Women in heroic narrative

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*Illustration, *Women in heroic narrative

Ok, ok I admit it I have ignored for some time, unknowingly or on purpose I’ll leave aside for the moment.

Some thoughts as our current year dawned, the testosterone-fuelled derring-do of Stallone, Willis,Schwarzenegger and their ilk had lost its edge. The protagonists of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill brought welcome spin to their genre.

Since then, a new clutch of male heroes has fallen prey to self-doubt. This has left the likes of dragon-tattooed Lisbeth Salander, teen assassin Hanna and Kick-Ass’s Hit-Girl to steal much of their thunder. Female toughies infiltrated the otherwise masculine domains of The Matrix, Prometheus, Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble. The Snow White of Snow White and the Huntsman turned out to be an adept killer. Not even children’s animations have escaped the vogue: in Shrek, the princess knew kung fu; in Brave, she was a warrior.

This era’s movie-makers cannot claim invention, of course. Sissy Spacek outclassed Chloë Moretz’s Carrie back in 1976. The original behind this decade’s remakes of I Spit on Your Grave appeared in 1978. And the big screen’s action women have long enjoyed valuable support from small-screen peers such as Buffy and Xena, and their many sisters in the world of gaming.

By fairly common consent, the godmother of the bunch rose out of the pitiless crucible of 1970s blaxploitation. Today, Pam Grier is remembered mainly as Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, but it was forgotten films such as Coffy, Friday Foster and Sheba, Baby that made her “the biggest, baddest and most beautiful of all female heroes in popular culture”, according to Rikke Schubart, the author of Super Bitches and Action Babes.

Grier’s characters gleefully punched, kicked and shot men, kicked them in the testicles, and stabbed them with hairpins, broken bottles and metal hangers. Meanwhile, Asian cinema was already awash with viragos who did not go unnoticed elsewhere. Then, in 1979, Alien brought the dauntless action woman into the mainstream.

Nonetheless, for decades progress was slow. Sociologist Kathryn Gilpatrick looked at 157 female protagonists in action films released between 1991 and 2005. Only 7% took control of their situation; 58% were submissive to male characters. Thirty per cent were dead when the credits rolled.

Still, social change was not to be gainsaid. Continuing screen depictions of submissive women provoked growing protest. In 1985, the Bechdel test was invented to show how few films could boast at least two named female characters capable of talking to each other about something other than a man. The industry took note, but it was hard commercial reality that made it act.

Once upon a time, boys took girls on dates and therefore picked the movie. No longer. Film marketer Jeff Gomez says: “Women are making the decisions now with regard to entertainment choices.” This has created a problem for his industry. If a boy fancies Transformers but his girlfriend favours Twilight, the couple may give up on the multiplex altogether. To worried studio executives, the female action hero looked like a godsend: maybe she could deliver adventure for him and inspiration for her.

Film-makers seem to be aware that the macho female is something of an oddity. Hence, doughty female protagonists are often encumbered with traditionally “feminine” attributes. Their violence tends to be sanitised rather than messy, and usually springs from good intentions. Katniss meets the challenge confronting her with reluctance, not elation. Unfortunately, this is what turns her into the victim of circumstance so lamented by The Last Psychiatrist.

Traditionally, in view of their deficiency in brawn, women have relied on their brains to get what they want. Portman’s unsanguineous Jane contributes to the struggle against evil through her expertise in astrophysics. Characters like this might provide a more useful role model for young women than sure-shots like Katniss. Sadly, however, female intellectuals would doubtless prove less of a box-office draw than battling babes.

“This is a business run by guys,” Mariel Hemingway once remarked, “who want women to be a certain way.” As long as this is the case, it seems that the female action hero will be sticking around, for better or for worse.

So even the word heroine today has stronger connotations of the traditional damsel in distress and a woman in need of rescue rather than being the female counterpart of the word hero. Again these women were strong emotional characters But, for the most part women were unable to be heroic in the traditional sense outside the confines of societal values, and as such their roles were classified as secondary and lesser importance to the dominant male.

Now one could theorise that women play a very important role in the story of a hero. They frequently provide much needed support, motivation and in some cases a distraction for the male hero. In some cases the female plight enables the hero to become more heroic in his actions as he puts his life on the line to save the woman he loves. Accordingly, the female provides an extra depth to the sometimes one-dimensional heroic character or personifies and be the embodiment of the ultimate heroic goals.

However despite the importance of the female role, it is undeniably true that women were viewed as secondary characters and therefore of a lesser importance. Heroines were for the most part of the romantic strain and their main role was the pursuit of a good match and the various struggles they encountered along the way.

Personally for me when I create a character for either a picture or a story it is easier to create a character that at least I can trace their lines of thought and It is difficult not to fall into the established but I am aware and that counts something… or not?


Escrito por

Founder of Lichtbild & Head of his own strange world / Vintage Enthusiast / Photographer / Graphic Designer /Typography "lover" / Book Collector / Spanish+German Mix / Lives in Coruña / Sometimes heads back home & Sleeps. /*

3 thoughts on “Women in heroic narrative”

  1. A beautiful way to bring in the New Year ~ the heroic woman to me is why we have achieved great communities around the globe. Great post. Cheers to a great 2016.

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  2. Women make wonderful strong lead characters. Yes, there are stereotypes and deeply ingrained expectations. But one thing that draws me, and many people I think, to a character is the slicing against those so-called norms one way or the other.

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