The Art of Mirriam Neal

//a response to ‘An Open Letter to Rey’

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I read an article this morning titled An Open Letter to Rey, in which the author presents various arguments as to why characters such as Rey, Katniss Everdeen, Furiosa, Tauriel, River Tam, and basically every female heroine in entertainment, are improbable and even wrong.

The author states, “I know the whole world is ladling on the adoration for your brave contributions to modern womanhood. However, you are behaving, all of you, in ways that do not befit your sex or glorify God. Frankly, and I’m sorry to have to say this, I really am, many of you look ridiculous. Your friends and family and fans may not laugh at you. But the angels do and history will. What you’re doing might be good politics (of a sort), but it’s bad biology, bad theology, and bad storytelling. It lies about who you are as a woman and how God made you. And it makes for lousy movies and TV.”

Dear author – strength and ability have nothing to do with appearance. I’ve seen examples of tiny girls taking out men three times their size with martial arts. I’ve seen women do incredible things that require physical strength. Oh, and Daisy Ridley, the actress who plays Rey, might be small and skinny, but she can lift 147 pounds and in fact exercises with that weight. Are women the weaker sex? As a general rule, yes they are. For the most part, men are physically larger and inherently stronger than most women. But weaker does not equal ‘defenseless.’ The thought that a woman can plausibly fend for herself might offend you, but personally, I think it’s a fantastic idea.

The author goes on to say, “What I’m getting sick of is the men that think it’s cool and sexy to make you be the way you are. The men who refuse to tell stories that encourage and ennoble other men to protect and care for the weak ones, the vulnerable ones, the hurting ones—the women and the children, the widows and the orphans. As men, we were born with bodies and minds crafted for war. We are the warriors, the peacekeepers, the protectors—the bloodshedders, when the time is right. Every man is a father, whether of his own children, or the people that work for him, or the folks he leads at church. As such, he must be ready to uphold what is virtuous and punish what is evil.”

I’d first like to hand you the Biblical example of Deborah. God called her out, his secret weapon, when men were refusing to behave like men. Let me give you a hypothetical situation: an armed man attacks a home where a family of one man, one woman, and two children live. The man, in a stunning display of cowardice, does nothing. What should the woman do? Does she let the armed man shoot her children and herself, because fighting back wouldn’t be nurturing and motherly? No, the mother would ferociously defend her family, and it would be the right thing to do.

Secondly, you state that men are warriors. I agree. They should be. They ought to be. But you make the mistake of thinking that women are not. When God created Eve, he called her a ‘helpmeet’ for Adam. ‘Helpmeet’ tends to bring a whisper-voiced, mousy female to mind, but the word actually consists of two Hebrew words – Ezer and Kenegdo.

Ezer: a word found 21 times in the Bible, and only two of those times have to do with women. The word is used three times to describe Israel’s allies in battle, and sixteen times to describe God aiding Israel in battle. It is a military word. One could even say it’s a warrior word.

Kenegdo: a word that literally translates, “as in front of him.”

Ezer Kenegdo – a military ally who goes before you. A helpmeet is a fellow warrior, designed specifically to ride into battle alongside someone else.

Let’s not get things mixed up here.

The author repeatedly uses Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road) as a negative example, but it seems to me that he’s missing the forest for the trees. Furiosa is not trying to take a male role – she’s attempting to free other women from the control of a tyrannical man who uses said women for breeding purposes. Meanwhile, Max does not try to control Furiosa and the wives. He does not attempt to take over Furiosa’s expedition. Rather, he places himself in the role of protector, and takes it upon himself to see that they make it out safely. He is one of the best examples of Biblical masculinity I can think of – aiding, protecting, and being strong in the best and most helpful sense of the word. He’s not domineering or vicious, and he doesn’t tell Furiousa she isn’t being ‘nurturing’ and ‘motherly.’ (And I would argue that Furiosa is ‘nurturing’ in the most vibrant sense of the word – she is protecting life. What’s possibly more nurturing and motherly than that?)

The author says, “What I need is something to fight for, someone to fight for, someone to protect. If you rob me of that, you rob me of my dignity as a man.”

Sir, I urge you to look at Max. If you think he is not fighting for someone, for something – if you think he is not protecting, then you’re wrong.

I’m not going to play the role of someone weak and passive in order to make a man feel secure in his manhood. That is not what God intended. Are women different from men? Yes they are. But there is nothing strong about complaining that capable women make you feel weak. Man up and grow a spine, because your masculinity is your responsibility. It is not mine. My femininity – my softness and my strength – are my responsibilities, not yours.

In your final statement, you say, “P.S: I almost forgot, I said your brand of empowerment made for bad storytelling. Why? Because if Keira Knightley can fight off dozens of undead pirates by herself, who cares if Whatshisface makes it there in time? Where’s the suspense?”

So, in an ideal story, Keira Knightley would be dead if Whatshisface didn’t make it there on time? I’m sorry. Men are highly important. Men are strong. Do I want to be protected? Yes. But that does not mean I won’t protect myself. And if a man comes along to fight for me, then I will fight for him, and we will fight side-by-side. Because after all, I am a woman, and I am a helpmeet – and if I have to kill off dozens of undead pirates until Whatshisface shows up, then I will.

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