As many of you who read my blog already know I use fiction to help teens discuss topics that are too tough to talk about “in real life.” Teen Suicide is one of the most important topics for young people to share on. Today, I’d like to respond directly the recent criticism about the show 13 RW from mental health “experts.”
How can you call Cease & Desist a Christian book? It’s filled with sex and violence.
First, I never set out to write a “Christian” work. I wanted to write a novel that would address the concerns about sexuality and violence that young people have in a real-life setting that many Christian fiction writers miss. I teach, and many of my students feel a disconnect with Christian literature because it renders a morally strident world that they feel is unattainable. I love Christians and I love my church. I believe Christian fiction is poised to make the cross-over into the secular world–a crossover that many traditional publishers have long awaited–provided we address young people in the real world that is filled with fears of date-rape and bullying; violence as entertainment; mental illness, and the sexualized of teens.
If you write realistic Christian fiction, please send a shout-out to our blog, so we can praise your work.
Last weekend, Warner’s Wonder Woman broke a box office record. It’s the first film directed by a woman to crack $100 million at the box office. It also revealed a long suppressed, dirty secret of Hollywood; the celluloid boardroom is just as sexist a the rest of corporate America. And it took a film about a strong woman directed by a strong woman to show us that.
Last year, only 7% of the 250 highest-grossing films were directed by women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That number has fallen 2% over the past two decades. Even though women consistently take home directing prizes in prestigious festivals like Sundance for art-house films, they’re largely boxed out of the most lucrative genres.
I don’t think Patty was raised by Amazons or wears body armor (except maybe in the boardroom) but she had to overcome a lot of obstacles to make this film happen, including replacing another director (Michelle Maclaren) to make the first major superheroine movie in over a decade. The last attempts were Catwoman and Elektra: both films were directed by men, got poor reviews, flopped at the box office and convinced studios for several years that female superhero movies just “don’t work.”
Ironically, Patty nailed it by not shying away from Wonder Woman’s (played by Gal Gadot) fragile, “more feminine” side. The film opens with our young heroine, Diana, true to the legend as a girl being raised by women on a remote Greek island. The notion of a young, fearless girl being trained by strong-willed mother figures is a powerful, irresistible trope that has long languished in Hollywood’s overtly sexist “princess mentality.” The notion that a superhero can only recognize her superpower from a male dominated myth, is refreshingly obliterated by the first ten minutes of the film.
When the young Diana finds herself in the middle of World War I, confused and fragile, I marveled at how far we’ve come from the TV cartoon icon of the 1970’s. Diana doesn’t look tough and voluptuous the way Lynda Carter did; she looks tough, and lost. By avoiding all the distracting modern gadgets that fuel modern superhero movies, and placing it in a backdrop of history’s most bloody and pointless war, we see a real woman, who must use more wits than magic to overcome a fear many women have: that their power and drive will undermine a real, romantic relationship.
The casting of Godot was brilliant and is true to form for Jenkins as she’s adept at turning incredibly beautiful women into real human beings (She directed Monster, starring Charlize Theron). Godot isn’t really beautiful until she gets knocked down and punched in the face. Then she becomes the kind of woman who baffles and enthralls her love interest.
For her achievement, Sally Jenkins stands alone, but I don’t think this film could’ve gotten a green light were it not for our begrudging acceptance that gender roles are complex, too complex for your typical “Blockbuster.”
Hollywood, despite all it’s liberal progress needs to realize that sex and gender are still worlds apart and exploring this divide will make future “superhero movies” into films about real women who realize their extraordinary power comes from within.
Happy May 1st.
Who’s your favorite “Fearless Girl?”
If you know my book, Cease & Desist, you know my favorite FEARLESS GIRL is Cease de Menich. But, I want to know who you’d chose to be your favorite FEARLESS GIRL. Maybe she’s a friend from school who’s done something awesome. Maybe she’s one of your kids? I’ll be asking that question all this week on my blog. Please tell us what it takes to be a FEARLESS GIRL in our society today.
On Wall Street there’s a bronze statue of a girl who looks about the same age as the sixth graders in the middle school that I teach. She looks pretty fearless as she’s standing up to a raging bronze bull; and she’d better be, it doesn’t take much to see that bull represents men, greed and the lack of women in positions of financial power. The artist Kristen Visbal, maintains that the statue of a child posed with her fists on her hips represents “the power of women in leadership.” Many feminists who don’t like the statue claim she’s a cheap corporate-centric ploy to hide the real issues like equal pay and reproductive rights (the piece was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors).
Everyone loves the image of empowerment represented by a girl standing up for herself in the ruthless, financial jungle our world has become. But, how would some of us men feel if it were a woman standing there? Pretty intimated, right?
But the problem goes deeper than that for men, women and children.
We aren’t just angry at Fearless Girl. We’re afraid of her, afraid for her. We’re afraid because we know in our hearts her future is imperiled. She doesn’t stand a chance alongside a President who is being mocked as “the pussy-grabber-in-chief”; but also brags his daughter (or is that his wife? Even he often gets them confused) is a model–not just for the latest issue of Maxim–but for longer maternity leave. Will our fearless young women be devoured by the wave of sexism that many attribute to the president’s base? Hillary Clinton recently claimed that she lost the election because of misogyny, that America is threatened by having a woman in the oval office. I don’t believe that a majority of us feel that way. I watch young girls stand up for their rights every day in my classroom.
The real problem isn’t just emanating from the oval office. The truth is, Fearless Girl doesn’t stand a chance against the mixed messages the media sends all young women. We want our daughters to be strong, but don’t we also want them to look gorgeous in revealing bikinis? The media thinks so. And the truth is, we who call ourselves “feminists” don’t even know what that word stands for anymore. The most progressive and intelligent young women I talk to at my school don’t consider themselves feminists, because they think it stands for a woman who doesn’t like men and doesn’t enjoy being herself.
To speak against feminism is to speak against basic human rights. But it’s time for someone to admit that the type of feminism that once worked–or at least, forced people to take notice–has changed. Young women aren’t weaker than they were a generation ago, but they’re a lot more confused about how their voices will be heard. Fearless Girl doesn’t just need a woman mentor, she needs an interpreter who can help separate the truth from the bull.
When we read something outlandish in a novel, we think that could never happen in real life, and we break that willing suspension of disbelief that makes reading fiction so enjoyable. When we witness a horrible event in real life, we doubt our senses, and a part of our brain tries to convince us that what we’re seeing isn’t entirely “real.” Scientists say this is the way the brain protects itself from the enormity of horrible events. The soldiers who were the first to discover concentration camps at the end of World War II felt this. Many people who watched the first plane hit the World Trade Center, felt the same way.
Questioning “reality” is an essential part of our education, I tell my students. The internet is far from truthful. Fake news is the latest example of a reality that many people have come to accept as part of the unreal world we live in. But the problem goes a lot deeper than most people think; young people have trouble determining what’s real because they were brought up on video games and reality TV that achieves verisimilitude with a seductive allure to the senses that few great novels can achieve, at least, for those who don’t make reading a habit. What happens when your sense of reality becomes so blurred with the virtual you stop questioning the real all together? What happens when RealityTV becomes interactive and you’re allowed to tell willing participants what you want them to do and say?
A lot happens, and none of it is good. Soon young people won’t just be temporarily duped by the unreal, they’ll be convinced it’s the way life works. Interactive, RealityTV will soon present programming that will allow people to vote for and recommend real sex and real violence.
Can’t we can put a stop to this? Not necessarily. Remember the only censor for live, streaming digital, broadcast is you, the viewer. You can turn the channel. You can write your congressman. Or what you see will appear so horrific that you’ll convince yourself that it can’t possibly be real.
There are laws against that sort of programming, aren’t there? Maybe, but tell that to a young person that’s been given an order to do something that could make them the Queen Bee or most popular boy to millions of viewers. Should we hold young people responsible for “following orders?” And some of those orders will probably be given by adults who are watching and want to see them “go all the way.” Remember, those people in the Milgram experiment were just “following orders.” So were the Nazis. In the coming months you’re going to see this sad reality come to pass. I’m writing to ask you to do two things when you witness the real and try to dismiss it as just a virtual photo-shopping of the perverse.
First. Don’t blame young people. Sure we’d like them to read more and question authority. But young people didn’t create these games. We did.
Second. This bold new world of interactive entertainment isn’t going to go away. There may be finger-pointing and hand-wringing by concerned adults at congressional hearings. But in the end, the only censors will be those of us with the courage turn the channel.