Long post warning. TL;DR – This post deals with my decision to donate a portion of my business proceeds. I approach it with reference to a fictional character from a 1980s movie.
Recently we’ve been rewatching various series and movies – it’s been quite a rewatching summer, actually. The spree included a movie called Adventures in Babysitting (released in 1987). I had fond if vague memories of the feature starring Elizabeth Shue and directed by Chris Columbus (of Harry Potter producer fame). Shue has more recently been cast in CSI, a favorite cerebral series of ours; hence the desire to dig up AiB.
Make no mistake: AiB is not a serious movie (with deep, Sam-the-Eagle pronunciation). The conceit is simple enough. Shue’s character Chris is a sheltered suburban kid who, instead of enjoying a fancy meal in a fancy restaurant, ends up babysitting on her one-year anniversary to a douchecanoe (as it turns out) of a boyfriend. After a frantic phone call from a friend who ran away from home only to have second thoughts by the downtown bus depot, Chris is forced to pack the kids into a car and drive into town(!) [i.e., Chicago] to pick up her friend. Unfortunately, Chris’s car blows a tire, and a series of adventures ensues as our babysitter-babysittee gang navigates unfamiliar (sub)urbia, criminals and the wonderful world of car repair to race back home before midnight when they turn into pumpkins one o’clock when the parents get home.
Competently enough written and filmed, AiB is a funny, entertaining romp. However, the best thing about the movie for me is Sara, the approximately 10-year-old daughter of the family. Sara is an absolute delight! She speaks her mind, and is not afraid to go after what she wants or put the squeeze on her brother when he is behaving badly. She enjoys rollerskating and the car mishaps, truck drivers with a hook for a hand, shootings, chases and car thefts which their adventure into town(!) throws her way.
But first and foremost, Sara fan-worships Thor. She has Thor posters, Thor comics, Thor coloring books and a Thor outfit (complete with cape, replica Mjölnir and an adorable helmet) that she wears just about every day. Quite simply, Thor is her hero.
And how does her environment take Sara’s superhero enthusiasm? Her big brother Brad teases her, calling her a winghead and questioning Thor’s heterosexuality.
Brad is the only one to comment negatively, though, with what I imagine is a typical big brother fashion. No other disparaging remarks, no stares. Nobody says she can’t like superheroes because superheroes are a boy thing. Nobody says she can’t wear her Thor helmet. Her parents are concerned that she not use her rollerskates in the house, but that’s it.
In fact, Sara’s belief in Thor’s goodness saves the day car at the end of the movie. Chris and the kids attempt to collect her car at Dawson’s Garage, where it was towed for repairs. Upon meeting Mr. Dawson, Sara is convinced that he’s Thor.
There’s the small matter of payment, though – Chris doesn’t have her purse. She has been able to get some money due to the goodwill of strangers, but is still $5 short of the car repair bill. Mr. Dawson, jaded by the big city life as he is, wants to send the gang on their way empty-handed. Sara pleads with him but is shut down; Chris pulls her away. Sara turns back one more time to Mr. Dawson, however, and offers him her helmet, because what is Thor without his special helmet?
Mr. Dawson is touched and releases the car despite the short payment. The gang still has to race home before the parents, but they would never have gotten there without Sara.
It feels so great to see a character like Sara taken seriously. It’s especially great because Sara likes what she likes because she likes it; end of discussion. No IFs, ANDs or BUTs. She isn’t pushed into a corner, or laughed at, or told to be a good girl and play quietly with her dollies. And so she shouldn’t.
As a child, I remember being baffled by pen-pal ads that stated “fatsos or four-eyes need not bother”.* I can fathom disliking or hating someone on the basis of their views, behavior or character. But disliking someone only on the basis of their body shape or physical abilities? Hating someone on the basis of a single, outward descriptor, without first meeting or getting to know the person? It’s incomprehensible to me.
I wasn’t a dedicated fan of a single hero in my childhood like Sara. From a very young age, however, I’ve been aware that speculative fiction – sci-fi and fantasy – has the kinds of stories that interest me the most. I’ve certainly faced my share of derision and dismissal due to my interests-gender combination. I have never really understood why. I still don’t. Why is it so difficult to find positive media treatment of girls and women, let alone geeky girls and women? I’m not just someone’s daughter or wife; I am someone. How does it make me less of a someone if I like Firefly instead of Sex and the City?
I have also faced dismissal and verbal abuse simply because of my gender. I know I’m not alone. Excluding and scorning us is not ok, because I am a human being, and so is every other woman on earth.
When I look at the world, I don’t want to see people like me stereotyped into empty-headed flirts. I don’t want to see people like me tokenized. I don’t want to see people like me turned into prize dummies at the end of a gauntlet. I certainly don’t want to see people like me objectified, abused and manhandled. I want to see people like me appreciated and treated like individuals. I want to see more Saras. I want to see Saras of all colors and shapes and abilities.
Kameron Hurley writes of the confluence of storytelling and her personal entertainment choices like this:
“I don’t want to spend what should be entertaining downtime gritting my teeth through uncomfortable micro-aggressions aimed at women. I get enough of that all day. I want some fucking escapism. And if there are films that can give me that, I’m going to prefer those over the ones that don’t.
“We’ve got far more opportunities for choice now, and though big Hollywood studios and publishers and things are still publishing primarily status-quo stuff, they’re changing, too. What they see is that when presented with more choices, less problematic choices, people are quite often choosing them over their messy face punching bullshit.”
It is very important to me that women get treated with respect regardless of their likes, dislikes, color of skin or marital status.
Last year, when I started my business, I made a commitment to put my money where my mouth is. To encourage a more positive attitude towards women, I decided to donate five percent of my proceeds to organizations working towards that goal. At the moment, my beneficiary is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
I wrote elsewhere:
“I’m old enough now to believe that I am ‘allowed’ to be concerned with bigotry and insensitivity when they flare up in my life and take action to shape my life so that I feel safe. This means that I have been cleaning and will continue to clean my life of toxic, misogynistic, bullying or insensitive people….
“I’m getting disabused of the notion that I need to ‘stop being so sensitive’ or ‘learn to take a joke’. No. My concerns are valuable. I am gorram valuable, not just as a daughter or a wife, but in my own right too. Jokes and stories that make me feel dismissed or objectified or ridiculed have no place in my life anymore, and, furthermore, I promise to do my best not to subject anybody else to such behavior by me, either.
“I say again: My life, my safety, my choice.”
That is why I #readwomen2014.
That is why I speak out.
*) Yes, pen-pal ads. In papers and magazines. That’s how old I am. 🙂