I grew up in the era of the Disney Princess.
Back in the early 90s, films like Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and Aladdin were important in a way that's hard to describe today. Without home videos, the buildup to seeing them in theaters had a magical quality to it. We waited for and anticipated them, something we've forgotten how to do in the age of on-demand. We had to look for ways to keep the experience going after we'd left the theater. We listened to the songs on tape until we could reenact the story with friends. We went to McDonald's to collect all the Happy Meal toys. I remember being in awe getting to see Ariel in theaters TWICE as a 5 year old. Movies were experiences, not just something we could watch anytime until we knew it all by heart.
Because those films came out right as I was making sense of the world, I accepted what they taught. My ultimate goal should be finding True Love. Find a man who will fall in love with you even if it means giving up your voice or your freedom. If you love him enough, he will change. He will come looking for you because he'll just know how unique and valuable you are.
When those things didn't happen, I wondered what was wrong with me. What didn't I have that everyone else seemed to possess so easily? Why was nobody lining up to rescue me? It made me settle for Beasts who would not transform into Princes no matter what I did to break the spell. I became the Damsel although I really didn't need anyone to free me from a tower. I unconsciously looked to others to validate and approve my role, although I admired strong women from afar.
As I grew up I fell in love with characters like Jo March, Idgie Threadgood, Lizzie Bennet, Karen Blixen, and Scarlett O'Hara. But there were still not enough to drown out all the others whose identity was defined by someone else. Even when I met Hermione, Katniss, and Eowyn, their presence was encouraging but still not quite mainstream. Wanting strong women characters was like being part of an underground club that could be acknowledged with a Patronus reference or the 4 note whistle of the Mockingjay.
That's why when I saw The Force Awakens I sat in a dark theater watching the film and whispering to my husband Phillip, "it's her! Finally, they did it!" I'd waited so long to see someone who looked like how I saw myself. That's what drew me to represent her in the Rebel Legion and why I love to bring her character to other young girls. Representation matters.
I wanted to be able to stop shopping for t-shirts in the little boy's section because they had all the cool superhero clothes. I wanted these women to be on the shelves of any store I entered rather than face an unending parade of Kardashians in the checkout line. I didn't want to have to go to 4 shops before I could find a single Rey toy, even though there was no shortage of male characters from Star Wars films that weren't even in theaters at the time. I appreciate the subversiveness my heroines represent but I wanted people to see them. Everywhere and all the time. That's why Rey and Jyn meant so much to me and why this Wonder Woman thing is such a big deal.
I bought 2 Wonder Woman shirts at a Walmart in Corydon, Indiana over the weekend and could have easily splurged on more from the huge display they had. To me this means the message is finally getting through. And in the words of my favorite heroine, that gives me hope.
This piece was published in the June 9th issue of The News-Enterprise. I shared these thoughts on social media without any intent other than to express myself, but appreciated the opportunity to raise my voice further when the paper expressed interest in the opinion. It was a hard decision to publicly put my name behind something so personal, but am glad I did after seeing it connect with other women. Talk about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone! This is definitely my #1PUSH for the week!