Tales of Women who Kick Ass…..

A disclaimer before I start. I’m not a woman.  So, it’s safe to say I have no idea what it means to be a woman. Yes, I read Jane Austen, but that’s about as close as I get to exploring my feminine side.  I make this statement because  I’m about to give my opinion on a woman’s issue. That fills me with fear and trembling as I have no wish to be sexist or condescending.  I’m not claiming any moral superiority or authority to change things. I’m just giving my opinion as an “outsider.”

The issue is “women who kick ass” in modern books, films, and T.V.

My thoughts on this came from the newest Kick Ass 2 trailer. One of the main characters, Hit Girl, is forced to stop being a superhero and become an ordinary high school girl. The trailer does an amazing job showing her discomfort with the idea. It made me wonder, do all women have this discomfort? Do they all feel like they have to be “Kick Ass” and not be vulnerable?

This illustrates the modern male struggle in the opposite direction. Men are called to be more sensitive and understanding. A worthy goal, but men (and boys) are often told they can’t explore their “kick ass” side. Hit Girl’s confused look on the trailer might very well sum up our current cultural confusion.

I have a very lovely daughter. She is growing up in a much different world than I did. The opportunities for her are endless. By the time she reaches adulthood, we may even have a woman president. I think that’s pretty awesome and I’m excited for her.

Women are also dominating the pop cultural conversation as evidenced by their participation in the geek realm. My local comic book store employs three women and  half of the customers are female. The Comic Cons, once the refuge of awkward teen age boys (like I was). They used to be places  where you wouldn’t be forced to talk to girls. Now, women show up in record numbers.

This is all to the good.

However, as I read pop culture books, I’m concerned about the “types” of female heroes in these books. I want a great role model for my daughter in the book she reads. I survey the current female landscape and see two role models that scare me.

The Bella Swan Types: I almost hesitate to write this, because the Twilight series gets kicked like a soccer ball in a field full of Italians. The badge of a cool YA writer comes in how much they  bash Twilight. YA people say all the time, “Oh, my book is nothing like Twilight” even as they write a book just like Twilight. They want the mound of cash that comes with it. Who wouldn’t?

Having read all four of the Twilight books (yes, I have, get over it), I understand some of the fuss. Bella is a weak character through all four books until she becomes a vampire. Until that point, she is falling all over Edward because he is “her world.” It’s scary, creepy and weird. He spoiled love  obsesses, destroys and incapacitates.  True love casts out all fear and we don’t get that from Bella. She’s afraid all the time.

Further, Bella participates in the dreaded “love triangle.” Every time I read YA blogs gushing over the love triangle I want to throw my computer across the room. The blatant hypocrisy is on full display.

If it’s a woman with two guys, she is “empowered” and “desired.” If a guy is caught in a love triangle, he is a “cad” or a “player.” Neither is a very healthy picture for real love. In Bella’s case, even though she claims not to want Jacob’s attention, she obviously cultivates it. She becomes a female “player.” I’m sure people will argue it’s “on accident” but I find that insulting. Very few people are that dumb.

Still, most of the critique I hear about Bella is that she isn’t strong enough and doesn’t kick ass. This leads me to…

The Katniss Syndrome: The Hunger Games trilogy has sold a bajillion books. Suzanne Collins’ books have  reached the height all authors crave; franchise status. Katniss, the hero of the book, is presented as a great example for modern girls. She is “kick ass.” She takes care of her family. She shoots things. She kills her enemies. She (kinda) starts a revolution to overthrow “The Capitol” and its reign.

There is one problem. Katniss comes across as a modern male action star. She is detached. She does her “duty” but never do I get the sense she really loves. Yes, there’s her sacrifice for her sister. However, you get the feel she does this out of duty rather than any love for her sibling. Even her love for Peta seems to eventually come from the idea “she ought to.”

The beauty of Meg Murry: Meg Murry is the main character of Madeline L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time. I love Meg. She is smart. She is beautiful. She is insecure. She is strong. She loves deeply. She loves ONE GUY, Calvin, always and forever. None of this absurd love triangle crap.  She saves people through her love, her smarts and her strength. She is complex, and unsure of herself. In short, Meg is a real person and therefore a real woman. She refuses to become either a Bella Swan or a Katniss  who are cardboard cutouts by comparison. Turns out, The Atlantic Monthly agree with me. Sort of.

It’s even more amazing when you realize L’Engle wrote Meg in the late fifties and early sixties. She gave us a perfect woman character when men still reigned supreme. Meg is a character I’ll be praising to my daughter and one I hope she imitates.

Thoughts? Will I get stoned? Start throwing below…….

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    Bravo!
    I am a woman, mother to a wonder woman and a son who thinks he’s, in his own words, a “pussy,” when he shows his tender side, and grandmother to three wonderful future women and a wonderful future man. I have, for many years, shared your concern that the real women of sacred strength are converting their power to the same kind of bravado that traditional boys have been encouraged to embrace.

  • Liralen

    Meg’s alright at first, but then later suffers the same fate as Susan Pevensie and Wendy. Childhood’s over time to grow up and join the real world. She sacrifices her career on the alter of motherhood, lets her husband do the job she was more qualified for, provides a supporting role for the real adventurers, yada…

    I prefer C.J. Cherry’s Morgaine, P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, and Patricia McKillip’s Sybel, depending upon your daughters age. BTW, I agree with your take on Twilight. Dunno about Hunger Games, haven’t read or seen it yet, too busy playing MMO’s. Based upon your comment about too detached, you might not like my preferences either.

    P. L Travers’ original Mary Poppins is a lot darker than the sugar-coated Julie Andrews. Morgaine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Morgaine_Stories is a woman completely driven and obsessed by her mission (awful cover art, but I doubt if Cherryh liked it either). You might approve of Sybel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forgotten_Beasts_of_Eld by the end of the story, but probably not at first. It’s a beautiful tale of a strong female character initially driven by revenge but later is redeemed by love.

    I also like some of the female characters in Song of Fire and Ice (I refuse to refer to it as Game of Thrones – I pity the new generation of gamers who will miss all the references to the Song of Fire and Ice in their quests. ;)) But it’s probably not age appropriate for your daughter yet.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Anyone who can post new book recommendations for me can stop by any time, Liralen. Thanks! I think I was looking at the younger crowd here, but I’m going to check out your recommendations. Thanks!

  • Liralen

    Sure thing! Sorry, I forgot to post spoiler warnings on those links, but maybe if you’re like me, you’ll forget them by the time you get around to reading them.

    Some trivia, you’re probably aware of the never-ending arguments by gamers about what rangers should be like in games – “Aragorn! melee all the way! Legolas was an archer!” and the like. I always like to play rangers, (completely undeterred by the “Ranger Down!” jokes, which arguably didn’t exist when I first choose ranger in Everquest, but was well aware of with every subsequent ranger I choose) which stems back to my fondness for Link, and ranger was the closest class I could find when I first started playing EQ. The Morgaine novels contain my favorite ranger, Chya Roh. Also, I stole my name from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and frequently use the name and variations thereof in games after I decided it was no longer necessary to hide my gender.

  • Liralen

    I was just thinking about how Arya Stark is the most kick ass little girl ever (don’t you just want to reach out and hug her as she worries about her family wanting her back after all the bad things she’s done to survive? And imagine how her family would react if they had her back?) and what a shame your daughter is too young for it. It then occurred to me that there’s a similar little girl in Spirited Away http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirited_Away , a Japanese animated film which is appropriate for children, as well as at least two other films by the same director, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castles in the Sky. It’s also interesting seeing the different emphasis in Japanese values, as well as a society more sexist than ours can nevertheless produce such strong female characters (Samas Aran blew me away in SuperMetroid – my first experience of a female character in a video game that wasn’t a princess requiring rescue). In the case of Spirited Away, there’s a strong emphasis on “adapt”, as the heroine tries to figure out how to escape and rescue her parents.

    • Worthless Beast

      Oh, Spirited Away is WONDERFUL!

      Then again, recommend Miyazaki films to anyone who hasn’t seen them. “My Neighbor Totoro” is also excellent for young children or for (creepy adults like me) who can’t get enough of cuteness – it’s a rather gentle tale, but emotional nonetheless.

      • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

        Excellent! I look for it.

  • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

    Arya is a kick ass little girl, but her revenge story line is bothering me. Does that make sense?

  • Liralen

    Good point. I had forgotten about that aspect. While an adult can see that it was an emotional armor given to her, a child might not.

  • Worthless Beast

    I am a woman and attempting to become a YA / Fantasy / Sci Fi author. (All I get from agents in response to my queries are form letters that indicate they didn’t even read the queries. I guess one has to be related to or sleeping with someone to get attention this field)… I am thinking of self-publishing, since electronic rescources are available to me… Anyway…

    I haven’t read “Twilight” and I read “A Wrinkle in Time” quite some time ago (I’ve also read the third book in the Time Quartet, but not the entire thing), and I’ve JUST finished “The Hunger Games” and sprang for seeing the movie… here are my thoughts…

    Bella, I’m not even goinig to bother with. I just have no inclination to read Twilight. I’m not very interested in vampires as a monster-type unless they’re crazy, unattractive true monsters (think the Hellsing manga).

    Katniss… I actually want to defend Katniss here. She has a unattatched, insular attitude, but I think it is perfectly justifiable, given the world she lives in. She doesn’t attatch well to her community because she’s too busy taking care of her little sister and her catatonic mother after her father’s mine-accident. She lives in a world where her classmates are chosen at random to be sent off to gruesome death every year… I kind of related to her in that I am a natural introvert and she seems to have that going for her. On top of that, she is squeezed and used (oh, boy is she used by just about everyone in her life), forced into deadly games. As early as the second book her Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder shows and things just get worse. It is quite purposeful that by the end of the third book she’s pretty much a living shell.

    I will say this: The love-triangle and teen-love-drama in the books I found a little annoying, even though it was done more interestingly than in many books in that one rung in that triangle was forced upon Katniss as a “fake through this becuase it makes good television and will ensure your survival.” No one knows what’s real in her world.

    Meg Murry – she is my favorite of the young heroines you mentioned. Why? As said, she’s this awkward, insecure, very normal kid and, if I am rememering “Wrinkle” right, she solves her problems peacefully – with *love* rather than force. (Not schmoozy “romance” love…she defeats IT through the love of her little brother).

    I think “who is the real person/real character” depends upon what situation they are placed in. If I’d grown up in District 12 of Panem, I’d probably have turned out like Katniss. Having grown up in 1980s USA, I was more like Meg.

    All in all, I am, in the end, probably going to always gravitate toward the Meg Murry types, simply because… well, in my writing, I’ve noticed a tendency to write pacifist-heroes. I’m the kind of writer who thinks that it’s better to get away from the typical “action movie” type of heroes, however fun they may be, because I think we need more “peaceful, but by no means wimps” as heroes in our fiction. I think the world tells us “this is hard to pull off, your character is either a killer or a wimp” but I’ve seen badass pacifists in fiction… (mainly Japanese fiction now that I think about it). It’s something I’d like to see more of, so it’s something I’m trying to create.

    http://www.senordwall.com

  • Rita

    I believe that there’s a new version of female arising. Females who are both feminine and assertive. Females who don’t have to be a sex toy or a b$#%* to get what they want. Females who are comfortable in their own skins. Females who no longer allow others to define what female is.

    • http://www.authorjonathanryan.com Jonathan Ryan

      Bring on that female, Rita. Now, if we can get the same done for boys in our culture, things will be looking up, you know?


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