On Saturday, Jo, Elijah and I watched Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021). Afterward, Elijah and I had a conversation about the rebooting (or journey of redemption?) of a character whose history is mired in racial stereotyping, to a place where a new cinema storyline creates space for no less than four female characters—brought to life by the brilliant Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, and Michelle Yeoh—as absolute equals to any male characters.
These four Chinese-heritage women, along with others in supporting roles, entirely align with another ancient cultural understanding of the place and role of women, the biblical term ezer enkendu, or woman as ‘corresponding warrior’ who comes to fight alongside, and rescue, the male counterpart. Again and again, across two generations and both sides of a family line, women in this film enable their men—husband, son, nephew, friend—to discover and draw out his truest nature, and to set aside false projections of what it means to be a man, or indeed a failure as a man, including a protracted child-man state.
The film includes the lasting trauma inflicted when a gang of men kill the wife and mother played by Fala Chen, and the choices her husband and children, a son and a daughter, make in response to their trauma.
After Saturday comes Sunday, and at our service of Choral Evensong we read out another, longer list of women’s names: 108 women (plus the two very young daughters of one of them) who have been the victims of domestic femicide in our country in the past year. Women killed by their male partners or ex-partners, or family members.
Women are corresponding warriors. And sometimes they need to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, and alongside male allies, to fight, in a way that is deeply, viscerally physical while at the same time non-violent, for justice, for transformation, for a redemptive story. Because not every woman has a peaceful end, not every woman gets to liberate a man—whether sexual partner, or father, brother, son—who is willing to make himself vulnerable to love’s transforming work.
We name them, in public and before God, looking to the day when we can fall silent because there are no names to offer up from the previous twelve months. We name them, in hope of the possibility of a new story.