I had meant to write a well thought-out, reasoned, logical-yet-impassioned blog entry about this... but I still haven't figured out how to do that. So I can tell that this little entry is going to be, y'know... slightly rambling.
I want my nieces to grow up in a world where they can do anything they want to do.
Obviously, right? That's what we'd all like. Duh.
What I don't want is for them to grow up and have their options curtailed by their gender. What I don't want is for their attitudes towards men and women, boys and girls, their own selves, to be decided by a society, and a media, that is slanted.
Big Books for Boys are about adventure and exploration. Big Books for Girls are about makeup and looking pretty.
My niece Becca is 4. Becca loves pink. She loves princesses. She wasn't BORN loving pink and loving princesses — she learned that. She learned it from the people around her, from the TV she watches, from the other kids at the school-type place she goes to. And you can see it. You can see it happening. People go up to her and the first thing they say, the FIRST thing, is "Oh, don't you look ADORABLE!"
Boom. Now she thinks that her physical appearance is THE most important thing about her. Now whenever she's wearing a new dress she always runs up to me and says "Derek, look at my dress!"
I don't want my nieces thinking their looks are the only things that matter. For their birthday, the twins got a big dollhouse. It is, admittedly, awesome (if you like dollhouses). And I knew they were getting the dollhouse, so I went to buy them dolls. I bought them a princess doll and a mermaid doll, because Becca loves princesses and Emily loves mermaids. But I also got them an Annikin Skywalker doll, with lightsaber and sound effects, and an Iron Man doll. So now Iron Man has tea with Princess Barbie (and by all accounts, he's loving it) and the future Darth Vader (spoiler alert) sits awkwardly on the couch with Mermaid Barbie.
I buy them toys for boys because I don't want them limited by what toy companies tell them they can be.
(Er, not that a princess, a mermaid, a Sith Lord or a super hero is an achievable goal anyway... well, maybe the super hero...)
And then I start thinking about my books because, well, my books are awesome and deserve to be thought about. I think I've done well, all in all. The decision to have the main character be a teenage girl wasn't a decision at all — it's just something that fit. I've also worked very hard to refrain from idealising Valkyrie. Having a female main character but treating her like she's this flawless wonder is as damaging and disingenuous as the very things I've been trying to avoid. But treating her like a real person? Giving her an ego, an arrogance, a selfishness that we'd all have in her situation? That's FAIR.
But I've also failed, in certain ways. I've given in, without even thinking. Val is pretty, for a start. Was that necessary? No, not really. I could have made her plain. I could have taken away the height, the slimness, the little dimple when she smiles... But I didn't. Yes, the pretty fictional character is based on my pretty real-life friend, but I could have changed THAT aspect, right? Only, I'm as biased as anyone else. I like beauty. I like a pretty face. I like Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey. I admire them as people, as fighters, as athletes — but would I pay them this much attention if I didn't also appreciate how they look?
I'm as bad as anyone, but the thing is, I'm trying NOT to be.
So while you're digesting all this, and figuring out if what I'm saying has ANY relevance to ANYTHING, I want you think about Captain America: Winter Soldier. You all know what a huge comics fan I am. Most of you know that I own the shield he used in the first movie. I am REALLY looking forward to the sequel, and nothing will stop me from going to see it.
But seeing as how I'm talking about how women are valued primarily on their looks, I'd like you to take a peek at the posters released. Here's Cap, looking pensive...
And Nick Fury, also looking pensive...
And here's Black Widow, looking... wow.
Is that it? Is that her only worth?
In some ways, I'm old fashioned. I believe in old-fashioned things. I believe men should be strong. If they can't be strong physically then they must be strong morally. I believe men should hold the door for women, should stand up from the table when they walk over, and they should, when possible, pay for dinner. I also believe that men and women are equal in every way that's important.
So when I ask "Is that her only worth?", I'm not asking that from a feminist's perspective. I'm asking it from a man's perspective. The Black Widow is a secret agent, a spy, an assassin, and a hero... so why can't she be pensive in a series of pensive posters? Why does she have to adopt the sexy pose?
If any of my nieces grow up to be a secret agent, a spy, an assassin or a hero, I'm going to be as proud of them as if they grow up to be a princess or a mermaid. But I'm going to have to insist that they be given the opportunity to be WHATEVER they want to be, and those kinds of opportunities begin with me — the writer, the creator — and with you — the reader, the consumer. Don't settle for less. Don't settle at all.