I taught them about context and why it matters. Where did Wonder Woman's outfit originate? Sidebar: I theorize that the famous WWII pin-up Betty Grable influenced the design of Wonder Woman's costume. When Wonder Woman first appeared in 1940, she was wearing a skirt. After Betty's famous pin-up pic a couple of years later, the skirt vanished giving Wonder Woman that much coveted "bathing beauty patriot" look. Essentially making her a hero for revealing that much skin. Betty Grable did it for America! And now all of the sudden, here's a woman dressed like a pin-up kicking rear and taking names. This is what made her outfit revolutionary. But in our modern context without that vast bank of collective knowledge in the public, what does her outfit mean to most people? Why do all action heroines look about the same? Does that "look" of spandex and boots still signify anything, stand for anything? But this is all beside the point...I guess I'm stewing about it while I form my opinion of the just released pictures of the new Wonder Woman.
I passed around a dozen or so of my first edition action heroine comics. The first Mystique, the first Batgirl, the first solo Catwoman run, the first Harley Quinn, etcetera, etcetera. None of which any of them had ever seen. This has less to do with age probably and more to do with obsession. What are the odds that I would walk into a classroom full of undergraduates who just happened to be as obsessed with comics as I am? But anyway...
I mean, I'm twenty-eight. It's hardly time to pull out the rocking chair. But I had a student in my own class this week turn in an essay trying to imagine a world without the internet and smart phones and how crazy it must've been. I grew up without the internet.
I've been thinking lately about all the things that I know that my undergraduate students don't know and it's more than pop culture trivia from the eighties. Though I do know plenty of that. Getting older is giving me a lot of gifts. When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I had to defend my knowledge of pop culture. I had to justify it in my own mind, why I was spending so much time watching JAWS over and over again. Why I was an obsessive fan. Now it's like...okay, I've been in the world for almost thirty years. I've seen some things. Here's what I think about those things, and just being around for that long and counting myself an expert in feminism of film and comics justifies those observations, no matter how much I get accused of "over-thinking". (Beware the dissenting opinion in the geek world, it will get you plenty of "Just shut up and watch the movie/read the book" backlash.)
Now it's become a niche that allows me to write for a living and teach young people how to look at film, television and books with a critical eye. I'm trying to teach all my students that looking at something with a critical eye doesn't mean you "don't like it". It just means you give yourself permission to ask why you're seeing what you're seeing. Who decides what female characters look like, how they behave and why? (Still mostly men, just FYI.)
|Because you can love comics (and comic movies)|
with all your heart and still be occasionally
annoyed with the over-sexed depiction of women
Anyway, that same fangirl obsessiveness of my youth has helped me in the academic and journalistic world. I never would've imagined even seven or eight years ago that all my long walks to the comic book store on lazy summer days would give me a platform from which to ask students questions like, "With all the female readers of comic books today, why isn't there more variety of appearance in female superhero characters?"
I used to feel kind of embarrassed for not letting go of comic books and movies. But getting older doesn't mean letting go of the things you love, it means making something out of them.
Even if it gets you accused of being a feminist harpy...or sounding like a curmudgeon.