Laissez Faire

Letting Life Lead

Yeah Write #73: The Trend of Overpowered Women ( #amwriting #nonfiction )

Ever read a comment that made you do a double take?

“There is no way a girl (woman) could beat a bunch of dudes in hand-to-hand combat. There are too many unrealistic, overpowered females in movies, TV, and books now.”

The subsequent hear-hear comments devolve from there.



Just hold on a second. Let’s envision a typical action movie:

Twenty (or a hundred) bad guys wielding automatic weapons with an endless supply of ammunition send a hail storm of bullets to the hero (or anti-hero) who is hiding behind a skinny pole, under a window, or behind a wrecked Corvette.   He successfully holds them off and dispatches half of them with a hand gun, one stolen semi-automatic, and a Bowie knife. When his six bullets cut down the enemy and he swears at the empty click-click, he distracts his foes with a vintage hand grenade and then runs straight-on with no body armor, bellowing a taunting war cry.

The enemies continue their godawful aim while the reluctant-tragic-background hero (who has likely murdered several people) evades shrapnel, engages them in hand to hand combat, and uses human shields to fend off the baddies who have (at last) learned how to shoot a target.  He blows up the building by throwing a rusty Bic lighter at a convenient, unstable tank of flammables and shooting it with a stolen gun (with the last bullet).

He swaggers away sweaty and sooty, but unscathed. He might hold his bruised ribs and limp on a broken leg, but he’ll live to fight another day.

Of course, the quick-study-incredibly-lucky computer programmer or ex-military, pissed-off, dad-husband survivalist is overpowered.  They aren’t ordinary people in an ordinary universe.  The world we enjoy seeing blown to bits doesn’t follow rules. Rambo, Conan, John Wick, John McClane,  and Colonel Braddock are all unrealistic. They do impossible things and we love it.

There has been a lack of female heroes in books and film, but more writers and directors are filling the void (with a few problems, but that’s another post).

If Special Agent Bannon from London Has Fallen can engage an uncountable number of foes, bleed from a glancing bullet in the shoulder, blow up a building, outrun a fireball, dive into a shaft, fall on his face, and walk away — does it make a difference if we change his gender to female?

If super-spy-supreme Jason Bourne destroys a house and breaks someone’s head with an encyclopedia, he’s badass and justified. If we  change gender and name him Janine, she’s “over-reacting and trying to behave too much like a man“.

Yeah, I’ve seen comments like that about female characters in stories from both men and women.

The moment you think we’ve come so far, you realize how far we have to go.

Too often female characters are relegated two-dimensional roles that revolve around the male characters, despite the fact that well-written, strong, female characters draw audiences:

Lynda Carter/Gal Gadot Wonder Woman
Hit Girl Badass
Charlie Firestarter
Samantha/Charly The Long Kiss Goodnight
Mallory Kane Haywire
Ripley Aliens
Sun Sense 8
Beatrix Kiddo Kill Bill
Alice Resident Evil
Sara Conner Terminator
Yu Shu Lien Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Elektra Comic Books
River Firefly
Furiosa Mad Max: Fury Road
Nurse Coffin Coffy

Samus Metroid (video game hero honorable mention)

At the same time we lack strong women in roles and people of color, we also lack enough of the protagonists like MacGyver and Newt Scamander. Men who are extraordinary in another way. They avoid violence and err on the side of wit, awareness, diplomacy, and kindness. They don’t have to be brutes in order to be masculine in the same way that a woman doesn’t have to be soft to be feminine.

When we watch shows like the Walking Dead, we need to pay attention to when a boy gets a gun before a woman who must ask permission. We must be aware of when female characters end up in abusive relationships marketed as romance (Fifty Shades) or inexplicably exposed/half naked (Padme, Episode II).

The trend isn’t overpowered women, it’s an overdue diversity in leading roles.

People are a spectrum and are more alike than they are different. We can can avoid creating a world devoid of relevant females and populated only with aggressive male stereotypes that we cheer on for ninety minutes but can’t relate to.  When we write stories and give voice to our characters–even in action thrillers–balance makes them memorable and human.

9 comments on “Yeah Write #73: The Trend of Overpowered Women ( #amwriting #nonfiction )

  1. hers4thereading
    August 16, 2017

    I was raised by a father and grandfather who were more concerned by what a person could do than they were by their gender. I know I was lucky. I also know that they gave me a skepticism of feminism. But watching Gal Gadot’s superhero was inspiring. She was stronger and more capable than any of the men onscreen, but had such heart (the part where she saw a baby? Be still my heart!). I don’t know if you’ve read Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall, but he makes an argument than women should be as capable as men – check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 16, 2017

      I’m raising a girl and a boy and it’s really been a trial to counter act gender bias. Things I never thought to think about. I have heard the title. I’ll check it out!


  2. unfoldingfromthefog
    August 17, 2017

    I loved this. Even within Wonder Woman, much touted for finally having a female hero, in the majority of the movie she was surrounded by male characters. (My other gripe being that her costume involved wedge heels. Really? She’s running in those?)
    From a writing standpoint, this is an excellent persuasive essay. Your supports are detailed and convincing and your style carries the piece. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 19, 2017

      Don’t get me started on the heels. Heels are practical for western horseback riding if you are standing in your saddle and stuff. I thought they were going to put her in gladiator inspired boots. Html. Haywire did a good job with practical clothing. In one scene where the character was in heels after attending a dance party…she uses them as a weapon. Hah!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sara
    August 17, 2017

    There have been Hunger Games and Divergent but there’s definitely a need for more.Your essay is so strongly supported by movies and relevant books.That and your style makes it an excellent piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 19, 2017

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I never think I have a style, and feel its slapdash to me lol. I must though and I appreciate you reminding me of that.


  4. Emgee
    August 17, 2017

    I think you hit the head of a nail that really needs hammering. Your point about the unrealistic nature of the stunts that male movie heroes perform is salient, as is your call for non-violent heroes across the board.


  5. Laura
    August 17, 2017

    I have blogged many a rant about women in action movies, but I never managed to make it to the core of the issue like you do here: that action movies are inherently unrealistic! If someone is going to complain about a woman kicking butt in their action movie, they’d better also be complaining about bullets speeding through water, outrunning explosions, or the plethora of expensive supercars.

    Your mention of Newt Scamander broke my heart a little because that movie (and probably the rest of the franchise) seems to want to make him a more standard action hero guy, when for the majority of the movie he skewed more toward the “wit, awareness, diplomacy, and kindness” you describe. Hollywood just can’t get out of its own way sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Laissez Faire
      August 19, 2017

      Goodness… I love Newts and MacGyver. I think my Love of Mr Spock in my formative years steers me toward the intellectual who has trouble with engaging with people though the have deep empathy. Lol

      I had just finished watching An action movie when I wrote this. Great fun but obviously unrealistic and a very decided lack of women!

      Liked by 1 person

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