desk lunch – 2015-05-28

Brought to you this week by a brain that doesn’t quite want to make words work. I can’t blame the heat because it was 90 degrees in Philadelphia today, at the end of May; that can only mean July and August will make this place seem like the surface of the sun, but humid, because topography is cruel.

And the further we get into the cinematic superhero era — now almost 15 years long — the more explicit these films get about both their real-world impetus and about the way America responded to that tragedy.

These narratives mostly suggest that it’s a perilous thing to be a girl, that there are only two ways for girlhood to end: joyfully and with procreative marriage, or tragically in painful death. But that dyad isn’t any more real than the poison apple or the dwarves with the Protestant work ethic.

Here are two really different essays that, in their own ways, deal with admitting difficult truths to ourselves. Those truths, specifically:

  1. superhero movies have grown from cultural/geopolitical power fantasies with a crumb of reality at their center to overworked toddlers kicking over skyscrapers when things don’t go their way and mayyyyyybe they’ve outlived their usefulness and entertainment;
  2. you are not responsible for your objectification, for others diminishing you to something less than a thinking, feeling, breathing human being.

They work for me, anyway.

I love space. It thrills me and scares me because the reality of space is so much more than my imagination could ever conceive. Last month, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia opened up their observatory during a Science After Hours event. I stood on their roof in the shockingly cold April night for about 45 minutes, waiting for my turn to step up to a telescope and look at Jupiter for about 15 seconds. The largest planet in our solar system was 400 million miles away, but the telescope provided enough detail to differentiate its layers of atmosphere and count three of its moons passing in front it. Science put all that right in my face and I couldn’t have been happier to know that this isn’t all there is. It’s enough to know that there’s more to existence than what happens on Earth.

This Tuesday, May 26, marked what would have been Sally Ride’s 64th birthday. As a geeky kid who loved space, I loved the annual surprise of a new science textbook and finding the Sally Ride sidebar that discussed her achievements as an astronaut and scientist. Yet as a kid, what stuck with me about Sally Ride was that she was the first woman I saw in a book referred to by her title: Dr. Ride. There was no wondering if she was Miss or Ms. or Mrs. depending on her age and marital status. For the first time in my life, I saw written in a book that there was a woman you could call just Dr. Ride, thank you. Even now, that tiny thing means a lot: a literal particle of gender nonconformity at an age when I didn’t know that was what I wanted so much; a signal as loud as an airhorn that you could achieve something and have it change the way you were addressed and known in the world.

Honestly, this was brought on because Google marked the occasion with a series of animated doodles on their homepage. The full doodle page also includes a post from Dr. Ride’s partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, on her career and the Sally Ride Science legacy. Autostraddle reposted their wonderfully detailed 2012 obituary.

And this review of Lynn Sherr’s 2014 biography on Dr. Ride closes with a line from the book that I can’t forget: “Being first was fine but she didn’t want to be the only one.”

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