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She-Hulk Smashes Boundaries, Conformity, and Other Things Not Suitable for Empowered Femmes

A week ago...

…the term “resistance to conformity” started a mosh pit in my head. Yes, you read it right. The last word in that phrase is usually reserved for “authority”—but that wasn’t my problem at the time. I’d just watched the wonderful film "Goldie" (2019). It took me back to another colorful tale, "Shrek" (2001) and back further through the history of television & film. The leading “she” in those and in films like "Kisses for My President" (1964) sparkle so brightly that we might miss how often those women are made to conform. She gives up the oval office in favor of her husband’s ego in "Kisses for My President"; she ironically reshapes herself in the image of “true love” in "Shrek"; a bright gem of a girl can only be considered a woman when she surrenders to society’s dictates in "Goldie". It’s stunning how often we’re sent the message to be good little girls.

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In 1985...

…my mother took me to a store called The Salvage, which was a lot like a Big Lots. There, on a spinning rack, in black, white, and green, was a buff woman showing off her muscles. She was 7’ tall, her hair was a glorious riot, and she had emerald skin. The title read: The Sensational She-Hulk No. 18 by John Byrne with Kim DeMulder and Petra Scotese. One of my favorite moments is when She-Hulk tucks her boyfriend under her arm and carries him off to the bedroom. Afterwards she runs off to save the day. The book set off a slamdance in my head. Women could do that?

A few days ago...

...I began to realize how often cultural conditioning pushes me toward conformity in my own life. I might question my conviction in a meeting or placate an ego at an event. It is also possible my reviews are nicer, gentler. Less roar. That’s not good. I want the young girls in my family to roar—if they want to. Happily I have a voice in their lives but, in the world beyond mine, art shapes culture. In kids’ movies girls teach boys how to lead and then step aside, becoming more tame than their dragons. On television, in places called Sleepy Hollow, outstanding female detectives are pushed to the fringes until their characters fade into ghosts. In the entertainment industry, the director and stars of "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", Céline Sciamma, Noémie Merlant, and the catalyst Adèle Haenel walked out of the César Awards in protest of Roman Polanski’s win. Polanski is a convicted sex offender who fled the US for France, but the three women are the ones being threatened with the end of their careers. On the big screen, our "Hustler"s and our "The Farewell"s—films made by women about women who refuse to conform—suddenly go missing from major awards contention. It seems we must be good. We must be quiet. We must be small.

In 2004...

...during a definitive comic book run by Dan Slott, with artists including Juan Bobillo and Marcelo Sosa, She-Hulk is thrown out of the Avengers’ Mansion for partying too hard.( As She-Hulks tend to do.) She begins to work for the law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, where her specialty is Superhuman Law. Get into that. Super. Human. Law. Slott uses the totality of the character for the first time—she is a superhero, an attorney, and an activist. At one point she becomes an intergalactic judge presiding over Universal Law. Universal Law?! I mean, c’mon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (better known by her superheroic moniker: The Notorious RBG) would definitely bless our girl with fist bumps. Early on, She-Hulk broke the fourth wall but here her wits and her fists smash the glass ceiling.

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Not one part of her is left on the cutting room table and because of that we get a 360° woman, who is a hero in the costume, in a business suit, and in a purple toga (why not?). Even better, we get to watch this metamorphosis happen. At first, she is confined to the shape of Jen Walters, who is much smaller, paler, and seemingly frailer than her alter-ego. But life comes at her fast and Shulkie realizes there is no difference between her and Jen. She is one woman. And as women tend to do, She-Hulk learns to code switch—mentally and physically—in order to deal with any situation she faces. Her cousin Bruce, The Incredible Hulk, is ruled by rage. He does not choose the degree or the impact of his strength. Counter to Bruce, She-Hulk is not ruled by her emotions, she’s empowered by them. No one tells her she can’t be funny, or sexy, or brilliant, or kick ass in court. If they try, they lose. Unlike so many femme caricatures, she is a woman unbound by stereotypes. Every part, every component that culminates within Shulkie is valid. She chooses how big or how green or how intelligent she wants to be and that choice is her triumph. 

Somewhere between 2014 and 2015...

...we see the power of choice combined with unbound womanhood again from Charles Soule and Javier Pulido, when She-Hulk faces off with a pair of law partners who undermine her contributions while exploiting her connections. She breaks their $50,000 conference table with a flick of one single finger. Then she resigns to start her own firm. It is a magnificent show of defiance. This is not rebellion without a cause, it’s self-determination without cliché. And the progression continues in 2015, when G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, and Jorge Molina make Shulkie the leader of the all femme squad known as A-Force. A team she guides with more wits and compassion than brawn. She-Hulk is never a good little girl—unless she chooses to be—and her resistance to conformity is a roar.

A few months ago...

...Disney+ announced they’re rolling out a standalone She-Hulk series on their streaming platform. I might have fainted (there is no evidence to confirm or refute that fact, nor is there any shame should it prove true—which it is). Writer/producer Jessica Gao ( "Corporate," "Rick & Morty," "Silicon Valley") is the head writer and a She-Hulk fan. I’m excited for her. I’m excited for me. Confetti cannons are blasting.

Right now...

...there’s a different kind of mosh pit in my head. Or maybe it’s a slamdance, one incited by the hope Jessica Gao will bring us a big green gem, who continues to reshape culture and defy who a woman-hero ought to be. I’m dreaming of a She-Hulk series rooted in Superhuman Law, in which she defends the rights of supers against the horrors of origin stories involving chemical spills AND afterwards is called to save the day by leading a squad of like-minded femmes. It could be a little "Ally McBeal", a touch of "Jessica Jones" [season 1], and liberally spiked with a bunch of Marvel hero cameos. Ahh, such delights as these. We’ve never had that kind of comic book series before, one that emphasizes the human in superhuman yet has a sense of humor. I want my empowered femme-forward icon. Bring me a brilliant, litigating, witty, sexy, bulky Shulkie who knows who she is or takes us on a journey to find out. Bring her to me and I shall pen odes, bring her and I shall toss razor-edged petals at her feet in homage—because I am still 12 years old and looking up; because I am now a woman who is looking forward. 

No matter what insistences may exist: 

She-Hulk cannot be made to be good. 

She cannot be made quiet. 

She will not be made small. 

In Summary...

...She-Hulk “smash” your conformity. I cannot wait to see what she does to your TV.

Header photo: She-Hulk, courtesy of Marvel Comics

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