Here in Reverse Cowgirl, we’ve looked at everything from women warriors to advertising aimed at horse-loving girls, each getting at this baseline question: what is it about girls and horses? Now, as it’s time to hit the trail (sorry, had to), what can we come away with?
Looking at representations of women and horses, I learned that many of us feel a strong connection to the freedom celebrated in films like Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and the bravery of American Girl’s Felicity. We made our My Little Pony toys prance around on adventures and envisioned life surrounded by our pets sans husbands. We’ve even found healing in horsemanship.
At the heart of it, these cowgirl narratives, these movies, books, and films portraying women and their horses existing in the world on their own terms, confronting their fears, overcoming challenges to come out on top, seem to get at a sense of strength and balance that we don’t frequently see in the mainstream. They fill in for what so many of our images of women lack.
So while I discovered more about what drives the attraction girls have to horses and these cowgirl narratives, a question still lingers: what would our media landscape look like for women if these images of nuanced, powerful womanhood weren’t relegated to girl and horse stories?
Now, I know this isn’t an original question. Feminists have grappled with this for a long time now and from a lot of angles many of which are doing it here at Bitch, but I cannot help but wonder what it would mean for women and girls if the features celebrated in our cowgirl heroines were shown in female characters outside of the saddle. What would happen if women in film and television could be powerful in the world without the horse as an equalizer?
The ray of hope in all of these discussions surrounding women and media is that it is slowly improving with more female-centric shows emerging, perhaps signaling an improvement in the range and types of represenations we’re offered as viewers. We can hope for a day when our female characters take risks in more than their love-lives, move freely in the world without being victimized or punished for stepping out, and can speak up for what they believe in without being cast as the shrew. But until then, we will always have our cowgirls carving out a space for women, living wild and free, and on their own terms.