The role of urban fantasy…

…and the kick-ass heroine.

Came across an interesting article by Jennifer de Guzman about the female audience need for a female superhero. Well, you know, I followed the links to the XY asshole type who said, “No, you really don’t.” Then I went to Jezebel’s post. Read them all, then come back. Josh Tyler (who knows what women want) posts:

Catching bad guys is not a common female fantasy.

Hey, you know, lemme go back in time to my 7-year-old self and tell Little Miss Batgirl that. (Notwithstanding BatGIRL opens up a whole host of other topics and is problematic in itself.) He further digs his hole:

Men are interested in imagining themselves as ass-kicking heroes. Women are interested in movies about relationships and romance and love.

Now, this discussion falls under the two of my pet topics: The definition of feminism and the gatekeepers, the gatekeepers in this case being filmmakers. And I gotta say, I can think of only one filmmaker who does the female superhero well (albeit not in WonderWomanish garb): Quentin Tarantino. And he made a lot of money exploiting the hell out of her. What does he know that Josh Tyler doesn’t?

Better yet, what does genre romance know that Tyler doesn’t? This is where the genre romance gatekeepers have stepped up to the plate and it’s where women will find their superheroes, albeit it not in graphix or on celluloid.

It’s the kick-ass heroine in urban fantasy. They don’t have a Batgirl or Wonder Woman outfit. They don’t have a golden lasso or an invisible plane. Sometimes they don’t come from a mysterious Other World. They have leather. They have a tramp stamp. They have guns or cross bows or daggers or swords or a combination. They prowl the streets looking for wrongs to right and bad guys who need an ass-whoopin’. Yes, yes, I hear Buffy’s name being screamed from the rooftops, but she’s not part of this discussion because…

…most of these setups (unfortunately) involve otherworldly paranormal goo-drooling and blood-drinking types, and, quite frankly, I get tired of the endless fighting of the supernatural. How ’bout some human baddies? (This is one reason I love Beatrix Kiddo just so damned much.)

Aside: I’m not talking about kick-ass heroines whose JOB it is to be kick-ass. I’m talking about the ordinary woman pulled into extraordinary circumstances and who rises to the occasion [ahem, EILIS], or the anti-heroine who exists outside a societal structure and takes on the role of vigilante as a form of service to society (with hopes of paying restitution or redemption or at least a few cosmic brownie points) [ahem, GISELLE]. Or—better yet—a heroine who starts her journey being a milquetoast and ends up with a spine of steel [ahem, JUSTICE]. After all, we’re not born kick-ass. Life makes us or breaks us that way and the hero’s journey has never been just for men.

So here again we see that the gatekeepers (in this case, filmmakers) don’t know their audience well enough to exploit another revenue stream—but genre romance does! We’ve been subsisting on these women for decades (can you say “pirate queen”?). Clarissa Pinkola Estés even wrote a little book about the kick-ass heroine, her history, and her place in our evolutionary collective subconscious, so this?

Men are interested in imagining themselves as ass-kicking heroes. Women are interested in movies about relationships and romance and love.

He really needs to go talk to Dr. Estés or at least read her book.

Tarantino! Thurman! Thank you for The Bride. I love her. (And all of her wicked evil baddie stepsisters, too!) Now, step up to the plate and give us a female superhero only with spandex this time, ’kay? Call me!

Favorite kick-ass heroines. Who are yours?


  • Karlene

    January 21, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She taught me to be brave. I might go down, but I’m going down fighting.

  • Ann

    January 21, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    When I was a kid in the ’70s, my friends and I were into Charlie’s Angels. The original one, with Farrah Fawcett. I realize it doesn’t quite meet the criteria for this post, but I don’t think they miss it by much for having been *cough* professional detectives.

    These gals were glamorous and feminine, but could still bring in the bad guys without so much as twisting an ankle in their Candie’s. The message my friends and I took away was that you can have beauty and brains, wear fabulous clothes, attract men like crazy, and STILL kick ass. It was a new idea for the time, and one that isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. Too bad.

  • MoJo

    January 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Ann, you are SOOOO right. (I actually did think about them while writing this post and hoped someone would bring them up.)

    And no, I don’t care if it was a jiggle T&A show. That WAS the take-home message for girls. I took away the same message.

  • MoJo

    January 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Karlene, I won’t be the one to deny Buffy’s all-around perfection. 😉

  • Robin Altman

    January 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    How about Nancy Drew? When I was 7 we drove across country, and every day my mom gave me a Nancy Drew book to read after lunch. I couldn’t wait for lunch!

    Nancy was so wonderful. She had a cool car, could do pretty much everything better than everyone else, and when the boys (Ned and Dad) came to rescue her, she had already wrapped up everything for them. Boys were superfluous in Nancy’s world.

  • Dude

    January 21, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Dude admits to reading Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and some cheesy series about about football and baseball with someone Chip.

  • Eugene

    January 22, 2009 at 10:08 am

    I discuss the seeming paradox that some of the most compelling female action heroes in popular entertainment today can be found in Japanese manga and anime. And I can’t think of a better example of the “heroine who starts her journey being a milquetoast and ends up with a spine of steel” than Youko in Shadow of the Moon (also available as an anime series).

  • Zoe Winters

    January 24, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Wonder Woman was my imaginary friend when I was little.

    Also, I think the guy is a bit contradictory when he says women don’t dream of ass-kicking. Because the kinds of things he was saying, fall in line with the men who believe women have ‘penis envy’ and part of that mentality is that women want to be as physically strong as men and kick their asses.

    So which is it? I think these men should strengthen their arguments before trying to use them.

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