Copyright 2001 Mary Spicuzza / Metro Active

[ March 30th 2001 ]

Mary Spicuzza from Metro Active takes a look at a growing trend of female action heroes matriculating from the surreal Sigourney Weaver portrait of Lieutenant Ripley to todays cyber action heroine Lara Croft:

She unloads two shotguns while swinging from the ceiling on an archaic, fraying rope. She wipes blood from her lip as carelessly as if it was smeared lipstick. And throughout the preview for the latest tough-chick action movie, Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie, starring as video game heroine Lara Croft, walks strong, talks tough and fights foes in a feminized version of Rambo meets Die Hard. Unlike her cinematic male counterparts, Jolie manages to pummel her enemies in the skimpiest of shorts, wearing weapon-holders that look more like garters than holsters. When she flirts with death, her sexuality is a key piece of her arsenal.

"I could never kill you," one slick gent says weakly, with the sincerity of a stranger on a bar stool. "I didn't say you could kill me," she banters back coyly, eyebrows raised and plump lips pursed. "I said you could try."

Jolie's sex-kitten Croft in Tomb Raider, headed for theaters this summer, leaps into action as the latest addition to an undeniable trend in the evoution of today's action hero, the butt-kicking babe. Other recent films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Charlie's Angels and The Matrix have all featured women who can not only hold their own, but prevail in combat. On television, female heroes have gone the way of undead-dueling Buffy the Vampire Slayer, genetically engineered Dark Angel, historic cult-hit Xena: Warrior Princess or cartoon animated superhero trio the Power Puff Girls. Movies and TV, combined with video games like "Tomb Raider," have launched a full-frontal, multimedia assault with visions of women warriors dominating male and female villains.

Producers wouldn't continue cranking out female action heroes if audience response wasn't overwhelmingly positive. Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has been nominated for 10 Oscars and recently beat out Roberto Begnini's Life Is Beautiful as the top-grossing foreign language film in America--an amazing feat for a movie with subtitles. Buffy put the then fledgling Warner Brothers Television Network (WB) on the map when it began in 1997, and now the show is caught in the middle of a major custody battle with several networks vying for the viewership of the vampire slayer's millions of fans. Shopping malls and schools across America show that beloved butt-kicking preschoolers, the Power Puff Girls, are enjoying enormous success both on the air and in marketing merchandise.

Not everyone is thrilled with this trend, and many critics are calling for the heroines to drop their weapons and put on more clothes. Surprisingly, the loudest complaints aren't coming from conservatives urging women to trade their weapons for baking utensils, but rather from feminists and liberal media watchdog groups concerned about what they believe to be damaging sexist portrayals of violent female heroines. "I am awash in a Dark Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer glow. I have seen women kick butt in Charlie's Angels and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and, in my heart of hearts, I know this much is true: It's good for the economy," Margaret Finnegan writes in a widely celebrated article, "Sold! The Illusion of Independence" (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 1, 2001).

Finnegan argues that, unlike battling the June Cleaver image, butt-kicking babes are much harder for feminists to fight.

She continues, "The commercial embrace of kick-butt girls breeds a less obvious threat to women's struggle for equality: the illusion of equality. Feminism has fewer enemies." Since Finnegan's article, other critics have stepped forward to caution against today's heroines as scantily clad, over-sexualized male fantasies who promote barbaric shows of strength rather than women's equality--and may even be encouraging violence against women.

So why do I love these butt-kicking babes?

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