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October 06 2005

A hard woman is good to find. The portrayal of "strong women" in Hollywood features (including River Tam) isn't quite as it seems, according to Times journalist Kevin Maher.

Today's Times features the above article by Kevin Maher, on what he sees as the current trend of "post-feminist kick-ass action heroines" that "[offer] an overtly sexualised view of women that’s utterly rooted in the darkest chambers of male desire". Article focuses on Serenity and River specifically, who apparently is a "leather-clad fembot"...

Also in today's edition, a short review of the film itself - earning three stars out of five.

I'm getting a vague impression of the Times as a somewhat snotty little paper. ("Inherent ridiculousness")
I really don't see River as being a representative of a trend toward sexualized, ass-kicking fembots. Sure, if you're going just by some of the posters for the film, there is a element of using sex to sell. Although, if that's the reason you go to the movie, you'll likely be disappointed. River is actually one of the most feminine action herione I've seen in a long time. She moves like a ballet dancer and isn't wearing a tight sex suit, but a flowing dress that goes down to her mid-calf. If anything, she bucks the trend of sexualizing female action stars.
I think this is a very shallow look at characters like River and Buffy. First, on the outfits: River tends to wear baggy things, and dresses. She dresses pretty, and only once can I really recall her ever wearing anything formfitting in the series, and that's in the Train Job. Buffy wears tight stuff alot, sure... but Buffy wears contemporary fashions for the most part. She likes to look good. If male fashion leaned toward tight, package hugging pants then you can bet Vin Diesel would be wearing them in the next action flick. It's just the fashion lately that men wear looser outfits right now.

As for character. River may be capable of ass-kicking, but anyone who's familiar with her would know that she completely bucks this trend of the empowered super-women. She's fragile, and broken, and in many ways completely dependent on her brother. She's half a two-member family bond in which neither has a point without the other.

And Buffy is a neurotic control freak who makes extemely bad personal decisions... ie, she's a normal person, not some overly-sexualized cypher like this Aeon-Flux character seems.

[ edited by IMForeman on 2005-10-06 23:02 ]
That guy should have done some research before writing. Or at least TALKED to Joss ... (shakes head)

[ edited by PowerToThePeople on 2005-10-06 23:12 ]
"Pneumatic breasts"? Really?
So clearly this reporter's research on things Whedon is the serenity poster, a few TV adds for buffy and googling some equality quotes from Joss. He then takes it all entirely out of context by liberaly mixing these into an article where he complains about Catwoman, Lara Croft, Electra et al. Like Joss' work affirms every lycra/leather/bondage clad female out there. I'd agree with a lot of the points in his article if he had not mixed in these jarring comparissons. What about Kaylee? Zoe?or Willow? For that matter, what about Batman's form hugging suit? A sloppy article that tries to do a once over lightly approach, and just ends up mixing everything together.
I agree with the author on almost every count. I don't see Buffy as one of the sexualised "ass-kickers". She's a beautiful girl, but she's no half-naked Halle Berry talking about empowerment.

Other than that, I loved the article. (His comments about Serenity derived from his impression of the poster, which I vigurously dislike for the same reason as the author does.)
Yeah this article shows that the writer knows absolutely nothing about River.

The only character I could see fitting this stereotype even slightly is Zoe, just because she is the "hard" woman, she's sexual, and when/if Zoe breaks down- you are more surprised then when River does.

I am starting to believe anyone can be a writer these days.
I have to say this article shows a gross lack of nuance, as do some of the people it quotes. Almost everything it says fully applies to Berry's 'Catwoman', but the mistake is to simply pile on every other female character with any physical aspect to her power on there with her.

It is indeed an ugly notion that female characters' only worth or attraction is in their sexual appeal and lord knows there's plenty of examples where women are either 'the girfriend/wife', the 'love interest/sex partner', or the 'femme fatale'. And people like this article's writer rightly complained about it. But now it's apparently gone so far that if a female character has a warrior aspect and is sexually attractive her character is worthless automatically? What kind of nonsensical reasoning is that?

Sexual attraction IS a power for both men and women. And since men are often a little more obsessed with it, it's sometimes more of a power for women. Integrating that in stories is not a bad thing, it all depends on how you do it. Hell, James Bond may be the ultimate old-school male chauvinistic character, but in a way he too uses his own sexual appeal as a weapon much like a Mata Hari. And more and more, male characters have to be sexy too even in the gratuitous body shots. Brad Pitt's rippling physique is shown off all the time and women gobble up the view as much as men gawk at the 'leather clad female asskickers'.

And you know what? There's nothing inherently wrong with that. As long as the character isn't JUST about that.

Buffy and Faith were indeed 'hot chicks with superpowers' who often wore tight and/or leather outfits and I enjoyed the crap out of that. But they were never ABOUT it. It was just an aspect of them and why is being sexually attractive automatically a negative side to a character? Lord knows many women found Spike attractive and sexy and they often showed his nekkid form, but he was never just a piece of eye candy. They were all fully realized characters and one of the great things Joss has done is show that it's possible to avoid the 'women as just sexpots' pitfalls and instead incorporate their sexuality as a fitting part of the whole.

(And given the fact that only 60 years ago women weren't even 'supposed' to like sex, or talk about it, I'd say there is something to be said for the liberating aspects in characters like the sexually free Faith, or the 'ambassador of sex' Inara.)

Male heroes used to be the only ones to kick ass with the woman getting saved. Now women can also kick ass and save whoever they want all over the place. Somehow this BOTH demeans women? Ookay. Should we maybe leave women out of action movies altogether then?

It's all in how you do it. If you do it badly, the use of sexuality demeans the female character and she becomes our cheap entertainment (Catwoman). If done correctly, it enriches the character and it puts *us* in our place. (Joss' work.) If this writer can't tell the difference, well....there's that lack of nuance I was talking about.

I am starting to believe anyone can be a writer these days.

Exactly. Judging by this article, anyone can. And given the obvious fact that he knows absolutely squat about River's character, I'm not surprised this article is lacking. Lord knows if he's even seen anything of the other movies or shows he mentions beyond the odd poster or trailer. And there is little I hate more than writers attempting to sound knowledgable about topics they have no knowledge of. It's embarrassing.

Sorry for the long rant...
Well, if we ignore his comments on Firefly and Buffy, his other statements are spot on!
I see his point, but I don't think River, or any of Joss's female leads for that matter, really fall into the same category. It's clear that he's seen the European poster for Serenity and jumped to conclusions based, at least a bit, on his ignorance.


My pet peeve: Since when is sexuality not a type of power?
Has this guy seen any Van Dam movies? As I recall there was one where he jumped out of the way by doing a Russian split in his underwear. It was n every add. Much like the trailer I saw for Doom that slowly and lovingly approached The (shirtless) Rock from behind.

It is not that I disagree about his assessment of the latest way Hollywood is exploiting women, (Except for the inclusion of Joss. Though I'm not sure all of Hollywood realizes he should be excluded from it...and maybe we shouldn't tell them. ;-) ) i just think they exploit unrealistic images of men too.
Well, if we ignore his comments on Firefly and Buffy, his other statements are spot on!

Well I agree with 'Catwoman' as an example, also with 'Underworld' (although that character was way too devoid of any emotion or expression to even be considered sexy). Elektra was crap but there wasn't really a hell of a lot of exploitation going on.

He claims 'Alien's' Ripley as "genuinely liberating", which I agree with, but which still sounds odd considering his opinions on exploitation, since even the first movie had some very gratuitous shots of her in her tiny tiny tiny undies.(another example where I wonder if he even really knows the movie)

As for Trinity from the 'Matrix'....well, all characters were shown as over-the-top-attractive and unpractically-prettily-dressed that was half tongue-in-cheek. And it was sharply contrasted with the bland and ugly look everyone had outside of the matrix, which made a nice deliberate point about how we want to see ourselves and how we are in reality. Not the best example of his point.

As for Mystique in 'X-men', they made her naked because of the trouble of clothes not changing along with her. (Which wasn't a problem in the comics). So I suppose it had a reason, but I personally never liked it myself either, no.

The 'Terminator 3' robot...well Arnie was naked himself in the first two and nobody cried "exploitation" then, so... I would say the 'Species' movies are better examples of handling it crappily.

On the 'Tomb Raider' movies, no contest. She was about as much a 'character' as she was in the game. All boobs and arrogant attitude and no substance. Angelina's description of Lara fits Faith better.

For that matter, what about Batman's form hugging suit?

Exactly. Or Spiderman's. Or Superman's. Or all of the X-men (male and female) in tight leather. Same for Daredevil. And tight spandex is generally not considered masculine. If it was the Rock and Vin would indeed be spandexed up to the neck. Whatever is considered sexual for the gender is applied to the character. May as well complain why Lara Croft doesn't wear a tuxedo like Bond.

What ticked me off the most though was this: "“Young males feel threatened by the powerful girls and women around them,” Kaplan says. “These films fulfil some sort of satisfaction, in that they can get off on these women rather than feel threatened by them.” Talk about generalization! Notice this is just Kaplan's opinion, not the result of extensive studies. There is apparently only one possible thought for males who watch these things. We're all threatened and we need S&M fantasies to deal with our fear of strong women. We are all clones with a beehive mind. Did I mention lack of nuance??
It's a shallow and uninspired regurgitation of conventional wisdom by an author who clearly never bothered to watch the material he criticizes. While we're at it, why not whip up an article on advertizing enforcing unhealthy ideals of beauty? Maybe we could thow in a bit about how pollution is bad and you shouldn't kick puppies too. In the course of this, we would get bunches of facts wrong, of course, but it wouldn't matter: that's the joy of writing conventional wisdom. You're simply affirming the attitudes of your audience, so they are unlikely to take you to task for inaccuracy.

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