This is not a tech, marketing, product development or social media post. Its a personal opinion piece that I felt like writing. As a woman in science and later tech, I’ve always had a funny relationship with feminism, but felt it was easy to ignore it for the most part – only occasionally educating the hopelessly ignorant, but otherwise not identifying with it or caring much about it. This was probably a mistake on my part, and I have a collection of gender lessons i’ve learned the hard way, but this isn’t about that.
Feminism is again highly relevant – and by that I mean its changing and there are a lot of very interesting ideas and widespread discussions in the realm. There are even some men participating in the discussion. Twenty first century woman – at least in this part of the world – now have basic right to pursue whatever we want – as long as we are prepared to shoulder all of the burdens ourselves. This is in some part demonstrated by the small firestorm of the Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” earlier this month, and the appointment of Marrisa Meyer as CEO of Yahoo, joining the female leadership ranks of Virginia Rometty at IBM, Arati Prabhakar ofDARPA and Cheryl Sandburg’s board of directors seat af Facebook. And then of course there is Hilary, one of the feminine heroes of our generation.
I never considered myself a feminist – I didn’t think I needed to. I was a physics major, then a software engineer. I was the only girl in the room for a the first half of my career, and often even now. My feminist fires were kindled by my daughter’s surprise, at the age of 6, that a woman was the pilot of our United flight from Dulles to SFO. I was beside myself that I had allowed her to have developed this gender -biased view of the world at such and early age. Not to mention that my marriage (like all women I know who have careers and children) was turned upside down by my assumption that we’d be equal parents -in stark contrast to his unexamined Ozzie and Harriet fantasy. This required – and still does – much discussion and re-education and far too much compromise on my side.
So, a few months back, my son and husband decide we need a Terminator marathon – 1, 2 and 3 in quick succession. You may recall that in T1, Sarah Connor is helpless and weak. But in T2 we see something that most of us had never seen from Hollywood (or real life) before. A super-buff, independent, strong (albeit a little over the top), self sufficient, feminine, clever woman whom everyone else is looking to for leadership. Even the Arnold is submissive to her command. Her escape from the insane asylum is awesome. But not as awesome as her arms. She kicked ass and took prisoners. My family got an earful from me on how radical this was on film in 1991.
Then in 1992 something really surprising came to mainstream hollywood – Rene Russo joined Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 3. She was very feminine. She was very beautiful. She wore really great clothes – that weren’t tight or skimpy – the kind we started buying at banana republic en mass. She outsmarts and out-fights Mel Gibson, then seduces him. In short it was a hoot, a riot and a good time for we college girls.
Much later we have Thelma and Louise, a great movie about women, but not exactly about powerful women – more about desperate women. Don’t get me wrong – its a phenomenal movie. There are some others in between and since, of course, though not as many as you’d think. I’m not a feminist historian or much of a film buff, so let me know what important watershed mainstream hollywood feminist movies i’ve forgotten or never even saw.
Contrast these movies with the girl movie of my childhood. My kids influence what I watch these days more than any other factor, and when they adored Glee, I thought perhaps they’d also like Grease – which I hadn’t seen since it was new. Seeing it again, i found it jaw droppingly anti-feminist. A young girl likes a guy, who doesn’t like her back in front of her friends because she isn’t cool. So she drops her identity and values and takes up leather, perms and smoking to get the guy. Eek. I suppose at the time it came across as liberating a nerd into the post-sexual-revolution world, but now its just cringe-worthy.
Since having my own kids I’ve, of course, become a kiddie movie maven. We saw some progress away from the helpless disney princess mold as we got Mulan – the warrior, and whatever the girl in Shrek’s name is who at least wasn’t a pushover. But finally, finally, finally, we have Brave. In addition to showing the first wild, woolly and incontrovertibly beautiful curly hair we’ve ever seen in animation (they had new software written just to animate her hair, which I think should win best supporting actress), we have the first princess fantasy that is truly a girls story. It is not about her rescue or a quest for romantic love. Most significantly – and I can’t emphasize this enough – she does not get married in the end – because this story is about her coming of age, not her coming of bride. Interestingly the Katy Perry movie, is pretty similar. So now our daughters inherit some feminine narratives that are not only about romance. I hope our sons do too.
So – tomorrow its back to the geeky stuff.