The sword or the shield?

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Following up on my last post, I’d like to offer kudos to both John Carter and The Avengers for offering youngsters this summer images of strong, competent women working among men, rather than the usual damsels-in-need-of-rescue or evil harpies.  Everything from the solid characterizations to the cinematography to the costume designs support this.

I did a lot of thinking about the weapons and defenses that women use against their unique antagonistic forces: general social pressure, sexploitation, workplace depowerment, double standards, domestic responsibilities, and so on.  Without launching an extended analysis today, I’d like to offer just a snippet or two from the above-named films:

Black Widow: Doctor, we need you.

Bruce Banner (the Hulk): And if I refuse?

Black Widow: I’ll persuade you.

Similarly, at top we see Dejah Thoris attempting to get war-weary John Carter to abandon his selfish quest for a “cave of gold” in order to defend the community.  One thing is immediately clear, here:  for men, it’s “I,” and for women, it’s “we.”  So right at square one, women have the additional need to sell others on the welfare of the group, rather than the individual.  And this cannot be accomplished by the point of a spear.

I came to see that my woman-hero’s best weapon, like Captain America’s, was not a phallic sword (arrow, hammer, power-beams, fist, bullets,) but a shield.  I tried to form this aegis into many different shapes–it can take a near-infinite number of them–so I will only say for now that one of them is her baby itself.  Inasmuch as the she defends and saves the baby, it saves her.

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Female heroism

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One of the big “secrets” of literature and films is that they feature dramatic representations of what ordinary people experience every day.  They thus seem relatable: on some level, we identify with the conflicts on display.  For example, giant, Earth-adopted robots fighting invaders from another galaxy–well, that’s not so very different from defending one’s property against flood, decay, vandalism, and theft.  The difference is one of degree, not kind.

Typically in western culture, these conflicts are represented in a male mode: quest for a missing father figure, or sacred object, or a rite of initiation, or a war in a foreign land that eventually comes home.  In composing the alternate chapters of this novel, I asked myself: what sorts of conflicts do women endure, as opposed to men, that might yet be analogous?  This naturally gave rise to the added complication of child-rearing.  What if, in addition to protecting the City from the scourge of thieves, murderers, madmen, and thugs, all while maintaining a playboy alter ego, Batman instead had to nurse a baby–tending to its every need, come what may, whether battling super-villains or the measles?