I was recently on a brain cleanse. Unplugged, sitting in a cabin away from the socials, reading Lindy West and thinking about the blog Sally said she was going to write on why we should admire not superheroes but superpowers. So like all true friends, I decided to steal her idea, because I want to talk about her.
Two of Lindy’s chapters in her fabulous book The Witches Are Coming, “Always Meet Your Heroes” and “Joan,” deal with the problem of heroes. Lindy talks about this inescapable truth: “People are not binary. We are not good or bad, saintly or irredeemable.” We have this inherent “problem” as humans: None of us are perfect! And yet there is a repeating societal and personal arc of elevating people too high and then delighting in tearing them down.
I’ve seen this super up-close, with Sally. She likes to poke the bear. Asks why we run with our phones, makes jokes about masters bitches, puts opinions out there. In other words, she's being authentic, not curated. Human. (Not easy to do on the Internet.) And she changes her opinions as she gets input. Sally, remarkably, usually has a decent attitude about these episodes, reminiscent of author Jia Tolentino describing when “people shouted me down on Twitter…This was often overwhelming and unpleasant, but it was always useful.”
But it has been pretty remarkable to see the vitriol up close. And some of it does have a “tear her down” feel. Yeah, Sally’s not a superhero. And praise be for that! But she sure does have many amazing superpowers that I am going to call out and celebrate:
- Ability to spark a conversation
- Taking input
- Sense of humor
- Identifying predatory and unjust behavior
- High output brain (ideas, designs)
- Quick decision-making ability
Actually, I could go on and on, but that’s not the point. The point is, she’s not perfect. And wow, I'm not perfect either. And neither are you. And that’s okay! We are all works in progress.
It’s been very exciting for me, in my work with Oiselle over the last nine years, to have more and more opportunities to meet people I formerly would have put in the “superhero” category. The category where I blush and make a fool of myself when I meet people I’ve admired from afar (okay, yeah, I really embarrassed myself when I met Lauren Fleshman the first time). But I recently have been working very hard at telling those people what superpowers of theirs I appreciate, so they can feel my concrete appreciation and also not feel the discomfort of being placed on a false pedestal (with the risk of the vicious tear-down). A few weeks ago, I had a super-fan moment when I got to meet Charlotte Clymer at the Riveter Summit in NYC. I felt my face flush red-hot. And I stammered for a good five seconds. But then I gathered myself and told her, “I so appreciate your willingness to advocate for marginalized communities on Twitter. You put yourself out there in a charming way and end up educating people and moving the conversation forward. Thank you!” (It probably wasn’t quite that coherent in reality.) But when I said that, I relaxed, and I think she relaxed, and then we could have a real conversation.
My challenge to myself (and you, if you endorse this idea) is to resist the pull of the superhero. THEY DON’T EXIST. But we all have superpowers. And when you recognize someone else’s superpower, and communicate that, we all gain power! And women, we will need all of our power in 2020.
Head up, wings out!