Agent Carter: Can I be her already?

You remember Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America movies, right? And you know ABC gave her her own miniseries and scheduled it during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s winter break, right? And you saw its two-episode premiere last Tuesday because all of my readers live in the US and structure their lives around TV schedules, right? What??? OMG you aren’t hooked on Agent Carter yet??? Well, read on! I promise this won’t be too spoilery.

My biggest question about Agent Carter was whether it would feel more like a spin-off of the Captain America movies or the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series. The answer is both and neither. Like any of the individual series under the Avengers umbrella, Agent Carter draws from the franchise as a whole, but maintains its own distinct feel. And if you like a 1940’s aesthetic with a James Bond storyline, that feel is pretty freakin’ awesome.

One of my favorite things about Agent Carter is how it lets Peggy fill the Bond role while looking like a Bond girl. There are times when Peggy switches out her skirt suit for a pair of slacks, but she’s always got her perfectly-coiffed curls and her signature red lipstick. Do I think any of this should be a social requirement for real women in the real world like it was in days of yore? No and no. Is it how my fantasy self would be attired in my self-insert pulp fanfic? So very much yes.

Peggy’s aesthetic suits her character, imo, because it’s one that requires a lot of effort, skill, and control; all traits we see her display in the field. Peggy is always in charge of whatever situation she’s in, whether her superiors realize it or not. Tell her to bring coffee, and she’ll gather all the intel from your top-secret meeting. Give her a sick day for “ladies’ problems” and she’ll work that case and find the MacGuffin in a disguise that has all her spy colleagues fooled.

Every good comic book hero needs a sidekick, and Peggy’s will be familiar to Iron Man fans: Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (not to be confused with Tony Stark’s computer system). There’s no will-they-or-won’t-they tension between this dynamic duo, as Peggy isn’t over Steve Rogers, and Jarvis is steadfastly devoted to his unseen wife. Clearly he knows Mrs. Jarvis is the greatest good he’s ever going to get. Jarvis’ deadpan insistence on providing hero support is a perfect foil to Peggy’s obligatory insistence that she doesn’t need it.

Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter; James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis. Image via Ace Showbiz.

Well, “obligatory” isn’t quite fair, since Peggy’s adamant independence is more than justified in-universe. She works in an environment where she has to prove herself twice as good as her male colleagues to earn half the respect. Jarvis recognizes this, and when he informs Peggy that he’s there to stay, he makes a point of saying that all heroes, whether male or female, need support, just like Captain America did when Peggy and Stark were providing it for him.

Which, imo, sums up the best thing about Agent Carter. In the first Captain America movie, I really wanted to love Peggy, but I mostly felt like she was an under-utilized character with great potential. For all her informed awesomeness, she was essentially just The Love Interest. The faded photograph that the real hero looked to for inspiration. In Agent Carter, their roles are reversed. Now Steve Rogers is the faded photograph, and Agent Peggy Carter is the lone hero in red, white, and blue.

And pumps, nylons, and red lipstick.

Agent Carter airs on ABC on Tuesday night at 9pm/8pm Central. You can watch full episodes online at ABC.com.

It’s Okay to Try

You don’t have to try
Take your makeup off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror
At yourself
Don’t you like you?

– “Try,” Colbie Caillat

If you’re at all engaged in social media, you’ve probably seen Colbie Caillat’s new music video for her song, “Try,” in which she starts out looking like a Kardashian and ends up looking like Colbie Caillat.

It’s a beautiful video with a beautiful message. The girls and women featured in it look incredible in the before and after shots, which is the whole point. I’ve seen my female friends moved to tears this week as they passed this video and Colbie’s commentary around Facebook. I have no trouble seeing “Try” as a sincere expression of Colbie’s story, and I also believe that the women who were moved by it see their own story reflected in it. Which is a wonderful, powerful thing, and I certainly don’t want to detract from that in any way.

Colbie Caillat, still adorable with no makeup.

Personally, though, I was struck by how different Colbie’s story of self-acceptance and embracing self-expression looked from my own.

I rarely if ever experimented with makeup in my teens. I know for sure that I didn’t own any. I think I was 19 before I tried so much as shaping my eyebrows, and then I felt absurdly guilty about it. Makeup wasn’t for me. I was an intelligent, talented, virtuous young woman. I wasn’t one of those vain, frivolous girls whose value was in how attractive they were to boys. I was smart. I was accomplished. I was responsible. I was respectable. Why on earth did I need to be pretty on top of that? More specifically, why did I need to put any effort into being pretty? Wasn’t pretty one of those things that you just are or aren’t? And why did I even care? I didn’t care.

Except I did. A part of me that I’d stopped listening to a long time ago wanted desperately to be pretty. Not because society was telling me I should. In fact, the society I inhabited was specifically telling me that I shouldn’t. That putting any thought or effort into outward appearance meant I was a vain seductress like the worldly women in magazines I was discouraged from looking at and movies I wasn’t allowed to watch. That, sure, a few lucky girls had the gift of being pretty without trying, but this was more curse than blessing. It made them targets for boys who would never appreciate their True Inner Beauty because they were so blinded by their outer beauty. Charm was deceitful, beauty was vain.

As I grew up, I exchanged patriarchy for feminism, and was told almost exactly the same thing. Don’t tell little girls they’re pretty. Women’s value shouldn’t lie in their looks. Women should take pride in accomplishment, intelligence, talent, and integrity. The World tells women they have to make themselves sexually appealing for men, so we waste so much effort in these vain pursuits that could be spent achieving things like men are taught to from infancy. A Real Man (not that you need one anyway) will love you for being A Real Woman, not one of those made-up, photoshopped, underfed women in misogynist magazines and movies. Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain.

As I continued to internalize these messages, they enabled a deeper, more insidious message I was getting from my own brain chemistry as I battled clinical depression: There’s no point in trying. Why bother running a brush through your hair? Who’s going to see it? Who cares if all you’ve done to your face in a week is splash water on it every other day? It’s not like you can improve it that much. Screw personal hygiene. No one’s getting close enough to see how much you’ve been neglecting it. On some level I knew how repelling my appearance was.* This time, I really, truly, didn’t care. I couldn’t care. My brain had forgotten how.

I got help. I learned how to care again. I felt happiness again and learned how to take conscious actions conducive to that feeling. I learned how to deconstruct the ideas I’d internalized about what I was supposed to be, and how to sift through the pieces and uncover who I really was.

I discovered that who I really am is an intelligent, talented, accomplished, courageous woman who freakin’ loves makeup, accessories, and clothes. I love decorating my face and my body with bright colors. I love knowing how different cuts of clothing can change the way my body appears. Dressing and grooming feels like an opportunity to create a new work of art every day. Fashion has become one of the most powerful depression-fighting weapons in my arsenal. It’s not about pleasing men or women, though I’m happy if it does. Honestly, sometimes I worry that my bright colors and sparkles make people think less of me. But, like Colbie in her video, it’s not about them liking me. It’s about me liking me.

And ironically, it was only after embracing all this that I learned to love my face without makeup. I don’t need makeup to like the way I look. I go out with a bare face plenty of times, usually if I’m in a rush or if I’m going to a movie that I know will turn my eyes into a waterfall. A movie with beautiful women whose beautiful makeup I’ll probably challenge myself to replicate sometime. I won’t look just like them, and that’s okay. Because I’ll look just like me. And I like me.

I like me enough to try.

Full disclosure: Foundation, concealer, highlighter, a four-shade eyeshadow palette, mascara, blush, and lipstick.

*Just to be clear, I’m not implying that women are repelling when they don’t wear makeup, shave their body hair, or style their hair in a conventional, feminine way. I’m talking about neglecting very basic hygiene, which can be a sign of clinical depression regardless of gender.

In The Name Of The Moon, I Shall Punish You!

I’ve been watching Sailor Moon on Hulu for the last few weeks. I didn’t get into this franchise until I was an adult, but it’s still nostalgic to me in a way because it’s such a blatant celebration of female adolescence. Usagi Tsukino is the personification of the 14-year-old psyche. All the ups and downs, the joys and tears, the insecurity and the arrogance, are worn boldly on her sailor suit sleeve.

And for most of the first series, at least, Usagi’s main role as Sailor Moon is the defender of female adolescence. She fights demons who prey on typical teenage desires like finding love, shopping for beautiful jewelry, having a cute cuddly pet to play with, slimming down and toning up at the gym, becoming famous, and getting perfect grades to get into a top university.

My favorite thing about these battles? Sailor Moon never blames the victims.

She always puts the blame exactly where it belongs: on the evildoers who exploit these completely normal desires. You won’t hear her chastising girls for caring about their appearance, daydreaming about boys, or chasing fame and fortune. She unequivocally tells THE VILLAINS that they’re in the wrong for creating a world where it’s unsafe for young girls to pursue these desires.

“In the name of the moon, I shall punish you!” (Image via Wikipedia)

Then she brings the beatdown even though she’s so clueless about fighting that she needs a talking cat to walk her through every step. And a masked man in a tuxedo to create a distraction by throwing a ninja star rose and pithy one-liner. I don’t even mind it when Usagi can’t win her fights without a male character’s help, because Tuxedo Mask’s snarky interruptions still emphatically affirm Sailor Moon’s message. That, if the world isn’t safe for teenage girls, it’s not teenage girls’ fault. That youth isn’t a weakness. That femininity isn’t a weakness. That heroism sometimes throws roses and wears an opera cape.

Or maybe even a pretty sailor suit.

Want to watch Sailor Moon with some awesome nerds and (internet connection permitting) me? Join #SailorMoonLiveTweet hosted by @BlackGirlGeeks at 7pm/6pm Central on Mondays!

The Quandary of a High Femme Feminist

[As I’ve said, I’ll be using this blog to talk about random stuff that’s on my mind in addition to Thalia’s Musings stuff. Welcome to the first such post.]

Can I tell you guys a secret?

I don’t hate princesses.

I’m not talking about Kate, Diana, and Grace. I’m talking about the romanticized idea of a princess in popular media. The mythical concept of Princess that never has and never will exist in reality. I love outrageous, opulent ball gowns. Being born to wealth and power sounds like a beautiful dream. A castle seems pretty cool compared to my tiny apartment. There’s something very appealing about being thought “the fairest in the land.” And I effin’ love pink and purple.

I can hear the freakouts already. Herp patriarchy! Derp weak dependent submissive women! Hurr durr pink and purple!!!

Calm down. I believe young girls should be taught to make their own way in the world. That they should be just as conditioned as boys to become assertive, self-confident adults who take on the world themselves and don’t sit around waiting for someone to hand it to them. That their sense of worth should be in themselves, not in a potential or current romantic partner.

But what the hell does any of that have to do with pink and purple?

That frilly pink or purple ball gown I dream of wearing? Maybe I want to acquire it with a fortune of my own making. That castle in the sky? Maybe I want to storm it in shining armor and wear my ball gown at a celebration for my victory. Or maybe I was born in the castle because my mom is a queen in a long line of matriarchs. O Noes! Princesses = patriarchy!!!! :O Well, guess what. It’s my queendom. It exists in my mind.

I can make it whatever I want.

If I want “princess” to mean a woman who holds great power and uses it for good, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who prefers a sword to a scepter, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who prefers a pen to a sword, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who wanted power and worked for it and claimed it, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman whose power was granted to her at birth because she bears the blood of hundreds of powerful women before her, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who doesn’t need a prince, but goes out and wins one because she wants one, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who goes out and wins another princess, it can.

So when you see me in my pink ruffles, don’t assume I’m less driven and ambitious than the woman in a pantsuit. When you see my twirly floral miniskirts, don’t assume I’m waiting for a prince to call me pretty (or call me, period). And someday when I have a daughter and I call her my beautiful princess, don’t assume that I don’t also call her smart, strong, creative, hard-working, compassionate, and brave.

Because that’s my idea of a princess. And if I choose, I can be all of those things while decked out in pink and purple.