Rowan Blanchard Shares A Powerful Secret

by Amy Marie Slocum

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GUISHEM asymmetric cocktail dress.

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GUISHEM asymmetric cocktail dress.

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GUISHEM asymmetric cocktail dress.

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HILFIGER COLLECTION leather dress and KEDS canvas sneakers.

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STONED IMMACULATE cotton t-shirt.

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STONED IMMACULATE cotton t-shirt.

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HILFIGER COLLECTION leather dress.

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HILFIGER COLLECTION leather dress.

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HILFIGER COLLECTION lace skirt and polo and KAT MACONIE blue snake heels.

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HILFIGER COLLECTION lace skirt and polo and KAT MACONIE blue snake heels.

Rowan Blanchard Shares A Powerful Secret

And the future's brighter for it.

Who is she? Where does she come from? How did she obtain her human, yet invincible abilities?

So starts Wonder Woman, the story of the Amazonian princess who left eternal life and peace on Paradise Island to come to the United States in 1941 and assist in the war effort. Like Athena—one of the Greek goddesses referenced in her creation story—she sprung fully formed from the head of her writer, William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-educated psychologist, lawyer, inventor of the lie detector, and an ardent feminist.

Rowan Blanchard—the 14-year-old actress and activist who plays the precocious Riley on Girl Meets World—is neither an Amazon with a magic lasso, nor does she wear a skimpy costume accessorized with bullet-deflecting bracelets. But she does have powers that she is applying to super effect: intelligence, honesty, and a willingness to speak out.

“When I wrote the essay on intersectional feminism that kind of changed things for me,” Blanchard relates to me over a cup of hot chocolate. We are having a chat at an outside table at a diner in the San Fernando Valley on a warm January day. Blanchard is dressed in tights, a swishy skirt, a pink sweatshirt, and has silver star stickers on the corners of each eye. She is animated when she talks, throwing her hands in the air when outraged, and running them through hair when disappointed.

We are discussing influence and pressure—the double-edged sword of being a smart, outspoken young woman in the public eye. Since posting her essay last year, Blanchard has been named co-Feminist Celebrity of the Year by the Ms. Foundation for Women. On New Years 2016 she posted a video with a caption discussing her struggle with depression and self-love. In January an essay detailing her relationship to apology, “Sorry, Not Sorry,” was published in Rookie, earning praise from another smart, vocal young woman: Emma Watson. One day later she posted a tweet that caused the media gossip mill to go wild with claims that she had “come out.”

When I ask what she meant by the tweet Blanchard puts it succinctly: “I definitely don’t consider myself a hundred percent straight but I’m not only attracted to women. I don’t like the idea of having to spend the rest of my life with one word that defines me.”

In 1915 Marston married Elizabeth Holloway. She was a brilliant and driven woman who, upon being refused the money for legal tuition at Boston University by her father, sold cookbooks all summer to earn it. Marston and Holloway passed the bar in the same year. In 1925 Marston fell in love with one of his students, a bright young woman named Olive Byrne, niece to Margaret Sanger—the birth control activist who started the organization that became Planned Parenthood. She moved in with Marston and Holloway, subsequently having two children with Marston. Byrne would stay home taking care of both her and Holloway’s children, allowing Holloway to pursue her career. Byrne got Marston into the comics business, after an essay she wrote quoting him endorsed comics for their educational potential. Max Gaines, a publisher for what would become DC Comics, saw the article and hired Marston as a consultant. Spurred by Holloway, Marston pitched the idea of a female superhero who would rule by the strength of love.

In an Instagram post on New Years, Blanchard wrote, “While also becoming more forgiving of myself and my emotions, I became more forgiving of others, specifically other teenagers. I realized that it is really weird to grow up right now, and that maybe I shouldn’t expect other teenagers to have it all figured out if I can’t.” Blanchard is eager to figure things out. In her essay she describes Intersectional Feminism: “While white women are making 78 cents to the dollar, Native American women are making 65 cents, black women are making 64 cents, and Hispanic women are making 54 cents.”

When I ask how she first became interested in intersectionality, Blanchard says, “When I first called myself a feminist, it was very simple to me, it was like, ‘I believe in equality, I’m a feminist,’ and then I encountered people who said they were not feminists, which was confusing. Looking at it from a different perspective, I was like ‘What is this person’s race?’ Most of the time they were people of color, and then you look at things and you’re like, ‘Feminism hasn’t been that inclusive for people of color, so if I was a woman of color—which I’m not—then maybe I wouldn’t be so keen on feminism if it wasn’t supportive of me.’”

Marston passed away in 1947. During his tenure, Wonder Woman became the second comic hero to be syndicated as a daily newspaper feature. In 1954 a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham claimed that comics were corrupting children. Taking special offense at Wonder Woman, he testified before congress, who subsequently ruled that: “The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage.” By the 1970s Wonder Woman’s kindness and strength were replaced by exoticism and titillation. The serial feature “Wonder Women Through History” was replaced with “Marriage à la Mode.”

Holloway lived to be 100, outliving Byrne, who she remained with until her death in 1990. Despite their progressivism, Marston, Holloway, and Byrne took the secret nature of their relationship to their graves—as well as another secret: the true inspiration for the heroine was Byrne’s aunt, the radical birth control activist Margaret Sanger. In 1945 Marston said, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”

It’s taken 70 years, but if Blanchard is any indication, perhaps we’re finally approaching a place where women and love can rule the world, with or without secret powers. As Blanchard puts it: “I think maybe that’s a secret in itself: knowing that you have yourself as your own little secret weapon.”

Photographer: Guy Lowndes.

Stylist: Leila Baboi.

Hair: Caile Noble for Jed Root.

Makeup: Amy Strozzi for TOMLINSON MANAGEMENT GROUP.

Beauty notes: GLOSSIER tinted moisturizer, M.A.C COSMETICS fluidline eyeliner in blacktrack, KEVYN AUCOIN mascara, and FRESH lip balm.

For more art and archaic quotations, follow Amy Marie Slocum on Instagram (@amymarieslocum)

See the film

Rowan Blanchard was featured in 2016 in Flaunt: A Few Favorites from a Fabulous Year