Thank You, Marvel: How Jemma Simmons Became My Anna Wintour
This was originally going to be posted as a sidebar for my colleague’s blogs for one of the engineering sites I write for, but it got canned… so I’m posting it here. It was partially inspired by The Paley Center’s panel, “Cracking the Code: Media Portrayals of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” which was freaking awesome.
Disclaimer: I am a (comic book) nerd. I might have gone to fashion school and I may own every CD that Britney Spears has ever put out, but I’ve also attended midnight screenings for most of the recent Marvel movies and I have a virtually unhealthy obsession with everything Joss Whedon has ever touched (even Dollhouse). That’s why, when Marvel Comics announced that Thor would be a woman in the new series of comics, I almost had a coronary. It wasn’t Lady Thor, it was Thor Thor! And she was the only one who could pick up Mjölnir! Feminism! My nerdy passions were finally intersecting with my autonomy as a woman. (I bought three copies of the first issue in three different covers.) “But what does this have to do with women in STEM and what does Britney Spears have to do with anything?”, you’re probably asking yourself.
When I went to college (the Fashion Institute of Technology, which is heavy on the Fashion and light on the Technology) I had dreams of running Vogue magazine as the next Anna Wintour (the long revered and feared editor in chief of the magazine)… just like the average suburban teenager who really liked going to the mall. That dream was quickly squashed. I found myself graduating and looking for a job as a writer in a market that was practically sponsored by ramen noodles. When I found this position — I tell my friends I write for a group of engineering magazines — I was nervous, but I was ready for the challenge. That’s a lie. I wasn’t nervous, I was terrified. Sure, I could write my way out of a paper bag, but I was more versed in writing how a paper bag could be turned into dress as opposed to writing about the machines that constructed the paper bags.
Back to Marvel. Soon after I started this job, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered on ABC. Not only was I excited for a weekly dose of Marvel badass-ery (Coulson lives!) but from the beginning, the show made it clear that the women members of the team were not ornamental; they were smart and could deliver some serious physical and mental damage. Cue Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma Simmons, half of Fitzsimmons and the leading lady scientist aboard the Quinjet. Simmons was the prime time nerd girl I didn’t know my heart had been aching for, a steady relief from the usual “I’m a girl and science is for boys! Wah!” typically seen on the small screen. To put it bluntly: Simmons was rad as hell.
In more ways than one, Simmons and Marvel gave me the inspiration to come into work every day, read as much as I could, learn all about PCB boards and TV white space, and start churning out content for you all to read. At first, I wanted to give up — it was too hard, I didn’t understand, I was in the middle of an industry dominated by men many years my senior. But every week, I would watch S.H.I.E.LD. and Simmons figure out X, Y, or Z with catastrophic, world-ending consequences if she didn’t, all without asking the boys for help (save for her partner Fitz, but their partnership is a whole different story, and especially irrelevant during the amazing scenes in which Simmons is an undercover HYDRA agent.)
Flash forward to over a year later, where Simmons is still kicking HYDRA butt and I know what gallium nitride is. I’d be lying if I said sometimes it still wasn’t a challenge, but I’ve found the mentors and colleagues I need who will support me, and provide the opportunities to learn that a lot of girls aren’t privy to (see: Girls Who Code). So thank you, Marvel, for doing your part to prove women are just as capable as men when it comes to STEM. And please don’t screw up your first female-fronted movie. (Marvel Studios announced they would be releasing a Carol Danvers-led “Captain Marvel” movie in 2018.)