News Ticker

[GUEST POST] Joel Shepherd on The Secret to Successful Female Action Hero Films

Joel Shepherd was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1974. He has studied Film and Television, International Relations, has interned on Capitol Hill in Washington, and traveled widely in Asia. His first trilogy, the Cassandra Kresnov Series, consists of Crossover, Breakaway and Killswitch. A new series, Trial of Blood & Steel, consists of Sasha, Petrodor, Tracato, and Haven. Visit Joel Shepherd’s Web site at

The Secret to Successful Female Action Hero Films

In Hollywood, there’s a feeling that movies with leading female action characters don’t do very well. This in turn makes it hard for more movies of that ilk to get made. Now let’s be fair to Hollywood — rather than just blast the many film industry folks who believe this stuff by listing all the big movies with leading female action characters that have done good or great, let’s acknowledge that there are plenty that have done poorly. It’s not that Hollywood is wrong to say female action leads have a mediocre record, it’s that they’re wrong to attribute that record to a lack of audience interest. The poor record is because most of these movies stink, and audiences, unsurprisingly, don’t like bad movies.

Why do these movies stink? It’s this…

If Hollywood make a movie about a ‘male hero’, they will focus upon the word ‘hero’. Hollywood tells hero stories extremely well — the great powers, the great responsibilities, the tortured origin story, the moral and existential conflict. It’s all there, and Hollywood can tell these stories as easily as LeBron James can make a layup, and for similar financial reward.

But if Hollywood makes a movie about a ‘female hero’, they’ll focus upon the word ‘female’. They’ll lose emphasis upon the hero story, and focus on sex and gender instead. Our female hero will be dressed in ridiculous outfits, and will have action scenes dedicated less to showing how kick ass she is, than to how many teenage boys she can give erections while kicking ass.

Action heroes don’t wear suspenders and high heels, male or female. Period. Remember Ripley in the first two Alien movies? (the only ones that count) Absolutely no overt focus on sex appeal. Ditto Sarah Connor (and ditto about only the first two counting). Those were heroes, who just happened to be female. As a general rule, the further a movie strays from this approach, and instead defines female heroism in units of sex appeal, the worse it will be and the more it will bomb at the box office. Catwoman, anyone?

Because audiences, male and female, want a hero story. Sex appeal you can get from the internet, where hot women will do all sorts of things that Hollywood just can’t compete with for teenage erections. What Hollywood can do much better than the internet, or better than anyone else in the world, is tell a tale about a great and unique individual who faces insurmountable odds, and conquers personal demons, in pursuit of justice, truth and inner peace. Or something like that. If Hollywood would actually tell that story, with women in lead roles who were allowed to be genuine heroes, audiences would turn up — they have in the past, on the rare occassion Hollywood (meaning James Cameron) made this kind of movie, and would again.

This is not to say that sex appeal is not important, quite the contrary. Christian Bale’s Batman made many millions from female movie goers due to sex appeal, and straight male viewers like to see that their hero’s ‘got it’ too, for street cred purposes. But sex appeal can’t be the focus of any dramatic narrative, because it tells no tale worth telling — which is of course why porn movie plots are so bad. I hear.

Sex appeal in real movies happens by chemical reaction. Take one ingredient (a very good looking movie star, as all big movie stars tend to be), and add to a second ingredient (a big starring role, with equal parts soulful characterisation and intense physical action) and sex appeal will result as C, the byproduct of A plus B. Change the formula by adding B and C, or A and C, and the result is nothing, no reaction, no excitement, just a multi-million dollar hole in a studio’s budget. Christian Bale looks good as Batman because Christian Bale just looks good, and because those looks are placed into the context of a magnetic and heroic character. Character and appearance will fuse in the audience’s mind, to create sex appeal… which is kind of like what happens when you fall in love, looks plus personality, coming together to make something intangible.

This process works irrespective of gender. Most heterosexual men, contrary to some opinion, will eventually get bored with hot women sans personality. I can’t speak for women in the reverse, but I suspect the same is true. Hollywood focusing on T&A, and expecting that will ensure a female character’s success, is Hollywood forgetting what sex appeal actually is.

So I don’t think this is actually about a mainstream audience’s lack of interest in butt kicking females at all. The lack of success of many movies with female action leads has more to do with audiences suspecting, correctly, that the female lead in question is not going to be a real hero with a story worth sitting through, but rather a sex doll with fighting moves. If Hollywood would make an action film with a female lead who had the depth and interest of Christian Bale’s Batman, they’d find a) she’d automatically become far sexier than if the movie had actually focused on sex, and b) the movie would make a ton of money, and people would realise just how much nonsense this particular meme is.

29 Comments on [GUEST POST] Joel Shepherd on The Secret to Successful Female Action Hero Films

  1. TheAdlerian // June 30, 2011 at 4:12 am //


    Is this your confession or what?

    You’ve done exactly what you complain about.

    Years ago I wrote a three star review for your novel Crossover:

    The thing I disliked the most and the reason I never read another of your novels is because the female character was the obvious creation of a man who does not like women. She was a “dude” with breasts and an extremely active vagina, and that’s not a woman, man. She was a “porno” female that acts nothing like a woman, everything like a man, and is the product of a misogynist.

    I’m not saying that’s on purpose because it’s such a common problem.

    Alfred Adler noted that one of the biggest problem between men and women is resolving the differences between each other. That means not demanding that women be like men and vice versa. When you can resolve these differences, or at least accept them, you’ve arrived at the ability to have mature relationships.

    The reason why stories featuring female action heroes have done poorly is because the average person is settled with the difference between males and females, unlike the writers of this crap. If you check out boards like IMDB there will be numerous threads like, “OMG Five Foot Girlz Kick Ass—Again,” and most will agree that it’s stupid to see some tiny woman kicking football player ass. Salt, Dollhouse, and just countless projects continue this annoying trend. Even a film where such behavior could happen, like Sucker Punch, was filled with infuriating “strippers equal female power” images that set everyone off to hate that film. Needing women to be hypersexual and Bruce Lee combat ready is a way to give them male status and if they have male status, they’re “okay” with males who can’t handle females.

    Erasing all likeness in your “female” character is the height of insult because the writer is saying that the top most heroic female is some kind of virtual transexual.

    The opposite of this syndrome is the teenage girl who can only handle a male rockstar type with a shaved chest, androgynous face, makeup, and a hairdo. She can stomach “him” because he’s more like her. So, this is not exclusively a male problem.

    It’s what you call a narcissitic sexual reaction. In other words, you want to fuck yourself.

    Again, mature people don’t want to do this and they don’t need women who are men. For whatever bizarre reason there were many successful films in the 40s and 50s with female leads and they were dramas, mysteries, and so on. The women solved problems in clever ways using their minds and resources, not by fist fighting a room full of guys. That reflects real life and the true heroism of women comes from doing great things in ways men can’t and men are heroes in ways women can’t be and that’s one reason why life is amazing.

    We do not need to add the other half of the population to the roles of manhood.

  2. Tom Lloyd // June 30, 2011 at 8:40 am //


    That rebuttal looks a bit circular and nonsensical really. You object to the very notion of female action movies then? Sure, not all movies with female heroes should be like that, but to imply all women are incapable of more physical heroism shows some weird attitudes – not mature but out-dated.

    You seem to agree with Joel in part of you comment, but it’s not clear if you even realise it in your outrage. I can’t comment about Crossover as I’ve not read it but Sasha has a female lead who’s properly female, even to mature people. I suggest you go read it.

  3. Deborah J. Ross // June 30, 2011 at 10:37 am //

    As both a writer and a martial artist, I appreciate Joel’s perspective. Film (movies, television) is a different medium from prose narrative, able to reach and affect a wide audience.

    Joel points out:

    What Hollywood can do much better than the internet, or better than anyone else in the world, is tell a tale about a great and unique individual who faces insurmountable odds, and conquers personal demons, in pursuit of justice, truth and inner peace. Or something like that. If Hollywood would actually tell that story, with women in lead roles who were allowed to be genuine heroes, audiences would turn up.

    I disagree with the assertion that Hollywood can tell such a tale better than anyone else (I think books can do it better, but I’ll concede that more people see movies than read books), but I want to stand up and cheer when Joel says “Tell that story about a genuine woman hero!” Not an appendage, not a titillation, but a character with whom we can laugh and cry and agonize and strive and grow.

  4. We do not need to add the other half of the population to the roles of manhood.


    Whenever someone tells me that ‘women are this’, or ‘men are that’, I reach for my gun.   Metaphorically speaking.   The only thing it takes to be a ‘real woman’ is a pair of X chromosomes (no offense to trans genders intended).   Ditto for ‘real men’, an XY.   The rest is optional.   Otherwise we might as well get into ‘black people are this’, and ‘white people are that’, and ‘Asians are something else’, to which the only meaningful response from anyone who values the natural right of human beings to defy all biological type casting, is ‘bullshit’.

    Are fighting female characters typical of all femininity?   Of course not.   That’s probably why I like them, I’m always drawn to the outsiders, the unusual ones who struggle to fit in.   But then, how representative of mainstream masculinity is Batman?   Or any male action character?   Probably not very.   That’s the point of heroes.   They’re not typical, they’re exceptional, and that’s why people of either gender are drawn to them.

    Sasha has a female lead who’s properly female, even to mature people. I suggest you go read it.

    Hear hear!

    I disagree with the assertion that Hollywood can tell such a tale better than anyone else (I think books can do it better

    Well said, I wasn’t clear.   I meant that Hollywood do it better than other world film industries, not that films do it better than books.

  5. TheAdlerian // June 30, 2011 at 12:50 pm //


    I’m not outraged, more like shocked.

    Secondly, I clearly said at the end that men and women can be heroic in different ways using the resources they have, as seen in 1940s movies which seem to be retroactively progressive. A real life example of this, which I love, is a story I saw on the news about a recent war torn African nation. There was a mass slaughter going on between the men and finally the women couldn’t take it and both tribes of women united and walked in giant groups in front of the machine guns and stopped the war in short order.

    I’m sure many guys in that war had heroic stories but these women have their own unique story as well. They didn’t stop the war by sword fighting guys ten times stronger, but by not doing it.

    Female action movies don’t have to be male action films in disguise. For instance, the other day I caught an old episode of Mission Impossible, I had never really seen the show before, and I was impressed. The team uses ninja like stealth and deception to achieve their objective, and that must have taken some writing to produce so many episodes. Anyway, that type of model would create an admirable female action hero people wouldn’t be roling their eyes at.

    In addition, I suggest the male writers actually run their ideas past some real women to see how they fly.

  6. TheAdlerian // June 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm //


    Your attempt to flip the script, as they say in Philly, is poor.

    As I said in my review of your book, I think you’re a good writer who added very interesting Existential ideas into an entertaining format, but you should not be writing women. You promote the “If only women liked to smoke cigars, drink, fight, and were as horny as the most randy dude they’d be an awesome woman,” but no, they’d be an awesome dude. There’s been a lot of race related characters like that where the coolest black guy is like a cool white guy!

    That type of thing isn’t a celebration. And, yeah the law of averages say totally unlikely characters could exist, but come on.

    And yes, chromosomes don’t always produce the same results, but they do make fairly consistent ones. Realities like “testosterone” exist and can spoil the equality party when it comes to physical contests. For instance, I’ve been lifting weights for 27 years and I weigh 250 lbs, can easily bench 350, and have squatted around 1000, and am light on my feet. Eliza Dusku could not beat me up even if Bruce Lee trained her since birth and that’s because the mass and power of her muscles couldn’t harm the density of mine or counteract their power. BUT, using her brain, she could set me up for a trap, use ranged weapons, and so on. Thus, she could be my equal but would just have to go about it differently. THAT is actually cool because it’s like the old Dave vs Goliath story.

    Dave had to use his brain and a skill he had been working on for a long time to beat a guy who could have squashed his head in his fist. Clearly, the ancient hebrews knew had to write exciting SF!

    I’m sure the demo for action films is younger males who are feeling pretty good about themselves and they do not buy “dude” females dropping men like rotten tree stumps. But, an intellegent and resourceful one, I believe that would sell. A very good example is Ripley from the Alien films. Weaver is almost six foot and looks athletic, still she doesn’t beat up marines or wrestle aliens, but she does use a gun, hide, and employees reason to convince people and find a way out. The character is well liked because she isn’t ridiculous and a lot of mileage for the filmmaker was achieved.

    There’s a two star review of your Sasha novel that says most of what I’ve been saying and the “chicks with swords” and bikini chain mail stuff is tiring and sexist. It’s not liberating or inspiring to anyone except teenage boys with sexual problems.

    Tend your own garden.

  7. Rene Sears // June 30, 2011 at 5:41 pm //

    I’d love to see more movies and books with heroes of any gender kicking butt in ways other than mere violence, but to suggest that women are incapable of it is just weird, especially as you point out, when you bring in ranged weapons, different techniques, etc. In fact, Sasha, the protagonist of Joel’s Trial of Blood and Steel series uses a particular martial style that takes advantage of her speed and agility, and thinks several times about how she’s not going to close with her opponents (mostly men) because then she’d be in trouble.  I seem to remember Joel and someone else doing  a series of posts about this somewhere. (Maybe at Babel Clash?)

    To suggest that any particular activity is the sole provence of one gender is ridiculous. To say that if a woman enjoys drinks and cigars and sex and fighting that makes her somehow a man sounds as dated as saying she’s a man if she wears jeans instead of skirts.

    Anyway, Joel, enjoyed the post and agree with it.  More Ripley, less Catwoman.  I enjoyed Salt– the character was treated within the script as she would have been played by a male lead, and I found it refreshing.

  8. S. Gordon // June 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm //

    Addlerian: Joel mentioned the Aliens movies in exactly the same way you did.

  9. Adlerian, you’re a wonderful example of someone who is so righteous in what they believe that no fact, no matter how obvious to everyone else, will penetrate it.   You mention Ripley as though I hadn’t thought of her, yet I mentioned her specifically in my first post.   You quote a two star review in Amazon as proof that ‘Sasha’ is a ‘chain mail bikini’ character, when this would best describe everything Sasha is determinedly NOT, and has been repeatedly praised for not being.   If you’re going to attack a book, read it first, rather than cherry picking Amazon reviews which you yourself demonstrate are unreliable.    If you’re going to write long comments attacking Cassandra Kresnov for not being a biologically possible woman, please recall that Sandy is an artificial person, and has no biology at all.   But thanks for posting, because authors receive bad reviews on Amazon and worry that the reviewer might be on to something — but now that I see the lonely, muddled, confusing place that you’re coming from, I see I have nothing to worry about.

  10. TheAdlerian // June 30, 2011 at 8:19 pm //


    My overall “What the hell” point is that your work is in direct opposite to your article. You make good points in the article but haven’t practiced them YOURSELF, and that’s why I asked if it was your confession.

    Read between the lines fella.

    Or even the actual lines.

    In addition, don’t dare call me “righteous” when you’re a hypocrite. I don’t normally use that word because I try to be understanding of human inconsistency and believe that you can’t be a hypocrite unless you knowingly practice inconsistency for nefarious purposes, and I doubt you’ve planned that for your life, so maybe hypocrite is too harsh. Perhaps lacking in insight is a better description?

    If so, let this be the gateway to insight, stories about Fuckbots and chicks with swords are not heroic portrayals of females. In addition, you don’t understand female psychology and need to cease and desist your creation of female characters; it is not helping.

    Write what you know.

    You can count on me as a customer (we always know best).

  11. And all the hundreds female readers who, over the years, have written to me, come up to me at conventions, and said how much they liked my characters, and made it clear to me that at LEAST half my readership are female, are clearly misguided little petals who aren’t aware of the true nature of their gender, and have been fooled into liking characters they shouldn’t.   How lucky they are to have you to set them straight.

  12. I’m female and I want more (good) female action hero films. Want, want, want! Not only would they be entertaining and a breath of fresh air, but empowering for me as well. A lead kick butt heroine is a joy to behold, especially if she’s got the story, dialogue, and personality to match. I totally crave that fantasy (SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, anyone?). The good ones are just so dang cool.

    I have cash here to spend on these films, Hollywood–are you listening?

    >So I don’t think this is actually about a mainstream audience’s lack of interest in butt kicking females at all.

    Agreed. There’s a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy happening. I wish Hollywood studio culture would just stop it with the whole blaming the wrong things when films fall even a teensy bit short of profit expectation.

    Isn’t it interesting that the most buzzed about character from the film KICK-ASS was Hit Girl?

    I wonder if films like THE HUNGER GAMES and Pixar’s forthcoming BRAVE will start to shift the tide in terms of female action hero leads.

  13. Adlerian: flamewars are embarassing. The moment you attack your opponent, and not the message you’ve lost.

    I disagree that the first two Alien films are the only ones that matter.  I though Alien 4 was far more compelling, (as there was more to it than a bunch of people being chased by a monster/monsters).  Mind you it was written by Joss Whedon, so the whole ‘demon within’ is sort of old hat with him.

    And overt sexuality can work if it, like the other measures of the film is respected for what it is.  Tomb Raider is a rare example of this (but there was already a built in audience).  The trouble is that Hollywood is deeply conservative and deeply averse to taking risks.  The best place I have found female action hero movies, beyond James Cameron pics, is in Japanese Anime, mostly Miyazaki (Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke etc) where they are willing to create female characters with depth.  

    Certainly when I was looking at models for the character of Althea Ram in my SF series, I looked there as well as to the more complex characters from TV and books for inspiration.

    It’s interesting that the best female “action” characters are to be found on TV, from Babylon 5, Farscape, Firefly and others.  Perhaps it’s intimidating for writers to create a compelling female character in 90-120 minutes.  Most of those script-writers aren’t women.  Real kick-ass women can be pretty intimidating.

    And lastly Adlerian: your muscles don’t protect you eyes, your larynx, your groin or your knees.  Certainly Karate, which is strength, power, and striaght line oriented would be a bad choice for a smaller foe, but there are other martial arts that don’t concentrate on pure physical power, akido for instance. Of course, I understand that is partially conceding your point.



  14. Hey, Joel – 

    I love the Cassandra Kressnov books.  She’s not human, and anyone expecting her to be human in either her physicality or emotional complexity, seriously missed the point. Don’t change a thing.  And, I can’t wait for you to get back to SF.

    What the hell is wrong with having a sexual female character anyway?  Saying that isn’t possible is pretty naive.

    Besides, who really wants a world where films and books can’t take you someplace new or extraordinary (not ordinary)?  Give me some escapism.  Evelyn Salt built a weapon on the fly with some things in an office building, escaped a car by commandeering a taser, and yeah, she kicked some ass when necessary.  Entertaining as hell, and fun.  Love that character.

  15. Also, the reason why the Tomb Raider films weren’t very good , had a lot to do with the tone of the films, more so than Lara Croft’s sexuality.  Techno score and abandoning sense of wonder, for sense of “cool” was the doom of those films.  Jolie looked damn good as Lara, and why would we want it any other way?  Lara Croft works as a character.  The films did not work as films.

    All I know, is that if they ever get around to filming Snow Crash, they better let Y.T. be Y.T, with all her crazy plank surfing, building front exploding, helicopter jumping ways. 

  16. TheAdlerian // July 1, 2011 at 3:28 am //

    “Adlerian: flamewars are embarassing. The moment you attack your opponent, and not the message you’ve lost.”

    How about, no?

    Unless you guys have been living in a cave for about the last fifteen years all of my comments are nothing new, nor are they “flames” because they’re legit critiques or male created female action heroes. In addition, if someone is doing harm there’s no reason not to say so, especially when someone is a media figure and their work is an expression of their personal psychology, which it has to be.

    Anyway, about the topic, simply google:

    feminist critique female action heroes

    And you will find quite a bit of material, written by women, about the subject.

    Completely at random I found:

    Sucker Punch is the latest movie from Zach Snyder. I’m not even gonna bore you with what the movie’s about because there really is no cohesive plot. And in case there was any question there is nothing even remotely empowering to women about this film. Infantalizing women with pigtails and mini skirts and cutsey little names like “Sweet Pea” and ”Baby Doll”… That’s not empowerment, even if they are armed to the teeth.

    Snyder is nothing but a parasite trying to leech of the gains of feminism to satisfy his own personal, pornographic, adolescent boy fantasy, which just serves as another example of the male driven backlash against women. Who are you kidding? We’re not fooled by this.

    But this movie couldn’t have been made without a major studio backing it, yes I’m looking at you Warner Brothers. I can just picture the Warner executives in their boardroom meeting being like, ”Ya this is awesome, we can have it both ways, we can fulfill the desires of the 15 year old boy market by having semi naked chicks and action, and then we can make the girls sword wielding and ass-kicking and women will love it!” I got news for you Warner Brothers, we women, we’re not that stupid!

    Incidentally, Warner Brothers is also the company who is attempting to white-wash Akira by casting white actors in the role of Asian characters.

    Hollywood, you need to get over the simplistic notion that “sexy chicks doing dude stuff” is somehow empowering. Taking scantily-clad, sexploitation style women and squeezing them into the mold of the male action hero does not make a strong female character. That is simply the men who run Hollywood trying to redefine what a strong female character is and repackage it in a way that is pleasing for male adolescent viewers. …oh yeah and also make a shit ton of money.

    Usually in my videos I try to be fairly nuanced about my criticisms of pop culture but this movie, doesn’t have any nuance.

    Sucker Punch is nothing more than a steaming pile of maggot-filled, festering, misogynist crap trying to masquerade as female empowerment.

    Ya, that, uh, that pretty much sums it up.”

    That could have been written by me, but it wasn’t.

    Again, attempting to make me the “bad guy” is a bad case of script flipping as I am not the one writing what’s complained about in the above quote.

  17. Not only would they be entertaining and a breath of fresh air, but empowering for me as well.

    Hi Heather!   And this is really the point, heroic characters since ancient times have always worked as inspiration and empowerment.   How many kids in ’30s America felt empowered, and like anything was possible, after reading a Superman comic?   Superman’s not meant to be realistic, he’s meant to inspire.   Ditto female characters for women.

    And I can’t see that it matters whether a man or a woman writes them either — my biggest SF influence as a teen was CJ Cherryh (Caroline Janice Cherryh).   Never occurred to me that her gender mattered.

    And overt sexuality can work if it, like the other measures of the film is respected for what it is.

    Hi AA!   For me the difference between sexuality as degrading or empowering it this — if the female character in question is portrayed as using her sexuality purely for the pleasure of someone else (usually a man), that’s probably degrading.   If she’s using it mostly for herself, either for pleasure or power, that’s probably not.   Of course there’s always a lot of hair splitting in the middle, and it’s ultimately in the eye of the beholder…

    It’s interesting that the best female “action” characters are to be found on TV, from Babylon 5, Farscape, Firefly and others

    Farscape!   I wrote something somewhere about Chiana, and how she’s something incredibly rare in pop culture — a sexually promiscuous woman who is also one of the good guys.   Usually women like that are made to be the evil seductresses, but Chiana’s one of the most flat out likeable, lively characters on the show, and got so many of the best one liners.   Of course, her sexuality is entirely for herself, she’s no one’s toy.

    She’s not human, and anyone expecting her to be human in either her physicality or emotional complexity, seriously missed the point

    Hi Boden!   Yeah, the whole point of Sandy’s sexuality is that they made her a killing machine by enhancing her sensory processing — her vision, hearing, smell, she experiences everything on a heightened level.   But instead of just using those skills for combat, they’ve unintentionally made her a hedonist, someone who loves life, food, sunsets, music, etc… and sex, of course.   I thought the innocence of it was poetic, like giving a gun to someone, and they use it as a flower holder.   She’s the killing machine who’d rather make love than war.

  18. Whenever I have recommended the Trial of Blood & Steel series to anyone, I always describe Sasha as a “realistically empowered woman” who can beat any man with a sword because of her mastery of a superior technique (a sort of sword-weilding martial art vs the broadsword) but who would have to turn and run if she had no blade and was faced with a 300 pound guy (as, by the way, I’d have to do too). In fact, Sasha does find herself in this very situation later in the series.

  19. hmm.. Adlerian, really, you find the most egregious recent example ‘at random’? ;-).  This is really funny, as I just got my copy of Sucker Punch today, as any film which engenders such an polarized reaction from critics has to have some value for a discerning eye.  Personally, after watching, I don’t see what the big deal was.  Practically the whole film was was a series of fantasy sequences that had little bearing on reality. So was Last Action Hero, one of my favorite Arnie films.  Few of his films had significant basis in reality, and he often wore less clothing than the women in Sucker Punch.  

    But seriously, the men in the film are pretty much either slimy villains or enabling cowards (with the exception of Scott Glen’s motivating ‘angel’), but no one complains about that portrayal, do they?  And for a film that supposedly objectify’s women, the camera spends an awful lot of time on their faces, emotional reactions and not oggling their ‘half-naked bodies’ (note:there is *no* nudity, not even partial, in this film – Sucker Punch is no Showgirls).  The only pornography I could see was of the CGI-video gaming kind.  Snyder undermines his attempted message, sure, but he did that in Watchmen as well, so I’ve come to understand he’s the kind of director that wants his cake and wants to eat it too.

    As far as I could tell, the film was more about it’s 21c, video gaming audience, than it was about realism.  It didn’t seem any more exploitive than Black Swan or Chicago, it’s plot wasn’t more incoherent than Inception, and it was certainly not as mysogynist as either that or DiCaprio’s other film with a crazy, homicidal wife, Shutter Island. Those films and the likes of, hmm.., I don’t know, Pretty Woman are more dangerous to female empowerment than Sucker Punch will ever be.  And yet, those other films were praised, nominated for Oscars etc.  Go figure.  And hey, go and see what happens to women in Nolan films. It ain’t pretty.   

    And, let’s be fair now, how many successful male ‘action heroes’ are portrayed outrageously on the screen? And how many of them are presented sex symbols (either with exagerrated masculinity or cool)?  You’re answer should to both should be ‘most’.  This is the nature of the beast.  Why should men get all the fun?

  20. Hey Joel,

    Glad that you were impressed like I was with Chiana.  I was blown away by the characterizations of women in Farscape, and find that they are woefully under appreciated by the sci-fi community.  Just about all of them, not merely Chiana showed a full range of expression, sexual included.  That’s pretty rare in sci-fi, where typically it follows that If a woman is shown enjoying sex, she must be evil (as codified with Star Trek’s mirror universe sequences.)

    Chiana wasn’t the first, though, to be a sci-fi protagonist and show a promiscuous streak.  Zev from LEXX predated her by a couple years, something I’ll be discussing on my website’s ‘Summer of LEXX’ coming up over the next few weeks.

  21. Hi AA, Farscape was created in many ways as the anti-Star Trek, they wore their anti-PC characters and episodes as a badge of honour.   I remember watching ‘Bringing Home the Beacon’ in Season four, an all female episode, and thinking I’d never seen this before on any genre TV — female diversity as a driver of plot, Aeryn the gunslinger, Chiana the opportunist, Noranti the mischevious old witch, and Sikozu the brains, where each of them brings their different skills to bear to resolve the plot.   I don’t think there’s a wider assortment of different kinds of female characters on any genre TV show anywhere… save for Game of Thrones, which in Season Two especially is going to set a new record.

    Lexx was a little too strange even for me!

  22. Ah the women of Farscape, simply awesome.  Of course Farscape used the same framework as Blakes 7 which also had its fair share of strong female characters.  Can’t say I care to much about the women from GoT so far though, way too much of an emphasis on prostitution for me to take it seriously (yet for some reason, no complaints by feminist critics – again, go figure).

    LEXX was groundbreaking in its strangeness, but I theorize that it’s relative success opened the door to shows like Farscape, as well as the tone and execution in the new Doctor Who (and spinoff Torchwood) as well. 

    I almost forgot, Hong Kong produced some absolutely awesom action films starring their homegrown female action stars back in its golden age with the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui and others which were very successful in their time, following similar guidelines as you suggest. 

  23. Joel, don’t you go changing mate.

    Your characters are empowering by both their strengths and vulnerabilities and that makes them believable and entertaining. Sasha especiallly holds a special place in my heart because she is truly the result of great craftsmanship. Sasha is a swords person by trade who did not want to grow up in the pretty princess world of her sisters. Sasha knows, martially speaking at first, her strengths and her weaknesses.

    It is true that a 65kg person would struggle against a 150kg 2m person. Possible, but the odds are not good. But that is why they have weight classes in boxing, ufc, etc, but many people would be surprised at how weapons can level out a fight. As a fencer and a studier of many forms of sword work, I have my arse handed to me by many women (none of which were wearing chainmail bikinis), and I can tell you that strength and speed help, but it is not everything. If all else is equal, cunning and tactics will win the day.

    Boudicca or Joan of Arc anyone? Here are two fine examples of empowering women in a wold dominated by men, and men judged them for it. Hollywood not included.

  24. AA — GoT is a pretty brutal world, anything bad that can happen to a character usually does, with bad consequences for the women in particular.   But by season two there’s nearly as many kick ass women in that series as men.

    Hi Rusty!   We don’t even need to go back to Boudicca or Joan, try googling Leigh Ann Hester.   As a rule, the less ‘fair’ the fight, the more chance women have.   The only physical exertion required by a sniper rifle is a slight pull of the index finger.   Though by that definition, the creation of martial arts themselves was the first step in a process of trying to make the fight ‘unfair’, for the opponent at least.   So in Sasha’s world, her fighting technique is just the latest step in the local arms race, her equivalent of a sniper rifle.

  25. B.C.smith // July 5, 2011 at 1:28 am //

    Not agreeing with somebody on a subject is one thing, but pesonally attacking that person (an author no less) is kind of a dick move to be honest.

    “You can count on me as a costomer(we always know best).”

    Well, costomers can also be ASSHOLES and JERKASSES too πŸ™‚


    So, in your own words, “Tend your own garden”.  

  26. HYATTβ„’ // July 5, 2011 at 4:12 am //

    There is a current internet discussion based off of a recent UK survey on SF&F authors and lately a lot of fairly visible XX chromosome participants are seemingly up in arms over the slighting of female SF&F authors on the list of greatest SF&F authors.

    I’ve found this to be a REALLY silly issue to take umbrage with given the enormous market share control XX authors have in the Fantasy book genre & the arrival of so many new XX faces in the hard SF genre as well.

    Sorry about the small digression Joel, but my point has been, in these discussions, that if XX authors want to capture my attention – and thereby my $$$ – they should learn to write FOR me and not try to sell me a Harlequin Romance novel disguised with a few spaceships and/or aliens. I do not “DO” Harlequin Romance, and no matter what gender the author is, I STILL do not “DO” Harlequin Romance.

    Women authors in the SF&F field seem to be somewhat slow in getting that point, just as you say about Hollyweird moneymen. Somehow MY failure to embrace a weepy soap opera that has all the requisite space ships, FTL, strange vistas, and menacing/friendly aliens is just MY misogynistic tendencies and anti-feminst bias?

    Given that women authors have been somewhat slow on the uptake in the SF&F genres, it’s not UNexpected that respondents on a survey of favorite SF&F authors would be heavily leaning in favor of XY in a genre dominated by mainly XY authors and writers in HUGE proportions for over half a century – because they UNDERSTOOD their audiences of mainly XY readers better. Surprisingly, they undestood many of their XX audiences better as well – or at least the ones who enjoyed what their XY cousins did.

    Eat butt crack, my dear compaining witnesses, your stories flat out SUCK for those with my tastes, as Joel has so AMPLY pointed out in his op. Stop whining about my biases and start WRITING to them – if money/sales is REALLY what you are chasing. If what you really want is for me to conform to YOUR world-view and begin embracing what YOU deem a good read should be, I wish you every success. A lot of divorced women have attempted similar Herculean feats on their spouses over the millenia and failed just as miserably.

    We do NOT change just because an ideology wishes us to change. We change through exposure to those ideologies over time, and as they work in OUR vernacular to subtly mold our thinking. If you cannot work in that vernacular, you haven’t a prayer of changing us. I want a kick-ass female heroine with the ability to undergo severe trials and tribulations – APPROPRIATE TO HER GENDER – i.e. you can’t threaten to cut off a woman’s balls and expect anyone to squirm in their seat even if the heroine acts like she possesses 3 pairs cast from carborundum. I want REAL people without real soap opera lives, (unless the soap opera consists of the evil corporate slimeballs raining unjust difficulties down on her head just because they are evil corporate slimeballs with megapower and love making life miserable for EVERONE and/or are purposely/inadvertantly trying to thwart our heroine’s goals.)

    What I do NOT want is a runnng dialogue about our heroine’s “forsaken lust-love-missing daddy’s affection-marriage-childbearing clock running out” screwing up her ability to make it through the day without weeping silently but strongly. Good lawdy, as I said, if I want a summer beach book or a Harlequin Romance, I’ll buy one, but DO NOT EVER try to slip it into my SF oaters no matter how strongly you feel the need to convert the world to a betteer understanding of feminism and want to make all of us readers/viewers more loving and understanding and considerate of the XX chromosome carriers and their dreams. Rather develop the character background to explain HOW the heroine can call up the necessary strength to continue the battle – and frankly, a squabble with DH or Ex-Loverboy isn’t exactly the “stuff” that gives heroines strength to combat unholy terror and deep physical pain

    Create REAL HERO characters, REGARDLESS of their gender,and watch your sales skyrocket.

    Skip the running soap opera and write about the incredible feats of tenacity and will power used to overcome the most horrendous and seemingly impossible odds. Write about the damage the hero/heroine undergoes and STILL manages to find the inner strength to go on and get past the mental damages that tribulation inevitibly caused. John McClain cut his bare feet to ribbons on shattered glass & scraped 3 pounds of hide off his epidermis, but he SOMEHOW manages to keep on fighting his way around Nakatomi Plaza and shooting up all the bad guys whilst jumping off the side of the building and using only a firehose, breaking yet MORE glass in order to keep on fighting. Nakita kicks bad guy azz all day and yet never seems to quite defeat her tomentors at Division. Ripley warns the corporation time and again, and time & again ends up doing all the dirty work to clean up their messes. After 60 years of that crap anyone would give up – EXCEPT A REAL HERO.

    As big of a clown as Ahhh-nahld is, in “True Lies” Jamie Lee Curtis portrays a REAL HERO. A woman NOT cut out for the spy business, who should feint dead away, and she finds those resources somewhere inside to become a bona fide heroine. Granted it was all done tongue-in-cheek, but it actually worked rather well, in my humble opinion, BECAUSE the writer had a sense of what it takes to draw a hero on the screen while lampooning them at the same time with Swartzenegger’s hubby character who is more of a lunchpail everyday spy doing what is expected of him, and that which he has been properly trained to do.

    Believe it or not, failure only makes heroes MORE sexy in the end. Let your heroes fail – fail a lot, but keep them coming back to fail again. THAT is the defining character of heroes – they simply cannot fail PERMANENTLY. And WHILE you are providing me with what I need to see to suspend disbelief and BUY your hero/heroiine, you can occasionally slip in those LEETTLE hints about how I can change my thinking on feminist issues. I’ll STILL pay to enter the theater or buy the book & someday YOUR name will be on that list of Great SF&F authors too – irrespective of gender.

    What gives ME the right to say what makes for a great hero? If I think I know so much, why am I not writing instead of telling people what to write? Obviously I CAN write, I write very well in fact – but I cannot tell a decent story. It is a skill that escapes me, just as learning a 2nd language seems to do in spite of 5 years of trying. But I CAN tell others what I WANT to read/watch and my tastes are NOT confined to me alone.


  27. Scotoma // July 5, 2011 at 5:02 am //

    Could you have formulated your reply a little more succinct, like: Oh noes, there is some romance in my space opera!!! Get away from me, girl cooties.

    That said, there’s enough science fiction written by women that has as much romance as your usual male written SF novel, making your entire wall of text moot. But hey, we all like to cling to precious prejudices.

  28. HYATT, try reading some CJ Cherryh, if you haven’t already.   If you like space stuff, and action stuff, start with Rimrunners, tough female lead and one of the least romantic books of its kind you’ll ever read — in the opening, our character’s starving on some derelict space station, lets some slimeball have his way with her just for shelter and some food, then kills him to use his apartment, and duct tapes all the ventilation so the smell of his corpse won’t give her away.   Bet Yeager’s a charmer.   But the author’s female.

  29. Hey HYATT,

    Did it ever occur to you that women writing romantic space opera that would appeal to Harlequin fans aren’t writing for you?  Maybe they’re writing for people who enjoy ROMANCE, but would like the context of science fiction.  If you’re clearly in the SF camp, you can stay there happily.  No one is asking you to turn into Fabio.  But there are a shit-ton of romance readers out there, many who enjoy action adventure and dare I say it, SF.  For those readers, there is nothing wrong with science-fiction romance and it is not less than Hard SF just because you don’t like icky emotional soap operas.

    It’s just not what you like.  That doesn’t make it not valid, nor does it make any form of SF that addresses personal emotion as a way of revealing character and story instead of focusing soley on “The Big Idea”

    I’ll give you a hint. If there’s a shirtless guy on the cover, go ahead and pass it on by. I’ll continue to enjoy my Romance with some SF on the side, gladly.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: