I stumbled across the Avengers when I was 15 years old. Watching late-night TV when I probably should’ve been doing homework. I liked the show, a British spy series made in the 60s (in case you don’t know it), for a number of reasons. The episodes were entertaining mysteries with bizarre, often surreal, premises and colorful, quirky villains and guest characters. It was all carried out in that tongue-in-cheek way that the British do best. The show (in its 1965-1967 incarnation) had two lead characters: John Steed (top professional) and Emma Peel (talented amateur). John Steed was dashing and dapper in his well-tailored suits and trademark bowler, and he certainly had his charm and appeal. But the reason I loved the show was Emma Peel. Emma Peel became my idol.
Emma Peel, as portrayed by Diana Rigg, was a groundbreaking character. She was well ahead of her time. Contemporaneous TV shows on this side of the Atlantic featured women with supernatural abilities who squelched their phenomenal powers to keep house and keep a man. Meanwhile, The Avengers had Emma Peel, a woman (with merely human powers) who used her abilities to defeat diabolical villains– in her spare time. She was a physicist and a mathematician and had run a large company in her early twenties. She possessed strength, intelligence, a keen wit, and a wide range of skills and talents. Emma Peel was a master martial artist, a skillful fencer, sharpshooter and could drive like a racecar driver. She could paint, sculpt and dance, not to mention speak many languages. She had an attitude of fabulous self-confidence without arrogance. To top it all off, she had incredible style and grace.
I wanted to be Emma Peel. In some ways, I still do. It’s funny to think that a TV show may have shaped who I’ve become, or at least who I’ve wanted to be. There is no doubt in my mind that my interest in martial arts stems from my idolization of Emma. Perhaps some of my desire to be a “Renaissance woman” also comes from my desire to emulate Emma.
Another of the ways in which The Avengers has inspired me is that I continue to look for strong women characters, whether fictional or real-life, who instill in me awe, admiration and pride in being a woman. While I realize it is somewhat shallow, I most enjoy seeking out these women in popular entertainment. Particularly TV and movies. On the other hand, while it may seem shallow, TV and movies have an incredible power to reach a wide audience, and the potential to inspire more women and young girls.
For years I’ve been wanting to put together a website or some such to review and rate movies and TV shows that prominently feature kick-ass women. Here’s where I’m digging in to that task. Stay tuned…