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Why Having Only Strong Girl Heroines is Not Enough

Why Having Only Strong Girl Heroines is Not Enough

A.O. Scott in the lead story of the NY Times Magazine this past weekend wrote a very interesting piece on how Hollywood has finally embraced women, well not exactly women, heroines.  The piece “Hollywood’s Year of Heroine Worship” delves into many very great points about the unique female characters seen onscreen this past year.  He focuses on the characters from Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, The Hunger Games, Beasts of the Southern Wild and even adds in Twilight since Bella is much more heroic in the final film of the saga.

He also makes the point that the box office is still dominated by the male action flicks where women are sexy sidekicks (though strong like Anne Hathaway in Batman).  Looking at the numbers this is actually a good year for female roles at the box office.  According to box office mojo as of today, three films with a female protagonist are in the top ten grossing films of the year: The Hunger Games, Twlight Breaking Dawn Part 2 and Brave

This is all good news.

But digging a little bit deeper the one thing that I notice about all these movies and all these characters is that they are all GIRLS.  So my question is, where are the movies about strong WOMEN? 

Many sites have covered that douche publisher at the Niagra Falls Reporter who fired his film reviewer for covering films with a so-called feminist agenda.  Here’s what he wrote in particular about Snow White and the Huntsman:

Snow White and the Huntsman is trash moral garbage. a lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.

I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta. where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.

I believe in manliness.

Can you beieve that a person who says I believe in manliness is actually a publisher of a newspaper?  And while I believe that most newspaper publishers and editors don’t feel this way, sometimes I think that Hollywood believes in manliness.  That men are alpha and  women are beta.  I find it hilarious that a film about a princess who escapes from captivity and is by the way a fairy tale character could be construed as having a feminist agenda.  And also, the crazy rabid feminist in this film is barely out of her teens.  But she’s out to ruin the world so we need to put her back in her “girl box.”

I want to make it clear that I am thrilled that we had such strong female roles this year in films.  The performances particularly of Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games and Quvenzhané Wallis in Beast of the Southern Wild blew my mind. 

But I want more.  I want strong ADULT women heroines and I want other women besides Angelina Jolie to play them.  They don’t have to shoot arrows, they can shoot words, but they also belong onscreen.  Heroism does not end at 18 or 20 for guys so why should it end at the age for gals?  It’s almost as if the culture is comfortable seeing strong female characters before they hit puberty but once they get too far towards womanhood we really don’t want to see them potentially saving the world.   Girls are seen as less threatening because they don’t really wield any power.  Girl heroines, OK.  Women heroines, not so much. 

And this is a trend that will continue.  There are a bunch of Young Adult novels in development and production that feature youthful females as the leads.  Films like Beautiful Creatures (which opens in early 2013), Angel Fall, Earthseed, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.  They will be rolling out over the next couple of years.   The key to the continuing of the success of these films will be if the female audiences comes out in big numbers, and also if guys go to see the films too.

We see adult male superheroes like Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man and Liam Neeson lately in everything he does, yet there are so few women’s roles like that. 

A.O. Scott might be right that 2012 might turn out to be a pretty good year for “female heroism.”  He also is right that we shouldn’t all think things will be different now that there have been a couple of successful films with female leads, which by the way were all directed by men.  Things will only be different when we see a diversity of films with female heroes of all ages, just like is available for the guys, because in my life I see great female heroes everywhere.

Behind the Cover Story: A. O. Scott on Women, “Girls” and the Standout Female Performances of the Year (NY Times)

Hollywood’s Year of Heroine Worship (NY Times)

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The women aren’t present because men (in Hollywood and presumably, as a reflection elsewhere) are AFRAID OF US. It’s really that simple. Girls are less threatening to men with fragile egos and it looks like these are the men who run Hollywood.


I wonder sometimes how "female" these roles actually are. Most of the time it seems like it would take only very minor changes for these roles to be male leads instead. Is that good? I'm not sure.


The subtitle of this piece could read "I want to see more people exactly like me in the movies." If you're an adult woman, you probably think there are too few adult women in movies. But if you are anything but a white woman, you are very much correct in saying there are too few minority roles for actresses out there. On TV and in film, white girls dominated 2012…but minority women remain all but invisible except for roles in micro-indies only critics have heard of (Beasts of the Southern Wild) or virtually mute slaves with 5 lines of dialogue (Kerri Washington in Django Unchained).


I think this piece is on point. Women are varied and should be portrayed on film as such. I don't think that male roles need to be submissive though. There should be room for strong characters of both sexes.


Daily disco

I think in some of the Rom Coms like Bridesmaids, we can see fully adult women who are not perfect.


Here's hoping that Amy Adams' Lois Lane in "Man of Steel" will be a great woman heroine. She may not be the hero, but Lois Lane has always been the (supporting) protagonist of any good Superman story, because she's the character that the audience is supposed to identify with.


"Can you beieve that a person who says I believe in manliness is actually a publisher of a newspaper? "
It's about as hard to "beieve" as someone like like Helen Gurley Brown (Cosmo Magazine) or Gloria Steinem (Ms Magazine) both calling themselves "feminists." Funny how you have no problem with that. You know your male hatred has gotten so bad it's only a matter of time before you wind up doing something nutty. Get help now.

Catherine J

Whilst one swallow does not a summer make, I'd like just to point out Helen Mirren's pulling power in this district. Aside from her tremendous body of work as a classical actress, she's shown her capability to punch weight equally with the boys. 'RED' and (in a more dramatic vein) 'The Debt' as well as her turn as Prospera in Julie Taymor's 'The Tempest'. Great female heroines – if anybody would care to notice. RED made around $199 million globally on a (est) $58 million budget and RED2 is in production. Contributing, then, to box office pulling power as well – and I'm sure Mirren would agree she doesn't need to be the only one out there. Sigourney was the benchmark (Irene – below – is totally right) – we all know we just haven't gone in the direction of producing more of those kinds of characters. It IS up to women audiences at the end of the day.

Dylan Chumleigh

Hey!! This movie was good "Kristen Stewart", "Charlize Theron" were too good in it, love their acting!!!


"The key to the continuing of the success of these films will be if the female audiences comes out in big numbers, and also if guys go to see the films too." The key to continuing success will also be a strong feminist movement that dares to call itself feminist. I don't want to just see strong women leads in the movies. I want to see strong women leads who call themselves feminists and do women's rights activism.


This comment doesn't present the most well-thought-out thesis, but reading this article reminded me that most of our female superhero models are with a "girl" suffix – Batgirl, Supergirl – but at least one female villain was permitted to be Catwoman. Of course, there's Wonder Woman, but her male champions haven't yet succeeded in convincing Hollywood of her worth.

Sociologically, it may be more important for teenage girls (and boys) to know that they can be – and imagine themselves as – heroes than it is for we old and jaded ladies of the world who know that achieving hero status is actually really difficult in this world of gender imbalance. Again, half-baked thoughts that I hope to revisit somewhere.


I have only one word to add 'Ripley'


What the hell? How could you fail to discuss Jessica Chastain's character (over 30) and her relentless pursuit to find Osama Bin Laden? Might be one of the important movies of the year and it's not mentioned by the author.


"Girls are seen as less threatening because they don't really wield any power."

I wonder whether this is actually the reason behind so many of these characters being young. It may be a part of it, but I suspect other factors are at play too. For one, I think the uptick we're seeing now is part of a trend that in large part came out of young adult literature, and many of the films Scott mentions are directed at a young adult audience. It also may be that with a young hero[ine], the film is typically about their *becoming* heroic – it may be easier for screenwriters and producers to imagine a female who starts out unheroic but becomes so, than to imagine a woman who is *already* a hero.

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