When I read The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, I found myself getting angry– a pacing, seething, hissing fury.
Not because I didn’t like the book, mind you. I absolutely loved it. And one of the things I loved most about the book is the very thing that inspired my outrage.
You see, the protagonist Margo McKenna is into music. Like, seriously into music. She fills every spare moment by playing guitar; she copes with her hurt by writing lyrics. She’s pretty much obsessed with getting the lead in her school’s production of Sweeney Todd, and is devastated when she doesn’t get the part. And most importantly, when she meets her designated love interest, she doesn’t drop her love of music to spend more time with him, and instead they bond by blending his love of photography with her passion for song.
It was beautiful, and it made me furious that I’d never seen a YA heroine act this way before. Hell, I’ve rarely seen any female protagonist act this way. In my experience, female characters will either have informed hobbies (as in, they’ll be mentioned in passing or show up as props, but never actually make a meaningful appearance), they’ll be convenient to the plot (Oh, what a coincidence that we happen to need a hacker and I just so happen to be a hacker!), or be dropped the second the love interest walks into the picture.
Seeing it done– and done so damn well– brought into sharp relief just how easy it was, and just how rarely I’d seen it happen. And that made me furious.
With the Ghostbusters movie coming out this weekend, it seems to me like a lot of people are getting slapped in the face with that same feeling.
Tumblr users are flabbergasted that not one, but TWO plus-sized women can appear in a movie, and there not being any jokes made about their weight.
Huffington Post writer Erynn Brook confessed a similar feeling of shock when she saw four women being utter badasses on the big screen… in baggy coveralls. No cleavage. No high heels to show off their asses. No focus on sexiness or the male gaze. Just women being utterly epic.
I’m almost 30 and last night was the first time I saw a movie where a woman did a thing and was funny without crying into a pint of ice cream and was a warrior without being a pin-up and all I could think was… I really didn’t know that was an option.
I really didn’t know you could save the world without looking like you’re trying to pose for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition at the same time. I have never, in 30 years, seen a major movie that didn’t reinforce the message that how I look is more important than what I do.
The image that keeps coming into my mind is that of Molly Grue, the middle-aged woman in The Last Unicorn when, after a lifetime of wishing and dreaming and waiting, after she’s lost all innocence and purity, she finally meets a unicorn. And instead of the awe she’d always imagined she’d feel, she is utterly devastated.
“Where have you been? Damn you, where have you been?! And where were you twenty years ago? Ten years ago? Where were you when I was new?”
Where were these stories when we were young? When we needed them? After a lifetime of being bombarded with toxic messages that we were little more than objects, that we didn’t have value unless we first got the approval of the men in the world, it almost feels like a slap in the face to see what we need now, when the scars left by those messages are so old that we’ve forgotten they’re even there.
In The Last Unicorn, Molly channels that anger into protecting the unicorn, because she’s not the only lost little girl who needs so badly to see one. I wasn’t the only overweight little girl who needed to know my life wouldn’t be reduced to a punchline. You and your sisters and your daughters aren’t the only ones who needed to be told that they could be glorious and heroic without being somebody else’s eye candy.
There are messages we desperately need to hear, and we can’t wait for the quirk of circumstance that makes them appear in the newest most popular property. If there’s a message you needed to hear, then put it out into the world so that somebody else– the kind of person you used to be– doesn’t have to become the next Molly Grue.