This inspired the question among some friends of mine: what the hell is it with these really freaking tiny women adopting the "strong female character" trope?
Now, if you've read my novels, you know that I have no problem with strong, kick ass women. I've defended against that stupidity from feminazis often enough. Look at my defense of women in military science fiction. Or my article on SFCs. Or when I beat up on the idiocy of Tor writer Liz Bourke.
On the other hand, there is a major problem with the Strong Female Character that's being used lately. Because, sorry, when I create a woman character who is ALSO a bad ass, I also make certain that these women are either a) not a size zero, or b) fighting in creative, indirect ways.
Why? A few reasons. To start with, even among well-skilled (and equally skilled) male fighters, the bigger fighter is probably going to win -- the odds are nearly certain. There's a good reason that Loki rarely, if ever, directly engages with Thor -- Thor has got at least fifty pounds of muscle on him. Depending on the comic, the Joker is not squaring off against Batman and exchanging punches most of the time, because Batman is twice Joker's weight.
Hell, if you have two pro-wrestlers, how many of them fight exactly the same? When you get out of different weight classes, the changes are extreme. But you're not going to have a 5'6" wrestler like Rey Mysterio take on the 6'11" Undertaker in a direct fight -- the smaller wrestler will be bouncing around the ring like a ping pong ball, and trying to catch him is a pain in the ass. Small people fight different than bigger people. Simple as that. If you're small, you go in, strike something critical, then get away from them as soon as possible. If you're big, you close with the opponent, and crush them.
So, why are women being treated so much differently than men in this area? Seriously, there are weight differences between men, but somehow, all women are allowed to fight exactly the same way as men in media, even though women are naturally 50-100 pounds lighter.
Granted, in some cases, this works -- when these well-trained kick ass females are going up against untrained hoodlums, there is no contest. That's superior skill versus brute strength. I'd take a dozen marines with handguns versus three dozen MS-13 members armed with SMGs any day of the week.
But, somehow, as I go through my collection of media, which grows larger with each passing day, the kick ass woman are getting smaller, and their opponents (many of whom are supposed to be of equal talent and ability) are getting bigger.
For example, look at Jaimie Alexander, who is basically playing Jason Bourne on Blindspot -- who can kick the ass of almost everyone she comes across. She is possibly better known as the Lady Sif in the Thor films.
Okay, yes, she's very pretty. But I didn't pick this photo for the underwear value. Look at her arms. Now look at her legs. Where's the muscle? She's 5'9", but she's also a toothpick. I am never happier than when she's using weaponry, because her shooting someone feels more believable than her bringing down a 6'3" thug with her bare hands.
Enter the other 5'9" female bad ass who has spent her days swinging a sword.
Yeah, I know Xena is a stereotype, but please look at these two actresses, and riddle me this, Batman, which one looks more believable in terms of being able to hold her own in general?
She's not a toothpick, she's not "a guy with breasts," and she had this bright light in her eyes right before she wiped the floor with everyone in a berserker rage, and she looked like she was having fun. (Yes, I'm ignoring some of the later seasons. I think I ditched the show somewhere around the time she met Lucifer ... or when she was crucified by Julius Cesar, after having only met King David ... yeah, that show hurt my brain after a while).
And even after all you do the compare and contrast in build, why are the "strong women fighters" straight-up brawlers? When you consider that not even all men fight like this, why are all women fighting like this? Are the stunt coordinators that stupid? (Unlikely). Or are the directors and writers? (That's where my money is).
Hell, the closest we have to a Lucy Lawless type these days is Adrianne Palicki. She, sadly, was wasted on a Wonder Woman pilot from David E. Kelly (seriously, who allowed the lawyer show guy to make Wonder Woman?), and is currently being wasted on Agents of SHIELD. People who have better things to do with their lives might recognize her as Perkins from John Wick.
Note, from this photo, three things.
1) Her body type is not "Toothpick."
2) She is 5'11" in body armor.
3) She is holding an improvised weapon, because people who fight have weaponry.
Thank you. Was that so hard?
Frankly, I think I would have preferred her to being Wonder Woman in the films than Gal Gadot. Why? Because Wonder Woman was many things, but never a toothpick. Heck, I would have even taken Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter), who is 5'7", and not a size zero.
Does anyone remember Antje Traue from Man of Steel? I mean, look at this woman.
Oh wow, look! Muscles!
Can we have her in some of these films? I know everyone in Star Wars is British, but still, can we make an effort here, people?
Seriously, Hollywood, what are you doing to get these toothpicks as actresses? It's very offputting. There's "thin" and then there's "good God, please eat a hamburger, I'm expecting you to break."
Hell, remember Black Widow in Avengers, where she just stood square against Hawkeye and exchanged blows with him? Of course you don't, because it never happened. She jumped all over the place like a freaking rubber ball, and catch her if you can.
Don't get me wrong, there are places and points where not only should these smaller women be used, the can, and have, been used WELL. Black Widow is brilliantly and intelligently executed. Remember Rey in The Force Awakens? She was tiny, short, and the managed to be victorious in her light saber duel because she fought smart -- she spent most of the fight strategically maneuvering to better positions, using her environment, and was fighting a partially trained Sith who had already been shot with the SciFi equivalent of a howitzer.
Frankly, the best points where getting these tiny, tiny women to perform great feats of strength is, really, science fiction or fantasy. Whether it's the Bionic Woman or Summer Glau as a Terminator, or Buffy the Vampire slayer, it's impressive because they're so small. Supergirl is fine, because, well, she's a freaking alien. But this isn't how normal people operate. Hell, Buffy was supposed to be stronger than your average bear, and she still jumped around all over the place.
Why is Buffy the Vampire Slayer better executed than some of these more "serious" thrillers, like Blindspot?
(Hell, I'm actually surprised that Jaime Alexander isn't better built, considering she has to carry what looks like at least twenty pounds of plastic armor in the Thor films. I didn't expect her to be that tiny.)
For a moment, let's look at my books ... with normal characters, because I'm not counting the vampire as "normal." That's covered under my "science fiction and fantasy" exception.
(Though I should note, Amanda Colt is not the toothpick Jaimie Alexander. I think I would rather have Scarlet Johansson, if she were a little taller. Anyway...)
If you haven't read / don't recall The Pius Trilogy, I have three women who have gotten into fights.
Exhibit A) Wilhelmina Goldberg: Five-feet tall (really 4'11") Goldberg is a computer nerd. She used to work for the NSA, but went over to the Secret Service to audit security, since she's not tall enough to jump in front of Presidents. Her fights included: punching someone in the balls, and dropping low and cutting their Achilles tendons.
Exhibit B) Maureen McGrail: somewhere around 5'9 (because I don't recall), imagine Jaimie Alexander with about thirty pounds of muscle on her, and a broader frame. She's ridiculously over skilled. Even though she has more black belt levels than Chuck Norris, her fighting style boiled down to: attack joints, attack eyes, and deflecting, rather than blocking attacks.
Exhibit C) Manana Shushurin: 5'7" or so. Also insanely well-trained. Her primary form of fighting?Shooting people in the head. Yes, really. She may have gotten into three actual physical altercations in the entire trilogy, but most of the time, she just shot her enemies. Because bullets are your friend.
Seriously, at the end of the day, can we have a collection of characters and actresses who look, well, healthy? I'm tired of the cliche. It's getting problematic, and the execution is getting more and more lazy as things go on. At least in the Thor films, Alexander's Lady Sif is covered in body armor to bulk her up. But in general, the actresses seem to be getting smaller and shorter, and becoming more like empty-handed, bare-knuckle brawlers. And it really needs to stop.