Okay. so. this is a letter I wrote for a very special project, started by a very special blogger. Katie over at Nerdy Girl Notes is one of my geek girl heroes–she is incredibly positive and thoughtful and her reviews of OUAT are just SO spot-on that I generally find myself nodding enthusiastically and whispering “YES” as I read.
She challenged her readers to join her in writing a book. This book is going to be a compilation of letters to female characters from all over pop culture. The idea is to see ladies speaking positively about female representation in media, publicly appreciating the fictional women who have spoken to us in our own very real lives. This is ABSOLUTELY something I can get behind.
I had a moment of self-reflection recently that prompted me to write my first letter for this project. The letter is below.
If YOU are interested in writing a letter for Katie’s project, check out the details on her blog!
You have a pretty awesome (fictional) life, Jane.
For starters, you’re completely brilliant. You have multiple Ph.D’s. You can recognize and understand alien technology that is far beyond regular human comprehension. You dive into the study of incredibly advanced concepts from other species and dimensions without even batting an eye.
You’re also absolutely ROCKING it in the romance department, let’s be honest. You are literally dating a god. He’s gorgeous, he’s heroic, he’s gallant and considerate, and he’s head-over-heels for you. He brags about you to his superhero buddies. He’s willing to abandon his entire past and background to be with you. That’s something that would make anybody envious.
In some versions of your story, you’re even a superhero yourself–taking up Thor’s mantle when he is no longer worthy. YOU are worthy to lift the hammer of Thor. On top of all your other incredible gifts and talents, you can pick up a superweapon and bash in the skulls of the bad guys. That says a lot about your character as well as your abilities, because only people of true upright character are worthy.
In short, you’re a pretty amazing person.
So why did I dislike you so much?
I’m going to be blunt here, you were my absolute least favorite of all the Marvel ladies until very recently. I found you whiny and annoying. I was disgusted with how forward and doe-eyed you were whenever Thor was nearby. I was bored with you being in constant need of rescue. It felt so odd–with all of these great, combat-ready Marvel ladies surrounding you, here you were, so. . . human. So ordinary. Why weren’t you “strong” like the others?
It wasn’t until I took one of those dumb Buzzfeed personality quizzes that I really understood what was going on. It was a “which Marvel woman are you?” quiz. I filled out all the answers, clicked “submit”, and was disappointed–but not surprised. I was most similar to you, Jane Foster.
And that’s when it hit me, all at once–I disliked you so much because you reminded me so much of myself.
I’ve long identified with “smart” characters, that wasn’t a surprise. Good-natured friends and loved ones have called me “Hermione” in jest for as long as I’ve been a fan of Harry Potter, because that was me–frizzy brown hair and a hand in the air at all times. But it is more than just your intelligence that I find myself relating to–it’s your overall personality. It’s the way you aren’t even a little bit subtle about your emotions, the way you hold nothing back–from disappointment to frustration to crushing ridiculously hard on Thor. Even if you try to be subtle, you fail.
It’s the way you don’t have any kind of combat skills of your own, the way you have to rely on other people to help you. It’s the way you can get hurt, and other people want to keep you safe. It makes you so vulnerable, and that is how I feel a lot of the time. I have a very narrow range of skills, and self-defense really isn’t on the list. In a culture that screams at me that strong women can save themselves, your need to be rescued by physically strong people reminds me that I, too, am not what the world calls strong.
And so for a very long time, I hated seeing you on screen. I hated it because you remind me so much of the flaws that I see in myself. The things that the world screams at me are unacceptable for a “strong” woman. I couldn’t see you as strong or capable or interesting because I couldn’t see those things in myself, either.
All that self-reflection from a Buzzfeed quiz. Crazy, right?
And yet, I had to go back to the things about you that make you so wonderful. You ARE gifted. You ARE brilliant. You ARE in love with someone awesome. You ARE pure of heart, worthy enough to become a superhero on the strength of your character alone. When I started to think about that, I started to realize that maybe the problem isn’t me or my traits being “strong” enough. Maybe the problem is my own understanding of what makes a woman strong.
When I started thinking that way, and remembering the person that you are is a person that others look up to and superheroes admire and brag on, I started seeing you–and me–in a different light. I started seeing us as people who don’t have to fire a gun or know kung-fu. I started seeing us as ladies who don’t have to play hard-to-get or keep our emotions carefully guarded. I started seeing us as ladies who are interesting, and valuable, and even heroic, on the pure merit of who we are. That has changed a lot for me. It’s changed how I see the writing for female characters, looking for depth instead of specific “strong” traits. It’s changed my own estimation of my value. It’s made me realize that maybe I don’t need to change who I am to be strong, but instead I just need to be confident in the strength I already have.
So thank you, Jane. Thank you for being smart, and silly, and vulnerable, and worthy. Thank you for making me see myself as all of those things. Thank you for being a character I hated, so that I could realize that you could become a character I love.