In 2017 one of the biggest summer blockbusters of the year was Wonder Woman. A first in this new wave of Superhero movies.
Previously, women have been depicted as strong and capable… until a man comes on the screen. Then she becomes the typical Damsel. And even before that, we, the audience, were TOLD that this woman was strong of character. But there were very few instances of actually being shown.
In romance, most women (heroines especially) are known to be perky, and quippy. They are stubborn to the point of being a bratty child, but everything works out in the end because she gets her hero.
Where does this come from? Who thinks that this is okay?
TV and movie producers. Game designers. Various other powers that be (PTB) that are more often than not Old (white) and Male.
I’m not going to get into the race portion of this discussion. It has had me upset enough over the past month. And I won’t be man-bashing. Please, don’t think I am. Just hear me out. Especially on this next part.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I was of an age of weekday morning cartoons, weekday afternoon cartoons, as well as Saturday morning cartoons. Let’s look at this for a moment. 3 channels in the mornings and afternoons, 2 hours each during the week and then another 3-hour block on Saturday again, 3 different channels. Do you remember what cartoons there were targeted for girls?
- Strawberry Shortcake
- Rainbow Brite
- My Little Pony
- Hello Kitty
- Care Bears (but does this really count?)
That’s from what I remember. ALL of that TV time and I only remember 6 (possibly 7) shows for girls. There may be more, but this is what I’m going to run with.
Strawberry Shortcake, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite browbeat us with how girls are supposed to like pink, care and share everything they have. Even when they have to share with boys… which is why I’m not sure if Care Bears was geared to girls. They had to share them with Boys. Hell, even now, they are changing the genders of some of the bears so that now they’re girls instead of boys and boys instead of girls (Here’s looking at you Wish and Funshine). Oh! And glittery magic saves the day.
Now I turn to She-Ra and Jem. Two of the most iconic characters that every girl wanted to be like.
Because what we got was a woman that fought by the honor (a cop-out when you realize her TWIN fights by the power) of Greyskull. And she’s just a dumb set piece that’s there to look like Kathleen Turner pre-Jessica Rabbit. Okay, in her defense, EVERYONE in that show was dumb as a brick. Really. This chick was a CAPTAIN in the army you were just fighting, and because some muscle-bound foreigner says that we can trust her, now SHE is the one you’re hanging your entire rebellion on??? Crap. The more I think about it, the more I hate it.
So let’s move over to Jem. I used to sing all of the songs. I had the dolls. But after a while, Jem lost her appeal. I was starting to see more romantic entanglements because my older sister was starting to date. And I realized one thing about Jem that turned me off to the point I was done with her.
Jem teaches you that it’s okay for your boyfriend to cheat on you, as long as it’s with you.
Rio didn’t know that Jem was Jerica for a LOT of the series. I am honestly ashamed of how stupid he was. But he was making a play for BOTH Jem and Jerica. And both women acted like it was perfectly okay.
That’s not okay.
Now, there are other female icons that come to mind. Cheetara from Thunder Cats… but again, she was a set piece. A girl so that when brothers had to play with their sisters, the sister has someone to play as (I have an older brother… ask me how I know). Wonder Woman in Super Friends was the same thing. Tom and Jerry always fought over the girl. Transformers had Arcee. GI Joe had Lady J and Scarlet (To be honest, I LOVED Scarlet and Lady J), and while they were commanding women, they were tied to Flint and Duke respectively. The Baroness as well… even though I liked her way better than Destro.
So I think it’s pretty safe to say that there weren’t THAT many kick-ass women to admire growing up.
Don’t get me wrong. It was the same with movies. Women were over-sexualized in action movies if they were there. Or they were the ones that needed to be saved, even after being told don’t do the thing. Over time people seemed to confuse being a sexual creature with being a strong bad ass woman. They are not mutually exclusive.
And then two women came to become the benchmark for strong AND kick-ass women in the 90s.
Now, I will say this. I have my problems with Xena. I won’t get into them here. But I will say that for just about every season (except for the last one). I was DOWN for the Warrior Princess. She took on GODS and WON! She didn’t need a man to dictate anything to her. She didn’t need a man to define her. She knew what she needed to do, she sank her teeth in and did it. She used every weapon she had and she still had enough heart to know when she went too far. Xena was the type of character arc She-Ra deserved.
Buffy, on the other hand, had a hand full of strong women in one place. And here is where I will show you what I believe is the difference between kick-ass and strong.
First, we have Buffy. If she had her perfect world, she would be out at the mall with friends or cheerleading. But she’s been given the mantle of Slayer. That means no more mall crawls. No dating the captain of the football team. She has to spend her nights killing vampires and other creatures of the night. Again, she buckles down and gets her hands dirty.
Faith is another kick-ass character. Her arc goes from one of an antagonist to that of a hero to stand side by side with Buffy.
Willow started as the nerdy friend. The one that wanted to help out even though she knew she wasn’t strong enough to handle vampires they way Buffy did. So, they gave her a girlfriend, got her addicted to magic (Dark Willow was one of the BEST arcs… just saying) and she became a teacher to the other slayers. They learned to turn to her when Buffy was down.
Now, to the woman I feel is the strongest in the whole Buffy universe…
You can’t change my mind on this. Buffy’s mother Joyce is the strongest female in this show. Her daughter’s escapades forced her to change her entire life. She had to pick up her roots and move because of her daughter getting kicked out of school. She had to deal with an emotional teenager going through hell alone. The world was falling down around them on a weekly basis. And all Joyce did was take sigh, shake her head, and carry on. She raged maybe two times before she found out that Buffy was the Slayer? She wasn’t okay with it, but she knew that her daughter was the only one that could do it. So Joyce smiled, left a light on, and dealt with what came.
You don’t have to be a fighter to be strong. Just standing in the storm can give you strength.
Interlude of Y2K
After Xena and Buffy went off the air, they left behind a void and they ignored filling it. The PTB decided to focus more on dramas where the women were all these love-lorn damsels that needed to be saved from themselves. Or on dramas where no one was likable.
We also saw the rise of the reality show.
Yeah. Whole. Different. Monster. We’re talking about women in fiction. Reality shows are quasi-fiction at best.
There were movies that tried to have that kick-ass female lead. But no one seemed to be able to hit the mark. TV was obsessed with the Jersey Shore, American Idol and the like more than they were with the next new Buffy.
To be fair shows staring a bunch of men weren’t really hitting the mark either. So, without a lot of TV or movies to watch, I fell into anime.
Like, brick to the face hard.
But most anime of the 90s and early 2000s can be summed up in one sentence: Boobs don’t work that way.
No, really, the jiggle bounce on some of those anime were really distracting. And I may do another analysis on Anime as it’s own medium in the future. I know there are a few that I already know I want to cover. But that’s not here. We’re talking about what happened with female characters.
Enter the Epic. The Wonderful. The Beautiful…
Tarantino was in his prime (at least in my eyes). And this had a nearly perfect mix of action and story.
Yes, with all of the wonderful movies about women embracing their freedoms with their sexuality. How it was okay to date around and NOT be called a whore, I gravitated to…
I didn’t know her name. I didn’t CARE. Here was a revenge flick that turned Revenge with Kevin Costner and the Wraith with Charlie Sheen into comedies. She was focused and determined. I loved all of the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad because of 1 key fact.
There was only 1 man on the squad (Bill doesn’t count. He ran it.)
So, let’s get back to Bride and the Vipers.
These are strong kick-ass women. These women set the bar for Kick-Ass in my world. To this day, I can only hope that my characters come across this way.
On the book front, I was still writing fan fiction. I think it was around 2004-2005 when I decided to try writing on my own. I started reading actual books again and stumbled on Paranormal Romance (my genre of choice). There were a couple of series that I started reading, and devoured. I would come in on book 9 and go back and find every book previous and read them all.
But by the time I reached book 12 in this one series, I realized that all of the “strong” women fell into a cookie cutter. Out of 12 books, all of these women were “strong” because we were told they were strong. They were “desirable” because we were told that they were. They were smart because, again, we were told. In 12 books, there was 1 woman that fought alongside her man.
If I’m being 100% candid with you… those other 11 women weren’t all that. As a matter of fact, a few of them dipped into Too Stupid to Live territory. How could a guy that’s lived for 100s of years find that fun? I’m going to ignore the ENTIRE cradle robbing feel that most Paranormal romance has. I want to stay on topic and this is already long.
But in the majority of Paranormal Romance, the heroine was The Damsel. If you want, I can go over character types. But this one is a no-brainer. She goes out, gets into trouble and has the hero rescue her. Louise Laine is a perfect Damsel (I have Superman issues. So I’m only going to brush on this.) She goes into danger because it’s her job. She often does so weapon-less. She also has no sort of self-defense training (that may have changed in later issues of the comics, but I don’t think so). It’s like she’s just going to do whatever she wants because her BF will save her within seconds of her scream.
There were a LOT of heroines like that in Paranormal Romance. It’s what drove me to want to write my own stories to have my own Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. I will admit, the closest things to strong women I have don’t get much page time at the moment. It’s something I’m working on changing. But again, to be candid with you, I’m having fun with writing kick-ass women.
Strong and Kick-Ass are 2 separate things that need to go hand and hand. But just remember, can have one without the other. You just have to give your characters reasons, flaws, and motivations.
And please, for the LOVE OF ARES:
SHOW US WHY YOUR FEMALE IS SMART, STRONG, KICK-ASS ANY OF THIS!!!!!
Remember, he’s watching.
(sorry, I was talking about Xena… couldn’t help it)
And this concludes my thoughts on Strong vs Kick-Ass females. Let me know your thoughts. We can agree or disagree… Just remember Rule #1.
See you next week!!