Natalie Gadbois: A new hope

Monday, April 11, 2016 - 5:01pm

There are a lot of things that make me sad. When my avocados turn brown before I have time to eat them. The 2000 film “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.” The fact that Huma Abedin is married to Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner.

What makes me saddest though, is the answer my mom gave to a question I asked her a few weeks ago. In anticipation of this, my final column as the Gender and Media Columnist for The Michigan Daily, I asked people in my life what in pop culture gives them hope for the future of feminism. Her answer?

“Nothing.”

In some ways, she’s not wrong. We have a woman running for president being attacked left and right because of her “ambition.” Of the top 250 highest-grossing films that have been released in the past two years, only 9 percent were directed by women. Last week, Donald Trump said that women who had undergone abortion procedures should be punished. Olivia Wilde was considered “too old” (she’s 32!) to play Leonardo Dicaprio’s wife in “Wolf of Wall Street.” 

My mom may be cynical, but she has a point: it’s still hard out there for us ladies. But even though there’s a lot to bemoan about the status of women in American society, I am more interested in the small, bright sparks guiding us to the light at the end of the tunnel. Because despite the obvious uphill battle towards equality and equity ahead of us, I do find hope for women.

I find hope in the complex, fully-charged, dynamic female characters peppering television; from Alicia Florrick on “The Good Wife” to “Mad Men” ’s Peggy Olsen to Sarah Paulson’s intensely humanizing take on Marcia Clark in “The People vs. OJ Simpson.”

Despite the murky muck that is the current political landscape, I find hope that we do have a woman running for president, even if her run is breathtakingly more difficult than those of the men around her. At least she has the chutzpah to fight on. I find hope in the fact that our maple-syrup sweet neighbor to the North is led by a man who insists he won’t stop calling himself a feminist, and who urges other men to say the same. (I also find hope in the fact that men like Justin Trudeau even exist, let alone run a country  — have you seen the gentle, Paul Rudd eyes on that man?)

I find hope in artists like Lady Gaga and Hozier, who bravely use their platforms to speak out against sexual assault in personal and powerful terms. Gaga’s Oscars performance, in which she surrounded herself with survivors of sexual assault, was a urgent reminder to the world that this epidemic has faces and names, and stories to go along with it. It gives me hope that this charged performance was introduced by the Vice President of the United States, a man whose complex relationship with women’s issues may be changing for the better.

I find hope in “Star Wars,” which I saw in theaters three times, mesmerized by the woman unapologetically at the forefront of the film. Rey is unlike any woman in the sci-fi genre: obviously strong and scrappy, but also emotive and joyful. Sensitive but brave, smart but not faultless. Never sexualized. Daisy Ridley’s Rey proves that movies are better, and can even make more money, when they don’t resort to limiting stereotypes and ways of silencing women.

“Broad City” gives me hope for the power of female friendship, and for greater recognition of the tender impact women can have on each other’s lives. Abbi and Ilana’s relationship is one of the strongest on television, and the lack of a man in that dyad cannot be ignored. Rebecca Traister’s book “All the Single Ladies,” which lays out the positive political and social implications of a society in which women delay, or even opt out of marriage, gives me similar hope.

Just as I’m hopeful about the world out there, the world of real jobs and scary choices and adult implications, I’m grateful for the world in here, the small spaces filled with stunningly smart, kind and empowering people in which I’ve been lucky to spend my life. So many other people contributed to this list, others that too, give me hope.

My teachers and mentors, who showed me how to write and then let me break the rules when I wanted to. Professors who taught me the nuances of feminism and gave me the space to babble in their classroom. Others still that let me teach them, who gave me respect when I told them I thought they were wrong. Hope comes from the women who came before me, who had it so much harder in their battle against the patriarchy. Even as I sat here and wrote this, two Daily alums in their sixties walked into the newsroom to hand out fliers about National Equal Pay Day. They came up to me and asked if I know women still get paid 25 percent less than men. I can’t help but smile, grateful that women like them are still fighting after so many years.

Hope comes from my Daily co-workers, who sang JoJo with me and bought me cupcakes on my birthday and even now comfort me as I stand, paralyzed, at the edge of college. They were the ones who let me begin this column, who gave me constant fodder for ideas and who made me feel like I could do it. They lit the small fire in my head, the thought that I might actually be good at this.

My friends, smart and savvy almost-graduates, who poured in new perspectives and ideas, showing me how potent women can be when they support each other. They were there for me in these last moments as they have been from the beginning, letting me rant about something long enough that it finally coalesced into an idea for a column, bringing me coffee and snacks when needed (and when not), and giving me the strength to write about things that are personal, to write about things that frightened me. Knowing that women and men like them are entering the world, with the power to make change both micro and macro, gives me hope. Knowing that they will always be with me gives me more.

I wrote about my dad in my very first column, using him as a scapegoat for unenlightened men everywhere. I’m lucky that he let me make him that scapegoat, that his support included letting me throw him under the bus. He is never stingy with his pride in me, even when I’m railing against the entirety of his gender. That kind of support is more than rare, and I think it has buoyed me more than I’ve given him credit for.

When I asked my mom that original question about her hopes for feminism, and she gave her original answer, I laughed. That kind of sharp, intellectual cynicism would make sense for a woman who has been defying the status quo her entire life. The obstacles she has had to overcome in order to be the woman she is have allowed me to be optimistic in a way she can’t be. But she always surprises me, and she soon sent a barrage of texts about her hopes, giving me new ideas and avenues to pursue. All that I am — a pop culture obsessive, a planner, a businessperson, a good friend, a dreamer, a feminist — I am because of her. Mom, thanks for letting me pretend for even a second that I achieved any of those identities on my own. It’s all because of you.

Last Saturday, before going to Rick’s with my roommates to revel in our final weeks in Ann Arbor, I hid in my room and watched “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” I had always identified as a Carmen, resonating with her pluck and her anger, her insistence that people care about her as deeply as she cares about them. Watching it again ten years after it first captivated me, I began to weep. How much my life has changed since I was a fifth grader, dreaming of meeting a Kostos on a Greek island and road tripping with my best friends who knew me better than I knew myself. How powerful it is, that a movie about four young girls, a movie that emphasizes friendship, came out when I was ten and just beginning to understand the prices and joys of being a girl. How powerful too that last year, when my best friend and I flew across the Atlantic Ocean to traverse Europe, on a whim I carried a copy of the “Sisterhood” book with me.

That’s what gives me hope as I move across the country, away from my family and friends. Yes, we’ll talk every day and visit one another and develop new memories, but it will be their years of support and empowerment that strengthen me — as a friend, a student, a sister, a daughter and as a feminist. I’ll carry them with me, like a well-worn book.