Saturday, September 09, 2006

Angels falling from the sky

There seems to be a dichotomous standard these days, Dear Reader, that declares women cannot be both feminists and domestic goddesses. Oh, the Barefoot Contessa tells us otherwise, but really, it's a common assumption In The World that if a heterosexual woman is a feminist, then she must shun kitchens, cooking, knitting, fashion, makeup, shaving, men, bad foods, smoking, red meat, Christmas trees, baking, romantic comedies, mystery novels, girls' nights out, and, oh yes, marriage. The problem for This Humble Author is that she is a feminist, by self-declaration, by profession, by degree, and she enjoys all of those things and more.

Well, This Humble Author just (just, Dear Reader!) quit smoking in the last week, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, yes?

I come to you with this list of wrongs to redress because I had to ask a group of people recently if they knew what feminism is. Because of the strange, almost horrified looks on their faces, I amended my question by noting, "feminism is not a four-letter word." It alleviated none of the horror, and, in fact, made them even more horrified.

There is an image of Feminists In The World that calls to mind She-Woman Men Haters. Feminists are *angry*. Feminists are *rampaging*. Feminists are *misandrists*. These images are usually tied up with bra burning, keeping one's last name upon marrying, and letter-writing, sign-holding protests. This Humble Author agrees that yes, many feminists are angry and some, indeed, are rampaging. Perhaps there is the odd misandrist or two, but overall, feminists are your daughters, your sisters, your girlfriends and mothers and teachers and friends. They look just like you, or someone you know and now you're thinking, "Dear God, how will we ever recognize them when they move to our town?!?!"


But in all seriousness, let us return to the supposed flip side of that coin, The Domestic Goddess. Before her current incarnation as a gourmet cook, a decorator of Martha Stewart proportions, and a knitting-while-cooking-while-balancing-the-checkbook-while-changing-the-baby super-woman, The Domestic Goddess was most infamously identified as the angel sitting in the house, caring for her husband and children with all the duty and self-sacrifice one could ever hope for or expect in a woman. Yes, that cursed writer, Coventry Patmore, inflicted the image of The Angel in the House upon us in the 1850s, and we've been plagued by her ever since. She is selfless, modest, demure, concerned with keeping house (while never getting her hands dirty, Dear Reader, because an Angel never touches dirt or *shudder* raw food!), and always, always busy tending to the mending, or the children, or anyone or anything other than herself.

Never once imagine that This Humble Author pooh-poohs the idea of caring for One's Fellow Human. But This Humble Author pooh-poohs the very idea of sacrificing one's life *solely* for the whims of society or another human being. This Humble Author believes in living one's life in such a way that caring for others and one's self go part and parcel, hand in hand, if you will. You cannot Save Others if you will not Save Yourself. Or, as Florence Nightingale reminds us in that angriest of nineteenth-century proto-feminist tracts, Cassandra, "[Women] have accustomed themselves to consider intellectual occupation as a merely selfish amusement, which is their 'duty' to give up for every trifler more selfish than themselves" (32).

This blog entry has been bubbling on the backburner for the past few days somewhat in response to the very interesting, very serious discussion taking place at Ragnell's Written World. The question posed regarding whether finding a mate is the "best thing" to happen to a woman in a comic book is a rather interesting one, and I began to wonder if there are examples in the comic book world that demonstrate marriage as the *worst* thing that could happen to a woman, particularly a female superhero.

My first thought was Linda Danvers.

Do you remember, Friends, the very end of the Linda Danvers' run of Supergirl? Do you remember the sacrifice she had to make in order to ensure Kara was sent Back To The Right Time to die? And do you remember, perhaps with a pained heart, the alternative life Linda was allowed to live, only to have all of it taken away from her?

Linda took Kara's place, intending to die as Kara was supposed to. She entered an alternate, pre-Crisis world and in an odd, unexpected twist, she and Superman/Clark Kent fell in love, married, and had a child. Then The Spectre came to visit her and took everything, *every-bloody-thing* away from her, including her child. Years of marriage, of love, of motherhood were snatched away from her in a second with no other explanation than "it had to happen the way it was supposed to happen."

In this instance, I believe that marriage, love, and motherhood are presented as the absolute *worst* things that can happen to a woman, this particular woman, in this particular comic book. In fact, the events are so tragic that Linda leaves Leesburg, never to return. She is so distraught (and rightly so, Dear Reader) over these lost events that she hangs up her cape and walks away. Again, from *every-bloody-thing*.

Before DC let go of the marvelous title Fallen Angel, there was the sly suggestion that Lee, the strange angelic woman in Bete Noire, was the former Fire Angel Herself, Linda Danvers, aka Supergirl. In fact, This Humble Author reveled in such a unique and marvelous storyline. That possibility no longer exists, Dear Reader, because the title has moved to IDW, and therefore has lost access to the DC Universe. But let us pretend, just for a moment, that it hadn't happened. Let us consider instead that run of Fallen Angel in which "Lee" is quite possibly "Linda Danvers" from Leesburg.

She is lost. She is hopeless. She is self-abusive and unloving and trapped in a hellish city that is, quite possibly, Hell Itself. And as far as we can tell, she ended up there precisely because she had lost everything that she had. She is no longer an Angel of fire or otherwise, but rather, a Fallen Angel. She was a strong, self-sustaining, artistic woman who fought through addiction and fear and hopelessness to wear the S with pride. She overcame enemy after enemy, including Bizarro Supergirl and Lilith, to keep her mantle as Supergirl, and in the end, she did have it all: she had the great career and the great family, only to be told it wasn't hers to have.

I don't know if I've said this before, Dear Reader, but the Spectre, whatever his incarnation, pisses me off to no end.

What the Linda Danvers' run of Supergirl represents for me, more than anything else, is not the fact that women "can't have it all," but rather, that The World At Large doesn't expect them to. And no, I don't blame this on the writers. I think the writing of this particular run of Supergirl was smart and poetic and thought-provoking and more than anything, it recognized a problem in our society that declares that Feminism can't meet Domesticity. Feminists can't enjoy cooking or children or red meat or trashy romance novels. To do so would be Bad Feminism. Not according to the Feminists, but according to the World At Large.

Over the past year, thanks to Dear Megs over at Ph(yphen)D, I've learned to knit. Over the past twenty-five or so years, I've learned to cook quite well. And I've heard, yes, I'm afraid it's so, Friends, that I'm Not Supposed To Do Domestic Things. I can have a Career, or I can Play House. I can't do Both.

Understand that My Dear Sister Feminists say otherwise. My Dear Sister Feminists prove, again and again, that you *can* have it all, however you determine "all" to mean. But society, it seems, is against the idea. Daycare isn't affordable. Careers require long hours away from home. Knitting is something Our Grandmothers did. Cooking ties women to the stove, and cleaning ties them to the glove and apron. Pink is stereotypically for girls, and a reclamation of pink is therefore Bad. The Angel in the House is alive and well, rooted deep in her mythology and never disappearing even in these seemingly anti-Victorian times.

Linda Danvers was an Angel, and she Fell, Hard. I believe she fell not because she was a superheroine, but because she was a superheroine, a wife, and a mother, and she was told she could be one or the other, but not all at the same time.

Are feminists angry? Do you doubt that they have reason to be?

Florence Nightingale ends Cassandra with the following: "Awake, ye women, all ye that sleep, awake! If this domestic life were so very good, would your young men wander away from it, your maidens think of something else?" (52).

Now, some 150 years since the writing of Cassandra, we believe we are past domesticity. We believe the fight for women's rights is done. We insist, yes, insist, Friends, that women must be *either* Career Gals or Suzy Homemakers, but never both, and never a third, or fourth, or eighteenth option. This dichotomous split is fracturing half the population and confusing our daughters, our sisters, ourselves. Now instead of telling our daughters that "football is for boys," we tell them, "knitting is no longer for girls, because it's a gender stereotype." I want the happy medium. I want my Sisters to make up their own minds, and damn the strictures society places on their gender. Thirty years ago, those strictures declared that women find their own paths. Now, those strictures declare that women find the path set forth for them *by someone else*.

To say that women can no longer enjoy domestic pursuits *and* fight for women's rights is to say that women can't carry careers, or go to school, or wear pants. To say that women *must* do this, or that, is to counter everything that feminism stands for. I support My Sisters in their informed choices, whether they choose to be Career Gals *or* Suzy Homemakers. But more importantly, I admire My Sisters who happily do it all: write, marry whomever they love, have children or not, vacation, read mystery novels, cook, knit, play football, drink beer, and whatever else they decide to do. Because they know that they can have it all *without* unraveling the Entire Universe.

Our Sister Linda Danvers, unfortunately, didn't have the same option. And she suffered, perhaps suffers to this day somewhere out there in the DC Universe, because of it.


At 1:35 PM, Blogger Loren said...

To say that women can no longer enjoy domestic pursuits *and* fight for women's rights is to say that women can't carry careers, or go to school, or wear pants.

Here! Here! When I was growing up, my mom was a superhero to me. She would take care of my sister and me while being involved in millions of philanthropic causes. She made sure we were loved, well fed, and had everything we needed and still managed to help save the world!

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Loren,
You said, Here! Here! When I was growing up, my mom was a superhero to me. She would take care of my sister and me while being involved in millions of philanthropic causes. She made sure we were loved, well fed, and had everything we needed and still managed to help save the world!

I'm going to quibble with something for a moment. Your mom isn't a superhero just to *you*. She is a Superhero To Everyone. She sounds like a marvelous woman. Congratulations on knowing (and being the child of!) such a fantastic specimen of humanity, and womankind. The more people in the world like your mother, the sooner the world becomes a better place.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Loren said...

Hey, Amy

Now, that's a quibble I'm willing to accept! ;)



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