On Sunday, the world lost Margot Kidder, a much-loved actress known to many for her portrayal of “Lois Lane” in the 1978 Superman and its sequel. But for many women, Kidder herself was the super hero.
Like many girls, I became enamored of her Lois Lane—a female lead with the rare combination of being smart, ambitious, brunette and, yet, somehow still desirable. I had grown up in a world where women were expected to fit into a narrow set of parameters for how smart they could be and how much they could want before they were punished for it—before it rendered them ugly or unlikeable or worse. We were further trained to believe that brunettes were reliable, blondes desirable and women of color pretty much invisible—and the only one you wanted to be was desirable. It may seem trite to talk about something as basic as hair color, but seeing someone who looked like me excelling, and being accepted and rewarded for it, felt revolutionary then. (Such an experience still is in so many contexts—especially in a time when the most qualified Presidential candidate in modern times, who happened to be a woman, was dismissed herself for being unlikeable.)
The sardonic Lois was a fighter. She didn’t want to be saved by Superman; she wanted to unmask him. She wanted the story. She wanted to succeed. And she wasn’t punished for it. Nor did Clark feel threatened by her and call her “shrill.”
Some years later I saw another one of Kidder’s superpowers. I was reading the book The Choices We Made, about famous women who had had abortions before it was legal. It was a powerful book in which the women, all of whom had nothing to gain and everything to lose, candidly discussed their often harrowing experiences with illegal abortions. One of these brave women was Margot Kidder, who wrote in great detail about almost dying after having an abortion in a hotel bathtub where a woman sprayed her internally with what she believed to be Lysol.
Obviously, the story has always stayed with me—but it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I could fully appreciate the courage telling it must have taken for Kidder, who faced potential judgment from family, friends and the public and was risking her career.
It’s now that I can truly feel the necessary gratitude—because in telling her stories, Kidder was ensuring that others don’t have to suffer the same one. She approached her battles with bipolar disorder and addiction the same way, once again allowing those of us who came after her to benefit from her experience coming before. She shared her most intimate challenges so we could feel less alone as we faced ours. I know of no greater super power.
Margot Kidder helped carve a path for those of us who had been told the path wasn’t ours to walk. She stood tall for those of us who had been made to feel marginalized by our otherness, whether it was because of our hair color, our gender, our ambition or our mental health. In saving herself, she helped us to save ourselves—and gave us the power to help save others.