Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Female Action Hero

You knew this had to come one day didn't you? I am a girl after all. When I was growing up there really weren't many female action hero's for a young girl to look up to. Mostly I remember Wonder Woman as played by the lovely Linda Carter and Charlie's Angels, another show populated by unusually gorgeous women--not that there's anything wrong with that. For those of you born later, I refuse to even discuss the horrible travesty that is the Charlie's Angels film franchise as it is beyond awful. But were these women really tough or merely ornamental? They certainly didn't have the well muscled physique we've come to expect of our more modern versions. Let me look back at some of the other TV shows and movies I grew up with. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had another beautiful woman star in Erin Gray. Her character, Wilma Deering, even had the rank of Colonel. And for the time, she was a strong character, though they did have a disturbing tendency to dress her in spandex. One other female character that stands out in my memory is that of Princess Ardala, played by Pamela Hensley. Ardala was a hoot though; a supposedly strong woman of the 25th century who was usually garbed in mid-riff bearing clothes while trying to force Buck to marry her. Riiiight. The Bionic Woman was a show that did it a little better IMO. I loved the Bionic Woman. Jaime Sommers was my idol. Not only did she have flowing blond hair, but the woman could out arm wrestle any man-- other than Steve Austin that is. But when you read the Wikipidia entry on the show, it is still kinds comical how chauvinistic the times still were. Apparently the show made a point to say that Jaime's bionic parts didn't cost as much as Steve's since they were smaller (can't have a woman being worth more than the Six-Million Dollar Man can we?). Wouldn't the technological advances required to make the parts smaller make them more expensive? Just wondering. As a quick aside-- the absolute best part about The Bionic Woman had to be the fembots. If you think the Austin Powers' movies were the birth of the fembots, think again. Really great stuff. In the mid 80's Ridley Scott did give us one of the first really kick-ass female action hero's in Ellen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver. Warrant Officer Ripley was definitely a different role for a woman at the time. She was smart, tough and certainly a survivor. But I do have to ask if the scene in her undies was really necessary? The mid 90's brought one of my all time favorite guilty pleasures, Xena. I love Lucy Lawless, even her name is great. For a girl brought up on women who seemed to spend more time on their make-up than anything else, Xena was refreshing. I didn't even mind the cheesy-ness of the show. Besides, despite her ululating yell and flips that sent her across the room, you really believed this woman could kick some serious butt. And the show also had one heck of a great female villain in Calisto. Buffy the Vampire Slayer first popped up in the early 90's in a movie but didn't really take off until the late 90's with a hit TV show. Like any other woman with 13 years of martial arts training I liked watching the many fight scenes in the show. I didn't even mind that it was about high school kids at first, though it could get a bit too precious at times. But it was fun and I'm always happy to see strong female characters. It seemed to be about this time that we really started to see more women who could convincingly throw a punch show up in the movie theatres. The Matrix was released in 1999 and featured a leather clad Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity. I can't think of a movie scene that has been more parodied than that fight scene in which she does the floating crane, but hey, I wouldn't mess with her. At this point I could go on and on as more women are now taking roles in movies that feature their athletic potential. In fact I am beginning to think that it's become the role du-jour since so many women are trying their hand at it. Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, Jennifer Garner in Elektra, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Halle Berry as Catwoman and Milla Jovovich in... pretty much all of her movies.. you get the idea. Not all movies or TV shows featuring female action hero's are that great, but at least it's being done. It's not always credible, but then most action movies aren't. I for one am glad that we seem to have moved on from the early shows where a female super-hero was still subject to chauvinistic remarks and was usually working as a secretary between rescues. Yep, we've come a long way-- I think. (Charlie's Angels Full Throttle??) If anyone else out there likes female action hero's, you may be interested to know about a new series starting April 13th called Painkiller Jane. This comic book based series stars Kristanna Loken, from Terminator 3. This one will be on my Tivo for sure.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Modern women are certainly more dynamic. Ellen Ripley, Xena, The Bride & Trinity are all prepared to fight.

UFR said...

One tv show action hero you missed is Peta Wilson in her role of Nikita in La Femme Nikita. This is THE show that made modern tv spy dramas sexy and cool. Nikita made me want to be a kick ass spy babe. La Femme Nikita is a show that I miss terribly and in my opinon paved the way for such shows as Alias and 24.

SQT said...

Nikita was pretty cool, though the movie La Femme Nikita was possibly even better. I did like Peta Wilson too, I'm kind of surprised we don't see more of her.

The hard thing with doing things like this is trying to include as many people as you can since it's really hard to remember everyone you would want to put on it.

Stewart Sternberg said...

What can one say? We have lived in a sexist society. And although many great strides have been made, there are still steps to take toward a better future for women and girls. Let's face it, the majority of senators and the house of representatives are old white guys. The same can be said for the majority of CEO's of large corporations.

Of course, we musn't let our guard down. When one listens to the likes of Rush Limbaugh use the term "feminazi" (a term ahead of its time actually...who could have anticipated the human excrement that is Ann Coulter...but I don't think Limbaugh uses that term with the understanding that she is the feminazi poster child)to apply to women seeking equal treatment and redress and when one sees that women like the Passive Queen, Laura Bush, is still being held up as a model of female subsequence, it should help to keep one wary of those who would set the clock back.

And you know me, SQT, when it comes to strong women, I have a certain weakness.

So the female action hero is just hitting its stride. Now is the time to acknowledge it. Thank God for Mrs. Incredible.

ufr said...

I know it's hard to get everyone on the list, but I want to add one more: Aeryn Sun. I loved how she kicked Crichton's ass most of the time. She definately wore the pants in that relationship. Hee hee hee! >:D

Avery said...

There are some tendencies of creators to have their female characters emulate the stereotypical 'tough guy'. Even Buffy (of whom I'm a considerable fan) grew tiresome with her no-nonsense, angrier-than-thou attitude. Her bursts of real feminine humanity came too few and far between, making the times when we did see a glimpse of her as a woman, it became a little hard to buy.

Still, I think we're heading in a positive direction and finally seeing characters that strike a nice balance between warrior and woman.

Avery said...

Wow, I had a serious grammatical hiccup in that posting. Hope you can forgive!

Alex said...

I agree, Avery (and I want to take it further).

Female action heroes generally make me want to vomit. With few exceptions, their characters are designed to be men with nice boobs. Look at basically any movie Michelle Rodriguez has been in, if you don't see where I'm coming from.

I think the key to making female action heroines interesting is keeping them feminine. Yes, it's very "empowering," among other PC adjectives, to have the tough chick fighting alongside the guys, but when you can't distinguish her personality from the rest of the knuckledraggers, why bother adding the unrealism of casting a 100-lb former prom queen when you could add another professional weightlifter, who actually looks like he could hurt someone?

The whole "Look at me - I defy stereotypes!" routine has gotten old since the feminists reshaped America into a touchier, feelier place to live, where every cereal box needs at least one girl, one jew, one ethnic minority, and a handi-"capable" child.

It's just sad that all I get is scorn and blank stares when I raise the question, "Does anyone really think Cameron Diaz is going to beat up The Rock in real life?"

We're all so happy to prove, via fantasy, that we're all equal, and the same, and where did that dratted Harrison Bergeron escape to this time?! that it gets a bit over the top. And let me state this clearly: the vast majority of females are not able stand up against the vast majority of males in a fight. There. I said it. Lynch away, feminazis (in the proper sense, not Stewart's fruity interpretation).

My point? While we're all (except for able-bodied white males who are discriminated against) equal under the law, we're not all equal, for chrissakes! Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses - unfortunately for most women, it's not physical strength, or the ability to set the clocks on their VCRs.


Seriously, though, I'm surprised more women aren't insulted by this trend of trying to make "ideal" women in action films masculine. I know it is a carryover from the empowerment movement, but it's gotten a bit crazy lately. Stress what women are good at... like cooking and taking care of children (now you know I'm teasing, heh). Stress what women are good at; don't try to steal things from men. The only reason any man went to see Aeon Flux was because Charlize Theron was wearing tight pants.

It's not like men try to take over romantic comedies. Can you imagine straight guys playing the parts Jude Law and Hugh Grant would normally play? It would be disastrous! The movie would last ten minutes, because the straight guys would get fed up with all the whining and sipping of chamomile tea (not to mention the girls night out montages set to catchy Motown tunes), and walk out on these women, leaving no forwarding address.

Hrmm... I just accidentally stumbled upon a way to stop the production of any more romantic comedies. Now to get a job as a casting director!

SQT said...


Ann Coulter is incomprehensible to be. Both her success and her opinions make no sense. I assume there's a pack with the devil in there somewhere.


Grammar is totally optional.

SQT said...


Jeez, for a smart guy you can say some absurd stuff.

Granted, most women can't handle a physical fight with a man, but how many women bother to learn? I've been doing martial arts for over 13 years and I run into the girls-can't-fight stereotype all the time. That lasts until I kick the crap out of them. Believe me, the guys I fight think they're pretty tough, and a few are. And no man I go up against wants to let a woman beat him, no matter how much training or experience I have.

I don't look like a man either.

I have my feminine side too. Most people have no idea I have spent so much time learning this skill. I can cook and do all the things women are "expected" to do. But it's still insulting when someone, even in a joking manner, gives me the a-woman-should-stay-in-her-place routine. No one tells me where "my place" should be.

mist1 said...

I used to love Wonder Woman. I had the Underoos and everything. When I think back, I wonder why I thought she was so cool. That truth lasso really sucked.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Fruity interpretation? Alex I have a girl for you. Her name is Ann. Yes, she has an Adam's apple, but politically you and her "uncle" Rush should be able to get along nicely.
And by the way, I loved Michelle Rodriguez in LOST, if you see where I'm coming from.

And isn't it always a man who steps forward to tell women how they should or shouldn't feel about their bodies...just like it's so many men who tell them whether or not they should be able to exercise choice.

I believe there are all sorts of ways to identify feminism. If you don't like action films, Alex, then that's fine. But to deny that there is a place for a female action hero is bigoted, almost as bigoted as calling a statement I might make "fruity". Not that there's anything wrong with that. Being fruity. Actually, I embrace any gay tendencies I might have. Gives me a good fashion sense, don't you know.

Alex said...

You guys missed the thesis statement:

"With few exceptions, their [female action heroes] characters are designed to be men with nice boobs."

The point was to let women be women. I'm sure they have something to offer in action movies without turning them into men. It is people like you, Stew, who say women have to be tough and sensitive, who are dictating how females are seen/depicted. If they want to be 'tough guys,' fine. If they want to be sensitive, fine. But it's obvious people in Hollywood cannot imagine a way of striking a balance. Whoever mentioned Aeryn Sun was about the closest I can think of (though that was an Aussie production, not American - you get the point).

While I don't particularly care for action movies, I have no problem with women being in them. My problem is the over the top, completely unrealistic depiction of women in action films.

Also, in our haste to jerk knees and pass out torches and pitchforks, SQT, you seem to have missed some of my admissions that I was making sweeping generalizations, such as:

-"generally speaking"
-"the majority of ___"


Anyway, it's time you both got off your moral high horses. I honestly feel like someone is going to reach through the computer and assault me because I (humorously) stated my view on film theory in the action genre.

Amazing how everyone shouts "agree to disagree (until someone disagrees with me)!"

Stewart Sternberg said...

Here atop the high horse, Alex, you had to know your comments would provoke such responses. Just as I usually know my comments will sometimes touch off controversy. Which I enjoy.

And no Alex, your comments weren't just about film. I don't think you were joking when you alluded to white males being the discriminated against group. I also don't think you were joking when you wrote "since the feminists reshaped America into a touchier, feelier place to live, where every cereal box needs at least one girl, one jew, one ethnic minority, and a handi-"capable" child."

All that aside, I still love you Alex, but gauntlets are thrown to be picked up. And I thrive on debate.

SQT said...

Ahh, I love it when the one who provokes the fight then goes on about high horses, self righteousness and all that other horseshit.

I don't think you were kidding either. All the qualifiers you use are simply to give yourself an out. My mom used to call it "kidding on the square," which basically means not really kidding.

I don't think anyone here is too stupid to recognize chauvinistic comments when they see it.

SQT said...

Anyway, it's time you both got off your moral high horses. I honestly feel like someone is going to reach through the computer and assault me because I (humorously) stated my view on film theory in the action genre.

One person's humor...

What bugged me in general about the statement beyond the obvious was the "let women be women" part. Who gets to define that? You?

I'm kind of tired of men telling me what I should do to define my femininity. No one has ever said I wasn't feminine despite my one hobby. I'm married, have kids and do all the domestic things, but at the same time I reserve the right to be as strong as I need to be.

I disagree with the "men with boobs" sentiment too. I think Michelle Rodriguez is a beautiful woman, as are most all of the women who are cast as action stars. To me they are often the epitome of beauty and strength. I would much rather see my daughter emulate any one of those women rather than some playboy centerfold or anything that turns up in a "girls gone wild" video. I'm grateful that some attempt is being made to counter all the images being thrown at young women of girls lifting their tops in front of any camera in sight. It's very scary being the mother of a daughter knowing stuff like that is out there.

Crunchy Carpets said...

So bizarre...big action and tough chick fan, but I do agree with alex..I undertand what he is getting at and it isn't anti feminist or women bashing...

I think the diehard concept of equality is skewed.

Men and women are different.
I don't want a female here to be a guy with boobs.
I want her femaleness to stand out too.

That is why Ripley in Aliens rocked. Her strength came from her maternal lioness instincts. Same with Sarah Connor in T2.

Rodriguez with her permanent scowl just bores me.

What about the chick in Run Lola Run....her strengths came from her desire to save her stupid boyfriend.

SQT said...

I don't want women to be men at all. I just feel like women who are strong are looked at as if they're trying to be more masculine, and I don't think that's the case. I have dealt enough with the attitudes that women are somehow less than a man, so it infuriates me.

I can't think of how many times I've heard guys trying to insult another guy by saying Are you a girl? or the infamous you're a pussy. Well, I am a girl and I have one of those and I'm tired of my female attributes being thrown out as insults.

I'm also tired of women who are strong being called mannish as if they're trying to be men since one can't have certain attributes and be a woman at the same time. It seems to be the go-to insult to call a woman who is successful at business a dyke or a bitch. But a man with the same qualities is admired.

OTOH, a man who might actually might like strong women is looked at as weird or gay.

Stereotypes are inbred and tough to break.

DonkeyBlog said...

I for one see nothing disturbing about dressing Erin Gray up in spandex!

Sorry? Oh, is that what we're saying about society being sexist? Oh, OK ... yeah, that's just disgusting.

Alex said...

I see what the deal is. SQT's bringing some personal baggage into the conversation, which is why the reaction was so disproportional to my usual lighthearted (and mildly offensive) shananigans.

Everyone should wear warnings on their shirts, listing what topics make them overly emotional. That would save so many fights (and lawsuits!) in this country.

Anyway, Crunchy has the right of it: there are a few wonderful actresses like Sigourney Weaver and (ack! Can't remember the Terminator/Beauty and the Beast chick's name!) who strike a great and believable balance, and then there are the Michelle Rodriguez types who are so over the top angry at everything that their attempts to be manly - or big tough girls, if you prefer - make them competely lose whatever humanity they had. They're no longer women or men, but some sort of hyper-raging caricature.

And Stew, I was joking when I said those things you quoted, but in that uncomfortable dealing-with-an-unpleasant-truth sort of way. I'm a little annoyed with the state of affairs in America, but not enough to want to move to the Middle East, or anything! heh

What happened to the good ol' days when aristocrats were allowed to govern on behalf of everyone, without all the hassle of having to hear what the hoi polloi have to say? You would think democracy was more than 1/3 of our republican constitutional makeup, the way people act entitled to an opinion these days.

SQT said...


No, this isn't about a personal ax to grind. I can handle jokes believe it or not. But I found the original comment insulting. You might think you're being "lighthearted" but it didn't come across that way.

And since I am at the point where I just want to call you names, then it's time for me to bow out of the conversation.

s9 said...

The scene with Ripley in her undies was necessary. If she'd been getting ready for cryo by climbing into a suit of plate armor, we might not have been quite so creeped the fnck out knowing that the xenomorph was still on the loose.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I like women with muscle. They're sexy. And I'm not talking about a woman who is merely in shape, I'm talking about someone who has packed on major mass. And SQT, you're right, I have received some strange looks when I say I find that hot. I try and explain that for me, female muscle, no matter how thick or defined, is female muscle.

And Alex, it's okay if you're a Republican and a white male. It's okay...As young man I was right leaning. Even a bit sexist. I think progressive thinking comes with age and when we allow ourselves to accept and be less threatened.

SQT said...


I do agree with the sense of vulnerability you mention. It's just hard not to feel scenes like that are gratuitous since so many movies have them. Overall though, Alien was uncommonly good, and so was Ripley's character.

Alex said...

Who said I'm a Republican? I can't stand Republicans, or their God who guides them.

I mean the xian god, not gee-dubya.

You shouldn't assume that just because someone can't stand all of the touchy-feely special interest whining going on in America that they are necessarily Republicans. I just don't think people are entitled to anything in life. If you want something, you had better prepare yourself to work hard for it, or someone else will get it!

Yes, I have a strong aristocratic bias, but that's because I believe America should be a meritocracy rather than a semi-socialist welfare state. The people who are best fit to rule should, and the people who are willing to work shouldn't pay for those who aren't.

(And before some snidely whiplash asks, I'm the one who gets to decide who is fit to rule, damn you!) lol

As for SQT:

"I have dealt enough with the attitudes that women are somehow less than a man, so it infuriates me."

"No, this isn't about a personal ax to grind."

I'm not going to comment about the irony of this sequence of comments, because I have the odd feeling SQT will either:

A) Come to Toronto and strangle me

B) Explode

C) Come to Toronto and strangle me, then explode!


SQT said...

Ah ha, you're in Toronto! My evil plan is working.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Ah, now I a socialist I should have're a dyed in the wool, breast beating, pud pullin' Libertarian!!!

SolShine7 said...

Ohh...very cool. I've been workign on list of Top Sci-Fi Women and a couple of yours are on my list (Ripley and Trinity). It's good to know I'm not the only one thinking about how female action stars have progressed.

Good post!!

Alex said...

If we really have to put my views in a cozy little box to make you happy, Stew, I would say I'm more of a Platonist. Philosopher kings, guardians, and the hoi polloi. Why does society need more than three divisions? I would be fine with two, in fact: us and them. heh

Oh, I can't be a full political Platonist, because I like to support the arts (yes, even poetry, Plato). Sue me.

SQT, if you're the one who sent me to Toronto, that was some evil juju. I expect you to hand over all voodoo dolls and demon dust immediately.

(I kid. Toronto's a pretty cool city.)

Anonymous said...

well..... dunno how i got onto this site but i can spell like you lot so ehh lol :D