It used to be that every boy needed a super hero and every girl needed an alter ego. The super hero gave the boy confidence and an outlet for his testosterone-induced macho complex. The alter ego gave the girl the opportunity to be everything that society said she couldn’t. When I was young, super heroes and alter egos created ideals that both sexes could experience vicariously even though the ideal, in and of itself, was a fool’s folly. It also gave a false sense of optimism, something we still find ourselves desperate for, since wars no longer have a clear winner or loser and the nuclear family is as much a fantasy as was the Jetson family.
Our heroic personas wore masks, capes, hoods and spandex-infused costumes to help set them apart from us ordinary mortals. But they all had one thing in common: each had his or her Achilles heel, fatal flaw, or psychological deficit. The flaw also became their driving source of strength. Think about it. The Incredible Hulk’s flaw is rage, but that rage also gives him incredible physical strength. Superman’s weakness is kryptonite which comes from his own planet inducing a type of homesickness rendering our brave hero into a sniffling, nostalgic wimp. His strength comes from the fact that he can never go home again. Our super heroes and alter egos fight to keep their weaknesses at bay, using it to fuel an uncanny need to right the wrongs, save the children and downtrodden, and restore justice to a world teetering precariously in a state of imbalance. Yes, everyone needs a masked marauder.
Thankfully today, super heroes and alter egos are no longer segregated by gender. The need to rebalance the world is just as present in this generation of girls as it is in boys. And the push for every boy to be a macho stereotype now can find respite in finding an alter ego that makes room for everything that society doesn’t. In my household the super hero and the alter ego cohabitate, each delivering his or her own special powers. Let me explain. My sixteen-year-old daughter is a Girl Scout. One of the long-standing Girl Scouting traditions is to pick a fictitious camp name. In her elementary years, she tried out sweet names like “Skittles” and “Waffles” but they never really stuck. When she hit her teens, she adopted the camp name of “Batman” and it has been her icon and touchstone ever since. Her high school backpack has the Caped Crusader bat logo emblazoned on it. She owns similar pieces of Batman embossed apparel including gloves, boxer shorts, t-shirts and even a bit of "bat bling" for her shoe laces. I’ve snapped her photo next to a graffiti wall tagged with the Batman logo and I’ve humored her when she asked for a Batman lunch box. When I asked her, “Why Batman?” she said it’s because he’s human. He’s smart and always does the right thing, and no one ever quite knows who he is, but he does it anyway. He fights for what’s right not for recognition, but out of a sense of purpose. His disdain for evil is fueled by a haunting loss, and that pain allows him to eradicate the ugly villains in our world. He’s complicated, but resourceful. She had to throw in, “And bats are cool. Bats are both scary and fascinating, much better than spiders, hornets, and technological gimmicks." And of course with Batman you get the all-essential bat cave. Her last statement still rings in my ears, “Plus, I never wanted to be a side kick. If you’re going to be a super hero, you might as well be the best.”
I contrast her resolute adoption of a super hero to my alter ego: Invisible Girl. Invisible Girl has been with me since the age of five. Just as any super hero is concocted from adversity, Invisible Girl appeared to protect me from episodes of both physical and psychological pain. If you can’t be seen, you can’t be hurt. Invisible Girl offered powers of allusiveness, shyness, and the ability to go unnoticed in a crowded room. But just like any other hero, Invisible Girl also has her fatal flaw. She can only remain invisible as long as she is unloved, because love requires one to be seen as they truly are. Invisible Girl’s cloak of invisibility has served me well throughout the years. It has allowed me to escape early childhood snares of abuse, survive an adolescence peppered with bullying and insecurity, and in my adult years the ability to live through grief and abandonment. Whenever I feel forsaken, Invisible Girl returns to offer me protection. In the times when I feel loved, she has retreated and I no longer have to hide behind her super powers allowing the real me to shine through. Those times when Invisible Girl lets her guard down are few and precious, but I’m reminded that tapping into our fatal flaws makes us stronger.
I think about how great it is that my daughter can have a macho super hero guiding her way, making her feel cool and confident. I think about how lucky I have been to have Invisible Girl by my side, making sure that I survived. But I often wonder was it worth the sacrifice? I can hear my daughter say to me, “What would Batman do?” I guess he would fight the villains, try to keep Gotham City safe despite his personal loss, and all the while protect his identity. As evil was thwarted, he would remind you of his presence with a visible image of the iconic bat emblazoned on the sky via search light. That’s quite a bit different than Invisible Girl who would fight the villains, provide a cloak of safety, do good deeds despite personal sacrifice, and yet at the end of the day you would never know she was there.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012