The recent death of Carrie Fisher has brought up many tribute posts and memories. Some that catch my eye are from female writers who credit Leia as being the first time they saw a female heroine on the screen who could rescue herself. It was the lightbulb moment: women can be warriors, too.
For me, I don't consciously remember ever having this revelation. There wasn't one shining moment when I realized that girls could fight, too: it was simply something I never questioned or doubted. I took it for granted, and when I stopped reading "kid's books" (YA and MG, in current parlance) at a fairly young age, I was generally irritated by the paucity of heroines in "adult books." To me, the absence wasn't a societal proscription or prophecy: it was a lack on the part of writers that I just couldn't understand. Why wouldn't you write about awesome women, too?
One moment that sticks out in my memory where I stumbled into a different outlook was with a Reader's Theatre production of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. For those not familiar with Reader's Theater, it focuses on presenting books in script form, but typically without staging, etc - individuals read the characters seated. Or at least, this was the version I worked with at the time.
I was bound and determined I was going to read the titular role. Gender swap? Well ... Wilhelmina Wonka, of course. I was bitterly disappointed that the vote went against me, and my mother said that she thought the others had trouble imagining the character as female. I simply couldn't understand why that would be such a big deal.
So I guess I've been fortunate enough that I feel I've always been steeped in the "women can do anything" mindset to the point where not only don't I question it, there's always a tiny part of me that's bewildered when someone else has to make a point of saying it. Wait, doesn't that go without saying, like the fact that gravity works?
It should be noted that I'm in a traditionally male-dominated profession, but even my time in culinary school was often dominated by the girls. In savory classes, they were often half the class; in pastry classes, it would sometimes be all female. (In these latter classes, I tended to end up being the tallest person in the room, so I spent a lot of time getting things down from shelves and the ceiling.) I remember getting into it a bit with one of my (male) instructors for giving us extra credit work to write about five current up-and-coming chefs ... all of whom were male. I was polite, but to me, that was pretty much unacceptable.
Of course, I will admit that sometimes, I have the opposite problem. I had an editor request some changes to a male romantic lead because he suffered from love interest syndrome, where the character seemed to exist only for that purpose ... something usually only found in female characters. Whoops. (I won't name manuscript because some spoilers implicit.)
So I try to stay even-handed ... but I've got to admit in my mind, I'm always cheering on the ladies.