Monday, April 6, 2009

Girl Moments

by Nancy Northcott

There are all sorts of things that qualify as "girl moments." Talking about guys, discussing our unique physiology, and tearing up over sentimental movies all qualify. The girl moments I remember most, though, were the ones that shifted my perspective on women and their roles. These were the moments when "the girl" or a girl, showed that women could do things I hadn't thought we could or didn't grow up being told we could. As women's roles have changed, so have men's, of course, but that's a subject for another blog.

I was inspired to write this by the recent rerun of The Return of the King . Those of you who've read the books that make up The Lord of the Rings know that there aren't very many girl moments in there. Arwen, for all of her steadfastness, is a pretty traditional female on the page. She comes across in that general mold in the movie--except during the race to the ford of Bruinen, a sequence that isn't even in the book. Though I was initially offended, since I prefer that movie adaptations stick close to the books, even when that would make the movies day-long affairs, that sequence has become one of my favorites. The elven woman outraces the forces of darkness. How cool is that?

Then there's the even cooler moment when the Nazghul is about to kill Eowyn and informs her that "no man" can kill him. Whereupon she informs him, "I am no man" and stabs her sword directly into his invisible face. Eowyn truly shone in the battle sequence, like the shieldmaiden she was supposed to be. Theoden wanted to park her at home in Edoras, but she found a horse, grabbed some armor, and came along to do her part. That's a major-league, serious girl moment. She wasn't going to tend the home fires because that wasn't her thing (though it is for plenty of people, and doing it well is important), so she didn't let Theoden define her.

Then there's Wonder Woman, of course. The women's movement adopted her as its emblem, and the Amazon creed of not relying on men certainly made her a good choice in that regard. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman tended to rely on Steve Trevor to rescue her fairly often. The concern over the lesbian overtones perceived in the character during the comic book witch hunts of the 1950s probably led the writers and artists to tread on eggshells in that regard, in part making sure WW didn't come across as too strong. Theirs was an era of far less tolerance. Issues of Wonder Woman still provided girl moments, but not as much so as the adventures of her less publicized, more independent colleague, Elasti-Girl.

Elasti-Girl was part of the Doom Patrol, who endured for about 120 issues or so before meeting their own doom on the wrong end of circulation figures. Rita Farr had been a movie star but had acquired, through one of the freak accidents so popular in 1960s comic books, super-powers. She could stretch and grow and so called herself Elast-Girl. I don't remember now whether she could shrink, too. She was married to "the world's 5th-richest man," Steve Dayton, who wanted her to stay home and be decorative. Decorative wasn't really in Rita's lexicon. She much preferred going out to kick butt with the boys on the Doom Patrol. For me, growing up in a society where the things women weren't supposed to do far outnumbered the things we were, she was a shining light.

Then there was Batgirl, the ultimate butt-kicking geek girl. Librarian Barbara Gordon, possessed of a black belt in karate, was on her way to a costume party dressed as Batgirl (female form of a Batman costume, as she envisioned it) when she stumbled across a crime and decided to intervene. Thus was Batgirl born. On the TV show, she was only allowed to kick people, but the comic book version of the character took her villain-whomping duties seriously, and every one of them was a girl moment for me.

On movie screens before Eowyn and Arwen came Sarah Connor, the waitress who survived mechanical mayhem to become the mother of the future. She fell in love with the man sent back to save her (Michael Biehn--what's not to love?). When he was killed as they tried to escape the Terminator, she kept going. The Terminator was about to grab her when she crushed it in the machinery of a manufacturing plant and told it "You're terminated." Serious girl moment, that was!

Finally, there was the biggest girl moment in my life. I was watching on television when Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in as an associate justice of the United State Supreme Court. Women had made a lot of advances by then, compared to when the period when I was growing up. I thought it was a great thing, of course, but I was surprised to find my eyes stinging with tears as she took the oath. When a thick, ancient, plate-glass ceiling shatters, I guess the vibrations travel pretty far.

So those are my "girl moments" for today. Do you have a girl moment or a "aha" moment or realization of change you'd like to share? Are there books or movies you think exemplify such moments?

60 comments:

Minna said...

Girl moment? When Tarja Halonen became President.

limecello said...

Congrats on the GR, Minna!
As for books w/ girl moments... I'm going to say... Heaven, Texas by SEP, or... Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. There's just something about those two heroines.

limecello said...

Also - great post, Nancy! :P I'm using the time (2:45 AM) as my excuse for not having a real life/brilliant "girl moment."

Carol said...

Wonderful post Nancy!
A Wonderful moment here in Australia when our new Govenor General Ms Quentin Bryce AC. was announced, - Our official Head of State who represents the Queen.
A marvelous woman! Also a powerful role model for all young Australian women.
I'm not sure if the young women of today really appreciate the struggle the women of ages past had to win the advantages now available!
When I first joined the workforce in 1966, women had to leave government jobs when they married!
One famous female nuclear scientist never mentioned she was married so that she could continue working! (her new husband also kept quiet)
I greatly admire so many wonderful women of today and get many 'girl' moments when they achieve their dreams!
Congrats Minna!on the GR...
Cheers Carol

Helen said...

Congrats Minna have fun with him

Great post Nancy girl moments are fun aren't they one of the moments I remember was back in the 70's when Helen Ready sung the song I Am Woman I really love that song and as Carol says we have a wonderful Lady Govoner General.

Victoria Alexander writes very strong females in her books I love them all especiall from the Effington Series.

Have Fun
Helen

Courtney Milan said...

I am with you on all your girl moments--in fact, have shared just about all of them with some combination of glee and awe.

Especially the last one.

Caren Crane said...

Nancy, I get teary-eyed over all "monumental" moments, even if they have nothing to do with me. *g* This year (as Nancy knows well), we in North Carolina swore in our first-ever female governor, Beverly Perdue. Whether one agrees with her policies or not (I have to take them issue by issue, I've found), her taking office was a HUGE step for NC.

We swore in our first female US senator from NC when Elizabeth Dole took office in 2002 (I believe that's right) and our second after the last election. I really cannot overstate how different and fear-inducing this has been to the good ole boy network in NC. At least Libby Dole was a Republican, to which the GOBs didn't object, but the new senator is a Democrat. I was amazed at how all the races turned out this time around!

Of course, all the GOBs are predicting doom, gloom and socialism now. *g* Power to the women!

Nancy said...

Hi, Minna--congratulations on grabbing the rooster! Politics here has always been such a bastion of guy-dom that it's nice to see a woman break through.

Nancy said...

Limecello, glad you liked the post. I'm away from home and can't go to my bookshelf. What about those heroines do you especially like?

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Nancy -

Can't think of any girl heros. I remember bat woman and supergirl from the comics. I guess Jackie Kennedy was THE girl hero when I was growing up. Interesting that at that time, having great fashion sense made one a great female hero.*g*

Nancy said...

Carol, your new Governor General sounds wonderful. Some friends and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about the fact that some jobs were not open to married women. At one point, schoolteachers had to be single. Your example of the nuclear scientist demonstrates the brain drain policies like that produce.

Nancy said...

Helen, I love that Helen Reddy song. It was sort of an anthem for a lot of my women friends.

Nancy said...

Courtney, I'm glad you also enjoyed some of these. I thought I was over the thrill on the Supreme Court until Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in, and I had a similar reaction, maybe because that took away "token" status for having women on the Court.

Cassondra said...

Minna, congrats on the rooster. Limecello, missed him by a FEATHER!

Nancy, great post, and I have to admit that I *should* have grown up admiring those girl moments, because I *should* have grown up with preconceived notions about the roles of women--at least if you take my background at surface value--a farm girl from Southern Kentucky, but I didn't. Nobody ever told me I should or shouldn't do something because I was female, and I've worked in male-dominated fields my whole life. Well...until I became a romance wrier--NOT a male-dominated field.

One of the defining moments of my life was when I was in the eighth grade and signing up for high school classes. I put down Agri-business I. The teachers all got in a huddle when I turned in my card. One of them came back to me and said, sheepishly...."uh...you can't do that." I said, (and to this day I don't know what gave me the nerve or the know-how to say it) "Watch me."

And I did. Females had just gained the right to take agribusiness courses in high school--you know--the series of vo-ag classes that runs for four years. I can't say that I had a particular role model, but I am grateful for the women who went through so much to give me the right to do that. It was part of defining who I am today. AND I'm grateful that my somewhat uneducated, country parents had enough basic love for me that they didn't discourage me from anything I wanted to do.

Nancy said...

Caren, we'll see how Gov. Perdue does. I also take policies issue by issue. Geraldine Ferraro was a candidate for VP on the Democratic ticket in 1980 (I think), and we didn't have a woman at the top of a ticket until Sarah Palin this last time. And Hillary Clinton made a solid run on the other side, nearly snagging her party's nomination.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Yeah, girl power!!! :> Great post Nancy! I love girl moments of all kinds. From Sandra Day O'Conner to the woman firefighter who brings the kids out, just like her male hero-type, I love girl moments.

I didn't know Elasta-girl was a real Comic character. I learned something new today. For those of us with young kids, Elasta-girl is an Invincible of Disney movie fame. Voice by Holly Hunter, the 21st century version is delightfully snarky. :>

its amazing how many girl moments there have been lately, from Michelle Obama hugging the Queen of England - total girl moment the guys could NEVER have gotten away with - to the elegant Danica Patrick winning races no woman has ever won.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Donna, you're right about Jacki O. THrough out her life she was a Girl Moment role model. She popped off to NY and became and editor, created fashion lines...pretty cool. And for her time she was major girl-cool for marrying "Prince" Jack, and even later for marrying Onassis. And never lost her sense of style. Awesome woman, that one.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

BTE...there's a great series of books called "Uppity Women" by Vicki Leon. She starts in the Medieival times and goes through "Uppity Women of the New World"

There are some fab girl-goes-against-the-times stories there, for sure!!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Okay, I promise I'm not blog hogging, but I forgot to say congrats to Minna on the GR and woohoo for HER listed girl mo' of Finland electing Tarja Halonen.

Go Tarja!

Grins.

Louisa Cornell said...

Great girl moment nabbing the GR, Minna! I know you'll show him who's boss!

A great icon of girl moments here in Alabama is Janice Clardy, the first female district attorney in our state's history. She is retired now, but her appointment and subsequent re-elections were a real step forward for this state. She and I became acquainted through our work with animal causes. A truly amazing woman and one of the first DAs in the COUNTRY to get a murder conviction WITHOUT a body.

I love Madeline in Flowers from the Storm who ignores the men telling her she can't deal with a 'madman' and ends up saving Christian's sanity and his life. In a society where women were made to bow down to the superior wisdom of men, a member of a religion that bowed women even lower in subservience, she sees a man in torment and proves she is smarter than all of these men of religion and science. Her quiet power is one of the things I love most about the book.

If you ever get the chance read the story of Mary Seacole, a Victorian age woman of color who was one of the real founding mothers of the nursing profession. She ran a bawdy house, but during the wars took in soldiers and cared for them. It so changed her life she wanted to continue to care for soldiers and set up field hospitals, but when she tried to sign up to do so they told her no. She did it anyway. Another really great lady.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Ah, Nancy, we do live in a different world now than when we grew up, don't we? And a lot of it had to do with some of your feminine heroes on the post.

One of my girl moments was when my mother went back to nursing school. I was 10 and she'd been a stay-at-home mom my whole life. But then one day she decided she wanted to fulfill one of her own dreams. I got to help her study her anatomy and physiology classes, learn to give shots to oranges, and then when she went to scrub class to be a scrub nurse, I learned instruments and sterile techinque right beside her!

That translated to me becoming a nurse, then working while my girls were little. Neither one can imagine NOT working. In fact, one told me she once told a boyfriend who thought she'd be a stay-at-home wife, that she planned to work, because women had the right to do that! (they didn't stay together!)

AS for TV heroines...HotLips Hoolihan, the Major and head nurse on M*A*S*H. Yes, the name is sexy and derogatory, but the way she was portrayed on TV was very interesting. She was feminine, sexy, smart, funny, compasionate, and she RARELY let any of the men or nurses or soldiers walk over her. She knew her job, her power of authority, and wasn't afraid to use it!

Nancy said...

Hi, Donna--

Jackie Kennedy was so gorgeous. When the Obamas went to Europe for the G-20 last week, the commentators were comparing her to Jackie Kennedy on grounds they both had a strong sense of style.

I loved Supergirl. I wish her movie had been better.

Nancy said...

Cassondra, my parents (particularly my mom, I think) were very conscious of what was appropriate for girls, especially in toys. I wanted toy guns but was refused on grounds they weren't toys for girls.

When I was in junior high school, all girls took Home Ec and all boys took shop, and never the twain did meet. I'm glad things aren't so restrictive anymore.

And I personally wouldn't have gotten in your way on the vo-ag thing. :-)

Nancy said...

Jeanne, the Doom Patrol died (literally) decades ago, but I loved them. And Elasti-Girl was far more "liberated" in her thinking than Wonder Woman in the same era.

I'm so glad you mentioned Danica Patrick. Wasn't that cool?

Nancy said...

Jeanne, I have that medieval Uppity Women book. It's pretty cool.

Nancy said...

Louisa, Janice Clardy sounds tough and cool!

Is Flowers in the Storm Laura Kinsale? I think I remember that book, and it was wonderful.

Yay for Mary Seacole, too. How did you find out about her?

Nancy said...

Suz, that is so neat about you and your mom!

I think Hot Lips Houlihan was much better on the TV show. Especially after the first couple of seasons, they started giving her more depth and range, and Loretta Swit was excellent in that role!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Yeah, Nancy, HotLips character certainly evolved as the show did, too. And Loretta did such a fantastic job with her, didn't she?

I think Cagney and Lacy was a great and innovative show, too. Two female cop partners. One a wife and mother, the other a hard drinking single girl.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

I loved Hot Lips!! Such a cool character.

Kirsten said...

Hi Nancy! Great post and I love all the girl power moments!

I am a huge Michelle Obama fan and I have been laughing my head off at all the fuss that has been made over her biceps. She is tough and super smart, AND she has killer muscles. What's not to love? :-)

jo robertson said...

Great post, Nancy. I love walking down memory lane and thinking of all those strong female characters. My favorite was Sarah O'Connor and I still watch that movie over and over. I love how she transforms from this girly young woman who pretty much can't do anything physical into a strong, tough mother-to-be. That last scene in the movie where's she's headed off to Mexico -- uh, major girl moment!

jo robertson said...

Forgot to say congrats to Minna on getting the rooster!

I love all the examples of women heads of state, politicians, and the like. I remember well the feeling that women can't be in such sensitive positions because, well, do you really want hormones to interfere with important decisions?

Sheesh!

Christie Kelley said...

Great post, Nancy. I'm feeling a little headachy this afternoon and can't think of a single girl moment.

It's interesting but of the girls in my family, I was the only one who didn't go into a more "woman's" job. My mom was a nurse's aid and then a secretary, two of my sisters were nurses, and my other sister a bookkeeper and then a homemaker. I went into computer software development.

So I guess some of those changes made an impact on me.

Nancy said...

Suz, I so loved Cagney and Lacey! I never missed it. And while I came to love Sharon Gless as Cagney, I initially resented her for replacing Loretta Swit.

Gless is fabulous as the chain-smoking mom on Burn Notice (now on hiatus, unfortunately) on USA Network.

When Cagney & Lacey was on, not too many women on TV had weapons. At that point, Lt. Uhura had barely unleashed a phaser.

Nancy said...

Kirsten, I admire the First Lady, too. I think part of the whole biceps fuss is that we've never had a First Lady who looked toned. And she wears sleeveless dresses, which create a look that's both younger and less formal than we're accustomed to seeing from presidents' wives.

Nancy said...

Jo, I loooove Terminator (can't wait to see Michael Biehn, who played Reese, at DragonCon). I made the dh watch that movie when it came on TV on our honeymoon. We got to the point where the Terminator yanked the guy's heart out, and the poor dh turned to me with a funny look on his face and said, "You really like this movie?"

Yes, and he was, at that point, stuck with me. *g*

Nancy said...

Christie, I hope the headache is better by now. My cousin, who went into journalism, and I were the first non-traditional women in our family. Maybe change was just blowin' in the wind.

Feel better!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

I so want to go to DragonCon, Nancy to see such wonderful characters and actors such as Michael Bieghn.

Any of our BB's going to DragonCon? Or Comicon?

p226 said...

"Girl Moments."

Suzannah Gratia-Hupp's congressional testimony.

Best girl-moment ever.

Nancy said...

p226, I looked that up. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Nancy said...

Duchesse, one of these days, we're going to have to hurt you if you don't come to DragonCon!

Michael Biehn, Duchesse! Really. C'mon , . .

Joan said...

I guess I grew up a freak or something because nothing EVER crossed my mind as being something I COULDN"T do if I set my mind to it. My Mom didn't raise me that way.



I don't think too hard on the super heroines at all. I did think that when Princess Diana stood up after her divorce and made a purpose and a place for herself sans the royals that that was a "moment" well worth attention.

I've just never felt trodden on because I was a girl...{shrugs}

Virginia said...

Congrats Minna, on nabbing that rooster!

My girl moment was years ago I worked in a factory and I signed a job bid for a machine opperator and there where no women doing this job at the time because it required you to change bearings and do maintance on the machines. It also paid more money than the other jobs. They didn't want to let me have the job because I was a women but they had to let me try. It came out that I was just as good at the job as the men and more women jumped on that band wagon and become machine operators.

Beth said...

Loved all your girl moments, Nancy, especially the one with Eowyn. I love that part *g*

Even though I was a fan of both Wonder Woman and Batgirl, I'm glad female characters on TV are much stronger these days :-)

Janga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janga said...

I love this blog!

I've had lots of girl moments. Some of the most memorable were Sally Ride's space trip and Madeleine Albright's confirmation as Secretary of State. I also cheered and cried in 1987 when Aretha Franklin became the first woman among nearly forty men in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and again when Brenda Lee joined her in 2002, well beyond the time when she should have been included.

Can I count the moment I learned Designing Women was being released on DVD? :)

Nancy said...

JT, I think lots of people responded that way to Princess Diana's resolute posture.

Nancy said...

Virginia, way to go! Congratulations on breaking that barrier.

Nancy said...

Beth, I love all the strong women on TV today, too. I actually love Lara Croft, even though she was designed to appeal to guy gamers.

Nancy said...

Janga, the release of Designing Women absolutely counts! I remember Sally Ride, too. That was way cool.

Barbara Monajem said...

I've been thinking about this blog all day. Thanks, Nancy, for bringing up such an interesting topic!

For many years, I had difficulties with the women's liberation movement, because although I was of course totally in favor of equality for women, I didn't think dissing men was the way to get there, and there was an awful lot of dissing going on for a long time. Not so much now, though.

Strong women in movies, etc... Well, I liked the bionic woman a lot. She was feminine and strong, and the little scar on/above her lip was, to me at least, a signal that a woman could be considered beautiful without judging by some boring standard of perfect symmetry. Lately, I've seen some internet adds for plumping up your lips. What really bothers me about these ads is that they assert, straight up, that thin lips are ugly. Huh? All sizes and shapes of lips can be beautiful. I think the artificial standards of beauty we adhere to do a huge amount of harm. (If anyone hasn't seen it, I highly recommend watching Dove Evolution on YouTube.)

I'm always recommending the books of author Diana Norman, whose incredibly strong heroines face nearly impossible odds.

Lately, thanks to this blog, I've been gobbling up Linnea Sinclair's books. I love her feisty heroines!

Pissenlit said...

Oh, I loved Wonder Woman and Batgirl! One of mine is Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg from The Avengers.

Nancy said...

Barbara, I'm glad we introduced you to an author whose work you enjoyed. I also remember the Bionic Woman. I loved that show!

Keira Soleore said...

Caren, popped in here to say thanks for the recipe last night.

Minna, looks like our GR flew a long way off to enjoy the super long days with you.

Nancy and all the commenters, I'm enjoying the famous "girl moments."

Nancy said...

Pissenlit, I loved Diana Rigg. I think she's Dame Diana now. I also enjoyed her as the host of Mystery on PBS

Nancy said...

Keira, glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for stopping by.

Louisa Cornell said...

Nancy, I was doing some research on the role of slaves and freed men and women in Regency London when the name Mary Seacole came up. The research is for a series I have outlined about three men whose grandfathers brought a voodoo curse down on their families. When the name Mary Seacole popped up I discovered there was a great biography available about her. Didn't help with my voodoo books, but I ordered and read the biography. Fascinating stuff and an amazing woman.

Mary Seacole: The Black Woman Who Invented Modern Nursing
By Jane Robinson

Christine Wells said...

Oh, Nancy, what a wonderful post. I love those girl moments you described, too.

I always think of my paternal grandmother saying she didn't know what all this women's lib fuss was about. Didn't everyone know women were superior to men? hee.

I love seeing women smash through the glass ceiling, but I'd like to see more of them do it without coming close to sacrificing their sanity, when they're still taking responsibility for home life as well. Still, we've come a long way, baby!

Blaze said...

Oh wow, great post, Nancy!! I know, I know, I'm late *g* I was a leetle distracted today but I had to stop in the Lair and give a huge whohoooo round of applause for Girl Moments!!! You hit most of my faves ;-) I love any author who creates a strong, empowered heroine whose growth through the story only makes her stronger, never weaker. I think Nora Roberts does that with regularity. I know there are others, but hers always seem to hit the spot for me.

EilisFlynn said...

You've gotta remind when you're blogging, Nancy! What a great topic this was! I sometimes have this urge to go and find the Supergirl movie, but then good taste and clearer thinking stop me.