Vanity, thy name is woman…
…is something William Shakespeare never wrote; he actually used the word frailty. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from using the misquoted ‘vanity’ line to disparage women for ages now. And that’s despite a rash of recent studies which have shown that men care more about their appearance than women do, take more selfies of themselves than women do, and look at themselves in the mirror more than women do.
All that’s minor league stuff, though. As we learn in The Wasp Woman, only a female has the testicular fortitude to go so far as to steal a scientist’s untested youth potion made from the jelly of a queen wasp and inject herself with it on the off chance it might make her look a few years younger.
Now, to be fair, there’s a little more to Janice Starlin’s choice to risk becoming a wasp-headed monster than just seeing some crow’s feet and frown lines in the mirror. You see, Janice also happens to be the head of a cosmetic empire whose success, in part, has been based on having her image plastered all over its products’ packaging. But now that Janice has the ravaged face of a woman in her forties (really?), it was considered necessary to remove her ancient visage from all advertising. Unfortunately, doing so turned out to be just as bad for sales as having a hag on the box, so profits are sagging anyway.
The film seems to imply that, along with all of the usual stuff, society places an extra burden on women to maintain their physical attractiveness more so than it does men. if they don’t, there will be emotional and financial consequences. Because of this, a number of reviewers have heralded The Wasp Woman as one of the first feminist monster movies.
I suppose if we view Janice as symbolic of all women, then there is something to that notion. But on a more individual level, what Janice is going through is pretty common to just about everyone, man or woman. Writing for The Atlantic, Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and the author of Cinderella: A Tale of Narcissism and Self-Harm, Why Do I Do That?, notes…
“In his [eight] stages of psychosocial development, the psychologist Erik Erikson identifies the ‘crisis’ of middle age as a conflict between generativity and self-doubt. Generativity means we come to place increasing value on guiding the next generation—as parents, educators, artists, or social activists. A person who instead remains self-centered, unable to accept the changing of the generational guard, grows increasingly dissatisfied and stagnant. People who make contributions to the younger generation and to society at large tend to feel good about themselves at this stage and find it a consolation for the loss of top billing. They will grow old with a sense of grace and acceptance. Those who can’t bear the shift to a supporting role may become increasingly narcissistic in the unhealthy sense of the word. Even adults who haven’t seemed particularly narcissistic for most of their lives may become so as they age. They will ape the behaviors, clothing, and attitudes of the young, trying to preserve their sexual appeal. They may opt for plastic surgery. Socially, they become more self-absorbed and insensitive, demanding to remain the center of attention.”
In other words, people who live their lives in service to others tend to be happier as they age, while those who remain self-centered become increasingly miserable as time goes on. Heck, they may even start making stupid decisions such as injecting themselves with wasp queen jelly and turning into homicidal monsters. You know, it’s almost as if all those times the Pope has harped on the necessity of serving others (like here, here, and here, for example), he might have actually been on to something.