Do Heroes Dream Of Their Own Salvation?I'm sure you remember, Gentle Reader, Gail Simone's Very Smart Essay on the preponderance of Women in Refrigerators in the Comic Book World. What the WiR theory sets forth is that in comic books, dead wives and girlfriends are used as plot devices to trouble our intrepid heroes. Their lives, the very meaning behind their existences, are whittled down to so much meat and bone and blood, and there is nothing left but body. My Sister Feminists and I often complain that women are reduced too often to the processes of their bodies, and Ms. Simone's theory demonstrates the starkest, deepest reality of that very fact in the Comic Book Universe.
There are fights against this, of course. Some women are represented as stronger, faster, better, more productive in comic books. Big Barda, Diana Prince, Power Girl, Supergirl, Wonder Girl, these women pack some mighty punches, and they fight back, hard. It's difficult to imagine any of them ever falling prey to the Refrigerator Syndrome. They are Too Mighty, Too Strong, Much Better Than Their Male Counterparts, right?
I have argued before that perhaps women like Wonder Woman are all body because they have superbodies. Unlike most of their female colleagues, they possess physical, i.e. tangible powers. Strength, healing, impenetrable skin, any of these could be considered tangible counterparts of, say, telepathy, control of the weather, intangibility, right? They are physical powers because they are both offensive and defensive powers.
A legacy of strong women. A great step forward for Us, The Feminists. Right?
Imagine my surprise, then, Friends, when I see this week's episode of Heroes. When I see something so incredibly horrifying, so tragic, so troubling that I believe we have taken Three Steps Backwards.
***Spoilers; you know the drill***
I still enjoy this show. Let me make that perfectly clear. I think the characterization is going quite nicely, and I am curious about the buildup and the plot. That being said, I would like to offer you my two favorite characters, Hiro, the teleporting Japanese office worker, and Claire, the invincible American cheerleader. I like Hiro for the same reasons I like Snow Crash's Hiro Protagonist (great name) or Buffy's Willow Rosenberg (contagious perky). I like Claire, because she doesn't fit neatly into an American high-school peg.
In my last post, I bemoaned the stereotypes plaguing Hollywood's portrayal of American high schools. Be it the Queen Bee, the Outsider, the Head Cheerleader, the Overweight Pariah, these stereotypes are, I believe, just perpetuating stereotypes. So to see the cute, petite, blonde cheerleader Save The Day and Save Her Own Butt at the same time brought back memories of Buffy for me, which means that I liked her. A lot.
Claire can't die. That could be interpreted as a variety of powers: advanced healing or invincibility, for starters. But that's not just it. She's a complex kid trying to sort out her own life. She's confused, troubled, not just about these powers (although she is well within her rights to be troubled about them!) but about her place in the high school hierarchy, her friendship with the geeky kid, her adoption and birth parents, and her crush on the school quarterback. In other words, she's not her cheerleader counterpart, the bubbly blonde who takes the credit for the daring rescue Claire performed. She's not a glory hound, as shown when she asks the cop after the man she rescued. The look of concern on her face, the look of relief when she finds out he’s all right, those things point to someone other than the "stereotypical cheerleader." You know, the one Hollywood keeps telling us about?
Yes, Gentle Reader, you're with me, right? I thought they were breaking stereotypes here, and I applauded them for it.
Then, oh, and then, the quarterback rapes Claire. He shoves her down and a sharp branch goes through her skull. She dies. Yes, the invincible, stereotype-breaking cheerleader dies, because a rabid, power-hungry megalomaniac thinks he deserves everything he wants. It wasn't even the disgusting, insulting excuse of "no means yes," but was rather, quite simply, "I want, I get."
The episode ends with Claire on an operating table, branch removed by an unknown hand, Claire coming back to life. The camera pans down, and her chest has been peeled back, exposing muscle and rib and bone. She has tangible, physical powers. She saved someone's life. She has moral quandaries and crushes and aspirations and a decent relationship with her parents (troubling as the one parent may be), and she is whittled down to so much meat and bone and blood that that very meat and bone and blood is *exposed*. It is *on display*, to the mysterious person in the lab, to the quarterback before this scene, even, to Me, to You, Gentle Reader. She has been objectified in such a way that there hasn't been a term invented for such a grotesque, horrifying, tragic, and belittling image. Woman on Operating Table takes objectification of women's bodies to a Whole New Level, and I, for one, am furious.
Friends, I would be disturbed had this scene happened to a male character. Please don’t doubt that. But I can't assume, ever, that such a scene for a male character would come about because he was almost raped by the head cheerleader, or even the quarterback of the football team. She saved someone's life. She survived dozens of should-have-been deaths, and she is taken down by a son of a bitch who takes whatever he wants, including women. She dies not by performing a heroic act, but by a boy her age shoving her head down on a branch. She struggled, and tried to get away, and she is killed for it.
Next week, I want to see retribution. I want to see trial and judgment and justice for this boy, not just for killing her (even though she now survives) but for attempting to rape a friend, a classmate, a girl, a young girl who trusted him enough to kiss him, to share secrets with him, to smile and laugh with him. I want Claire to escape and point at him in the cafeteria. I want him labeled Rapist. And I want Claire to fight back against this mysterious man that has objectified her even more than she already was.
Then, I will take three steps forward again. At least I'll be back where I started, right?