Girl Fight! The New Portrayal of Action Heroines

lara_croft_06I spent a very large part of my childhood lamenting the absence of reasonable female action heroines. Things began to change in the 90s, but not very quickly. It was only with the appearance of Lara Croft that I was finally content with the portrayal of a true action woman. I’m happy with the current state of things, but there are still those who complain that the female heroines are not “equal” in that they are expected to be sexy or “booby,” (yes, that’s a word someone used) or that they do not get to do enough action or that they only get to fight with other women (even though fighting with other women is no small feat, I assure you!)

As recently as the early 2000’s, Stephanie Mencimer wrote:

Women are still only allowed to be violent within certain parameters largely proscribed by what men are willing to tolerate. To be sure, what men will tolerate has certainly changed a good deal. But in the old action films, at the end, the male hero always walks away from a burning building looking dirty, bleeding sweaty yet vindicated…

None of today’s action chicks come near that level of messiness.

Finally, with the arrival of the sci-fi show “The 100”, I beg to differ. In case you haven’t seen the show, it’s about a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have been living on a space station waiting for the earth to become habitable again. What they don’t realize is there are survivors still living on Earth who are led by female warriors all of whom look like teenage fashion models. These “grounders” view the returning people from the space station, the “sky people” as invaders.

In the episode “Many Happy Returns” (season 2 episode 4) the main character, Clarke has an all-out brawl with Anya, the tribal leader of the grounders, an encounter that Johnny Cash might have described as “a-kicking and a -gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.” It was as dirty and disgusting as a fight can ever get, and both women ended up with faces that resembled the palette of an abstract expressionist. Did I mention that before they commenced fighting they slathered their faces with mud?

I guess this proves that men can “tolerate” women being messy and violent. In fact, I have learned from a credible source that some men find this sexy. But, to play the devil’s advocate, does this really mean anything? Is this truly a measure of how far the women’s movement can come? Maybe instead of female characters trying to “catch up” to the men’s level of messiness, it should be the other way around, ie. the male characters should fight more neatly, politely, and gracefully?

The action genres (and to some degree fantasy and sci-fi) demand more and more gory violence, so of course the tendency is to make our female characters more violent as well.

I believe that all of these changes and more are coming. There will be “non-booby” heroines, there will be super-violent heroines, and there will be many more female heroines in general. For me, the most important change is already happening.

What do you think? Would you like to see female characters less violent, more violent, or just less “booby”?


Highlander Flashback

Highlander-highlander-the-series“He is Duncan McLeod, the Highlander. Born in 1592 in the Highlands of Scotland, and he is still alive. He is immortal. For centuries he has battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground his only refuge... I am a Watcher, part of a secret society of men and women who observe and record, but never interfere. We know the truth about Immortals. In the end, there can be only one. May it be Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander.”

If you’ve ever seen Highlander: the Series, then these lines may be familiar to you. It’s a show about an immortal Highland swordsman, Duncan McLeod, living in modern-day Seacouver (amalgamation of Vancouver and Seattle, where the show was filmed) and following his own chivalrous code of honour.

One of my favorite characters on the show was Joe Dawson, a Watcher. He is human, but he knows about the existence of immortals. Eventually McLeod finds out that he is being watched. He forms an uneasy friendship with Joe, who happens to be the proprietor of a blues bar called Joe’s Bar.

When he’s not spying on immortals, Joe likes to play blues guitar. It’s an interesting feature of Highlander, both the movies and the series, that they both go hand in hand with great music. The original score for the movie was written and performed by Queen, and the series has had some famous musician guest stars such as Joan Jett and Roger Daltrey.

highlander20However, it was Joe Dawson, played by charismatic real-life musician Jim Byrnes, who really developed a more permanent presence on the show. He added another dimension to the show, a more human presence that we could all relate to. Byrnes says, “Music is Joe’s form of meditation, where he would go; it’s Joe’s martial art.”

In a story that is mostly about immortals, we get a hint of how humans can also achieve immortality, through making music or perhaps any kind of creative action.

A Special Performance by Jim Byrnes

While McLeod often has historical flashbacks, I recently had my own flashback to the nineties, when I used to watch the show as a child…

Being a swashbuckler usually involves late-night carousing, so I am not exactly a morning person. However, I got out of bed at 6 a.m. to attend a special early morning CBC event to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Together with the CBC crew, Jim Byrnes was there, and I was lucky enough to get front row seats. It was a beautiful, cool summer morning, and a small crowd of spectators was there, as well as some passing dog-owners (you can hear dogs adding their creative input in this video). It was a very special morning!