Something sort of weird happened on the way to sharing a picture for the #WeStandWithWendy campaign.
A couple years ago my friend Lady Katza from Peanut Butter Macramé took a picture of her daughter. She had made a gorgeous Little Red Riding Hood costume for her daughter, and completed the costume with a bloodied axe and a wolf’s head.
Her daughter was 8 in the picture; unmistakably prepubescent. There was little question of context for herself, her husband, or for me. In this storytelling, Red had saved herself with a Huntsman’s axe. She did not need saving. The girl in the picture was wide eyed, with her innocence still visibly intact. She did not look menaced or menacing. She looked determined, and young. It was, ultimately, a picture of female innocence that was capable, and not the least bit helpless.
It was the kind of story-in-a-picture that upends paradigms, in short.
A few years passed. Years full of assault to women’s rights and women’s autonomy. Steubenville. The Paycheck Fairness Act being rejected by every single Republican representative. State after state falling down in upholding Roe vs. Wade.
Texas front and center.
State Senator Wendy Davis’s now famous filibuster blew our minds. We stayed up late into the night, completely riveted.
We watched as the Texas State Senate ended Ms. Davis’s filibuster on technicalities. We watched as other Senators picked up Senator Davis’s mantle and continued her filibuster. We watched as the Texas State Senate closed them down, too. Then we watched as the outrage filled the Senate, and the people in the gallery picked up the mantle and ran the final minutes of the clock down. Then we watched the complete disregard for their own State’s Law with which they took the vote anyway, and passed the bill that would deny not only the rights that had been established with Roe vs. Wade, but also general healthcare for women in Texas. We watched as the record was fraudulently changed to show that the vote had happened within the time limit. Then we watched the bill dissolve under the world’s scrutiny.
Then we watched Texas Governor Rick Perry do what all knew he would, and schedule a second special session to again pass a bill that had been denied passage by the people of Texas.
This isn’t really about that, though. I mean, all of that matters, but that’s not even what I’m talking about here.
Orange was the new color. We donned orange to stand with Wendy Davis. Lady Katza mentioned the picture she had of her daughter and thought it would be an interesting picture to submit, were the color to change from red to orange. It was a picture of a girl with courage, determination, strength and no fear. She did not need to be saved. She was saving herself.
I agreed. It was late, though, and she had to go to sleep, so I turned to Laura Ross at @laurarossdesign.com to help turn Red’s clothes orange for us. Laura obliged happily. Red was now orange, and some subtle highlighting was added.
I sent the result to Lady Katza, and in the morning she tested the waters by posting the original pic to her FB feed.
Then the weirdness started. The photo was picked apart. Red was recast as Lizzie Borden. Lady Katza was unsure whether it would be a good idea or not to post the picture at all, let alone with orange and text. Was this actually a strong picture, as we thought?
See, the thing is, there’s no context for this picture in our culture. This fits no archetype. A woman who violently defends herself is sexualized and fetishized into Lara Croft type tits-and-ass caricatures. We, as a culture, slut-shame away her frightening power.
That just wasn’t possible with this picture. This picture shows a little girl who is not menacing or menaced. She is competent, unafraid, and still in full possession of her innocence. The only other example we could even come up with was Hit-Girl from Kick Ass. That was kind of startling.
Of course people were going to create a menacing context for the picture, there was no other available context with which to view it.
Well then. We just need to change that. We need to create stories where the girl saves herself. We need people like Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte to be strong examples for us. We need Brave’s Merida, and no, thanks, we don’t want her slimmed down, given bigger boobs, a tinier waist, and made into a simpering Disney Princess that needs her complementary Prince. We need a Little Red Riding Hood that doesn’t wait for a Woodsman to save her, but saves herself.
We are ready to stand, and we will not sit down, and our daughters are ready, too. We will be brave. We will be heard. We will stand.