There is a correct way to be a woman, and, no matter what you are doing, you are doing it wrong.
That is one of the most intrinsic parts of being a woman in this world. There are rules in place, rules stacked and twisted like an MC Escher staircase, almost impossible to follow, and to get it right, usually, we are told to strip ourselves of qualities considered "feminine." Our emotions make us unstable, "crazy." Our rage is unbecoming, unladylike. We stuff our rage, our pain, our feelings — we hide them under whatever attempts of a cool facade we can muster. And then that's not right either. We're not feminine enough, too masculine, trying too hard.
To be a woman is a Kobayashi Maru: It's a game deliberately set up in a way that we cannot win.
But we play anyway. We work harder. We fight constantly to go higher, further, faster, perhaps to succeed, perhaps out of spite, and sometimes both. And sometimes it's still not right, still not enough. But we do it anyway. Because that's what it means to be a woman.
That is something Captain Marvel understands at its very core.
This post contains spoilers for Captain Marvel.
Whether she's being told to smile, admonished for driving recklessly on a go-kart track, or informed of the reason it's called a "cockpit," Carol Danvers spends the entirety of Captain Marvel as, well, a woman. She is powerful, but acquiesces to perceived male authority, ostensibly to help her be "the best version" of herself, but really holding her back from her true capabilities. Her emotions and her rage are branded a handicap. Her power is seemingly something she was given, something that can be taken away from her, so she should probably just be grateful and do as she's told. When she falls, it's more than a thud against the ground below — it's a reminder to the men in her life that she is less than, that she can't do what they can.
To see these everyday examples of misogyny, things we accept as part of our female experience because what other choice to we have, was a visceral experience. When Carol's father yells at her and tells her she can't do what boys are doing without issue, I felt my chest tighten. Young Carol doesn't understand. But older Carol has learned to at least appear unbothered.
Because when they are already attempting to take away our power, to react would only make things worse. We learn so young that our emotions, our anger, our tears, are considered weaknesses. And so we harness our emotions because sometimes the only power we have left is to deny them more.
But in Carol's life, and all our lives, that's not enough. No matter how hard she pushes them down, how stoic she attempts to remain, little bursts come out. And she's told that's wrong.
Have you ever been told you're too sensitive? That you're overreacting? That you're too emotional and therefore irrational? If you're a woman, the answer is very likely yes. And, as such, you know the ironic surge of emotion and rage that comes from hearing these things. Your chest fills, your eyes perhaps water. And you try so, so hard not to let the emotions show, not to let them win. Sometimes, you can't do it. The emotions win. The tears fall, or your voice rises to a yell. And you feel embarrassed because you're being exactly what they think you are.
And it's infuriating. All of it. Every single bit.
But then Carol sees the truth. That the power is hers and hers alone, not to be taken. That her emotions are also power, power they can't handle, power that is inconvenient. That in her rage is a glowing fiery fist that can destroy worlds or save lives, whatever she wants to do with it. And, above all else, she sees that what they think and what they want from her doesn't matter.
"I don't have to prove myself to you."
For every woman who has been told she is too emotional, that her feelings are a hindrance, that she is being a woman wrong, Captain Marvel delivers the perfect f*ck-you punch we've always needed. And it's only fitting that my reaction to that moment was one of tears.
The world might not want our emotions, our unbridled rage. We might be designated too much, too "crazy," too everything and not enough anything else.
The world wants to hold us back. But the power is ours. And that's what Captain Marvel shows us.