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…….

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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


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