A Generally Wonderful Story

Oleh W. Leshyk has never simply marched to the beat of his own drum; he prefers dancing to Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” instead. He drinks English Breakfast tea out of beer mugs while filling out scrabble boards and crossword puzzles. The history of the Ukrainian Khazars and Crimean Tatars fascinate him, and he swears we are totally descendants. His beloved pet cat, named Kitty, was a Margay he rescued from his college internship. When he had children, he made sure the crab apples did not fall far from the unorthodox tree.

Something he made sure his crab apple daughter, yours truly, was no stranger to was the world of his favorite comic books and movies, and was especially aware of the female characters. Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake were fine and dandy, but Princess Leia and Wonder Woman were so much more captivating and multifaceted, especially when it came time to teaching me how to read; comic books were filled with anatomically correct sketches of men and women, and had heroes who were much more productive – it took Barbie an entire picture book to go camping, but Wonder Woman saved multiple scientists who were replaced by robot clones in roughly the same number of pages. He thought I should be immersed in something more constructive and realistic looking. He wanted my first characters to make a good impression. Plus, comics had little speech bubbles and boxes to keep me from ever being too overwhelmed.

One evening as I was studying in the library at DePaul, I walked past a bookshelf with The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore on display. At the time I was stressed and had not read strictly for my own enjoyment in a while. A book on Wonder Woman seemed like a familiar and comforting read, like a mug of hot chocolate for my frazzled brain. I ended up inhaling the monograph with joy and began looking to add a copy to my Christmas book list.

In the bespectacled eyes of Oleh Leshyk, half the fun of reading a new book is going to the bookstore or library to get it. So, when I came home for DePaul’s enormous holiday break, I found myself wandering the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble trying to find it.

The super hero section did not have it. It was not amongst the massive array of Captain America or Superman merchandise that I used to wander through as a munchkin. There was no trace of it in the science fiction section. The multiple displays of other general Marvel or DC character books did not have it either. Giving up, I sought the help of the desk people. Though the man did lead me to Wonder Woman, his attitude left me wondering why I did not flip him the illustrious bird.

It all started when I told him what I was looking for. Physically, I look like an average white teenager, especially when wearing my high school track hoodie. From a linguistic standpoint, I have been told that I am pretty articulate, speak without an accent, and that my speech is what directs people into thinking that at the very least I am enrolled in Advanced Placement. Maybe he thought I needed an ACT prep book, because when I said what I was looking for, I noticed a swift shift in attitude. No longer was I a pleasant suburban kid, but a man-hating pyromaniac, setting bras aflame in a tar black pit of doom.  

“We don’t have that book”, he announced. “Kidding!” he corrected before my eyebrows could escape my face.

“Yeah, I was wondering how you could have been so sure so quickly,” I told him as I followed him to a desktop. “But I have been looking through the superhero section for quite a while now…”  

“That’s because it’s not in that section,” he quipped so matter-of-factly. He then led me to the far back corner of the second floor and announced “ladies first!” when we reached an aisle.

“Why is a book on Wonder Woman not in the regular Marvel/DC section?” I asked. “She’s a super hero too”.

“That’s because it’s in the Women’s Studies section” he explained, emphasis on Women’s, as if its connotation paralleled that of jackass.

“Where?” I asked, looking for a label.

“Frank, where is the Women’s Studies section?” He called, annoyed.

“There is none. I think we might have a humanities section though,” Frank explained, leading the two of us deeper into the back where I grabbed a copy, said thanks for the help, and promptly went downstairs to pay.

Incorrect generalization regarding my appearance and disappointment towards my literary tastes caused a bookstore employee to think I deserved a healthy dose of sexist microaggression. In Women’s and Gender Studies, this terminology refers to subtle, yet more often than not purposeful hostility towards another. Microaggressions are like little pokes to throw someone off that you hope they will not notice. Dislike for girls like me gave him and possibly other employees the great idea to carry The Secret History of Wonder Woman in stock, but buried deep within rows an average Jane or Joe might not think to find a super hero book within. Although my dad wished for my childhood characters to be strong, anatomically correct females in positions of leadership and power, and continues having Star Wars movie marathons with me to this day, not everyone wishes the same to be found within their children’s reading and viewing lists. Apparently, they would rather see interest in characters with preposterous proportions leading quite average lifestyles, especially for female children (despite a fantastically long list of pink accessories, Barbie usually does not do or have anything too otherworldly).  

As a seemingly normal, typical college educated gal, people oftentimes turn to me for advice; “Tell Carolina about your school and that Dean’s List and how you study so she will want to do something, you know?” – they see me as a motivator, a guidance counselor, an exemplar, a pseudo-teacher to keep their kid from disappointment. But what they do not know is that I disappoint people all the time, and hopefully so will their child. What matters is the type of people whose eyes we make roll, and how. If it is through enjoying body positive, multifaceted, indomitable women characters, so be it.