Mike McMahan, LPC: Last year was a big year for Wonder Woman. DC Comics’ writer Greg Rucka confirmed that she is bisexual in a lengthy interview with Comicosity. This interview raises a number of interesting points about the difficulty in defining sexuality and how language plays a role. In addition, Wonder Woman was announced as an ambassador for the UN—before being dropped just two months later.
There were multiple perspectives on whether this was a feminist move on the part of the UN or not. But coming as it did, in early December, an argument can be made that women finished the year in a weaker position than many had assumed they would just weeks before. Specifically, virtually every pundit and politico expected that the United States would be electing its first female president, Hillary Clinton. No one would argue that Donald Trump’s victory was a victory for women, save perhaps Trump himself (“the women love me!”). That said, a significant number of women voted for him, so that is not to go unmentioned, either. Though I’m still skeptical that they found him a champion for women, specifically, as opposed to a good leader for the US in general.
Our heroine, Wonder Woman, is poised to make a comeback in 2017, though—maybe. The standalone Wonder Woman film will be released this year and will likely make piles of cash. On the other hand, she appeared in Batman Vs. Superman, largely considered one of the worst movies of last year. And DC fared no better, review wise, with Suicide Squad, though I liked it.
Gisell, there’s a lot to unpack here. You’ve told me before that you’re a Wonder Woman fan. Where do we start?
Gisell Alvarez, LPC-I: Well, we have a lot to discuss here. I love Wonder Woman for many reasons, some of them significant and others not too much. First of all, she is a heroine and that's something we don't see frequently in the comics universe.
She has been heroic and outstandingly strong without her special powers; she was a regular woman and kept being super, refusing to accept the fact that other men told her she was occupying places where a woman shouldn't be. She did what she wanted to do with justice and honor and never allowed her gender to define her aspirations, goals, or role.
She is independent, smart, and ambitious. She has been in love, but it didn't affect her purpose in life (even though, Steve kind of had to die to make things easier to keep her independent, which I don't agree with).
She is a brunette. This feels very silly, but as a Latina woman, it is very difficult to try to identify with blonde women. Wonder Woman has dark hair just as I do, and at the time I was a child, that meant the world.
Mike: I don’t think of that as silly at all. We’ve talked previously about the lack of non-white heroes (Elena link) and I’ve discussed it almost ad nauseum on the blog. I think that having a diverse array of heroes in pop culture (super- or otherwise) is helpful to the world at large, but it is also helpful in therapy, especially for the type of things I do to engage teenage clients. When you’re a young person, you identify with pop culture in a more meaningful way, which is something I’ve become aware of as I age and something I notice with clients. When I was in grad school, one of my cohorts remarked that I frequently commented on t-shirts that kids were wearing. It’s totally true! But they always responded well, too. When you’re in your adolescence t-shirts, and the pop culture images contained on them, can really project a developing sense of identity and belonging.
Gisell: For a long time, there was speculated among fans that Wonder Woman was a lesbian or bisexual. In the beginning, it was due to the way the Amazons live, but then more and more reasons were added. I always wanted her to be something other than a heterosexual woman. As a bisexual woman myself, the fact that she could be a lesbian or bisexual made her even more relatable.
And we were told last year she was bisexual, and that's remarkably significant. Bisexual women and men very often are not only discriminated by the heterosexual population, but also by homosexual women and men. Bisexual women and men are frequently told they don't know who they are, that they are confused, that they are cowards, or just sexual players. Both, heterosexual and homosexual populations tend to push bisexual women and men to "take a side" in order to be "real". So, today we have such a strong character, with a tremendously strong sense of identity, who is a bisexual woman. Some of the beauty of it is that, in the end, it doesn't define who she truly is. Wonder Woman is a fantastic and unique heroine that has the incredible privilege of potentially falling in love with women and men. And we need that kind of representation in the pop universe.
Mike: Addressing her sexuality certainly opens up a myriad of possible story lines and characters. As you say, you obviously identified with the character, and I am confident that other young women (and men) will identify with this as well. Previously, when I wrote a piece about the possibility that Elsa (of Frozen fame) might be lesbian, One Facebook commenter took strong issue with the idea. I understand that there would be quite a lot of blowback to this decision and with the amount of money involved in this franchise, this is not a move Disney is likely to make, despite being a very pro-LGBTQ company. But my gut reaction to this resistance is “if you don’t like this direction, feel free to watch a different movie.” There are so many shows and movies that there is room for a myriad of character types and if a viewer chooses not to engage with a character who is lesbian, no worries, there are plenty more Disney princesses to choose from. Like, you know, all of them.
I have this knee-jerk idea that women would support Wonder Woman across the board on all of the above issues. But, if you look at the voting records of women, it seems that the idea of women banding together and voting as a bloc is incorrect. Now, there may be a lot of reasons people did or did not vote for Hillary, in the same way that there are a lot of reasons people did or did not vote for Trump. But it seems relatively clear (as clear as anything is in 2017, anyway) that this idea of women voting together en masse in the way ethnic or racial minority groups do was mistaken. Perhaps we see the split in women’s feelings on so-called “women’s issues” reflected in the ups and downs of Wonder Woman.
Gisell: It's been a challenging and interesting year for women and feminists, feminicides increased in South America, the term "feminazi" has been spreading out in social media, celebrities are using feminism as a marketing strategy, and the president-elect of The United States thinks he can grab us by our vulvas. And yes, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman was one of the reasons Donald Trump won the election, in my opinion. Americans seem not to believe that women can do a job that has been only assigned to men; Americans appear to not believe women and men are equals.
On a few occasions, women have run as presidential candidates in my country, Colombia. There, we don't believe women can do the job either. However, for the first time in our history, a lesbian women is a presidential pre-candidate, and I think we need to celebrate it.
Now, the short time Wonder Woman had as a UN ambassador did not surprise me. I understand both sides. The supporters that see the positive impact of it, and the detractors that see how Wonder Woman aesthetics could send the wrong message. However, I can't help but ask myself, would we say the same if the ambassador was to be Superman, with his very exaggerated body aesthetics? What do you think, Mike?
Mike: The question is almost rhetorical. I’m pretty confident that no one would care one bit. The hulking man fits in with the stereotype of masculinity that has been pounded into all of us for years. He looks like the kind of guy that fought Nazis during WWII. I’d like to think that he’d fight the alt-right now, but that’s a different topic. I’ll note it for the future!
I’m behind on DC movies and haven’t seen Batman vs. Superman. All of my friends are saying it sucks, so maybe I’ll skip it—I’m not a masochist. But all this Wonder Woman talk has me curious about that movie. Coming in June of this year!
Gisell: Wonder Woman is coming back from the hand of Zack Snyder, a director I like, but whose cinematic aesthetics I consider markedly exaggerated. We saw the incredibly huge bodies of the Spartans in 300, and the incredibly thin bodies of the Sucker Punch girls. Something that we see again in the growing Justice League: beautiful slow motion, "out-of-our-reality-bodies", not too impressive acting, and very poor screenplays. We'll see what Wonder Woman's movie bring for us, the trailer was awesome--let's see later...
Mike: I like Zach Snyder, too. Watchmen was great and very faithful to the source material. He does have a style of exaggeration and a sort of hyperrealism. He exaggerates sexuality at times, but then will look away or wink. I noticed that especially in 300, which to me was overtly homoerotic, yet featured a minor female character (possibly the only one, I can’t recall for sure) in a shower scene. It struck me as “all you guys watching this insanely masculine film, never fear! Here’s a naked girl!” I’m fairly confident that the homoeroticism was on purpose, or at the very least not lost on Snyder.
As far as Sucker Punch, I don’t disagree about the thinness of the girls, but that’s a problem of Hollywood at large and as a fanboy of Sucker Punch… well, what can I say. I’m a guy! I enjoyed the eye candy aspect, even though I feel a bit guilty saying that. I suppose it’s “movie fan Mike” versus “therapist Mike.” It’s pretty rare to see a huge Hollywood pic evoke a postmodern aesthetic outside of Quentin Tarantino. But unrealistic body types is a YUGE problem for Hollywood. And is reinforced by so-called “women’s magazines,” although there is pushback to that going on in the world of satire well as serious journalism in places like Teen Vogue. I must confess I don’t know anything about Teen Vogue besides the fact that I’ve seen it at grocery store checkouts, so if they had this caliber of people before, I was not aware of it and it is certainly to be applauded.
But back to the topic at hand, how would you utilize all these new Wonder Woman perspectives when working with a client?
Gisell: Wonder Woman could be a good inspiration in a mirror work with a client. So, you have Wonder Woman here, but she is more than the iconic comic character. She is all that our clients want a super woman to be--she is the reflection of those strengths and qualities a client would like to pursue; even more, she is the reflection of those strengths our clients often don’t allow themselves to believe they can embrace or develop.
Wonder Woman is a mirror to find the strength within us. This approach is a sort of projective technique, and I know these kinds of techniques are highly polemic. But, in my opinion, very often they are liberating because clients are invited to talk about themselves in a non-direct way, and this is more comfortable, especially during the initial sessions.
So, maybe we have a female client who has been repeatedly abused emotionally and psychologically by her spouse. She has come to you because she is feeling "nervous" all the time, her heart palpitates rapidly with no reason, and she feels she can't control her breathing.
You can see how your client is struggling with anxiety, not sleeping well and is not eating well, either. With reluctance, you learn the details and now you know her spouse abuses her in a daily basis, and she is so frightened and ashamed she is not willing to talk about it with you. She is not willing to allow herself to think she can advocate for herself and stop the abuse.
Now you bring Wonder Woman into the conversation, and you guide your client to use this iconic character to represent all the strengths she would like to embrace without pushing her to get immersed in a reality she is not willing to face. However, you are already identifying all those elements that would eventually help her to get more empowered and confident.
When talking about superheroes and superheroines, every one of them is seen depending on the color of the lenses of the viewer, and that's because comic superheroes have something of us, something that we consider super and extraordinary; and that perception is a source of knowledge about what a person values as strength and exceptionality, which is something we, the therapists, should always look for in our clients.
Mike: I couldn’t agree more. That is a great perspective that I believe a lot of women could benefit from. Thanks for being so forthright in this discussion. I really learned several things!
Gisell: I enjoyed it, too.
Mike: Until next time…
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Gisell Álvarez, LPC-Intern is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx. She is currently under the clinical supervision of Mary Contreras, LPC-S.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
Some of you may have heard that a little movie called Suicide Squad opened over the weekend to much fanfare and generally brutal reviews. Most of my friends posting on Facebook about it were equally unenthusiastic, my favorite comment being the hilarious “Jared Leto’s joker makes me hate Jared Leto as a human being, and I’ve never met him.” This same friend compared the character’s portrayal to a juggalo (a.k.a. fan of the Insane Clown Posse). Brutal. This seems to be the prevailing sentiment, and though most reviews are withering, there have been some good ones too.
As a whole, I enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of keeping expectations realistic and I went into this not expecting a whole lot beyond some cool visuals, which is what attracted me in the first place. As a whole, I don’t do a lot of comic book movies, so my expectations were different and I had never even heard of Suicide Squad before I saw a preview for this movie.
This matter of context is something I frequently see in clients as well. “This other person has an easier time working more hours and I really struggle.” OK that may be, but does this other person have kids and a sick parent? “Well, no.” So it is unrealistic to think that two people with vastly different circumstances are going to have the same experiences in life and respond to obstacles in the same fashion or with the same (apparent) ease.
The phenomenon of Suicide Squad’s brutal reviews across the board fascinated me, as well. This is not a new phenomenon. I remember years ago when Hudson Hawk (1991) came out and was largely dismissed as the worst piece of trash put to film. I thought it looked pretty good and went to see it anyway and enjoyed it. I haven’t seen it since, so don’t hold me to that; I liked it at the time, and what else is there, really? This isn’t Gone With The Wind and I’m seriously doubtful that the makers of Hudson Hawk thought they were making the new Apocalypse Now.
If you want to really overthink this pile-on phenomenon (and I do!) there are two possibilities that jump to mind. The first is the phenomenon of groupthink. This concept rose to prominence in the aftermath of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. While Suicide Squad is no Bay of Pigs (I mean, really) it may be possible that with all the hype surrounding the reviews, that there was a bandwagon effect and people went into the film ready to rip it to pieces, literally looking for things to dislike. And when you’re watching a multi-million dollar summer event film written by committee and run through multiple focus groups, there will generally be something for everyone… to dislike.
Another possibility is a phenomenon that is noted in social psychology literature. When you have a group of people who basically think the same thing, members of the group may take more extreme positions in order to distinguish themselves “from the pack,” so to speak. This phenomenon is easily observable in political discourse, especially when you consider the “political entertainment” writers who seem further to the right or left with each publication. This may be due to their previous ideas drifting towards the mainstream of their ideology and their desire to differentiate themselves to keep selling books, movie tickets, getting speaking engagements and so forth.
So what does all this mean in your personal life? Well, it’s very easy to fall into a groupthink mentality with your friends and family members when you are facing a challenge in your life and trying to get feedback from those closest to you. Sometimes I asked clients the questions “what would your best friend say about this decision?” or “what would your dad say if you asked him what to do?” The point of this question is not to impart the idea that someone else should be consulted, but to help the client consider multiple perspectives on a situation before acting. Sometimes we get so bogged down going in a certain direction trying to look at the situation through someone else’s eyes will provide an attempted solution we might not have considered.
It can be hard to go against the grain. If everyone in your life is telling you to do something, it can be difficult to do something different if even you know if you’re heart it’s correct. Your parents and your spouse’s parents may be pressuring you to have grandchildren right after you’re married. For them it may be the right decision; for you and your partner it may be different. Perhaps you want to spend time just the two of you. Or maybe your parents aren’t aware of financial troubles.
To me, all of these factors may factor in when considering why I liked a movie when everyone else seemed to hate it. Or not. After all, Suicide Squad is something that’s supposed to be fun! It’s too bad if you feel like you wasted your money, but, hey, maybe you can make fun of it with your friends. Whether the movie is actually good or not is obviously a matter of opinion, and if you want to weigh in, by all means go see the movie and make up your own mind. That’s all that matters.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Psychotherapy can change your perception of your reality. As an example, let’s talk about the terrible movie Batman and Robin
By Mike McMahan
Oftentimes, when clients tell me their story, they choose words and relay events that support their overall perceptions of their life. If the client feels they have “anxiety,” they talk about times where they became anxious. If they feel that a poor relationship with their father is causing problems in their current relationship, they tell me about the history of conflict with their father and events that seem to demonstrate that yes, this is a mess. Right now, this very minute!
If you come away from this blog with one thing, please let it be the lesson that we (consciously or subconsciously) develop a narrative of our lives and include or exclude events that fit our current narrative. If you need a great example of how this process works, let’s take a look at a fan re-cut “trailer” for the memorably bad film Batman and Robin, which claims to be updated “in the style of Christopher Nolan.” And we all know that the Christopher Nolan Batman films are the best since (at least) the Tim Burton ones, if not the best ever.
As you can see, this video adds no new footage to the film. It simply presents what is already existing in a new fashion. Ask yourself these questions: what is actually different about this trailer? What makes it “better” (assuming that you agree that it is, in fact, better).
This is something that I work with my clients on any time they tell me about their lives. Many of us could benefit from thinking about “new edits” in our own lives as well. A cue that you might need to reconsider your version of events is if you find yourself speaking in absolutes, such as “I always fail” or “Nobody ever listens to what I say.” Speaking broadly, these types of statements are easy to punch holes in and when I hear a client speaking this way, I often must bite my tongue to keep from shouting “Not true! You told me something that contradicts ‘always’ just two minutes ago!” Of course, that’s not really my job and would likely not be appreciated. As the conversation unfolds it is important for the client to feel acknowledged and heard before the collaborative work of shifting a narrative can be considered, let alone begun.
Think back to an event in your life that you wished had turned out differently. I recommend that, for this exercise, that you be write down your version of events in 5-7 broad sentences. Now ask yourself: what are you leaving out? What absolute statements (“always”, “never”) are you including that should be re-examined? Are there assumptions about other players in the story (for example, “he said that because he doesn’t like me.”)? Is the outcome or perception of your story different in this new edit?
And, once you’re considering this shifted perception of events, what have you learned that you can apply moving forward?
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about the return of NBC’s Heroes (now rebooted and re-titled Heroes: Reborn). It’s got me thinking about one of my favorite therapeutic questions: “if you could have any superpower, what would it be?” This question can be used to help clients set concrete goals, as the obvious follow-up for the therapist is “how would you use that power to solve your problem?”
It’s only fair that I answer this question myself. I think the most useful power (or “ability” in the world of Heroes: Reborn) for myself, as a therapist, would be the ability to read people’s minds**. One of the most important skills for a therapist is to see events from their client’s perspective, and what could be more helpful than being able to read minds to do it?
A client’s answer to the “ability” question can provide a wealth of helpful information for a therapist. The chosen ability can give insight into how the client perceives him or herself, or possibly help identify an area of perceived weakness. For example, does a woman who wants to be the strongest person in the world currently perceive herself to be in a position of weakness? Does the person who wants to fly see goals as higher than currently attainable, and is she held down by being earthbound? How can I collaborate with the client to expand the scope of their unique story and help them reach their goals?
But more than that, it can help a client with goal setting and help them express what their world might look like if they could use their ability to help themselves. “If I was the strongest person in the world, I would feel like I could take on a bully,” a child might tell me. “And if he stopped bothering me, I would be able to eat my lunch in peace.” This gives me a concrete idea about what the child might be struggling with and some insight into where the bullying might be occurring. Though I am (currently) unable to bestow abilities, I can collaborate with the client to figure out which skills from their actual skillset can be applied to the problem.
What about you? What “ability” would you like to have and how would you use it?
**Full disclosure: the real reason I want to be able to read minds is so I can find out what in the world the creators of Heroes were thinking during seasons 3 and 4 of the old series. No, seriously.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture