Not all heroes wear capes. I mean, if you're to believe Edna Mode from The Incredibles, heroes shouldn't wear capes, but in my experience some of the most noble heroes out in the world today not only don't wear capes but go about their heroism quietly and without much notice. It should come as no surprise that many of these heroes are usually women. So today I want to talk about the real-life women superheroes out there: they don't do it for praise and admiration, but damned if they don't deserve it.
I think the reason for a lot of this being so woefully overlooked is twofold. One, as a society, we are used to looking for our heroes in certain venues, and those venues are male dominated. Two, our ideas of what it means to be heroic play to male ideas of power and nobility. This leads us to overlook a lot of women. Sure, with the box-office successes of superhero movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel we, as a culture, are slowly but surely pushing against the idea that the only worthwhile hero is a man, but it would be a lie to say we don't have a lot more work to do.
So what if we thought about "heroism" as "the people who allow society to function without a hitch"? It takes people of all genders, to be sure, but in a lot of very overlooked instances it takes a lot of women. That's why I think it's always worth the time to stop and celebrate general and specific examples of "sheroes," to whom we can turn for inspiration in all areas of our lives.
Housekeepers & Cleaners
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in statistics gathered by The Boston Globe, nearly 90 percent of maids and housekeepers are women. And while it's easy to assume the majority of these housekeepers are cleaning rich people's homes, that's simply not the case. Instead, they're cleaning hotels and motels and other places where a large number of diverse people gather. Unhygienic conditions in such situations could lead to enormous public health crises. They're not just giving you fresh towels and refilling shampoo; they're keeping you from getting scabies and e coli.
I am all for celebrating badass women. Captain Marvel. Wonder Woman. Furiosa. But I resent the idea that the only women worth celebrating as heroes and visionaries and women worthy of emulation are the ones who break into male paradigms of what it means to be awesome. You know what else deserves to be celebrated? Creative, clever, fun women who like bows and makeup and high heels and dresses and give zero f*cks if you think they should have a more "natural" look. No, loving lipstick is not a preference that exists in a vacuum, but neither does thinking it's "beneath" you. So maybe, just maybe, let's be more open to what we consider badass and not so quick to dismiss "girly girls" as vapid or weak because femme ain't frail, you guys.
The exact percentage of female teachers varies depending on the age they're teaching, but with the exception of post-secondary education it's always majority women, running from 98 to 60 percent of educators. Much has been said about the challenges these professionals face — lack of funding, crowded classrooms, unpaid overtime, and poor pay — as well as the incredibly important work they do, but can we ever really say enough about the incredible work they do? No. The answer is no. They're enabling the entire population to engage in society, academically, socially, and emotionally. It's amazing. I think about my aunt, who has been teaching kindergarten and first grade for 25 years and, if you low-ball her classroom size, she alone has taught 500 children how to read. That's incredible!
The Velociraptors From 'Jurassic Park'
OK, so technically they're not "real life" or human women, but hear me out:
I feel like everyone overlooks the fact that all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are inherently female (because of course they do) but the velociraptors in particular are a trio of smart, problem solving, bad b*tches who work together and maul any man who stands in their way. Truly they are heroes to inspire us in these trying times.
I have long held that nurses are real life superheroes. Yes, certainly there are things doctors can do that nurses can't, what with their more extensive training and all, but nurses (between 94 and 90 percent female, according to the U.S. Department of Labor) are a patient's first line of care and defense. The care given by nurses keeps them healthy and nurses are often the first ones there when something goes wrong, keeping a patient stable until a doctor can take charge and providing critical support even after they arrive on the scene.
Also not human women, but who's to say we can't find inspiration from the animal kingdom, right?
Male bowerbirds build these distinct structures out of grasses and twigs (called "bowers") and then decorate the ground in front of them with brightly colored flowers, berries, stones, and even man-made objects. This work of art will, hopefully, entice a female to hang out for a minute, at which point the male will put on an elaborate song and dance. If the female is impressed she'll hop up "on stage," they'll get it on, and the next generation of bowerbirds is in the making.
Now, yes, credit to the male bowerbird who is doing all this work, but the female bowerbird? Goals.
Caregivers For The Elderly
According to statistics from the Institute of Aging, 75 percent of all eldercare is provided by women. This is divided among professional caregivers (i.e. paid) and "informal caregivers" (i.e. children who are caring for their aging parents). According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, the economic value of eldercare provided by informal caregivers alone is approximately $470 billion. The emotional and economic toll of this unpaid labor largely falls to women (who are more likely to have to cut back on hours at a paid job in order to provide proper care for a loved one). And even if one is a professional caregiver, this is a hard job, both physically and emotionally, and is often not well compensated according to Indeed.com.
Also known as the New Mexico Whiptail Lizard. Fun fact about these little beauties: they're all females. Look all you want and you won't find a dude. It's like Themyscira, the magical island where Wonder Woman: lots of Amazons but no men. Now, asexual reproduction, known as parthenogenesis, is not strictly speaking uncommon in nature, particularly not in lizards. But here's where New Mexico Whiptails are kind of awesome: despite assexual reproduction, these little ladies still get it on, which has given them the nickname "lesbian lizards" and I. Am. Here. For. It.
And, actually, those that don't engage in sexual activity don't lay eggs. So, in a certain sense, they're not reproducing asexually at all. Anyway, it's the coolest, because these girls don't need no man to keep their little lesbian lizard sorority going strong.
The economy would not function without childcare workers, who are approximately 94 percent female. These are the (mostly) ladies who protect, soothe, teach, nurture, and even love our children while we're at work (also loving and nurturing them, by the way). While you cannot put a price on quality childcare or the peace of mind that goes along with knowing your children are being lovingly cared for, it usually comes out to about $10.25 an hour for the workers themselves, or just about $21,000 a year.
Shelob, The Evil Spider From 'Lord Of The Rings'
Yes, also not real. Yes, also not a human being. But whatever, man. Let me have this.
Now, if you haven't seen the movies in a while, Shelob is the giant spider that attacks Frodo who Sam defeats using hobbit-y grit and elfin magic. Yes, she's unabashedly evil, but you know what? Even Sauron, the all-power lord of Darkness who stood poised to conquer all of Middle Earth, had absolutely no sway over her. In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes this ancient demon this way:
"She served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness".
Shouldn't we all be aspiring to this level of independence? May we all find our inner Shelob and just vomit darkness over everything.