Wondering Wandering Woman.
My friend Jenny and I were roaming in Seoul a year or seven back, and came across the kind of store I adore, full of crappy old 70s toys and 60s lunchboxes and the like. (I live in hope that I’ll stumble upon a shoebox full of mint condition vintage Viewmaster Reels on sale for next to nothing). Everywhere we looked, we saw Wonder Woman. Jenny bought a postcard of her and, when she got home to Hong Kong, sent me a scan of it with a request for words about the Super Hero(ine). I said sure.
But, the thing is, though, I was just never that into Wonder Woman, as portrayed by Linda Something. I hadn’t been in Canada long when I first saw the show. I was still all British and that. It was just Saturday morning time filler. I didn’t see the appeal of satin knickers and big hair with my European eyes. I didn’t feel in any way emPOWered by her. My brothers got her, though. Oh, yes. They most certainly did. Or wished they had.
It was around this time that I witnessed my Dad and brothers oohing and aaahing over the Coppertone suntan lotion girl in TV ads, admiring her glow and utter lack of body hair. Given that I was just in the process of getting some myself, I felt rotten, unsightly, ungainly. I slumped out of the fake-wood-paneled basement / TV room, with its fake English pub, and went up to my bedroom to disappear into a favourite childhood book and pretend nothing was happening anywhere in the house or the whole wide real world.
It’s a strange thing to have male relatives admiring other females. On the one hand you feel jealous and insecure because you know you are none of the things they’re enjoying, but then again you really don’t want them looking at you that way anyway. I suppose a young girl with a strong sense of self and/or a strong feminine role model can either roll her eyes and ignore the male reactions, or take it as a guideline as to what other boys might want to see and leave it at that.
The effect it had on me, I suspect, was to make me defiant about not giving men what I think they want, what I’ve been told by TV, magazines, etc, that they desire. To this day, I own next to no makeup, take little trouble with my hair, and basically make minimal effort towards appearing ‘pretty’ or ‘desirable’. This stance was particularly difficult to maintain in Korea where appearance is all, copious use of hand mirrors is seen as essential rather than as vain, and where, if you don’t make an effort, your ‘looking tired’ or ‘looking sick’ will be pointed out to you with no effort to spare your feelings. As if you are not somehow capable of looking in a mirror and making your own judgments and decisions.
Carter! That’s her name. Lynda Carter. Was she supposed to represent the 70s ideal of womanhood, the post-feminist pre-shoulder-pad-80s woman who is strong and purposeful and busy, yet also sexy and stunning, her guiding force being to help others with no thought for herself? And isn’t that still what women are encouraged to be?
There is still pressure on women to have a perfect personal life and be all things to all intimates, then go out and make the world a better place, or at least help out the nearest and dearest, all while looking fabulous. Most certainly this is so in South Korea. In response to personal questions from my students one time I talked about the many places I’ve been to and the things that I’ve done, single-handedly: getting from delivering mail to collecting a PhD in law inside of ten years, changing discriminatory laws, editing and writing influential books, going around the world a couple of times. They interrupted to ask whether I’m married. Do they really think I could’ve done all I’ve done if I was also married with kids? Do they really believe that you don’t have to choose, to some extent? Maybe I’m wrong about that. Some women do seem to ‘have it all’.
But, come to think of it, did Wonder Woman have a family?
All the women I admire, and am lucky to have in my life, spend their time improving the world, simply by virtue of their presence in it. Some have families, some don’t, some have had to make difficult choices, some never had a choice in terms of marriage and so on because they’ve never met their Superman. But all are strong and fabulous and don’t need skintight hot pants or a golden lasso to prove a damn thing to anybody. You can flash me that Coppertone tan if you like but I’ll just think of melanomas and then be on my way, if it’s all the same to you. There’s no hand mirror in my pocket. I’d rather look out at the world.
[Lomo/photo taken at the Miss USA / Teen USA Vermont pageant, the Radisson Hotel, Burlington, Vermont, November 2003].