The Search for a Superhero in a Time of Patriarchy

This past week I re-watched three superhero films. Justice League. Wonder Woman. And Captain America. I’d enjoyed them the first time, but that wasn’t why I felt the need to see them again. Mostly, it was a feeling of helplessness. The inhumane spectacle of a sexual assault survivor being mocked by the American president and thousands of his supporters at a rally, listening to a powerful and privileged judge complain that he was a victim, and hearing the cries and anguish from tens of thousands of sexual assault survivors.

More than anything, I wished that there was someone we could turn to, someone stronger than the forces of privilege and misogyny and cultivated hatred. What we needed, or what I wanted, was a superhero. I wanted Wonder Woman to use her lasso of truth on these reprehensible liars and misogynists and self-serving, silver spooned sycophants.

Instead, I was left with emptiness. And as for my female friends who had survived sexual assault and harassment, I could only imagine the sorrow.

It is one thing to say that we must fight. It is one thing to speak about the length of the journey and the importance of the process. These are important truisms. The journey IS long. The process IS important. Nothing worthwhile is EVER easy.

And yet, while they are true, it is also true that there are times when the fight becomes exhausting. When it feels like you’re trying to hold back a relentless wave of heartache and hatred and fear, an insistent and rising tide for which the beach has no answer. I felt that watching Trump supporters laugh at Dr. Ford.  And for as much as I am a proud feminist, my feelings can in no way touch those who have been assaulted and forgotten. Or, as Dr. Ford put it, no way to erase “the laughter from the hippocampus.”

It was the laughter that hurt more than anything, the most auspicious of “tells” in what we were reminded of this past week. It was the laughter of privileged young men doing what they want, and thirty five years later, not only were they still laughing, but still garnering support from those who refused to admit their own misogyny.


It is difficult to sift through the noise. I have not been raped. I have not been sexually assaulted. I have not been harassed. But many of my friends have experienced the rot of human depravity, and when I read the comments of people so callous towards it, callous for many reasons, including many women, I feel helpless.

Perhaps it is the nature of the discussion. As much as we advocate for facts and reason, there is an inhumane quality to it all, and it often feels like a debate among robots. As if the framework to it all no longer concerns living beings, but textbook ideas about what is and what isn’t or what happened and what didn’t.

Many great writers, including Anne Lamott, have lamented this past week. It is impossible to overstate its meaning, not just in the United States, but throughout the western world. We may not like the coverage devoted to the US, but its’ cultural impact is not only universal, but a reflection of what we see in other western countries.

Like every writer, I wish I could make this all go away. I wish I could tidy this mess up somehow and convince other men what we are witnessing. I wish that I could pen something to give hope. And like a superhero, remind everyone that to give in to despair is to live in the shadows.

I cannot.

Some have suggested that we have been in the shadows for a long time. That we are only starting to realize the depth of them. That in the long run, this will be good for us. They are probably right.

And yet, for as much as realization, a clear view in our cultural mirror, remains important, I don’t know how any of this is good. Not all things should be spun. Some things just need to be seen.

So where do we go? That’s the question, isn’t it? Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should start a dialogue with people who believe things and vote for those who stand outside the principles of good character. And yes, we should continue to fight for the good of humanity, for the ones who rescue broken animals and broken humans and broken spirits.

But we also need to grieve. We cannot brush over this or the current state of our culture or the increasing ideological divide like it doesn’t matter. Like it never happened.

If there is anything true about humanity it is this: everything bleeds into everything. Be it our religion or our family or the teams we cheer for on the weekend. What we say we believe and what we do are often at odds with the person we think we are. And for every person who inspires us, for every hero we find, there are multitudes willing to laugh at someone’s handicap. Willing to scapegoat those who cannot protect themselves. Willing to mock people because if there are no heroes, it is better to be to be a row up from the bottom, despite the cost.

This past week, someone posted on one of my social media feeds that any woman who got raped in high school was probably asking for it. He wasn’t alone in his sentiment. For a few brief moments, I wished that I could tear my shirt off, launch into the sky and go after this person. Instead, I felt my energy leave. Felt hopelessness at the attack on humanity. Felt myself shut down.

And then I remembered the stories. The same ones I’d written for so many years.

If you don’t say anything, who will?

And so I did.

Superheroes Do Not Exist, But We Do.

I cannot fly. I’m not rich. I was not born with special powers. Neither were you. And for as much as I’d love for one of our heroes to come to life, it’s not going to happen.

So it is left to us. We must endure the pain. We must endure the horror of bigotry and misogyny and racism. We must endure the assault by people who refuse to look in the mirror. We must not only endure the attack, we must also be compassionate.

The great playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once wrote, “Hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated.”

We may not be superheroes, but we don’t have to be cowards either. And as difficult as it sounds, we can do that while leaving hatred at the altar.

Like every superhero, we have our own origin story. And like them, we face trials that most will never see. We may never be able to fly or deflect bullets or cast webs and swing from buildings. What we can do is something greater.

We can grieve. We can endure. And we can fight. Not for a moment in the sun or a place in history or a statue outside a building. But for the same reason all superheroes fight.

For the greatness of what can be, for the hope of what could be, and for a destiny bigger than ourselves.

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