Illustration by Emily Kennedy
I’ve always been drawn to women wielding swords. When I was a little girl, She-Ra, Xena and Buffy kicked ass all over my television screen. They captivated me. Yet while I admired and loved these women, they were also a point of shame in my life – girls wielding weapons are unfeminine. They are female bodies inhabiting traditionally masculine roles and spaces. They are usurpers.
I learned at an early age that because I have a vagina, I’m supposed to be feminine. The natural question arises: what exactly is “feminine”? It’s a question with answers so slippery they glide right through our fingers when we grasp at them. The culprit? Cultural scripts. These subliminal texts are interwoven so deeply into our lives that we never realize they are prescribing as well as describing the state of things.
Take fashion, as an example. China bound their females’ feet. Britain strapped their females in suffocating bodices. We confine our females in mini skirts and stilettos. These fashions are meant to make those who wear them weak, sexualized and victimized. How fast can you run with feet three sizes too small, or heels three inches too high? Or without being able to adequately breathe?
Having been sexually active prior to my marriage, on my wedding day, I received a book from an in-law telling me how to “reclaim” my sexual purity. My husband received only congratulations. In giving me that book, the in-law was following a religious script, one that says women are delicate objects designed for the sexual pleasure of men – or more accurately, one man, their husband. Even though I’d like to think that I’ve shaken off my religious heritage, this message still affects me.
The media plays an active role in defining femininity as well. Everyday we’re bombarded by images and stories of women being forcibly overcome by men. While this certainly does occur, could it be possible that by describing repeatedly what is true, the media is also prescribing it to be true? If the only images of women ever presented are weak and helpless, we resign ourselves to a particular part in the script. The scripts dictate to us that men are strong, and women are weak; and worst of all, if a man wants to rape a woman he undoubtedly will. Nothing can stop him and his infallible penis. And so, we live in fear of the dark.
But is it true? Or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?
There’s a yearning in me for women wielding swords; I want to know that there are women out there who rage and go straight for the genitals when confronted by men intent on harming them. I’m tired of seeing women who can do nothing in the face of danger, even if the truth is that there’s nothing she can do. What’s true today doesn’t have to be true tomorrow.
A girl needs her heroines. And I need a femininity that allows women to stand up and assert themselves – violently if need be. I have some scripts to re-write.