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Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and Me

Gayle Carper

I am delighted by the response to the movies Wonder Woman and Black Panther.  Both are inspiring to children. Both movies show powerful role models for women  and people of color as leaders with strength and compassion.  Both are celebrations of the importance of representation in pop culture. It really does matter to see someone just like you in the role of hero.

Watching the excitement generated by these two movies made me think about what inspired me as a child. Four things immediately came to my mind – two fictional and two from real life. It’s time to thank those who inspired me.

First, the Nancy Drew mysteries. Nancy was the teenage main character in a series of 64 books written under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene from 1930 to 2004.  She solved mysteries and she could do everything – sports, artistic endeavors, academic studies, all while running her widowed father’s household. Best of all she was good in an emergency – she often had to use her wits to escape from harrowing circumstances or help other people in trouble. I read them all many times.

So thank you, Nancy Drew, for showing me how to ask questions and solve problems.

Second, the musical Annie Get Your Gun starring Ethel Merman.  This was a fictionalized version of Annie Oakley, a sharpshooter in a wild west show in the 1870’s. One of the songs was “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”. The song is a humorous duet, with Annie and her competitor/love interest Frank Butler attempting to outdo each other. Annie is better at some things, Frank is better at others.

Thank you, Ethel Merman, for making me believe that I could be proud of my accomplishments and praise the accomplishments of others.

Third, my seventh grade Home Economics teacher.  In 1963, girls were required to take home ec and banned from shop classes. We were all afraid of the home ec teacher, Mrs. Gale. Two of the graded projects were making an apron and wrapping a Christmas present.  Each girl’s project was critically reviewed in front of the rest of the class by Mrs. Gale.  My friend Shirley and I had wrapped our presents identically. The teacher told me I had done a fine job on my Christmas wrapping, but was extremely negative to Shirley, humiliating her in front of the class.  I knew something was wrong; I couldn’t figure out why mine was good and Shirley’s was bad.  It took me a few years to realize that the difference was that I was white and Shirley was black.

Thank you, Mrs. Gale, for showing me what racism and injustice looked like.

And finally, my High School Trigonometry Class. In my high school, everyone had to take algebra and geometry and trig was an elective.  I thought I’d try it.  I was the only girl in the class and the teacher, Mr. Schultz, was also the wrestling coach.  Every week, he returned our graded homework starting with the student who had the best score. When that high achieving student was me, he commented how amazing it was that a girl could do better than all the boys.  It was me a lot that semester.

Thank you, Mr. Schultz, for preparing me to feel comfortable as the outsider.

But for today, thank you, Wonder Woman and Black Panther. I hope we all get to see a lot more of you.

Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City council and she’s a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.   

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.