Monday, January 15, 2018

An epiphany in No Man's Land


I finally saw "Wonder Woman."

I'm not, generally, like a super hero movie sort of person. Except for Batman, cuz, Batman. Though, I'm not particularly obsessive about keeping up with the Batman either. I'll happily watch and rewatch Michael Keaton Batman or Christian Bale Batman and am fine with skipping the rest. Michael Keaton Batman might have been my first celebrity crush. Which, considering that "Batman" came out when I was just 8 years old, is maybe a little weird. Nonetheless, I'm suddenly having flashbacks of playing MASH with my friends and including Michael Keaton as one of the people I was going to marry (others potential suitors included Robin Williams and Patrick Swayze. I had eclectic taste).

Where we were? Oh yes, "Wonder Woman."

Gosh. I mean, that woman. Where has she been all my life?

A badass lady warrior who stands by her convictions even as nearly everyone around her thinks she's idealistic and naive and gets some shit done? That is how you empower some women.

You know what, I take it back. She has been here my whole life. This woman. She's my mother, my sisters, my aunts and my friends. I know so many women who are Wonder Woman. You know, they're tireless and fierce and passionate. That's just who we are as people. That's the fire in our bellies. We grow life. We nurture it. We fight for it.

So yeah, Wonder Woman has always been around.

But, I have to say, it was really ... moving ... in an unanticipated way... to see her on screen. It's a super hero movie, so it wasn't without its cliches and kind of cheesy moments. It was predictable and over the top and all that. 

But when Diana, Princess of Themyscira, lets her hair down, throws off her cloak and climbs that ladder into No Man's Land. Damn. My throat immediately clenched. My eyes immediately filled with tears. I was caught off guard. It was as if there was some deeply rooted, unacknowledged part of my being that finally felt validated. Finally felt seen.

See, because right before that moment, Diana is overwhelmed by the amount of pain and horror she's witnessing. She's compelled to help. Help the men get their horses across the creek. Help the crying babies and the desperate women. Help the wounded soldiers. And every time she says she wants to help, she's told that she can't. 

No. No. No. Over and over. 

“This is No Man's Land, Diana. It means no man can cross it, alright,” Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) tells her. “This is not something you can cross. This is not possible.”

But she does it anyway. 

Like women do every day. 

That image of her crouching in the wasteland, taking all the fire so that the soldiers around her could advance. That. THAT.

That is what it is to be a woman. 

To be doubted. To persist. To deflect and protect. To be patted on the head. To be placated and ignored. To absorb all the bullets and bombs the world hurls at us. To hold steadfast to the notion that this way of living and dying is not the life we want for our children. To inch forward to that vision, despite all the destruction and calamity surrounding us.

That is what it means. 

In the climax, as Wonder Woman is battling Ares, the God of War, he tells Diana that humans don't deserve her protection.

"It's not about deserve, it's about what you believe. And I believe in love."

I won't speak for all woman. But I will speak for the woman I know like myself, this is our mantra. This is at the core of who we are and how we make our choices.

We believe in love.

And here's the thing that's so maddening. Even after Diana crosses No Man's Land, taking all the fire so that the men behind her can follow. Even after she leaps in and out of trenches in single bounds. Even after she fights off an entire battalion almost singlehandedly. Even after she throws a tank and stops a sniper by destroying a bell tower. Even after she saves the village. Even after she proves to be more than extraordinary, the men who witness all of it still doubt her.

Well some of them do. Mr. Steve "Above Average" Trevor still doesn't believe in her mission to kill Ares. Neither does the shell-shocked Scotsman, Charlie. Sameer and The Chief are more open-minded. Nobody suggests that it might be wiser to put Diana in charge of the mission instead. She's left to go her own way.  

And so it goes for the rest of us. In the face of all the doubt, women are left to go our own way.

I double majored in college in journalism and international politics. I didn't study international politics to satisfy some underlying passion for world affairs– rather, I thought it would make my dad happy. He wasn't exactly thrilled to have a child pursuing a career with the biased "liberal media." 

I took a lot of classes on comparative politics, international relations, American foreign policy, terrorism, and international relations of the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe. I should probably know a lot more about the world than I do. 

One of the first lessons you learn in international politics is the difference between realists and idealists– the two competing philosophies that are supposed to dominate foreign affairs. Realists pursue foreign policy that puts national security and economic interests first, idealists believe that foreign policy should promote justice, freedom and equality. Looking back, it seems odd that international politics is divided into just two ways of thinking about how countries relate to each other.

I had one professor in particular– had to take a few classes with him– who was a realist. Which, meant, I guess, that he could justify his belief in hawkish foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. We spent a lot of our classes discussing oil and natural gas and pipelines and why it was important for the U.S. to base its relationships and policies with these countries on our energy demands. Say what you want about media bias, it was fairly clear to me that this professor had some obvious bias and kind of made it his mission to indoctrinate his students to his way of thinking. 

I hated his classes. Not because the subject matter wasn't interesting, but rather because I felt as if I was being presented with just one way of thinking about the world. And it all felt very cynical to me. 

There was a lot of that in my international relations courses though. I got my degree and was left with this sinking feeling that, as nations, we are selfish, paranoid, reactive and destructive. But I don't believe that's who we are as people, as individuals.

I got to thinking about those international relations classes while watching "Wonder Woman." The Steve Trevors who justify overlooking the vulnerability of individuals in favor of the potential advancement of a nation and the Dianas who refuse to ignore the suffering of the men, women and children who are treated as collateral damage. Those, like Ares, who believe humans are inherently wicked and not worth saving and those like Sameer, Charlie or The Chief who are just trying to make their way through the world while waging their own person battles. And all the people who fall somewhere in between. 

I know where I land. I knew where I landed even before "Wonder Woman."

But what she offers is a rallying cry. A visual for the person I want to be. A blessing to cross No Man's Land. 

At one point Steven, yet again, tries to stop Diana from following through on her mission to kill Ares.

"What I do is not up to you," Diana she says.

Right. 

It's time for women to make their own paths. To blaze a new way of being in this world.

"I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves - something no hero will ever defeat. I've touched the darkness that lives in between the light. Seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they'll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give... for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever."

I stand with Wonder Woman. Only love can save this world. Only love.

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