Women of pop culture, and why their stories speak to us
When I first began watching Glorious Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), I expected to laugh as I did at all those staged WWE shows, where the wrestlers were actors and the stunts ludicrous. And I did laugh—but this time with empathy rather than incredulousness. When I finished it, I thought back to the two movies that have had me at the edge of my seat this year: Wonder Woman and Hidden Figures.
There is nothing in common between me, four black women who shaped NASA’s mission to the moon, a mythical Amazonian superhero and a ragged bunch of women who began the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling
There is an obvious pattern: all the main characters of these shows are women. But it was a level of engagement that I hadn’t felt before. I cheered for these people. I cried, I screamed and threw my fist in the air (albeit weakly) when they won their victories. There is nothing in common between me, four black women who shaped NASA’s mission to the moon, a mythical Amazonian superhero and a ragged bunch of women who began the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling. And yet I felt there was. I felt their battles could have been mine (with the exception of Wonder Woman’s fight with Ares) and I felt their victories belonged to me. Why? We live in a world that allegedly no longer needs feminism. Even if you disagree with that statement, as I do, there is no denying that my life is more privileged than what Katherine Johnson experienced nor do I face the hardened sexism of the 70s as the women of GLOW did. Why then do their stories speak to me so clearly?
It was a level of engagement that I hadn’t felt before. I cheered for these people. I cried, I screamed and threw my fist in the air (albeit weakly) when they won their victories
I’ve managed to trace it back to an invisible wall of oppression, the small things that add up in our everyday lives and remind us that we need to be on our toes, always looking out or over our shoulders. It’s keeping your finger on speed dial when you walk alone at night. It’s being told you should get married soon or all the good ones will be gone. It’s people saying, god, I hope you’re not feminist like you just grew two heads. Small things—things you cannot mark and that do not seem like much in and of themselves, but that add up until the air itself feels like a wall. That’s why when Katherine Johnson yells in her office in NASA, I am cheering. That’s why when Wonder Woman is ushered out of a boardroom full of men and then walks right back in, I am cheering. That’s why when Ruth Wilder auditions for the man’s role in a movie instead of the role of secretary, I am cheering.
But it isn’t just that. It is that these shows remind me of an invisible web that connects me to women throughout literature, women I have at one time become by reading those books. I cheered the same when I read Jane Eyre’s ‘Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, that I have no heart? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you and full as much heart!’ I cheer for Elizabeth Benet, Josephine March and Arya Stark. I am grateful for that web, for it gives me tribe of women that stretch far into the past and will stretch far into the future.
Oh, and have you heard? We have a female Doctor Who.
Tashan Mehta is a novelist based in Mumbai. Her debut, THE LIAR’S WEAVE, has been published by Juggernaut Books. You can find out more about her here