Girl-power in movies?

Snow White
Snow White (Photo credit: statelyenglishmanor)

OK, I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road feminist type. I’ve got some long-established (and often long-winded) rants on the subject.

I’ve noticed a trend in movies that, on the surface anyway, sounds really cool. Girl power. (bite me if you don’t like that term)

More politically correct… strong female characters.

Sounds awesome, right? I mean, wow! Women are finally getting to be strong, and cool, and not be passively waiting around for someone to rescue them? Cool! Really, really cool!

And then I watched Brave and instead of finding a lovable, spunky, strong, independent character, what we were treated to was… well… a spoiled brat. Seriously, as a “strong” female character, the lead was lacking (strong-willed does not necessarily equate to stupid). Ditto her mother.

We finally got a chance to watch Snow White and the Huntsman and I had a similar reaction. Not that Snow White was spoiled, but that her “strength” must have been some unseen thing that didn’t translate through the screen (guess ya had to be there). Because I really want to know how you spend most of your life locked in a tower then magically transform into Joan of Arc. The character had no strength the audience could see, other characters had to tell us they felt it.

Then there’s the Bechdel Movie Test which lists the following criteria to gauge the presence of female characters in a film:
1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Mind you, by that definition, movies like Harry Potter, Avatar, and the original Star Wars movies don’t qualify (now I’m wondering if the abominations of the prequel movies do… huh) and I would say that all three of them had reasonably strong female characters, while many films that do pass don’t have strong female characters. But it’s an interesting way to look at things.

So I wondered, what makes a good “strong” female character?

What made Hermione Granger so fun for girls? Her brain? Her willingness and ability to be both brainy and girly (eventually)? The fact that she was a kick-ass witch? Or that she could out-do, out-think, and basically out-everything the guys, but never really rubbed it in (much)?

Neytiri in Avatar was undeniably strong, as was Dr. Grace Augustine – both were passionate, both were driven, and both went slightly outside the female “norm” to achieve their goals. (For that matter, look at another character played by Sigourney Weaver – Ripley – that woman was bad-ass!)

And Princess Leia? OK, she needed to be rescued (so do plenty of very revered male characters), and there was some of the helpless damsel stuff, but c’mon. She grabbed a blaster and shot storm troopers and can’t even be tortured into giving up information on the Rebel Alliance. Yeah, tough chick.

When did female “strength” start meaning that a woman is a pain in the ass to everyone around her? And if we’re going to show female leaders, can’t they be leading based on their own skills and merits, not on some mythological magic that they, and only they, have?

What’s wrong with the idea of a female who has strength and wisdom? Who is both tough and  gentle? Who knows when to be girly, and when to roll up her sleeves and get dirt under her nails?

Think that’s a complete fantasy?

Nah, those women exist all over the place. They’re called “Mom.”