Appropriate Attired Adventurers Assemble!

Well, this is awesome.

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Fantasy and SF book blog A Dribble of Ink turned me onto this neat Tumblr – Women Fighters in Reasonable Armour and I’m rather taken with it.  It collates examples of fantasy and SF artwork depicting female characters garbed in attire which is actually practical and appropriate to the ass kickery which they are engaged in.

I’ve blogged about this before in relation to my beloved “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” movie series – and I guess that there’s an tie-in with the current blockbuster “Avengers” movie – in which your strong, competent heroines are togged out in PVC/Leather catsuits or some derivation thereof.  I’ve found it a bit curious, to be honest, with all kinds of mixed messages suggesting themselves:  I love the (mostly) empowered heroines, I’m just not crazy about the ass-hugging camera angles frequently employed to depict them.

It’s that cross-over point between agency and objectification – which I’m sure as hell not smart enough to figure out by myself (there may be that undeniable masculine perspective which is also standing in the way of better understanding).  That said, I feel that the issue goes something like this – the phenomenon of ‘male gaze‘ is the problem in most depictions of otherwise strong female characters in genre entertainment.

Let’s say that two directors on a film both shoot variations on the same scene with a female warrior in an action scene.  The details of the scene are identical, but for the way that the female character is shot – one director frames the female character neutrally, allowing her to proceed through the sequence without the camera lingering on her body or focussing on anatomy in any particular way.  The other guy is Michael Bay.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely - also pictured, Michael Bay's explosive super-ID...

You can begin to see the problem if you took in a screening of the thirdTransformers film – in which Bay’s camera leered so constantly after star Rosie Huntington-Whitely‘s rear end that it was possible to conclude that the director missed his calling in life and might have sought more appropriate employment as a proctologist.

It’s possible to argue that Hollywood’s M.O. is to market around visuals and aesthetics, so can’t do anything but focus on eye candy and create narratives in which the visual shorthand is paramount (no pun intended), but there’s got to be a point in superhero narratives, fantasy fiction and sci-fi stories where common sense prevails and the heroines aren’t attired in costumes which make no fricking sense.

Jim C Hines - making my point about the 'male gaze' in hilarious fashion.

If Hollywood starts insisting that Jason Statham wear armour-plated Speedos as he kicks in henchmen’s teeth and that action heroes have to be dressed in as vulnerable a fashion as possible, I suppose that we might be said to have reached some kind of parity in the depiction of  the genders when every hot dude is being as exploited as much as every beautiful gal.  Over in the realm of fiction, writers have been engaging with the silly archetypes and imagery being used to market their novels – witness io9′s posts on fantasy writer Jim C. Hines, who has been writing a series of blog posts deconstructing some of the tactics used to market books to readers in a charming and self-effacing way.

Sensible armour, worn by a sensible young woman. Almost makes up for Bella in "Twilight" being such a drip, doesn't it?

There is hope, of course – forthcoming summer fantasy blockbuster “Snow White & The Huntsman” goes some way towards depicting a capable heroine who doesn’t have to wear a chain mail bikini to wield a sword and punch undead beasties in the ‘nards, the “Alien” prequel which isn’t, Ridley Scott‘s “Prometheus”, seems to wait a decent amount of time before finding a narrative reason for female lead Noomi Rapace to show up in her pants and even the catsuited heroine of “The Avengers”, Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow, might be wearing a catsuit but isn’t striking cheesecake poses, breaking a heel and waiting for her male compadre to save her.

Do these archetypes exist because we’ve established a taste for them as an audience or because we’ve been told that this depiction of heroes and heroines is what we want?

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