Why Female Action Heroes Are Bad For You – And Your Boyfriend

Action movies are a kind of manifestation of society’s desires. And to an extent, I get it. We all want some level of perfection in a mate even though it is entirely unlikely to happen.

I might watch The Avengers with some dude and he might wish that I had Scarlett Johansson’s giant rack and confidence in zippered leather. But perhaps this is in the same way that after watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall I will always be a little disappointed that the men in my life can’t play songs from the Muppets on the piano like Jason Segel.

Is it surprising that some dude would look over at his girlfriend sitting in the theater next to him eating her junior mints and wish she was able to kill men between her thighs whilst preparing him a balanced meal? (When really he should be so lucky to be with a woman who cares about him enough to go see a movie that revolves around bad CGI’d explosions and crappy one-liners.) I’m not sure. I do know that after watching Vin Diesel take down a room full of thugs I don’t feel negatively about the men I care about (with the exception of their taste in movies.)

I suppose that is the major difference. A man could learn to play a song on the piano were he so committed to the task, whereas I could not learn my boobs into double D’s or my lips into pillowy lines of determination nor could I coax my personality into that of an assassin (not that women don’t try for perfection with all of our gym memberships and juice fasts and plastic surgery.)

Last month, The Atlantic rather redundantly pointed out that women still couldn’t have it all.

To which most of us answered with a resounding, “No shit.”

As a genre, action movies show society that, yes, women are capable of being everything to everyone, but they also make it clear that —just like many aspects of being a woman—“having it all” is not really even something we do for our own benefit.

If I told the man I was with I wanted him to sing me the Rainbow Connection he could refuse, and nobody would feel like he was doing me a disservice. But women let themselves believe that being the thing those men want will make our lives nicer as well. We think things will be better if we are a perfect and impossible female composite of tough, nurturing, sexy and most men are happy to let us keep on believing that should be a goal, because lets face it, it’s way less work for them.

But men don’t get to have it all either. You win some, you lose some in life and Lara Croft is only as dangerous as she is real. If we as women don’t believe in her (and we shouldn’t as she technically does not exist), than her visage ceases to have as much power over us, and how we live our lives. And hopefully, if we stop having ridiculous expectations of ourselves, then they will be less likely to be placed on us by men as well. Or maybe we’re all just screwed.

Personally I don’t need to have “it all.” I’m happy just having some: the use of my limbs, a few jiu jitsu lessons, a catsuit, and Jason Segel.


Pic via Resident Evil

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    • Lara Croft Fan

      I find myself puzzled as to how to react to this article. I think it was well-written and thought-provoking, but it leaves me bewildered.

      I have always genuinely identified with Lara Croft and others of her ilk (I’m 23, I’ve spent the past 13 years of my life training in various forms of armed and unarmed martial arts). I’ve found it refreshing to see women portrayed as physically and mentally strong, humanly emotional (though of course not normal), non-man-haters. Women who do choose more “masculine” extracurricular activities are often stereotyped as manly or somehow emotionally stunted, and all the problems I have faced with males’ expectations of me have stemmed from those assumptions.

      While I agree that such movies are unrealistic (it’s hilarious that women who supposedly train super hard are portrayed with gigantic boobs), I don’t think that they are actually portraying women who have “it all.” As I recall, all the films you mention have some theme of isolation or loneliness of the main female character. This is realistic, and at times very depressing, if most of your life is spent trying to achieve some kind of high performance. If some aspect of extreme physical fitness/high performance is over-glamorized in such movies, I think the blame is not so much with the action films as it is with the greater advertising/media apparatus supporting them. I would even venture that the situation would be worse if all we had were stick-thin unmuscled wilting lilies to look at.

      Is there a compromise position? Can I feel that action movies with female leads actually boost my self-esteem, and be glad that they exist for my enjoyment, without also feeling very guilty for the way that they might impact others?

    • M

      I’m astounded by this article. I understand not everyone is going to be an action hero type of gal, but I guess I’m pretty similar to Lara Croft Fan in that I grew up a martial artist and have always identified more with strong female characters with so-called masculine traits. It’s not that I don’t have traits and interests that are considered feminine, but I also have traits and interests that people seem to consider masculine. It’s been a long time coming to find female characters in the media who have that combination, and I know there are lots of people out there who, like me and Lara Croft Fan, feel great relief that we finally have positive representation in popular entertainment.

      I’m confused why you say “‘having it all’ is not really even something we do for our own benefit.” Why not? I suppose you could argue that nothing a conscientious human being does is ever purely for him- or herself, but that aside, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve always pursued excellence in my career, fitness, family, friendships, what have you, for my own happiness and growth. I know plenty of women who do the same, including ones who don’t identify with these action movie ladies at all.

      I’m also a little concerned by the article’s implication that women perfect themselves or look up to role models largely with the goal to impress men. If that’s the case, I don’t think the role models are the problem.

      Why must something different from the traditional idea of femininity suddenly be a threat to a woman’s self-esteem? I think open-mindedness, diversity, and the opportunity to pursue excellence in whatever you want (including masculine activities) should be encouraged, not discouraged as damaging.

    • Mandy

      All I have to say is, “Joss Whedon”.

    • Eileen

      I don’t know; I watched Batman and kind of wished my dude could do push-ups like Bruce Wayne. I’m pretty sure he did too. I think this is a reason why action heroes are “bad” for society, period: They sell us, well, gorgeous, self-sacrificing heroes.

    • Nancy

      I loved this article, it was very well-written! Thank you