Lessons from She-Hulk: Dismounting the Tightrope and Writing Your Own Ending
The first season of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law just ended and we can all pretend that it was a light-hearted superhero sitcom that offered us an escape from reality, but it did not. The show perfectly mirrored the lives of actual, non She-Hulk, women. The season chronicled the variety of indignities we experience at work and while simply going about our lives. Though most of us have not been accidentally infected with blood from the Hulk, and we do not turn green and bust out of our clothing when angry, we get Jennifer Walters. We want to hang out with Jen to commiserate over several glasses of wine because her experience is our experience.
Messages and Expectations
Jen’s life at work is fraught with frustration and contradictions about what is expected of her. She gets fired for allowing her Hulk-side to come out in court because that is simply too scary only to be hired by a different firm because of the benefits her Hulk-side can offer. She is constantly trying to find the right balance to fit in at work by changing, hiding, or tampering down parts of herself. I call this dance tightroping. In trying to find that perfect balance, Jen is wasting her mental energy and time; especially because the law firms she was trying so hard to fit into weren’t made by or for She-Hulks or women in general.
Thankfully, there is another superhero in the show to help Jen stop tightroping at work: Nikki. She is the ride or die, best friend, paralegal, style icon, badass who knows how amazing Jen is at her job and won’t let anyone get away with saying otherwise. She is the prototype for women who support women at work. We need more of this in the real world. Because she is crucial to helping Jen see her worth even when she doubts it herself.
Getting Personal: Who Do You Want To Be?
Not only does Nikki support Jen at work, she brings the truth to Jen’s personal life. She insists that Jen needs to get out there and convinces her to try online dating. Jen’s foray into that world likely looked way too familiar to many of us. Some creeps, some seemingly promising candidates, guys who were only interested in her as She-Hulk. So, she’s back to tightroping. Making herself crazy trying to figure out which version of herself is the “best” to find a guy when really it should be about how she feels most comfortable. In the midst of all the complicated dramatics of her day-to-day life, Jen is asked to be a bridesmaid for a friend from high school. This is one of the details that really highlights that a woman wrote She-Hulk!
Bridesmaid duties go beyond what any man could imagine. The money, the time, the dress that will usually never be worn again, the planning, the tears. And to add insult to injury for Jen, she is paired with the dog groomsman during this Thursday night wedding. Yikes. While purchasing herself a drink at the cash bar (!) Jen meets a gentleman named Josh who seems delightful. Spoiler alert: he is not. Josh seduces her, records her, steals her blood, and ghosts her. I really want to think this is only a story for the show but somehow doubt it because the world is insane.
Harassment: It’s Real
Josh links to a whole other plot of the show that reflects daily life for regular women: harassment. Jen is harassed by a group of man trolls who call themselves the Intelligencia and are led by a dude named Todd. Todd is jealous that she is a Hulk. He insists that she didn’t “earn” her superpowers, and whines that she is not strong enough or smart enough to be a Hulk. Todd amasses a group of like-minded jerks all frustrated with their position in the world and looking for a scapegoat. I love that this entire narrative is the show trolling the real life trolls.
After the premiere in August a bunch of human men took to the actual internet to throw an utter hissy fit about Jen being a “woke feminist.” Think about that. These misogynists were so upset about an imaginary superhero being a woman that they spent time making YouTube videos stomping their feet. Boo hoo.
The harassment Jen faces also comes in the form of slut shaming. The video Josh took gets played while she is accepting an award at a gala for female attorneys. Guess what? She loses it and goes full She-Hulk. Can’t say I blame her. She had a consensual encounter and was secretly recorded. Yet the invasion of her privacy is being turned into an attack on her character. She’s not a slut. She’s a grown woman and what she does in the bedroom or elsewhere is none of anyone’s business! Sadly, this story isn’t unfamiliar to many women.
Writing Your Own Ending
As the season concludes, Jen confronts the writers of her show and insists that they need to do better. She doesn’t want the typical Marvel hoopla. She doesn’t want Todd to get her blood and turn into a Hulk. What she does want is to write her own ending. So she does and then drops back into the story she created. She gets to make out with Daredevil (again), her favorite uncle-Hulk Bruce returns home with his son no one knew about, and everyone enjoys a family barbecue. It’s normal life. That’s what Jen wants and that’s what we all want. To write our own damn endings in a way that works for us. Trolls and tightroping be damned.
This guest post was authored by Tara Ceranic Salinas
Tara Ceranic Salinas, PhD, Department Chair of Management, Law and Ethics and Professor of Business Ethics at the Knauss School of Business at the University of San Diego.
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