Why I'm Sick of the Badass Girl Stereotype

There's nothing as exciting as watching a thrilling crime or adventure movie where good people come together to fight crime and save the day. It's common in these movies for there to be one female character, either good or bad, that suddenly comes out with all these crazy cool moves and intimidates the hell out of everyone else. While it's refreshing to see women in films becoming more powerful and advancing from the role of the damsels in distress, here are just a few reasons why this type of female character rubs me the wrong way.

She has to be perfect.

Both physically and mentally, whoever this badass crime-fighting or villainous chick is, she has to be flawless. I'm talking great body, perfect skin, beautiful hair, and of course, she has to be the absolute BEST at fighting.

Even though this type of character is breaking the "damsel in distress" convention, she still upholds certain standards of perfection that are still serving as an unrealistic representation of women. Yes, she can and should be an amazing fighter, but she doesn't have to be "perfect". Ruby Roundhouse or Martha in Jumanji 2 was an amazing fighter, but she looked and fought absolutely perfectly. This fact was even mentioned in the movie when Martha lamented that she was wearing an outfit clearly not made for the jungle but for the entertainment of teenage boys.

This isn't to say that all badass women in movies uphold this stereotype; they don't. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter franchise is a terrifically powerful female character because of her outstanding intelligence, but she also has traits that weren't conventionally attractive, including her frizzy hair, buck teeth, and bossy attitude (which are more prominent in the books), making her more of a human being rather than an object of attraction.

She has to be romantically involved with the male lead.

Even when it doesn't make sense, or advance the plot in any way, the strong female almost always has to be romantically involved with the male lead. For instance, Debbie Reynold's character, Cathy in Singin' in the Rain fell for Gene Kelly's character, Don Lockwood, much too fast. After all, Cathy was a badass character on her own. Her purpose in the story didn't surround her relationship with Don Lockwood. Their relationship was mainly an added subplot that could've easily been taken out of the movie without ruining the main plot line.

Moana is a movie with a strong female lead that doesn't have a love interest. Writers could’ve easily added this on, but the movie is still wonderful without one.

She is amazing because she is a girl.

A lot of super powerful women in action, fantasy, or superhero movies are doing incredible things with weapons or their bodies, which are pretty awesome and are deemed as such. This may appear to be a step forward in giving women a more diverse array of roles, but the same attitudes towards dainty women are still present, only slightly altered.

Women still aren't recognized on equal terms even in these more powerful roles because other characters around them are completely surprised that women are capable of these kind of "badass" abilities. For example, Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy has this moment of triumph where she kills the Witch-King by stabbing him viciously in the face. It's built up to be a pretty spectacular moment, but for the wrong reasons. It's surprising and extra amazing that she kills the Witch-King because she is female. There's even a part in that scene where she lifts off her helmet to reveal her identity as a woman, saying these famous words, "I am no man". It's pretty clear even from that line on its own that her triumph was supposed to be a special moment because she is a woman.

While we should recognize the amazing capabilities of female characters, we are focused on her as just a female rather than her character as a human being. Of course we recognize that women are a part of the human race just as much as men are, but the way they're portrayed in stories tells us otherwise. Women are portrayed and treated as separate entities with their own set of roles that don't reach the full potential of what humans can do. Humans can fight crime, hold positions of power, and utilize their intelligence to make a difference.

However, only men are painted as these intelligent heroes and women are just... women. Women make up the level just under humanity, not quite reaching their full potential. We don't mean to look at women as such, but this way of thinking has been so deeply rooted within history, that we can't help but cheer when women are doing something as small as saying something snarky or even when they beat up the bad guy.

It's surprising because we aren't used to seeing women in positions of power or having the same fighting skills as men. The Dora Milaje in Black Panther are indeed female, but I don't get the sense that this fact is built up to be extremely surprising as it would in most films.

Recognizing women as human beings alongside men in these roles is the next step towards a more equalized movie experience, and therefore, a world where gender equality can exist both outwardly and internally.

Cover image source: Den of Geek