by: Michael Mullen
When I was a kid, I used to wear one of my mom’s t-shirts around the house. Big and white, it came down to my knees. The Batman emblem stood neatly on the chest. As I bounced around my bedroom, dodging invisible villains in slow-motion, I pictured myself not as the gruff playboy Bruce Wayne but as his spunky sidekick, Barbara Gordon. Batgirl.
And recently, my roommate and I saw Haywire, a thriller about a spy trying to clear her name. When I saw the trailer some months back, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to see the film. An action film with a female lead? That’s like crack for me.
I have always been drawn toward female characters in fiction. There’s a certain grace, a vulnerability, in women that I have always found attractive and relatable. Arnold Schwarzenegger, all greased muscles and Austrian accent, can emerge from the jungle with a machine gun, and I have no interest. Yet, Sarah Michelle Gellar offers both a stake to the heart and a witty one-liner, and I’m enthralled.
However, some might consider the self-conscious perfection in these characters one-dimensional. Sure, Milla Jovovich has shown more skin than character development in four Resident Evil films. And the recent Charlie’s Angels reboot was less “girl power” than it was “girl, please.” There are countless such guilty pleasures in the “Kick-Ass Chick” sub-genre.
Yet, these women can be of substance, too.
In TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers “came out” to her mother in one episode, who responded by basically kicking her out of the house — on the same night she has what can be politely referred to as a “supernatural break-up” with her vampire boyfriend. Sure, these things are heightened because they’re viewed through a genre lens, but the subtext is all too relatable. Here is a character who can take a beating and bounce right back, but she also has to take blows that don’t involve blood and bruises.
Also, take Sydney Bristow, the lead of the J.J. Abrams show Alias. In the course of the show, Sydney, a spy for the CIA, loses her two best friends and her lover. During an episode in the 5th season, Sydney sits next to her couch, red wine in hand and you can see the exhaustion in Jennifer Garner’s eyes as she struggles through this devastation. Yet, at the end of the day, she has to pick herself up and get back to wearing wigs, karate-chopping bad guys, and sprinting down hallways.
These women can be more than sexy posters on the sides of buses. They can be you and I: vulnerable, resourceful, driven, human.
Except they get to be human while throwing roundhouse kicks in cocktail dresses.
Michael Mullen is a recent graduate from Columbia College’s fiction writing department. He considers himself a geek, a city rat, and a fallen Catholic.