So did “Officer and a Gentleman.” Here’s why.
Netflix recently released the original Top Gun, which came out eight years after I left the Army. I had a big dream, which Top Gun underscored at the time, which I hadn’t been able to realize: I wanted to fly fighter jets.
I didn’t want to marry the goddamned pilot. I wanted to BE the pilot.
I was years ahead of my time. When I was on active duty from 1973 to 1978, women weren’t allowed. I took flying lessons, but fighter jets were off-limits at that time. Didn’t keep me from dreaming. Didn’t keep me from flying, either.
Or sky diving, which I loved passionately.
Plenty of women were aviators in the military, mostly unsung sheroes. In fact, it is still a battle for recognition:
Too many men would prefer their girls to be ooohing and aaaahing and swooning on the sidelines. Not me. Thirty years ago I was itching to climb into the cockpit. That does not make me attractive to most men.
If anything, the fact that I do skydive, did get a pilot’s license and continue to take on more and more adventure sports pretty well ensured that I would live solo my entire life.
Richard Gere’s 1982 classic Officer and a Gentleman was, for many women, swoon-worthy, and a statement of fact for every little girl dreaming of the Big Strong Man to carry her off into the sunset.
I was the one who had that drill sergeant spitting into my face in basic. And officer’s basic. I was the one doing pullups and pushups. I didn’t want to be the girl being carried off stage right.
I wanted to be the one acing basic and nailing the PT test. I did, too, but again, I couldn’t be the fighter jet pilot. Too far ahead of my time.
But I sure nailed those pushups. Even today, I can do 100 men’s pushups every other day. I am right back, too, after two shoulder surgeries.
Top Gun’s testosterone-fueled love story and bromances, its penis comparisons and badass men didn’t appeal to me for the romance. I didn’t much care for Kelly McGillis’ character.
I wanted to be Maverick. Be in that volleyball game and spike that damned ball in Iceman’s face.
Not some hero. Me.
I watched Top Gun again the other night, because the sequel is scheduled to come out in May. Time hasn’t been kind to some of the actors. Cruise has worked his ass off to stay in shape. As he slowly approaches sixty I have to admit that he is a perfect model for what work ethic can do for the aging process. Val Kilmer has struggled with various health issues, and the once-gorgeous McGillis has not aged well.
If anything, she sounds defensive about where she is, claiming that her condition is “age-appropriate:”
I find that not only offensive but an insult to aging women everywhere. I understand her journey, and relate intimately with her story of sexual assault, but getting fat isn’t “age-appropriate.” That is a cop out. Aging well takes hard work, discipline and desire. And serious badassery.
Our bodies do change as we age, but getting fat just because we older is simply not true.
You can understand why I admire Cruise more than McGillis. His focus on extreme sports is right up my alley.
And he works damned hard to stay in shape and do his own stunts.
Men LOVE movies like Top Gun and Officer and a Gentlemen and so many of the military flicks which center mostly White guys. I happen to love the recent crop of movies which center sheroes like Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace in roles which highlight their athletic skills and extraordinary competence. Enter too, Kiki Layne, in her first action flick with Theron in The Old Guard, opening more doors for Black action heroes in good films.
My original role model was Lt. Ripley in Aliens. However these days, she has been joined by the uber-competent film sheroes like Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski in Edge of Tomorrow.
Vrataski is my kind of hero. That is the warrior I would like to model myself after, and tried hard while on active duty. I was in too early for combat. These days, there are real Rita Vrataskis coming through Special Forces training. My kind of women. Serious sheroes, like the female fighter pilots I met when I did a speech for Veteran’s Day at Target a few years back.
In the movie, Cruise’s character falls for Vrataski. In real life, as in mine, men rape such characters, in the time-honored statement of patriarchal “who the hell do you think you are?”
Just like women at West Point and all the other academies are harassed, the first female fighter pilots were in sacred (to males) ground:
We pay for the progress we make with our bodies, our careers, with friendships with other women, with a thousand tiny knife cuts by a society which struggles with power in its women. Some men find that attractive, but only to dominate. Then they marry the simpering sweetheart willing to give them that famous Nancy Reagan doe-eyed stare.
Most of the men I have met do not appreciate the fact that I prefer to be the one leaping out of the plane, off the bridge, riding the half-wild horses. They do not appreciate the fact that I’ve scuba dived with Great Whites, bull and hammerhead sharks. Most of them are deeply annoyed and irritated that I have done, and at 69, continue to do, the kinds of things they dreamed of as little boys and never had the balls to do.
One kayak guide got furious with me in Thailand for swiftly learning how to paddle rough oceans, then keeping up, then nearly beating him back to the main boat after a long day at sea. How DARE I learn that fast?
In the military it was much worse.
Senior officers raped me for wanting to be all that. I got raped repeatedly and then achieved anyway. Still am. Far too many of my talented sisters can tell you precisely the same story.
I remain solo. If anything, the older I get, the men I meet at this age can be unbelievably bitter because of the lifestyle I lead. I find that a real disappointment, for several reasons.
First, most of those same men had better opportunities than I did. They could have done the same damned things. They chose not to. Not my problem.
Second: Most of those same men might admire strong women from a distance, but up close and personal, strong women get in their faces. Not by anything we say, necessarily, but by virtue of how we live each day.
Women don’t have to do what I do to be strong; witness childbirth and bringing kids up solo in a world which already hates our gender and then limits our opportunities AND our ability to get equal pay, well, screw you to all those men who hate strong women. Just, screw you, guys.
You baby men whose only response to women’s power is to overpower it and fuck it to death or at least into submission?
Third: Being around immensely powerful women isn’t a beat down. It’s an invitation to ratchet the hell UP. Get your best game on. This isn’t a competition. It’s a playground. That’s why I prefer to hang out and befriend badass women. We get it. And because we get it we also really do have each other’s backs.
Years ago I met a guy, whom I call Dave, on a blind date. We regaled each other with stories about our badassery. Long story short, we never had sex, we came close, but instead he became a roommate. A year later while rummaging around for a pair of scissors, he came across my log books. The skydiving, piloting and scuba diving log books.
I had told him the truth. He was lying through his teeth. All his stories were pure fairy tales and a wish list. Dave wrote me in as a friend forever, and all else was off the table. He needs a victim to save, not someone who has his back in the back country. While he appreciates that from me as a buddy, he wouldn’t date me to save his soul.
He’s very typical. He’s the manly-man, EMT fireman type. MY type. That type finds me a threat because I am either an equal or I can do things he would never, ever attempt. Dave and I laugh that we should have me show up at the station, this doddering 69-year old-woman, and take bets for every men’s pushup I can do.
We would clean house. And then we’d tell stories. Mine would be true.
Dave loves that about me, but he would never, ever ever EVER love me. I don’t need saving.
I am utterly and totally at ease with the Top Guns of the world. I used to date one of the Golden Knights skydivers. I WAS a skydiver, not someone slavering on the sideline to get close. I wasn’t just close. I was in the sky doing relative work. Not as good, but I spoke the language because I did the work.
Took the risks. Faced the danger. Right into the danger zone, to rip off Top Gun. Still do, regularly. I leap off bridges and out of airplanes and ride crazy ass horses and do shit that most folks would never EVER try.
If you’re a fan of Yael Wolfe’s work, you can understand the bleak loneliness of those of us who choose the off-path route. I am hardly the first. Long before me were many, many trailblazers. Among them, Beryl Markham, who is my muse. Solo, she took on the Kenyan racing community, all much older men, at the tender age of 17 and won against better horses. She was the first female African bush pilot, one of the first bush pilots period, in early 1900s Kenya.
She flew an airplane INTO the prevailing winds to fly from Europe to North America, besting Lindbergh, who flew with the winds. But you don’t hear much about Markham. Plenty about Lindbergh.
Markham was both lauded and hated, especially by other women, for she was gorgeous and smart and beat the men at their own game. That is the lot of the powerful woman still today.
If you doubt how strong this still is, you might want to watch some snippets of the SCOTUS hearings wherein a magnificently overqualified Black woman gets publicly pilloried by tiny-pecker baby-men who are in abject terror of that kind of competence. AND the grace in the face of such antics.
For it’s not just that the path of the powerful woman in this society is beset with potholes and landmines. Our sisters can be and are often just as evil. They see us as competition, on one hand envying what we do and who we are, and all too often on the other hand ripping at us with the claws of the deeply insecure, hating us for being willing to take the kinds of chances they will not.
When we need to have each other’s backs, too many of our sisters stab us. The very hand we need to help hold us up when things are tough is indeed the same hand which wields the knife.
Jane Campion’s recent idiot statement right in the face of the two best athletes in tennis precisely underscores this very thing:
She apologized. Sorry. Too late, in my book.You just do not do that to women whose road has been vastly more difficult than yours simply because of color.
The high hard road is a lonely one. If you are a woman, most especially a woman of color who chooses to walk the road of the extraordinary, it can be bitterly lonely. That’s why it takes a great deal of courage not only to step out into those lanes previously proscribed only for men, and reserved for the bragging rights of those with the appropriate sex organs.
This is who I so badly wanted to be:
But it wasn’t my time or my turn. I heartily salute this achievement. She flies for me, just as Judge Jackson soars for every girlchild in America, and most especially every Black girl child.
I continue, as I skid towards seventy, to train hard, plan more adventures and expand my repertoire. I have long released what I could not have at that time, and concentrate instead on what I can do at this time. Which is plenty.
Western society will not relinquish its stranglehold on certain kinds of achievements that the patriarchy still considers the unique purview of men. The rules are changing, even as America struggles and fights to legislate women's bodies and rights and launches full-scale attacks on gender issues the same way Putin pisses on Ukraine.
Same reason. Putin has a penis problem.
Strong women don’t. Truly strong women are also vulnerable, we are the first to congratulate and support each other, and we would never ever torpedo another woman of any color carving out a brand new way in the world.
For those women are us. Those women always have, and always will, pry open the door for YOUR girl children, and teach their boy children that strong women are not to be dismissed, attacked, dominated or damaged.
That is the future I hope for. Meanwhile I continue to fly in the face of so much hate from the other gender, and too much of the same from their enablers. My inbox runneth over:
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
A seriously badass, unapologetically brave international adventure athlete.
And every chance I take opens a lane for someone coming after me.
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