“I want the Batman action figure!”
“What about Batgirl?”
I looked up at my Mom with 5-year-old indignation and insisted.
When you have two brothers and you’re the little sister, you really want nothing more than to be “one of the guys.” So much so that, until the age of five, I truly believed as I got older I would magically morph into a man.
It was simple! Men were born as girls and women were born as boys. I think the world might be a more compassionate place if this were true. If every man had to get his period while swimming in gym class and every woman had to figure out how to hide a surprise boner in Algebra—this might be the answer to world peace.
“So, what was your Dad born as?”
“He was born a baby girl!”
“Ok, then what was I born as?”
My five-year-old brain short-circuited. My Mom had me there. Since I desperately wanted to be a boy I couldn’t imagine someone who had this wonderful wish would then actually grow up to be a woman. The holes in five-year-logic are truly gaping. All I knew was that men were the ones who went on all the adventures. Batman! Aladdin! Luke Skywalker! Tom Sawyer!
I didn’t want to be Wendy in a frilly nightgown and hair bow, I wanted to be Peter Pan! Sword fighting, hurling quips at Captain Hook, and then merrily singing songs into the night with the Lost Boys.
Yet, I was destined to be a woman? Weren’t women moms, love interests, and secretaries for men? Weren’t they secondary?
Ah, the patriarchy was strong with this one.
If I could, I would go back to 1998 and tell Little Jenny a few things.
- I don’t care what your brothers are watching, here’s a VHS of Matilda, Mulan, and Erin Brockovich. You don’t know this word yet, but they are all what you call a “badass mother f*cker.”
- While it’s very entertaining to look up the word S-E-X in the family’s Encyclopedia Britannica (bless you 90s), try looking up the word P-A-T-R-I-A-R-C-H-Y.
- Have your mom explain to you Laura Mulvey’s essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” This will help you understand that women can be more than objects in stories—they can be the subject as well.
- Brush your hair. You look like Penn from Penn and Teller.
As a child and avid film and TV watcher, when I failed to see myself represented in the media, I also failed to see how I would be represented in the world.
People may wonder why there are reports of women crying during Wonder Woman when she ventures into No Man’s Land and heroically saves a village, or why an audience bursts into applause when Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII brings Finn to safety. It’s because they’re seeing what they didn’t see as kids: acclaimed, top-grossing movies with strong female leads. Five-year-old girls no longer have to pretend to be men if they want to go on adventures. They can just grab a trashcan lid and become Wonder Woman: Demigoddess. Grab a plastic light saber and you’re Rey: Rebel Warrior.
As an actor and writer, I’m excited to be able to work in a time when women and minority voices are being heard more frequently. I’m excited for a generation of little girls growing up seeing themselves on screen with no doubts they have a valued place in this world.
These days, when I daydream about my life as a superhero, while I still enjoy Batman, I find myself more often than not pretending to be Wonder Woman.