THE BLOG

Warrior Women Are The Role Models We Need

We need them, because they give us hope.

08/18/2017 18:51 EDT | Updated 08/19/2017 10:17 EDT

Photo courtesy of Tim Tyson

This summer “Wonder Woman” was the top grossing film of the season and second highest of the year, beating out “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.” No small feat. It’s also the highest-grossing action film ever directed by a woman. This success came despite Warner Brothers studios greatly under-promoting the film in comparison to other big budget superhero movies of the recent past. “Wonder Woman” met with nearly universal critical acclaim.

The hunger for a counter-narrative to prevailing societal attitudes is understandable. A conservative news site (that believes the proper role of a woman in our society is to stay fit to please her husband and have lots of babies whether she wants to or not) pooh-poohed the notion of a superhero movie featuring a woman being anything but a “PR disaster.” This same summer, Google engineer James Damore sent a company-wide e-mail claiming that women are biologically unsuited to being computer scientists and programmers, and that the ones employed by Google were undeserving “diversity hires.” Despite getting fired, he ended up a hero to many people on the right.

Driving women out of lucrative professions and making them domain of men is nothing new. In the middle ages before 1350, brewing was mostly a woman’s art. As trade made it profitable it was taken over by men. In modern times, as the tech sector has become a dominant economic force, women have become less and less common in the industry as social pressures have worked to convince them they don’t belong.

These sorts of societal pressures are why we are seeing not just the Wonder Woman phenomenon, but a surge of support and interest in real-life warrior women challenging the status quo.

One of these is retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath, a Naval Academy graduate and F/A-18 pilot who was the first female USMC fighter pilot to fly a combat mission in the Hornet. She was inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame in 2016, and is now running for Congress there. The advertisement announcing her candidacy featured her in her flight jacket standing in front of an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet captured the imagination of both the public. The YouTube video went viral and garnered over 1.3 million views. It drew the attention of national media outlets such as CNN, The Hill, NPR, and the Washington Post.

My social media feed lit up with positive mentions of her, and admiration of her for being “such a badass.” The common refrain was, “this is someone I would campaign for.”

Lieutenant Colonel McGrath isn’t the only warrior woman running for Congress in 2018. Tobi Beck is running as a Democrat in the 4th Congressional District in Indiana. Beck was a captain in the Army reserves who deployed to Somalia, and returned to the US just before the events depicted in “Black Hawk Down.” She’s also a top level fighter (signified by wearing a white belt, the highest possible rank in the sport) in a full contact armored martial art. To put it in context how exclusive of company she is in, in the 50-year history of the sport more women have orbited the earth than have earned a white belt in her martial art. She wrote about her experiences as a woman competing against men in a contact sport in her book, The Armored Rose.”

Oh, and she has a Doctorate in Religious Philosophy and a Juris Doctorate from Concord University too. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath was a professor at the Naval Academy prior to retiring. This generation of warrior women are scholars, writers, mothers, and philosophers, which separates them from those who only fight.

Photos courtesy of Tobi Beck

Women face negative stereotypes regarding their competence in areas dominated by men, like computer science, martial arts, or politics. Thus, outstanding women who visibly overcome gender barriers to achieve success have been shown to more significantly inspire other women to follow in their footsteps than successful men in the same field. By serving as living, breathing exemplars of the art of the possible, they allow other women to believe they can “hack it” too.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Women warriors tap into something deep seated in our psyches. I have seen this effect in our daughters Kyra (11) and Eleanore (14). Last year Kyra was given a writing project to produce a fictional story. She wrote about two warrior queens named Thora and Signy who were obviously based on sisters we know who also do full contact armored martial arts, and are very good at it. (The real-life Thora is pictured at the top of the page).

Eleanore tries desperately to be too cool and aloof for everything. But recently, when we were at an event with Thora’s sister Signy, Eleanore didn’t hide that she was planning her whole day around the opportunity to train with the real-life Signy for 15 minutes one evening. When the opportunity came, she abandoned all pretense of being above it all and hung on Signy’s every word.

Our family knows many smart, talented, bold, successful women. To our girls, though, the rock stars who inspire them are women they can see more than holding their own in places women are often subtly told they don’t belong.

This is why we need real life warrior women who are scholars, poets, artisans, and philosophers more than ever. We need them to be leaders who change the course of a nation that seems adrift. We need strong women whom no one would ever attempt to “grab by the pussy” because they’re likely to lose a vital body part in the process. We need trailblazers to kick in doors and make it known we belong here, wherever it may be and light the way for our daughters.

We need them, because they give us hope.

Also on HuffPost