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15 Aug 2010

Author Feature: Vixens, Damsels and Action Film Feminism

In most action films, women are the most stereotyped of the sexes. They play either the lead role that will beat everybody down, or the love interest that will eventually need saving, or at the very least a mix of the two.
Firstly, I will take the idea of the action film Vixen. Catwoman, Alice from the Resident Evil series and Lara Croft. All of these women have taken the lead and came out on top. I remember when the female action hero used to be new and exciting, deviating from the masculine hero cliché. But now it has just become a cliché in itself  because of their traits. Every female vixen would be skilled in almost every gun available, as well as every martial art and yoga (given how flexible they are). However, the most notable trait of a female action film vixen is leather. Every vixen you will ever see will be wearing leather somewhere. If they aren’t, then I’m willing to bet anything that their clothes will be two sizes too small. I mean, seriously, where do they shop? Baby Gap?  Then again, I suppose this is what draws most of the film’s male audience. Just once I would like to see a fat woman wearing a tracksuit whilst sucking a cigarette try to take on a fictional country’s National Guard using just a Big Mac and bottle of Budweiser.
Now, as for Damsels, they are even worse. The most exaggerated examples are Mary Jane from the Spiderman trilogy, and Ann Darrow in King Kong. Every damsel will have a long dress, long hair, and an annoying whiney voice that’s used to annoy the heck out of whoever is dumb enough to come and rescue them. The reason said distractions are placed into action films are to give the movie “another layer of depth”: to provide the protagonist with a “love interest” rather than a mindless man hell-bent on killing anything in his way. Yes, they add an extra motive for the action star, and yes, they provide some sort of eye-candy in which would otherwise be a male-orientated action film, but they generally aren’t that useful as a character if all they do is get captured and threatened. Surely, they would snap soon enough. Well one did. They even made a film out of it. It’s called I Spit on your Grave.
Yet this is where movies fall fowl of the believability fence, and into the field of sexism. Taking just the vixen for now, how many women do you know that walk around in tight clothes and leather suits? Excluding those that walk around Red Light districts, anyway. Exactly. I’m sure as soon as Catwoman was released, many feminists were up in arms at how over-sexualised the images were. Then again, I would also imagine how many men were up-in-arms at how covered up Halle Berry was.  And then, at the other end of the spectrum, are the damsels. These characters always portray women as needless, causing more uproar. Why can nobody seem to make a female role seem normal in films?
But in the end, getting rid of these stereotypes will be a hard task. Not because of how deeply they are engrained into culture, but purely because of audiences that go to see the movies. Producing a female character that does not fit into either of these categories would add nothing at all to the film. The only thing that can be done is to remove some of the traits that each group is based on, and so remove some of the cliché attached with it. So, why can’t damsels not be so moany? Or why can’t vixens be slightly chubbier? Let’s break to mould for once...

1 comment:

  1. Surely there are movies like that. They're just (either) independent or foreign. It's depressing, how women must live up to their stereotypes.