Note: I had to write this down. Like, could not sleep until these thoughts were put on paper. Excuse any typos or missing words. It’s 95% spoiler free and any spoilers are super generic.
Higher. Further. Faster.
Think about those words.
Those words have been an integral part of aviation since the Wright Brothers got the Spirit of Kitty Hawk up in the air. They’re what pushed Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic, what put Chuck Yeager in Glamorous Glennis to break the sound barrier, what put men like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin into spacecraft on top of rockets.
But those words apply to more than just the typically male dominated world of aviation. They also apply to women. For a ridiculously large part of history, to get ahead, we have had to push that glass ceiling to get a little bit higher (the damn thing has trouble breaking, to go further to prove ourselves, and do it faster, because if we don’t, we’re pegged to only live in the realm of “feminine” pursuits, that glass ceiling growing walls around us.
To the shock of no one who knows me, this is something that has been swirling around in my head, particularly since I spent my New Year’s Eve watching Mary, Queen of Scots andOn the Basis of Sex. And, because hi, I’m a romance novelist, I’ve been thinking of it through the lens of relationships. The romantic ones, yes, but also the platonic ones.
But what does this have to do with super heroes?
A lot, actually. As a student of literature, I can’t help but notice how women’s stories are almost exclusively told through their relationships to men. Lady Macbeth is first identified as her husband’s wife, not as a woman of ambition who is clever and politically minded. Elizabeth Bennett is defined by her father, her lack of brothers, her lack of a husband. Every Disney princess before Mulan was defined by her hunt for a husband or her relationship with a prince.
And, in my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. NOTHING. Because, again, romance novelist. I love love and romantic relationships (regardless of gender).
But I have to say that I was damn near in tears watching Captain Marvel. Not because it was a sad movie or because there was a super poignant tear-jerking part. Not because my little av-geek heart was loving the references to Pancho’s (The Right Stuff) and Goose (Top Gun). And not because my child of the 90s heart warmed like crazy at all the details and nods they took care to include. Note to self—check out the soundtrack in the morning.
It’s because I realized that Marvel, the same Marvel who spent two movies unnecessarily trying to pair the Black Widow with her fellow Avengers (because she’s the only woman, so she must be paired with one of the men around her—can you hear my eyes rolling?) kicked off their first female-led movie franchise (let us not forget her Royal Badassness Agent Margaret Carter) with a story about a woman without a single ounce of romance in it.
You heard that right. I adored a movie without any romance in it.
It was a movie without love or relationships. There were so many complex relationships, Carol and Fury, Carol and Michelle and Michelle’s daughter—her found family, Carol and Dr. Lawson, Carol and her Star Force Team. Most importantly, though, it was about Carol learning to love herself.
She’s learning to embrace her flaws and her humanity, as well as her incredible strengths—strengths she had before she ever got her super powers. With those super powers, she is arguably the most powerful superhero in either DC or Marvel universes (I will fight you on this—don’t tempt me). But more than that, she’s an incredible human. She’s a female pilot, she’s a friend, she’s the cool aunt, she’s flawed, and strong, and resilient as hell.
Would I be mad if there’s a romance in subsequent movies? Absolutely not. Hell, I will revel in reading fan fics pairing her with certain Avengers (*coughcaptainamericacough*) and with normal humans/aliens/whatever until the next movie comes out. But I was blown away and delighted by the decision not to include a male love interest in this movie.
Wonder Woman was amazing. It was about love, as well, and selflessness and sacrifice and all of those thing. She’s a fascinating character in her own right, and Patty Jenkins is a brilliant storyteller. I’m so ready to see what happens next in that franchise. But aside from her, DC has a fundamental problem with the female characters in their movies that makes me sad, especially considering how much I love Superman and Lois Lane.
Peggy Carter is far and away one of my favorite characters. Yes, she was introduced as the love interest of the ever so dreamy Captain America, but she always had dimension and character. When she got her own TV show, there was always an undercurrent of potential romance, but it wasn’t the focus of her story. It was a plot device rather than the plot itself. Which, for a comic book franchise property, was a HUGE step.
Then along came Carol Danvers.
As I write this, it’s about to turn over the clock to be International Women’s Day, and I think about all of the little girls who get to see this movie, to see a woman being totally awesome and flawed and powerful, saving the planet with humanity, fierceness and grace. I think about all my little cousins, male and female, and how much hope it gives me that they get to grow up in a world where it will be the norm to see a character like Carol on the screen. Because I believe that to find real, lasting love, you have to be able to love yourself first, outside of your relationship with a partner—male, female, or nonbinary—and accept your flaws along with your strengths.