaching that I am a valuable person, no amount of skills training could have gotten me where I am at this moment, having done all the things I've done.

One line from my friend's message stands out to me: no one encouraged her to go to school, or to do anything, really. So she thought she wasn't good enough. As she says, imagine growing up with that. Why would you even try something? Why would you even risk showing that you were interested in trying something? Just expressing interest can be enough to get you made fun of by people who don't think you're capable. Those kinds of comments about one's abilities and aptitudes sink in deep, and shape a person's sense of self.

However, my friend is also at a point in her life where she's becoming unfuckwithable. The nugget of self-regard that has always lived deep inside has woken up, and her sense that she really is capable of things - things she didn't previously think were possible - is newly alive. She's taking new risks, she's finding her passions, and she's got a lot to give. She's valuable, she's capable, she's worthy.