Monday, June 19, 2017

Be the Shield!

(Minor scene spoilers for Wonder Woman and Mad Max: Fury Road abound.)

The movie Wonder Woman is chock full of what could be described as “powerful moments,” scenes that make you feel good about humanity and inspire you to go out and slay your enemies, whether they are Imperial German troops or the social injustices of our own time. For me, the scene that resonated the most was from the battle in the French town. Towards the end of the battle, a German sniper in a clock tower has pinned down the heroes. The tower is too tall. The sniper is too high up.

Steve Trevor sees a large piece of flat metal, perhaps a piece of armor from the tank that Wonder Woman leveled earlier, and comes up with a plan of attack based on a maneuver he saw the Amazon general execute in the Themiscryia battle. He calls his teammates around the metal sheet, and the group of men struggles to lift it up. “Diana, shield!” shouts Trevor, to alert her to what they are doing. She gets it. She runs at them, jumps on top of the metal sheet, and the men push it and her upward towards the tower.

The top of the tower crumbles into ruins as she collides with it.

The scene reminded me a lot of the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, and in particular a scene where Max is trying to shoot an oncoming foe with a sniper rifle. He takes a shot, misses, and is told that he has two bullets left. He takes another shot. Another miss. Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) comes over, and the two of them exchange glances. It looks like she wants to offer him some advice, but then says nothing. Max looks back at her again and silently hands her the rifle. She is, after all, an accomplished warrior in Immortan Joe’s army and he’s already missed twice.

Not only does Max wordlessly acknowledge her superiority, but he also stays crouched in front of her and offers his shoulder as a support base for her to place the rifle on. “Don’t breathe,” she says. She takes the shot and hits.

I’ve said in the past that the Judge Program talks a good talk when it comes to diversity, but we lack action. To me, these two scenes provide dramatized examples of what the men in the Judge Program need to do. We need to give up the rifle, and let the superior warrior take the shot. We need to be a platform to lift the women who are stronger than us, and let them crash the tower.

In these examples, the woman is notably superior to the man, through training or actual superpowers, and it’s easy to dismiss the real life implications on those ground. “Of course I would actually lay down for an real life Amazon.” Being the shield shouldn’t just be about laying down for the best person for the job. That’s a perspective for a more Utopian time than we live in now, a time when a pure meritocracy might take hold.

Men have held the proverbial rifle for the entire existence of the Judge Program. Even as we’ve made some reasonable strides in representation, women only comprise 8% of the L3s in the world, and a cursory glance at other levels show similar percentages. Under a meritocracy, giving women 8% of the opportunities in the Judge Program is perfectly fair, but there’s a difference between equality and equity, as this illustration shows.

The shield analogy is an embodiment of this image. Women have been underrepresented in superhero movies, especially as central, powerful characters who stand on their own. To get to a place of equality, men have to lay down as the shield to provide this taller box, and I don’t think it’s an accident that both of these movies have these scenes in them. But putting this into practice will be a difficult thing for a lot of men. Recognizing your position of privilege is one thing. Giving it up willingly is another story entirely.

One of the most direct moments where you can be the shield is during discussions and/or meetings. In group discussions, it’s been shown that women are interrupted, talked over, and marginalized on a regular basis. Think about how much you’re talking during your next team meeting. Be willing to talk less, or use your voice to provide an opening for someone else.

I’ve talked to women who have had other judges take over calls from them. This type of behavior is generally frowned upon among judges, but it’s not too difficult to imagine how if this is going to happen, it’s more likely to happen to women. It’s like the moment in Wonder Woman when Steve tries to protect Diana from the German spies, only to find out that she can deflect bullets. That scene is a part of the setup for him to eventually shout “Shield!” It’s his moment of enlightenment. But if you never have that moment, if you never stop trying to protect women from danger, you might never know how great they are.

If you’re in a position of some authority, a Head Judge for example, who can make decisions about team assignments, it’s worth taking some time to think through your choices. I don’t like the ideas of quotas, but when you are dealing with an historically underrepresented group, it’s important to give due consideration. The National Football League has a rule to this effect called the Rooney Rule that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coach or senior football operations position. Unlike affirmative action, there’s no requirements for hiring said minorities, but since the implementation of the rule the percentage of African American head coaches in the league has tripled.

I’ve mentioned in the past that if Magic: the Gathering can overcome its misogynistic stigma, we could double our attendance and audience. The same applies to the Judge Program. Think about it; we’re just hitting 8% after what feels like a few years of progress? We’ve basically operated all these years at half strength, and it makes you realize why you hear the words “burn out” get tossed around a lot. There are so many more “best and brightest” that we could be incorporating into our Program and its leadership, our Wonder Women and Furiosas. But to find our Wonder Women, the men who may have been the primary heroes in the earlier parts of the story, like Max and Steve Trevor, must be prepared to lay down and be the shield. I look at those stories and I see the kind of hero that I want to be, someone who is okay letting the women be the stars for once.

(Thanks to Meghan Rickman and Megan Holden for the proof-reading and feedback.)

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