Grown Up Movies for Kids: Wonder Woman

OK, so, this isn’t technically a movie…but the first episode is pretty long, and when you’re talking about an icon of second wave feminism, exceptions can be made.

Over the holidays, my college BFF came to visit, and she brought presents for the kids. For The Boy, Legos of course–she has three boys, she knows the way into a young man’s heart. For The Girl, she wasn’t sure what to get. Because as much as we don’t want to admit it, we live in a world today where toys are completely gendered. It’s fucked up, but it’s true. So, I suggested dress up clothes that aren’t a princess (we have a crapload of princess stuff already). She went on Amazon and she found a Wonder Woman costume.

When The Girl saw it, she was completely stoked and immediately wanted to put it on. I mean, who wouldn’t? She’s got those rad silver bracelets and a gold crown thing and those crazy boots, and a skirt filled with stars. That costume is fucking rad. But fashion isn’t really what The Girl’s excitement was about. It was about her getting to be a superhero.

Some girls who are into superhero stuff are cool with pretending to be a male hero, like Iron Man or whatever. But my girl likes being female characters. She strongly identifies as female. And the fucked up thing about all this princess crap is that the only female characters she’d seen in children’s television who made for good pretend play were princesses, and Doc McStuffins. (She still isn’t really into SuperWhy, and she’s too young for Harry Potter. Hermione will certainly be a hero to her, with her love of books.) Doc is cool and all, but she isn’t magical the way a superhero is.

So when The Girl saw that one can be a feminine super hero, she was like “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE.” I started singing her the theme song, and she was hooked. We found the 1970’s TV series with Lynda Carter on Amazon Prime, and bam, my little girl had found a hero she could look up to.

We talk a lot about girls being able to do anything boys can. But if we don’t show them female role models doing anything, will they really believe us? I would have never known that my girl wanted to play super hero, if we hadn’t given her a feminine super hero as a role model. And that’s why it’s so vital for us to teach our girls about women who do rad stuff. Like Sally Ride, and Madeline Albright, and Sue Bird.

The great thing about 1970’s television is there’s no nudity, there’s no swearing, and the violence is pretty tame, even in a superhero show. So it’s kid-safe, but still exciting. And then there’s all the female empowerment in the show. There are female bad guys as well as a female superhero, because women are individuals capable of both good and evil, just like men. Wonder Woman has to politely tell the Nazis that women can do anything men can, before she punches them out, crashes their plane into their own submarine, and rescues her hapless love interest.

I mean, how can you not love a show whose main character says things like “Sisterhood is stronger than anything” and “You obviously have little regard for womanhood. You must learn respect”? That’s some good shit right there.

Lest you believe that Wonder Woman is only for girls, I would direct you to The Boy, who will tell you that he likes the show too. He especially likes when someone takes out a Nazi.

Let me know what your kids think of Wonder Woman in the comments!

A Perfect Life

I read an article recently that really set me off. The article itself isn’t really that important, but the reason for my anger is. It was the author’s attitude towards people with disabilities that made me want to pick up a pitchfork. Because, I feel like we really haven’t made much progress in this area in the last 100 years.

You know, before I had a disability, and before I had a child with a disability, I was a civil rights attorney and the bulk of the cases I handled involved kids with disabilities. And before I finished law school, I spent some time working for a disability advocacy agency that represented people with disabilities, primarily folks living in institutions but also folks living in the community. Which means I know a bit more than the average joe about how we, as a society, as a country, have treated people with disabilities over the past hundred years or so. Let me drop some knowledge on you.

Our country has a pretty fucking shameful history of acting like people with disabilities are sub-human. I think a lot of people know that the Nazis did some really bad shit to people with disabilities–awful experiments along with outright murders, just like they did to Jews, gay folks, and anyone else they saw as a threat to their perfect society. What people may not know is that right here in the US of A, we also used to routinely sterilize people with intellectual disabilities. Because we thought people with disabilities would have babies with disabilities (we really didn’t understand how disabilities happen). Our society saw people with disabilities as a threat, just as the Nazis did–that the more of them there were, the weaker we were, and we couldn’t have that.

That may seem like ancient history in the era of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I feel like there’s still a sense in our society that if you’re not perfect, you’re a failure. I see it with The Boy all the time. He gets really upset that other kids are better at sports than him, or that he struggles to focus in class. I also see it in the way people treat my friends whose kids have disabilities. It’s with a sense of pity that their kids aren’t ever going to be at the top of their class.

And I feel like that pity, that view that it’s so sad that people have disabilities, that it’s such a shame they can’t do what others can do, is a branch of the same tree that produced Oliver Wendell Holmes’ sentiment that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” (Yes, he actually said that. In a Supreme Court opinion signed off on by 8 of the 9 justices on the Court. Buck v. Bell, 1929.) It’s a world view that says everyone must be the same, everyone must be “perfect,” and if they aren’t, they are not our equals. They are The Other.

I know I haven’t written about the Cult of Perfect Motherhood in a while, but remember how one of the tenets of it is that you must strive for perfection at all times, otherwise you are a bad mother? But what does perfection look like? How do we measure it? Is it kids who get straight A’s? Is it a mom who never takes any down time? What if your kid’s disability prevents him or her from ever learning to read? Does that make you a failure as a mom? What if I have cancer and I get tired a lot, so I need more breaks than other moms? Does that make me a failure as a mom?

We have to let go of judging people’s achievements by the same standards. We are all different. Some of us live with limitations, but it doesn’t mean our lives have no meaning. It doesn’t mean we should be thought of with pity. We must begin to see people with disabilities as people just like everyone else, not as less-than. It’s 2014, for christ’s sake.

Homework: I’d like you all to read No Pity, by Joseph Shapiro. It’s a history of the disability rights movement, and I hope it will blow your minds and get you talking and thinking about people with disabilities in a different way. Let me know what you think of the book in the comments!

On Anger

When I first got diagnosed with cancer, I was fucking pissed. I feel like people say “I was fucking pissed” and sometimes what they mean is, “I was seriously annoyed.” As in “That dude stole the parking spot I was waiting for, I was fucking pissed.” That’s not what I mean by fucking pissed. I mean FUCKING PISSED. Rage-filled, shaking with anger, ready to beat the shit out of those asshole cancer cells. I think I actually frightened my oncologist when I explained to him how I’m channeling Frank Underwood from House of Cards and that I was going to (spoiler alert if you’re one of the 5 people on earth who haven’t seen Season 2 yet) calmly push my cancer in front of a metro train and walk away. Because, when I’m fucking pissed, it’s a little bit terrifying.

Now, though? It’s been more than 6 months since my diagnosis, and I’m not mad anymore. I’m just not. Disappointed? Yes. Frustrated? Often. Scared? Hells yeah. But angry? Not really. And when I read stuff about cancer being a war, and like, really angry “I am going to fuck you up, stupid asshole cancer” posts, like, I don’t know. It just doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

And I think maybe part of it is this: there are wars like World War II, where we went in, we fucked up the Nazis and Japan, and those who survived came home. (Mostly. I mean, there are still bases in Germany and Japan, but like, nobody is shooting at anybody there anymore.) That’s what non-metastatic, non-recurrent cancer is like. You go in, you fuck cancer up, and you’re like “Goodbye asshole.” Remission is permanent for the majority of people with breast cancer. The Nazis never came back. Oh sure, you’ve gotta be vigilant and take your meds and watch out for those Neo-Nazis who think they can somehow bring about a Fourth Reich, and you’ve got to deal with the emotional trauma that your battle caused you, which I don’t mean to minimize at all, because PTSD is no joke. But facing death isn’t part of your daily existence anymore. It’s easier to stay pissed off during a battle of that duration, to sustain your anger.

Then there are wars like the ones we’ve been fighting near the Persian Gulf. I mean, we fought the first Gulf War, and we were like, “Hooray, it’s over, we won, and it was relatively easy!” And then 10 years later, oh wait, we have to back and do it again, only this time, it’s an ugly 8-year slog. And then 3 years after we get out of that mess, oh look, we’re headed back there again. That’s what cancer that recurs is like. You get all the PTSD and none of the “but you don’t have to take poison ever again” benefits that the WWII vets got. I don’t personally know anyone who’s had a recurrence, so, I’m not really sure if the anger comes back with a recurrence–those of you who have been there, tell us in the comments.

And then there are wars like the war on drugs. It just goes on and on and on, and it’s not likely to end in my lifetime. And everyone sort of forgets it’s going on anymore unless there’s like a big battle between the cartels or something, because, it’s just part of the background noise of our lives. That’s what metastatic cancer is like. It’s hard to stay angry when you know it’s just going to keep on going. Rage isn’t a big part of my world anymore (other than when I get shots that make me go hormone-insane). It’s just too hard to sustain that level of anger when you know it’s just never going to be over.

I think anger can be useful. It motivates people to take action, like, if Lucy Burns hadn’t been angry, she never would have accomplished all she did. But as a patient, there’s only so far my anger can take me. And frankly, I’m gonna be living with cancer for the rest of my life. I don’t want to live the rest of my life feeling pissed off all the time. But even if I did want to be angry, it’s just not there anymore.

I feel like that sounds defeatist. I think there is an expectation when we talk about badass cancer warriors that we’re supposed to be like some rageaholics drill sergeant screaming in cancer’s face or something. There are a lot of things cancer patients are supposed to be–bald, sickly-looking, but self-confident, positive, but not too positive, there has to be room for rage too. But 6 months of this shit, I have learned that cancer looks different on every person that has it. Just like every parent is different, and our choices are informed by our circumstances, every cancer patient is different, and there is no right way to look or feel.

One of my favorite cancer books is Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, by Miriam Engleberg. She says all this better than I do, and you should read her book.