Sunday, August 8, 2010

Feminist Perspectives on Popular Movies: Heroine Content

Despite jokes like The Action Heroine’s Handbook, a guide that ridiculously suggests being able to “choke a man with your bare thighs” is the staple of any successful heroine, strong, kick-ass women are something to be celebrated in popular culture. But I’ll admit, it’d be a lot easier if they weren’t always overshadowed by their male counterparts. Seriously, we’re so used to brawny, fearless, save-the-day heroes - that female characters are often shoved on a back burner, occupying a variety of stereotypical roles that range from nagging mothers, to helpless victims, to my personal favorite (i.e. the bane of my existence) prostitutes. Now I’m not saying that women are always typecast this way, but you have to admit there seem to be a lot more Supermen on TV and in the movies than Superwomen. And even when fictional female characters do exhibit qualities that make us glow with pride - bravery, for example - they’re not always given the credit, or even the attention, they deserve.

Well, a friend of mine turned me on to a site earlier today that I simply have to share, and with the awesome tagline “feminist and anti-racist thoughts on women kicking ass,” how can you go wrong?

Heroine Content is a site by women, for women. Basically, it’s a creative center where insightful authoresses analyze movies (and, to a lesser extent, books and TV shows) through feminist and humanist perspectives. And in case you’re one of those people who think activists stick to watching old, stuffy nature documentaries - think again! This site is for the modern woman, and even if we like our rom-coms and tear-jerkers from time to time, we also like sci-fi, horror, and heart-pounding action.

Not only are the women who contribute to this site witty, they’re just plain thoughtful. They seem like the type of gals you’d want to have coffee with (or in my case, hot chocolate), and don’t try to over-complicate things or use flamboyant language just to seem legit. They’re down-to-earth and honest, but at the same time have no problem calling out sexist crap when they see it.

It’s just fascinating to read what these women have to say because they actually give women in movies - the ones who are usually overlooked or written off as “lesser characters” - the attention they deserve. The review that really spoke to me (oddly enough) was for The Book of Eli, a movie I saw about a month ago with my parents. Skye (the reviewer) mentioned how Peter Howell of Toronto’s called the two female leads “hot hookers”; if you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand why that is complete and utter bull . . . dog. These women live in a post-apocalyptic world and are constantly threatened with sexual violence. “So,” Skye writes, “Peter Howell calls them ‘hot hookers.’ Gee, I wonder what he thinks of non-fictional women who are in abusive relationships, or who are forced into prostitution by threat of violence?”

Ssssss . . . burn.

Heroine Content is a cool site (cool enough to earn a spot on my Favorites taskbar!) and definitely worth a look-see or two. Heck, it might even save you a disappointing trip to the movie theater!


  1. Nice! I love watching movies (Who doesn't, really?), and love insightful reviews and discussions on movies (I like to prowl the IMDB forums for movies that i've seen... even though most discussions there are pretty much a bunch of... nothing)... So I think this will be something I'll enjoy. ;)

    As for "Strong female leads"... I've been watching a lot of Criminal Minds, lately, and I feel like the female characters in that show are very strong (character, personality, and butt-kicking wise)... and tend to get recognized for some of it, too.And even though they're all quite lovely women, I feel like they do more than just look pretty in the show. They are appreciated (by me, and by their male counterparts in the show) for their bravery, their intelligence, and for their determination... Not just for their womanly figures. At least there's a few butt kicking women out there who aren't completely overshadowed by the male counterparts!

  2. You're right, Heroine Content is a neat site; thanks.

    The thing with most female protagonists and heroines depicted in literature and media is that they seem to always have to balance being the protagonist and being a woman. What exactly that entails varies some from one work to the next, but it's always there. For example, amidst her other struggles, the heroine often has to deal with an emotionally fragile nature merely because she is female. Often times they suffer from an irrationality that has to be set straight at some point by a male lead character. And, almost always, the heroine has to maintain a high sex appeal through staying pretty, non-muscular, manicured, high-heeled, well made-up, big-breasted, lipsticked up, never having a bad hair moment, or any other combination of feminine sexual traits.

    It's always about, "hey look, I can be a hero AND conform to all the sexiest aspects of femininity!"

    This in itself would not be no reprehensible if the same were true of male leads, but it isn't. Yes, it is true that many times the male character flaunts his male-specific traits here and there, such as vanquishing homosexuality, womanizing all attractive females, performing random idiotic stunts just to be the alpha male in a group, or being bare-chested a lot and really burly and bristly. But these things are not true of all male protagonists, maybe not even most.

    It should be understood that other typically "masculine" heroic traits need not be not male-specific at all. Think about it: being fearless, being strong physically & emotionally, having a working knowledge of machines, being independent - even lone-wolfish, being good with a gun and other weapons and "toys," being audacious, being admired and looked up to, being a natural leader and strategist, not taking shit from anyone, walking in such a way that does not cause the hips to swing to and fro, having a high pain tolerance, having a love for risk taking and death defiance, never being indecisive.

    All of these things do not have male as a prerequisite. So my point is that many male heroes do not have to actually demonstrate any exclusively masculine qualities, whereas heroines do.

  3. @Kanadra - Nice! Makes me want to sit down for a Criminal Minds marathon :)

    @blakerivers - Interesting point; I never thought about it like that. But honestly, why do traits have to be "masculine" or "feminine"? Why can't they just be "human" traits? I understand that wouldn't work in all situations (breasts, for example, are an exclusively female biological trait), but why do we have to assume that things like bravery and assertiveness, or nurturance and empathy should only belong to ONE sex?


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