See part one to get the backstory.
- Women of strength are almost always an extension of male power. Buffy the Vampire Slayer? She’s watched and trained by a male watcher. Xena the Warrior Princess owes her salvation (and the existence of her franchise) to Hercules. The ladies of the X-Men? Xavier’s. Across the board you see women who are taught to be strong by men, or women who operate under the covering of a man’s world or man’s blessing. There are some rare exceptions, like Wonder Woman, whose existence seems to point to a flaw in my logic. But, if you will experiment: write down every female superhero/action hero/TV protagonist that you can think of and then highlight all the ones who are completely independent of operating under male authority.
Trust me, you won’t need your highlighter much.
- Either their sexuality is hidden, or is a weapon. Women in traditionally masculine roles are given very few options: either hide your femininity in order to dress and operate like a man, or flaunt your femininity like a weapon. You see it in the over-sexual poses on comic book covers, in the drastic v-necks and skin tight blouses on TV, in the made-up faces and perfectly coiffed hair that have no place in a crime scene or hiding behind surgeon’s masks.
What’s up, world?
And most of the time when you see a female character who has taken pains to neither dress in a masculine way or use her sexuality as a weapon, the situation will be contrived at LEAST ONCE to make her into a sexual display. (For example: Castle’s Beckett, who normally is neither overly masculine or feminine, is contrived to have to play the role of a model on a catwalk. Why?) How often are male police officers forced to go undercover as strippers or whores? When male spies have to seduce someone for information, do they have to subjugate themselves sexually to do so? Come on.
- Nurture: there’s a loaded word. Whether or not male superheros have family can be a loaded issue. Normally, their family relations are taught with loss or lies. Peter Parker’s guilt about Uncle Ben, Batman’s loss of his parents, and many more such examples. But for women in the power game, the issue of family tends to come down to nurture. The choice is clear: for the woman to have power, she must scorn nurture. It is implied, therefore, that nurture is a “default mode” for women that must be shut off for them to have strength. Yet the nurture still ekes out in the form of Wonder Woman comforting Superman against her breast.
While I understand that feminine physiology demands that women address the issue of childbirth, I also find it odd that men can have children in these situations where women cannot. And why can men? Because they impregnate women who do the nurturing for them. The nurturing happens removed from the source of strength.
When I think about it too much, I get a headache. What, exactly, does this symbolize?
- Humiliation. When male superheros are beaten down and humiliated, it usually takes the form of them being bound and gagged and their strength being mocked.
When females are humiliated, it is all too often sexual in nature.
- And the double standard of tears. In the first Die Hard movie, the protagonist is reduced to tears. This stoic crying is seen as a symbol of his strength and perseverance. Compare that to any woman crying ever.
No, really, any woman crying ever. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of any time that a woman crying is seen as a sign of strength and perseverance instead of a sign of weakness and over-emotion, and I can’t think of one. Men are allowed to cry on occasion because it is seen as a sign of them being in control, them willingly connecting to a depth of emotion that is understood to have an “off” switch if necessary. Women, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to cry because it is seen as them being unable or unwilling to harness their emotions appropriately. Women cry when they are in pain so that men heal them, they cry when they are upset so that men stop, they cry in this or that situation because they are unhinged or just neurotic.
When Batman cries it is because he is strong enough to acknowledge his grief. When Catwoman cries she’s just psycho, yo.