Growing up, I always sensed that the stories and voices of women can get lost in our patriarchal world. It doesn’t seem to matter what era, men’s voices are heard louder. However, that doesn’t mean that women haven’t made their fair share of changes to society through the years. Fortunately, being a woman raised in the twenty-first century, I’m happy to see popular perceptions of women changing drastically, not only in politics, but also entertainment.
In these complex times, many are looking towards their political leaders for answers. Our leaders are at the forefront of creating strategies to stop Covid-19 from spreading further. Interestingly, some of the first countries to successfully flatten the curve were led by females: Germany, New Zealand, Finland and Belgium. I can’t help but be proud to be a woman when I hear news like that.
Unfortunately, women haven’t always been given opportunities to lead. After the disruption of World War II, during which women worked in factories to support the war effort and replace men called to active duty, the 1950s saw a resurgence of the housewife stereotype—the message was clear: women belonged in the home and could only address issues within the circle of other females. The only alternative role offered in popular culture was as an object of sexual desire and/or damsel in distress. Real-life women rarely had their achievements spotlighted, despite their important contributions to significant historical movements, from Cleopatra and other female pharaohs to civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin.
Thankfully, society is slowly accepting the idea of women leading in today’s world. Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Gal Gadot, Angelina Jolie, Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey are not only leading voices for women, they are leading voices in their fields.
Israeli actor Gal Gadot is as much a leader on screen as she is in real life. One of her most notable roles was as the protagonist of the 2017 blockbuster hit Wonder Woman, which earned just over $US828 million in worldwide box office takings. Fans are eagerly awaiting her second stint in the role in Wonder Woman 1984 (originally due for release in August, now postponed to October).
The first Wonder Woman movie starts with the story of Princess Diana of Themyscira. She is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and is raised on a magical hidden island among Amazonian women warriors created by Zeus to protect humanity. After learning of a looming war, Diana leaves her island to go and fulfil her destiny—to rescue mankind from destruction.
Wonder Woman 1984 thrusts Diana into the new time period specified in its title. Joined by American pilot and love interest from the first movie, Steve Trevor, she takes on new and dangerous foes from the DC comics universe, including media tycoon Maxwell Lord and supervillainess Cheetah.
But this year we don’t only witness one female superhero bounding over our screens; we get two! Finally, after years of anticipation, we’ll learn the backstory of pioneering Marvel character, Black Widow. We get a glimpse into the world of the woman who holds the Avengers group of superheroes together.
In Black Widow we follow the story of Natasha Romanoff, trained and brainwashed from a young age at a Russian facility called the Red Room, which turned young girls into lethal undercover agents. Black Widow is due for release in November and will explore this earlier version of Natasha before she switched sides and started working with law-enforcement group Shield and then later the Avengers. The limelight will finally shine on a character who has thus far only been used as a secondary character in Marvel films.
Taking risks, winning victories
But if you thought female heroes were a new phenomenon, you’d be wrong. You can trace a line of exceptional women back through history: from French Resistance operatives under Nazi occupation to teenage military leader Joan of Arc; from female Mongolian soldiers who may have inspired the legend of Mulan (Disney’s live-action remake is in cinemas now) to Welsh queen Boudica. You might be surprised to find heroic women even in the Bible; women such as Rahab and judge Deborah. These two ladies of ancient history remind me so much of the fictional characters Diana and Natasha. A look into their lives shows me how every woman—no matter where they come from or their circumstances—can still manage to make a great change in the world in which they live.
We find the story of Rahab in Joshua 2; she was a prostitute in Jericho city. When the Israelites began to conquer Canaan, she hid two Israelite spies in her house from the soldiers of Jericho. In exchange, she asked the spies for protection for her family when they came back to conquer the city. Rahab had heard about all the miraculous ways God had helped the Israelites and recognised that they served the true God. Thereafter, as the walls of Jericho fell and Israel gained victory, the Israelite army kept their promise and protected Rahab’s household. But the story doesn’t end there: Rahab became the ancestor of King David, and from David’s line came Jesus Christ, the Messiah. In this way, Rahab played a key role in God’s plan of salvation for the world.
Rahab and Natasha Romanoff were both products of their traumatic life experiences and yet were able to make positive changes that led them to their ultimate purpose. Being brought up in Jericho, considered a very wild city, Rahab could have easily accepted her role and fate as a prostitute—at least she was earning a steady living. But no, once Rahab realised that there was more to life than her present situation, she took a huge risk in order to protect her family and grasp for something better.
Similarly, fictional assassin Natasha Romanoff was ruthlessly trained and brainwashed in the Red Room. But she also acknowledged that there was more to life for her; hence her shift to Shield, where she could use her skills for good. Ultimately this choice moulded her into becoming one of the pillars of the Avengers.
Judge Deborah is another biblical figure who showed exemplary strength defending the less fortunate and disadvantaged, as Diana did in Wonder Woman. Deborah served as the only female judge in a lawless period before Israel got its first king. In this male-dominated culture, she enlisted the help of the mighty warrior Barak to defeat the oppressive Canaanite general Sisera. Deborah’s wisdom and faith in God inspired the people. Sisera was defeated and, ironically, killed by another woman. Eventually, Sisera’s king was destroyed as well. Thanks to Deborah’s leadership, Israel enjoyed peace for 40 years.
Similarly, Diana was also thrown into a male-dominated war; with help from Steve Trevor she was able to defeat Ares, god of war, who underestimated her ability to make the final decision to defeat him because of her gender. By ending Ares, Diana saved humanity from war and created peace for all parties involved.
In both cinema and biblical history we find that women are versatile and cannot be boxed in. We are able to find redemption and in turn offer redemption to others. We are forces of change and voices of reason. Our stories and voices deserve to be heard throughout every generation. Rahab’s story, though small, had a domino effect that changed the trajectory of humanity’s story. No matter how small their part in the drama is, everyone deserves to be heard.
Kapungwe Besa is writer and social media coordinator for My Edge Mag. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.