The Future is Female: Embracing Woman Crush Wednesdays, Girl Gangs, and the Rise of Heroines

The release of the new “Wonder Woman” movie and the response it is receiving is but a microcosm of a larger conversation being held about the role of women and heroines in our culture. For so long, superheroes were almost exclusively male; Wonder Woman was there, but her presence, relative to the male heroes, was disproportionate and there were little or no existing roles where the lead was female.  This fresh adaptation is changing the game.  The most recent in a line of much-needed changes, “Wonder Woman” is coming in swinging. This is a climate which is nurturing and cultivating more positive change and recognition, and the voices of women are not just being heard, but being respected.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

The past 15 years or so has seen a rise of women leaders in the media that we consume — through television, film, and music, as well as grabbing ahold of jobs previously cherished by, and almost solely reserved for men.  In the 2005 reboot of “Battlestar Galactica,” for example, we saw Mary McDonnell become the first female president of the colonies in space.  This would be done again later by Geena Davis— a huge advocate for gender equality in the media — with her portrayal of the first female President of the United States.  This casting of strong females has been expanding exponentially, with women supporting and lifting each other up and paving the way for future generations.

We see strong actresses like Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Kate Beckinsale, Milla Jovovich, and Scarlett Johannsen portraying characters in movies like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “The Avengers,” “Underworld,” “Resident Evil” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” where they kick ass and are at least equivalent to the male characters, if not stronger.  We see this in television with characters like Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister in “Game of Thrones,” Olivia Benson in “Law and Order:  SVU,” Buffy Summers in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Regina Mills of “Once Upon A Time,” just to name a few. 

The developments in technology and social media have made it possible for fans and consumers to come together and celebrate their female idols and heroines, literally allowing for 24 hour conversation and interaction.  Women and men can herald the accomplishments of their favorite figures — fictional and otherwise — every day with hashtags and slogans like “Woman Crush Wednesday.” “Girl Gang,” “The Future is Female,”and “Nasty Woman,” among others.  This inspires viewers, listeners, and readers to keep working to achieve their dreams.  These harbingers of hope, strength, and promise oft recognize their role in what I call the age of women, becoming activists and political leaders in their own right.  They share a message that girls — ANY girls — can lead, can be heroes, can make a difference.

 Stars like Oprah Winfrey and Katie Couric have commanded daytime television for years.  They have had a major effect on how women are represented in everyday life, becoming huge community builders and agents of gender equality in the industry, and they are doing so in a variety of positions.  More than a talk show host, Oprah has permeated all levels of media through her book club, her own television network, and through starring in and producing or directing many major films.  Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, Rachel Maddow, and Greta Van Susteren have stood side by side with the likes of Walter Cronkite, Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, and Geraldo, in the trenches and doing the interviews with character and resolve.  If it seems like I am missing the obvious — Hillary Clinton — I am not!  Hillary’s role as First Lady, Senator, and nearly becoming President of the United States is exactly what we are talking about!  She and other famous female politicians are indicative of this transition towards a more female future.  Their strength and presence, combined with fact checking technology and social media practices are what made community action, as evidenced by the awesome Women’s March three months ago, possible!

Gloria Steinem

In this era, you don’t have to be labeled a feminist icon, like the pioneer Gloria Steinem, and have it be couched in a negative context.  If you are a celebrity, you can do more than entertain.  Actress Angelina Jolie has been a United Nations ambassador for years, and Mariska Hargitay has been a heroine to many, not just for playing Olivia Benson on Dick Wolf’s “Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit,” but because of the work she has done as an advocate for sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse victims.  She is actively working to change the culture surrounding violence against women, working with former Vice President Biden to enact landmark legislation to reach that end.  

The best part though is that you don’t have to be a celebrity to effect change.  Women can and are commanding the roles of politicians and executives, becoming community organizers or activists, and doing life-saving and enriching work that has been done for years with little recognition.  Now, in this age, being a “girl boss” is trending. Women are taking back the fashion industry, fighting for body positivity and a more realistic representation of average females who, by the way, are above and beyond average in the work they do. As a result, we have campaigns such as being “aerie real” with American Eagle, or one can participate in Katie Wilcox’s “Healthy is the New Skinny” movement.  Gal Gadot will be the new Wonder Woman, and we will love her, but the bottom line is that we are all finding our own inner heroine, our inner rock stars, our inner goddesses, even. Women have always been strong, and I daresay divine, but we are no longer relegated to the private, domestic sphere.  No, we are here, we are strong, and we will lead.  

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Cortney is currently a Ph.d student in the Media Studies department at the University at Buffalo. Starting in the Department of History as an undergrad and Masters student she followed many interests and passions and ultimately found herself in the Media Studies department, working towards a film studies degree. After surviving many tough life experiences she was bitten by the activism bug and has since worked to raise awareness about issues like sexual assault, mental illness, and domestic violence. While her musical tastes still lie in the 70s, she is focusing her energies on creating media that matters in the present through documentary work, creating Public Service Announcements, and creating education programs for middle and high school students to learn about mental illness, domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. In her free time she plays softball, reads rock biographies, improves her vinyl collection, and spins Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac as often as possible.
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