Commentary, TV

A Woman, Explaining Things

There is a television show I love.
The show frequently features brilliant, courageous, unstoppable women. They are emotionally vulnerable. They are allowed to be brave, and they are allowed to fight, and they are allowed to fall in love. They are usually humbled by what they see. They are usually scared. But their fear is what allows them to display their courage, and they have the kind of courage that shapes the course of history. They’re important to the story. They’re beloved by those of us who love the show.

But they’re human, which means that in the long course of the adventures of the character the show is named for, they are temporary. Not expendable. Not disposable. Not precisely those things. But temporary. Fleeting. They, too, shall pass. They are crucial to the story, but they are not here to stay.
These women spend a lot of time running. They spend a lot of time crying. They spend a lot of time listening.

On this television show that I love, there is a man. Well, not really a man, because he’s not a human, but he’s still a man for our purposes. He’s still a man-creature. He is emotionally vulnerable, although he often tries hard not to be. He’s angry a lot. He can be condescending. He sees the shape of time and history. He has the ego of a neurosurgeon, if that neurosurgeon tinkered with the brains of gods.

He changes frequently, often enough that the changes are a crucial part of his character. But he is not temporary, even if the face he wears changes. He shifts, and is altered, but at his core he is the man who saves worlds, who comprehends vastness, who does not accept “impossible” as an answer.
This man spends a lot of time running. He spends a lot of time shouting. He spends a lot of time explaining.

I think it is a good show. It is a flawed show, and the flaws are many, and the people who would like to tell me about the flaws are innumerable. I see the flaws. But I love this show, and I love what it has represented in my life. I have never been precisely bothered by the fact that the women so often listen while the man explains. I have never been precisely bothered by the fact that the women cannot comprehend the vastness that he comprehends, not without losing themselves entirely.
I have never been precisely bothered by this dynamic, not because I wasn’t aware of it, not because it’s not worthy of being bothered by, but because this is the way things are.

I have made the choice to love the show, as I have made the choice to love so many things that reflect the way men’s voices are valued while women’s voices are feared. As I have chosen to love so much media in which the woman is temporary, generously invited to participate in adventures that a man is going to have no matter what. I have chosen to love so much media in which she is delighted to witness amazing things for the first time, and just that—her eyes being turned to the horizon—is supposed to represent something revolutionary. This show is not different from those other shows and movies and books I’ve chosen to love.

I make the choice between enjoyment and indignance, and in this case, I choose enjoyment. When I can. It’s not a choice I expect others to make, especially those who have been disappointed again and again by the show’s many flaws. It’s just the choice I make. And it is always a choice. Every time. I choose to love this show in which a man explains things to women who are, at least initially, impressed by him.

This is a television show I love. And soon, something about it will change.
Soon, the man will change. He will remain fundamentally himself, but the form he takes will be new.
His form will become that of a woman.
She will still be the person—not the human, never the human, but the person—that he has always been. She will comprehend vastness, and it will not break her to understand the things he has always understood. She will be angry because of the things he has always been angered by. She will have the ego of a neurosurgeon-to-the-gods.

This is horrifying to many: the sheer fact of her womanhood. I am not surprised by their horror.
They see her casting as a political statement: a female character being allowed to explain things, to impress people, to monologue.
They see it as a stretch: a woman in space, who yells, who is furious, who understands things that were previously the territory of a male character.
They see it as an insult: he will become something less than what he was, because his form will be inferior to what it was before, because to them, womanhood is intrinsically Less.

The people who are angry about this see themselves as protecting him from the embarrassment, the insult, of becoming someone who shouldn’t be allowed to speak, to yell, to explain, to understand.
They are angry, and they are protective, and they are afraid. They are afraid that she will condescend. They are afraid that she will shout. They are afraid that she will be everything he was, and that she will do it well, and that she will represent a shift in the kinds of people who are allowed to have adventures.
And they have a choice.

They will see a woman explaining things. She will probably explain things to men. And those men will probably be impressed by her, because she will be fundamentally impressive. She will have an ego that she deserves to have, because of the things she’s seen and done and because of the things she’s capable of seeing and doing. She will move through the universe with power and purpose, and she will be everything that the angry people are terrified of.
My choice has always been a choice between enjoyment and indignance.
Theirs will be a choice between enjoyment and fear.

The women who have walked alongside the man who understands the shape of time have always shared one unifying trait: courage.
They face the unknown, things that they thought impossible, things that they don’t understand. And they are brave enough to listen as those things are explained to them.
Even when they don’t grasp the new things the same way that the man explaining the new things to them does—even then, they are brave enough not to hate the things they don’t comprehend.

I think about those generations of women, and I cannot help but wonder about the furious people.
If they had the opportunity—if this new woman arrived at their front door with an extended hand, inviting them to come into the blue box with her and see a universe full of new and frightening things—I wonder what these furious people would do.

I wonder if any of them would be brave enough to accompany her.
Sarah Gailey is bigger on the inside.