Stay in Your Lane, James Cameron
An old but open letter I wrote as though we’re friends and he values my opinion
After kicking ass with Wonder Woman, none other than director Patty Jenkins herself took James Cameron down a peg or two for mansplaining how the movie was actually a step backward for women.
I let it go when Mark Ruffalo, of all the over-the-top crusaders, blanketly balled out all women who choose not to self-identify as feminists.
But so many women disagreed with Cameron that there is little more to be said that is more succinct than Patty Jenkins’ own response. Which essentially says that “… if women have to be hard, tough and troubled to be strong …” then “we aren’t free to be multidimensional or to celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving … ” She goes on to say that women can and should be all of the things men are in movies. And even though I can’t say it any better than she did, I can speak for myself and add one more woman’s voice to the chorus singing two things: 1.) You don’t speak for us and 2.) beautiful and strong are not mutually exclusive.
Equality isn’t a binary. You don’t have to be tough or “unfeminine” to be empowered. Being high-femme beautiful doesn’t relegate you to barefoot baby-making. Women can be anything and everything they want to be. And they don’t have to apologize. And they don’t have to be anything they don’t want to be. Narrow-minded feminists can’t shame you if your dream is to be a stay-at-home mom and housewife. Old-school sexists can’t shame you for hating kids and working on Wall Street. The point is that you choose your identity. Everything you are or aren’t is up to you.
A friend of mine makes an excellent point. In the pursuit of equality the solution is not neutering everything masculine or male. Nor is the success of feminism predicated on eschewing everything traditionally considered “feminine”. But Cameron implies that the only path to equality is making women in men’s image. Instead of celebrating that women can be everything they already are and pursue everything that men have always had.
Women are free to be whatever they want to be. Or not be. They don’t owe anyone — not even Mark Ruffalo or James Cameron an explanation. And they don’t need one more angry white man screaming about what women should or shouldn’t do or be because they’re women.
That, Mr. Cameron my dear aspiring feminist, is still sexist. Which is not to say that women never do it. Remember when Madeleine Albright said there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t vote for Hillary? That is also sexist.
I was raised to admire many strong women because they were awesome, not because they were female. Two of them are James Cameron characters.
Linda Hamilton’s timeless embodiment Sarah Connor is believable and kind of thrilling. But Cameron’s comments about Wonder Woman make me now assume that he thinks Connor’s strength came from her being un-feminine. That is to say, for a woman to be considered strong, she must be masculine. Tsk, tsk, James Cameron. This is a first step backward and we’re not going with you.
Listen, buddy. If *YOU* feel like you’re “shouting in a wind tunnel” when trying to change the perceptions or expectations of women in this society — TRY BEING ONE.
Look. We appreciate your allyship, to use a term I’m sure you’d appreciate. But as soon as you start acting like you’re taking better care of us than we are of ourselves you forfeit that allyship. You’re being condescending and patronizing — two things I don’t think you intend.
So here’s what you can do. You can examine your perspective again. Are you really saying that only women who aren’t beautiful can accurately represent women and effectively advocate for them? Perhaps Sarah Connor wasn’t a “beauty icon”. In your opinion. But maybe she was to some of your viewers? Or perhaps it is the dividing up of women into camps of beautiful and not beautiful that is really the step backward. If you are saying Gal Gadot is not as effective at promoting female equality as Linda Hamilton was, I want to shake you by the lapels. No one is too pretty to fight for equality.
We want all women to be represented by complex characters, particularly in decision-making leadership roles instead of depicting that leadership requires sacrificing a personal life. Or that only the most “masculine” women can ascend the rungs of their industries.
“All women” includes under-represented minorities and body types, but that doesn’t mean gorgeous women are no longer welcome. They are women too.
Wonder Woman was the first time in my entire life that it occurred to me a woman can be beautiful AND strong. I have literally spent my entire life seeing zero-sum representations that required women to choose between aspirations. Too often that means career or family — a choice few of us want to make, and no one wants to be forced to make.
I was fighting back tears for the majority of that movie as I tried not to grievously mourn what a different life I might have made for myself if I had had role models like that when I was younger.
See, that’s the thing. Not all of us are trailblazers. Some of us, like me, are born to follow. And that’s ok. But we need someone to follow, a template to replicate. Never in my whole life had I seen a woman who could be strong, brave, smart, feminine, kind, tough and sexy but was showcased and admired for being all of those things — not in spite of anything.
If you’d rather be our champion than our equal ally then it seems like your motivation in “defending women” is more about your self-image as a supporter of women than it is actually supporting women.
Equality icons are not limited to any particular aesthetic. Let alone limited to what James Cameron’s preferred aesthetic.