This poem came out of the March 18, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles and Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "peace offering" square in my 3-6-14 card for the Origfic Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics. Valor's Widow demonstrates that it's not supernormal powers that make a hero; it's supernormal caring.
Valor's Widow did not mean
to become a superhera.
It just sort of happened.
After her husband's death
(after she activated the self-destruct
on Captain Valor's gizmotronic armor
to prevent Haxxor from destroying San Jose)
the other superheroes showered her with sympathy
and even the supervillains gave her wary respect.
Nobody had seen it coming,
but then, they were never meant to.
Deirdre spent six months
grieving for her lost love,
and then began to grow restless
with nothing but her day job
to occupy her attention.
The first few times,
it seemed like a fluke --
this or that superhero
asking for advice,
and once, a supervillain
inquiring about a trainer
to help him control his wild gifts.
People often invited her to speak
about the history of superpowers
or soup culture in general,
and she went, more and more often,
to give lectures and presentations.
Then they began asking her
to help solve their problems.
It was Valor's Widow
who negotiated a meeting
between Dr. Infanta and Jack Union
about some anti-soup law that was
floating around the House of Lords
and really hadn't ought to go further.
She sternly admonished
Stalwart Stan and Antimatter
to quit dancing around
Stan's girlfriend Angelica
and admit their feelings
for each other.
More of a challenge was
smoothing over the fracas
between Savoir Faire and Jaan
over something he'd meant as flirtatious
that she took as offensive.
Valor's Widow convinced him
to apologize not with his usual
flowers and chocolates but with
tickets to a coveted fashion show.
The real shock was
Mindflare and Mr. Pernicious
getting into a fight over Dr. Doohickey
because they both had Master Plans
for the same week of the same month,
and for some reason they thought
Valor's Widow could sort it out --
which she did, but supervillains
in want of scheduling assistance
reached a whole new level of weird.
When she finally asked why
people kept picking her
over more experienced choices,
it was Granny Whammy who explained
that she was often the only possible mediator
that everyone -- superheroes and supervillains alike --
could agree upon.
Well, that made a species of sense,
even if it was new to Deidre.
So she went down to the community center
and signed up for an intermediate class
in mediation and a beginning class in leadership.
If she was going to do this,
then by honor she was going to do it right.
When a junior high principal called her in tears
because Plucky Girl and Bully Boy kept
getting into fights that the school
couldn't afford to clean up after,
Valor's Widow visited the junior high and
quietly pulled aside the budding superhera
to explain the power of a peace offering and
the importance of minimizing collateral damage.
The next week, Bully Boy had a new mask
that didn't make everyone snicker at it,
and the fights -- while no less frequent --
weren't quite so hard on school property.
Just as quietly, Granny Whammy
added Valor's Widow to the SPOON directory
as a supernary specializing in peacemaking.
* * *
Know how to give people advice that will actually help them.
There are tips for giving a presentation or a lecture.
Mediation is a process for addressing interpersonal disputes. Understand how to start a mediation meeting and resolve a conflict.
People may be afraid to admit their feelings. This appears in the trope Can Not Spit It Out. Take steps to address how you really feel. Some of the ways to get a boy to admit he likes you might be generalized to other contexts; I couldn't find a good link for all-purpose efforts to get other people to open up when their emotional constipation is causing problems. Antimatter and Stalwart Stan are suffering from the fact that homophobic culture damages young men's ability to explore their identity and recognize feelings for other men.
Workplace sexism is a widespread problem. Men should not make sex jokes, and racist comments are also bad. Know how to deal with sexist coworkers and address sexist remarks. Here are some tips for male academics on respecting female colleagues. Savoir Faire can be a gallant gentleman or an absolute cad, frequently within the same scene.
The prequel to this poem, "Pulling Pigtails," is really about how rape culture manifests itself at different life stages and what happens when adults give young people some really crappy advice. This is a prevailing problem in which the environment encourages sexual misconduct and fails to teach healthy interaction. See some examples and counters. Rape culture puts the burden on women, teaching "Don't get raped." However, it is useful to know personal safety tips and steps to reduce risk. You can fight back against rape culture.
Dismantling rape culture requires involving men. That's because the current version warps manhood. Men can take steps to counteract rape culture. It's important to teach "Don't rape," not "Don't get raped." There are ways of teaching men not to rape. Here are tips on not committing rape. (By the way, this applies to all sexual activity. It's possible for men to rape each other, women to rape each other, or women to rape men. But statistically, the majority of sex crimes are male-on-female.) This is the part that Valor's Widow missed. She doesn't know much about teaching boys, and feels more comfortable addressing Plucky Girl because she knows what it's like to be a girl.
The problem with teaching women to be proactive about their safety is that it puts an unfair burden on them. It also empowers them to take action on their own behalf and asserts that they have a right to defend themselves. The problem with addressing only men's behavior is that it denies women a chance to protect themselves when men choose to misbehave anyhow. However, it does attack the matter at the root where prevention does the most good. Solving the issue of sexual violence requires dismantling the rape culture and replacing it with healthy sexual relations. This means working the problem from both ends at the same time: teaching men to behave decently, and teaching women to defend themselves and each other at need. One effective program I studied in college, CARE, used a tripartite structure: first the men and the women met in separate genderspace discussions, then they came together to explore what they had learned about healthy and unhealthy sex/gender relations. Do that, it works.
Boys need male role models in order to understand masculinity. There are tips on raising good boys. If a paternal role model is absent or undesirable, other men can step in. People also argue about whether superheroes are good role models. This is an area where men need to do the work; women can try but just don't have the lived experience to do as good a job. (The same is true for girls needing female role models; men aren't enough there.) Bully Boy requires guidance from a responsible man in order to develop a concept of manhood based on something more positive than violence.
Society has disgracefully lax standards for fatherhood. It's a problem because this is where bad behavior begins. People debate whether a bad father or no father is worse, the consensus leaning that a bad father is worse. There are things to be learned from a bad father, and ways to become a better father. Bully Boy has a shitty abusive father. Antimatter probably doesn't have a good one either. It is common for criminals to have a lousy family history, hence the number of supervillains who fit this profile.
Bullying is a pattern of targeting victims for abuse. It's a big problem. People bully for many reasons. Intervention is crucial to stop it. Just telling people to quit won't work, because it does not address their unmet needs. Harsh punishments only confirm their belief that "might makes right." Teaching peer mediation and social skills will provide better ways of solving problems. Also teach bystanders how to respond when they witness bullying. Parents should know how to deal with bullies targeting their child and make sure their child isn't a bully. Teachers should know how to advocate for a bullied child.
Reforming bullies is crucial because they are almost always victims of abuse, poverty, a lack of coping skills, and/or other problems. Bullies act out what they have learned. Everyone may be tempted to bully, but most people have the resources to resist it. One approach is to turn bullies into buddies. This is what Valor's Widow tries to teach Plucky Girl, and it can in fact work. It can also make you a doormat for psychopaths. Anti-bullying programs can be helpful, but they often fail. They must be sincere, thorough, and tailored to local needs. Obviously that isn't happening where any of these characters are. There are tips for administrators and teachers to reduce bullying. Parents of bullies need to know how to discourage bullying behavior, and their kids need to learn how to stop being a bully.
Teaching peace makes for a better world. Here are 198 methods of nonviolent action. Yes, I have some noncombat superheroes. Every teacher should incorporate peacemaking in the classroom. Teaching tolerance is important too. Know how to teach peace and teach tolerance.