Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Need a Hero, or If I Were a Mutant

I went to see Wolverine last week. I love superheroes movies, and if the box office for them is any indication, I’m not alone in that. But every time I watch such movies, my analytic curiosity is stirred; I wonder what is so enticing to people, male and female, old and young, about these characters and stories. On another day I might engage in a discussion of the struggle between good and evil that is at the root of humanity and, perhaps, the foundation of all stories, or laud sci-fi and fantasy genres for creating a neutral territory in which to explore difficult issues, but today I’m thinking about something else. I’m thinking about the gendering of heroes: who gets to be heroes and who is supposed to want to be a hero.

Just a quick survey of comic books should be enough to demonstrate that we associate heroism with masculinity most of the time. Sure, the tradition of comic books dates back to a time when people had more defined notions of gender roles, and sure, there are some female heroes (let me just confess here that I hate the word “heroine”). But the fact remains that female superheroes, especial those who are as capable as their male counterparts, are rare. Now, there may or may not be something wrong with this; that’s not my point. But the problem came when I realized--at about the same time as the realization that most of my favorite movies were “guy” movies--that I wasn’t supposed to want to be like the male superheroes. But I did (and still do). Something deep within me just responds to them. I want to be heroic, adventurous, and courageous.

But that’s not who I’m supposed identify with, according to our social construct and to books like Wild at Heart and Captivating (please forgive me if you disagree with my reading of these). I’m supposed to be Lois Lane. I’m supposed to be the princess in the fairy tale. But, as I recently told a friend, I don’t remember ever really wanting to be a fairy-tale princess. I liked fairy tales, and I did want to be a princess, but what I remember liking most about the fairy tales was the adventure and someone fighting on behalf of another. I’ve never wanted to just be a passenger, sentient luggage, someone to be protected. I wanted to be in the thick of it. I wanted to be the main character, not supporting cast. I want to fight my own battles (metaphorically speaking).

So where does that put me? Does my fantasy desire to be hero make me masculine? I don’t think so. I think that, instead, my resonance is with characters and character traits that I admire rather than gender; I don’t want to be Batman but I do want to be brave and assertive and unafraid of my own potential. Unfortunately, there aren’t many female characters who exhibit such traits as strongly as males do. Before I was really aware that I was outside of gendered lines, I had never questioned my femininity, and while I hope that more female characters will come along who exhibit the traits I most admire, I hope even more that we will come to a realization that gender is not the most important determining factor in who we can admire.

In closing, I would like to state two things for the record. First, I am not given to violence and don’t think I would like to be a superhero of either gender in real life. And, second but more important, if I were a mutant, I would want to have the ability to communicate with animals.

620 words, and I think you should congratulate me for my smashing editing skills. I almost had it under 500. Almost.

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