Let me start by saying that I do not respect powerful people simply for being powerful. I respect people for being humble, conscientious, empathetic, and compassionate and for doing what they can with what they have. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard the following argument:
“They resent her because she’s aggressive, abrasive, egotistical, etc. (fill in the blank), but it’s okay for a man to be that way.”
When it comes to these types of attitudes and (alliteration warning) pugnacious, pugilistic behavior, it is not okay for a man to be this way. It is not okay for anyone to be this way. I respect powerful people when they wield power ethically, responsibly, and with humility for the benefit of others. I know that not all of my readers share my Christian beliefs, but a saying of Jesus Christ taken from the Parable of the Talents seems appropriate to this week’s topic. It says, in essence, that much is expected of those to whom much is given.
Please consider the above statements while considering what I have to say next. I think it is responsible to ask the following: If women are encouraged to cast off traditional societal protections and to draw a sense of empowerment from “bad ass” female characters (please refer to Part 2 before getting mad at me), is this a potential recipe for disaster? Are they isolated in a game which requires them to compete using tools which favor men?
I am alarmed and dismayed by the promotion of competition rather than cooperation between the sexes, and this applies to our entertainment as well. I’m not talking about competing for the same job or political office or demanding fair and equal treatment (e.g. wages). I’m talking about a more general animosity based on gender. This can feed wrong attitudes in which men regard women as physical competitors, and it can be a potent driver of pornographic fan art, sexual assault, and domestic violence. To strengthen my argument, let me mention a comment about the above panel in which the writer gloried in the fact that this proved that Wonder Woman can “take a punch.” I am alarmed by anything that encourages men to look at women this way. I say this as a husband, as a father of three daughters, as a grandfather of two granddaughters, and as a professor who has worked for the last quarter of a century at a women’s college. One of my former students runs a women’s shelter in the town where I live, and another used to work there full-time. Yet another was a victim of domestic violence, which I discovered when I noticed she had a black eye in class. When I asked her privately how it had happened (as faculty at our institution are instructed to do), she confirmed my suspicions and was referred to a counselor.
I don’t object to the existence or development of “bad ass” female characters per se. Superheroes (members of our more modern, albeit fictional, pantheon) such as Wonder Woman of DC Comics, the Scarlet Witch of Marvel Comics, and Winged Victory and Cleopatra of the Astro City series are portrayed as women who can take care of the themselves and handle adversaries, including those of the male variety.
The responsibility is on us as readers, viewers, and consumers to evaluate how such characters are represented and how they should be regarded. I have said in previous posts (Graphic Mythology: black strip on the left) that I especially like the Winged Victory and Cleopatra characters. For the most part, I believe their portrayal to be socially responsible. Those of us who are adults can encourage our children (male and female) and each other to require higher standards in our role models, real and imagined.