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I was 17 years old when they discovered the brain tumor. The size of a pea, it rested in the right temporal lobe, close to my ear. It had been slowly growing and gradually plaguing me and everyone I loved for almost a year, when the strange behavior first began at the start of my senior year of high school.
The neurosurgeon hit me and my older brother with the news while we sat in his office. He showed us the MRI brain scans and told me my options. I listened and asked questions. What are the risks with surgical removal versus opting out of surgery? Is it cancer? My brother asked him if he knew what caused brain tumors. There was so much information to absorb and consider.
My neurosurgeon prescribed pills that would inhibit the symptoms of my tumor (which by that point had become every day occurrences) and my brother and I left his office. I was thankful my brother could accompany me to these appointments when my mom was tied up at work.
He decided to treat me to Mexican food for lunch and while biting into my chips my brother said, “The doctor and I are concerned you’re not taking this diagnosis very seriously.” Blinking in confusion, I asked, “What?”
He explained, “Well, he said when he has to inform someone that they have a brain tumor they usually cry and practically fall out of their chair in shock. You just sat there, almost in denial.”
I was annoyed but didn’t understand why. I don’t remember saying anything else about it. Then a few years later, sans brain tumor and totally healthy, I was recounting my story to a friend. When I remembered what my brother and doctor said to me about their “concern” it hit me: it was because I’m female.
If I had been a 17-year-old boy taking the news of his brain tumor stoically they would’ve thought ‘He’s being strong, how admirable’ and wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But a girl? If she’s not bursting into tears and falling off her chair there must be something wrong with her.
I didn’t respond emotionally at that point because I hadn’t heard anything devastating yet. Brain tumor that might be benign (it was) and could be surgically removed? Okay, let’s do it! If my neurosurgeon had delivered the news that I had months to live, perhaps that would’ve elicited the reaction they were looking for. Plus, I had asked questions and suggested I wanted to opt for surgery. How is that being “in denial”?
This particular occurrence came back to me recently when I had a text conversation with a friend about the recent Wonder Woman film starring Gal Gadot that we’d both just watched. (Spoiler Alert!) My friend, a male, said there were a couple of scenes that he thought could have been filmed better. He opined, “When his plane crashes and the boats come to their island, that should have been a more frightening scene. They had probably never seen ANYTHING in their waters ever before and now this!! And the battleship is sooo big! Plus, the guns should have been really shocking to them.”
At first, I found this to be a reasonable observation, until my husband who was an avid comic book reader during his years spent in Northern Michigan as a youth reminded me, “But they're Amazons. They had trained for battle their whole lives, they were put on that island to prepare for possible invasion. The movie makes that clear, too.”
If they had been male Amazon warriors there is no doubt in my mind my friend wouldn’t have thought twice about their resilient and fearless attitudes toward those men on the ships. But they were women, so he had to see them expressing vulnerability for the sequence of events to make sense.
What’s going on with men psychologically that they either fetishize female strength (search online for FemDom or Financial Domination to see what I’m talking about) or want to ignore it altogether? Perhaps these men had been told their whole lives that women are “emotional” and therefore "weak” and men are the strong ones, so when they see evidence that it’s a stereotype and untrue they struggle to make sense of it. They have to “correct” it. We could also blame it on the Madonna/whore complex, so named after Christianity’s illustrations of womanhood being either chaste and passive (Mary, mother of Jesus) or sexually active and having agency over her body (Mary Magdalene, the prostitute). The message to millions of young people is that women can’t be multifaceted free agents with strength and power, those attributes belong to males.
Of course, we’ve come a long way and attitudes are evolving for the better, but it’s the lingering stereotypes that I find disconcerting.
*On a related note, here's what I had to say on my YouTube Channel about how female superheroes are drawn by comic book artists and whether or not it's sexist: https://youtu.be/fySKfX9IUc4
Follow Liz LaPoint on Twitter: @liz_lapoint
Liz LaPoint's website: The Naked Advice