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.

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