My daughter has started teaching her younger brother to count the number of girls in books—and TV shows, and movies. "PAW Patrol," the animated series about rescue dogs? Two girl pups out of seven. "PJ Masks," the animated Disney series about nocturnal crime-fighting kids? That show boasts two girls, and one is among the three main characters.
So it didn't surprise me when we were at Target this week and my son grabbed a book about monsters and said, "Five boy monsters and one girl," as if he were taking roll at a particularly inclusive preschool.
While we didn't end up buying the book (sorry, not sorry), his discovery was actually perfectly timed. I’d been wanting to take both of my kids to see “Wonder Woman,” which stars mom of two girls, Gal Gadot. The film opened on Friday and has already crossed that holiest of holy Hollywood benchmarks—the $100 million opening weekend. (Final tallies actually reveal it bested even that figure with $103.1 million in receipts.)
Talk about girl power and shattering glass ceilings! The movie, about a badass Amazon princess who holds her own in several World War I battlefields, boasts the largest opening box office tally by a female director (Patty Jenkins of "Monster" fame). That's in addition to being a blockbuster movie centered on a female superhero. Another surprising first.
Of course, I’d wanted to take my 10-year-old daughter, who is constantly flexing her own girl-power muscles at school and at home—often with accompanying jazz hands. But just as important for me was taking my 4-year-old son. As much as he lives girl power at home, I wanted him to see this success on the big screen, too. That meant something to me.
I take for granted sometimes the fact that he constantly sees powerful women and girls all around him—moms who run a household and an office; preschool girls in his class who want to be president; compassionate teachers who guide him through reading, writing and play.
I'm beyond thrilled that he sees that in his life, but he also needs to see that reality reflected in his life of play—in books, on TV, in movies. That's not to say that it doesn't exist, but come on. The wonder of "Wonder Woman" is that its very existence is such a milestone, that it took so long to get this far. At least on the big screen.
As much as he lives girl power at home, I wanted him to see this success on the big screen, too. That meant something to me.
Of course I can and do convey the "girl power" message at home, but I also need help. I need our culture, our entertainment outlets to jump on board the leading lady train with all the force of a Michael Bay explosion scene. Like homework that reinforces lessons learned during the school day, like soccer practice and piano practice, like that damn Bed Bath & Beyond coupon that won’t. give. up., Hollywood needs to shine a persistent, brighter spotlight on these characters to reflect what’s actually happening in the real world.
Women are kicking ass, and not just in hyper-physical ways. (Not that I’m throwing shade at the women who can spin out of a 360 turn while shooting a trio of arrows at combat soldiers. Seriously, good job, Hollywood stunt women.)
Women are making serious strides in the world, whether it’s ruling on Supreme Court decisions, saving lives as doctors, police officers and firefighters, or directing movies whose gross box office receipts in a single weekend total the GDP of small countries. Those stories need to be told. Because they’re happening.
And it’s obviously important for my daughter to see these women—fictional or real—on the big screen because I want her to feel the rush of pride as she puts herself and her imagination in the place of the women onscreen. Heck, if I’m doing it—and I was seriously kicking enemy ass in my mind as I sat in the multiplex—I know she is, too.
But I also want my son to look up and see a strong woman onscreen and feel that pride, to know that alongside his male heroes walk equally strong heroines, sometimes eliciting truth via a golden lasso and sometimes using their voices to stand up for what is right. I want him to see that women can save the guy, can assert themselves and risk their lives to save others. To show compassion, too. That’s not only a job for Thor, Captain America or Iron Man.
And the thing is, he already knows that.
Honestly, I kind of want them to take it for granted that women are making and starring in successful movies about other women. Of course they are, I want them to say. What's the big deal?
But ultimately, I want my son to stop tallying how many monsters are boys and how many monsters are girls, because at the end of the day he and his sister will be walking through this world slaying their own monsters with equal opportunity.