Like anyone else, I have idealized the occasional Hollywood face. Depending on the storyline, or character, the actor or actress may have the power to creep into my heart and nestle into the corners of my outlook on society. Case in point, me crying through all of The Force Awakens because Daisy Ridley was a fully clothed, bad-ass, female Jedi, cast as the main character. This Star Wars movie even passes the meager “Bechdel” test; two women, whose character names are known, speak to each other about something other than a man. Oh. My. Gawd. If you’ve never heard of this test, you will be disheartened at how many of your favorite childhood movies don’t come close to passing it. The incredulousness I felt about the portrayal of a strong woman character was lost on my 10-year-old daughter, who thankfully lives during a time when women and people of color are cast as heroes and heroines on the screen.
For me, the magnitude of fictional characters has transcended beyond the limits of amusement. During my formidable years, I yearned for that black dad off of The Cosby Show. He came home every night, didn’t yell, had money, and was clearly adored by his family for his sense of humor. The show made me have amicable feelings, ones that I had to rearrange upon hearing that Bill Cosby had a looooong line of women declaring him a rapist. I wish that I could say I was raised an informed feminist, but I wasn’t, and I felt pity at first for the fictional character I knew, played by a real-life man who did insanely wrong things to real women. Breaking up with Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. won’t be nearly as hard.
While ranting and raving about the significance of having our entertainment craftily entwined with our worth, I have come across plenty of dismissive glances. Leave it to the budding feminist to tear apart our leisure ventures and turn pleasurable lounging into an activist movement. The caricatures that two-dimensional women are portrayed as seem to be the “phantom” that Virginia Woolf claims “is far more difficult to murder than a reality.” Yes, women are set at some disadvantages in life, but obviously, we have the capacity to construct ourselves separately from the images that Hollywood portrays of us… right??
The contagious empowerment of the woman voice is ablaze across all social medias right now with definitions of what a good man is and is not. “Toxic-masculinity” is being passionately discussed alongside the explicable difference of healthy masculinity. Testosterone that knows no bounds is scary. “Good men” know this. And I have to stop here because it struck me that we own this phrase, “good men” and know it well and can speak of it without assuming audacity. But damned if I can’t clearly imagine a bunch of men throwing around the expression “good women” without clearly defining what that is.
I challenge you to ask yourself even, what is a “good woman?” Is our quality defined along the same guidelines as men; loyalty and bravery? Is each sex admiringly sorted into the confines of JK Rowlings Gryffindor-house definition? (I regress to admit Harry Potter is a huge Bechdel-test failure…) A good woman is pulled apart by differing definitions of what she should be.
I know intrinsically what a “good man” should be. Aside from the very obvious, obtaining consent before performing sexual acts… a good man is loyal to his family and partner (if he has them) or, at the very least, to his friends. If he is loyal to his country, that is coined as ‘bravery’, which is narrowly distinguished on the big screen as brandishing a weapon and slaughtering opposing races in the name of glory, guts, and God.
But the flesh and blood ‘good man’ is brave and loyal in many other ways, like: learning something new, humbly facing humiliation, assisting the weak, or acting selflessly for the common good. A good man’s strength is displayed by his quiet ego, he listens before he speaks, and is naturally generous with his time and possessions. I could go on and on because I graciously married a living example (insert emoji with heart eyes here).
It is easy to proclaim a man “good” for having the attributes of a mother; sorting dirty laundry, making meals, changing a diaper or wearing a baby. Can the same be true for a woman who hustles like a stereotypical dad; dependably providing for the family, making individual sacrifices to forge a profitable career, keeping the bad day at the office confined to the office, relinquishing free time to be spent by the desires of the household...? Not likely.
Before you tell me that a good woman “fears God and submits to her husband”, I ask you to read some Naomi Wolf, or Carol Gilligan, then we can talk.
“...reclamation of moral authority could well lead women to make lasting social changes along its lines, and have faith to call those changes God’s will. Compassion might replace hierarchy; a traditionally feminine respect for human life might severely damage an economy based on militarism and a job market based on the use of people as expendable resources. Women might recast human sexuality as proof of the sacredness of the body rather than of its sinfulness, and the old serviceable belief that equates femaleness with pollution might become obsolete.”
We, as women, are depending on one another (finally!), as a collective force, to challenge very old and wrong ways of thinking. The ‘here and now’ momentum that has given way to women speaking out against sexual harassment, male-entitlement, and toxic-masculinity, is setting the stage for a universal definition of a “good woman”. I see her holding up her head high as a living example for girls. She proudly has a body and speaks without shame about the functions of that body. She “can show you how to be strong, in the real way” (“Steven Universe” by Rebecca Sugar) and be a HERO to both girls AND boys. She can influence other women by embracing their unique differences, and still cherish what we share as human beings living in feminine vessels.
This week I hope to stop and appreciate the attributes I see in women that define them as “good”. We are often narrowly described as beautiful by many standards, but let’s “speak beauty when we see it” by broadened standards. Speak strength, even when butted up against failure. Speak support and community over judgment. Speak a love for yourself. You are the living embodiment of what a good woman can be.