Captain Marvel & A Gender Outlaw

I’d like to talk about Captain Marvel which I saw recently, but not from my perspective. Rather, I want to talk about the movie and Brie Larson’s character from my mother’s outlook — or what I think hers would be if she were alive to watch the movie. You see, she died five years ago this coming June.

Also, there may be mild spoilers ahead so stop reading now if this is a concern for you.

Please indulge me a moment while I try to conjure an image of her based on her own stories and my personal recollections. Charlotte was born in 1937 and raised in a very small town with a population around 350 and everybody knew everyone else and people watched after one another like the townspeople of make believe Mayberry did. The town had a post office, a weekly newspaper, a grocery story, a gas station, a makeshift theater, and a school for K through 12.

Charlotte was in her own way — to borrow activist author Kate Boorstein’s phrase — a gender outlaw, by which I mean she was an energetic and irrepressible tomboy who wore jeans every chance she got, showed zero interest in learning to cook, read Western comics like Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and the Lone Ranger, and loved doing “men’s chores” like filling and carrying the coal bucket inside to heat the family home and mowing the yard. She loved to dance and along with her sister in tow would sneak out of the house from her second floor bedroom every time there was a school dance. Playing basketball made her incredibly happy and her father taught her how to drive a stick shift using his massive limestone quarry truck that he’d drive like a proverbial bat out of hell down two lane highways.

One day she and a close friend packed up the car, said goodbyes, and set off on a road trip headed for the small — believe it or not — Christian college to which they’d been accepted. It wasn’t long before my mother had a wild idea and stopped on the side of the road to take off their bras and tie them to the car’s radio antenna. They laughed and laughed at all the people they scandalized along the way.

And that was how my mother celebrated the beginning of her adulthood.

Mind you, my mother stood all of 5 foot two inches and she had the attitude that nothing was going to stop her. There were obstacles along the way because, despite her strong individualism, it was an even more male dominated world for her then than now.

Sitting in the theater during the flashback sequence of Carol Danvers as a girl playing baseball, driving and wrecking a go kart and as an Air Force cadet swinging from ropes and falling to the ground — and always picking herself up — I couldn’t help but recognize that spirit as my mother’s. Most importantly, I knew that my mother who was never one for metaphor would have recognized herself in Carol’s character on the screen too. especially the “Higher, further, faster” catch phrase shared by Carol and Maria Rambeau on the Air Force field.

The flashback wasn’t the only part that would’ve been familiar to my mom. The scenes on Hala between Carol as Vers and Yon-Rogg albeit as friends mirrored some of my parents’ marriage — that surface conviviality. Much like Yon-Rogg’s motives revealed later in the movie, my mom began to discover my father’s duplicity and his triple threat of gaslighting, infidelity, and alcoholism. As Carole/ Vers’ memory began to clear and she alternately fought alone and enlisted Nick Fury and Maria Rambeau’s help as the enormity of the plot began unfolding, so too did my mother fight to stem the affects of my father’s behaviors on herself and her children, as Captain Marvel did protecting the refugees from the Kree ops team, often going it alone and working jobs in a factory, fast food, and, ironically, bartending while enlisting the moral support of her mother and younger sister.

My father gave up his wild ways after becoming the target of gun violence and for the first time seemed to be happy. They weren’t. Years later they divorced and she quite literally became a single parent (to my youngest sibling) trying to rebuild her life on her own terms while again working service oriented jobs and still finding happiness much like I think Maria did after Carol’s apparent death and Air Force coverup.

And when Carol sent a smug Yon-Rogg flying across the desert with a single punch and proclaimed “I have nothing to prove to you” — that line delivered with that certainty would have made my mother cheer as enthusiastically as she did watching her favorite basketball teams play.

Perhaps my reach has exceeded my grasp in this essay. Still, I can easily imagine my mother in her later years applauding Brie Larson’s Carol and I know as a young girl she’d have been even more inspired by a strong female character to live life the way she wanted. Thankfully that’s the message being given to every girl and woman who has the opportunity to watch Larson kick ass in Captain Marvel!

March 14, 2019
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