Wonder Woman and Me: Why Female Representation Matters

Written By: Becca Pachl, 2017 Women's Leadership Participant

"Why does being in the Contemporary Women's Leadership program matter?"

"How can I articulate what it means to be here, and I am perhaps alone in feeling something special about my experience here?"

"Will I ever understand the importance of my time at Wellesley, or will the importance be something that dawns on my peers and I much later, when all of us return to our normal colleges, normal countries, and our same, normal lives?"

I kept asking myself these questions-- in classes, and in moments I carved out for myself, desperately searching for a coherent reason as to why this opportunity meant so much to me.

Then last Tuesday came and went like any other Tuesday, but since we were at Wellesley that meant we were going to watch Wonder Woman to analyze it with our Women’s and Gender Studies professor. As expected, it was brilliant, but what was most striking about it was the amount of powerful, downright deadly women I saw on screen. I had never seen so many women portrayed as physically strong, self-sufficient, and fearless.

After watching, sobbing, and leaving the screening of Wonder Woman feeling like I needed to also learn how to fly through the air and shoot three arrows at once, it sort of hit me that the reason the movie Wonder Woman and my time at Wellesley really impacted me were actually one in the same: because representation matters.

Wellesley, as you may or may not know, is historically a women’s college, and as such most all of their summer programs are for young high school or college girls (like me!). Now, my college experience thus far, like everyone else’s in my program, has been co-ed. Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to school with men, I can speak from my own experience that sometimes in college, whether academically, through unjust systems, or just from simple lacks in understanding, women can be and often are overlooked.

The same can often be said for superhero movies. I have nothing against superhero films, but it does feel like a breathe of fresh-air to have an entire mainstream film dedicated to a strong, independent female superhero, who is more than just eye-candy, an afterthought, or a tragic dame in need of saving. Seeing Wonder Woman on the big-screen meant so much to me, and what appears to be millions around the world, because finally there is a woman, a very complex, down-to-earth woman, who can fight, take care of herself, and save the damn world.

I did not expect it, but just like watching Wonder Woman challenge the fate of the world on screen, I felt a similar sense of empowerment just existing on Wellesley’s campus, studying with women, by women, surrounded with help and support from other women. There have been notable moments of this surge of empowerment. One was just being in class, with 12 other really intelligent girls, listening to our female professor work with a female librarian who specializes in helping students find additional research and academic articles. I found myself a little bit in awe. In my normal life, I have almost certainly always worked with men in navigating technology and research. In my normal life, my entire high school administration and staff were men, excluding two women in non-academic roles. In my normal life, and in the broader outside world, some people still think that women are the naturally inferior sex, that gender inequality is resolved, and that a respectable woman should not strive to lead. In my normal life, I still battle with people regularly disregarding the agency of women, and disregarding the agency of me.

Wellesley StudentsThat’s why this program matters to me. Here, at Wellesley and in Contemporary Women's Leadership Program, it is a given that every woman here is capable. In two weeks, we will return to our normal circles, where around us the world does not always hold women in high esteem. However, having five weeks of empowerment, of having more “go for it!” and less “are you sure…,” means that I can take that experience out into the world, hopefully spreading it to others and holding it with me too, when things seem dark.

Sometimes, in a world that doubts your abilities, it is hard to not internalize the constant mistreatment of women. Sometimes, it affects me. The Contemporary Women's Leadership Program gave all of us the opportunity to grow, speak, and learn without looking over our shoulders, without being put-down or condemned for a “bossy” attitude.

In learning at Wellesley, I spoke up in class more. I felt at ease being in a place where intelligent women were the standard, not the exception.

Representation matters. Whether seeing Amazonian women fight for their home, or just seeing 12 women express themselves unapologetically in the classroom, these moments give me hope. It reminds me that naysayers and patriarchal forces are not as omnipotent as they may seem, and that, in fact, I can do anything I set my mind to. That’s what Wellesley and the Contemporary Women's Leadership Program gave me, and it will last far beyond my five weeks here.

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