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Hanna & Media Portrayals of Young Women as Heroes - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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April 23rd, 2011

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02:33 am - Hanna & Media Portrayals of Young Women as Heroes
One of the older tropes of Western fiction is the young man who becomes a great warrior at a young age. King Arthur is one such tale – the original stories have him becoming a great warrior and war-leader at 15. So, as our era slouches gradually towards greater equality for women, it's worth considering young female heroes and how they are treated in mass media. The first positive portrayal of a young (as opposed to adult) female hero on movies or TV that I can think of is Buffy, who was also 15 and was an absolutely classic hero called to a destiny.

Of course, in far too many ways, Joss Whedon was a lone voice in US media. So what's happened since then? One disturbing trend I've seen a lot of recently is I think related to the popularity of rather ludicrous female characters in video games - the use of young female heroes are either cheesecake or shock value – trends that are (at least from my PoV) clearly expressed in the character of Babydoll from Sucker Punch and Hit Girl from Kick Ass respectively. Even just from the trailers, it was clear that both films were far more about the exploitation rather than the empowerment of young women.

However, a couple days ago teaotter and I saw the recent thriller Hanna, which is all about a young woman learning about her power and herself. It was an interesting and beautifully made film, with both deliberate fairy-tale elements and an obvious similarity to the first (and truly excellent) Jason Bourne film. It wasn't a perfect movie by any means, the ending was both rushed and formulaic, but its faults were typical faults of the genre and had nothing to do with the fact that the protagonist was a young woman as opposed to a man, young or older. One of the most surprising aspects of this film was that that fact that the protagonist was a 16 year old girl was an important plot element, but it wasn't used for shock or novelty value or in any sort of exploitative manner.

When Buffy first came on, and through its entire run, the fact that the superhuman action hero was a young woman was treated in much of the publicity and commentary about it was surprising and unusual. In contrast, some of the reviews I'm seen about Hanna focus on the protagonist's age and others on the exotic and disturbing way she was raised, the fact that the protagonist is female is much less of an big deal, and that's impressive and cool. Perhaps there is indeed progress in gender attitudes – it's difficult to say.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 23rd, 2011 11:47 am (UTC)
I haven't seen any of the movies in question, but the critics universally panned Sucker Punch, and it vanished from the theaters quickly despite a massive marketing blitz.

Hanna, on the other hand, appears to have far better box office traction and has received mostly good critical reviews. I actually want to see it.
[User Picture]
Date:April 23rd, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
Always enjoy reading your reflections on media and gender. . .

I've been thinking of taking Wolfling to see this one.
[User Picture]
Date:April 23rd, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC)
I think it would be a good choice for her.
[User Picture]
Date:April 23rd, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
There was also Kim Possible.

Interesting how much more common strong female protagonists seem to be in manga and anime, despite Japan as a whole not being obviously any more feminist than the US and probably less so. Seem to have a stronger sense of girls as a potential market, though.

gaming: a couple days ago I found the magazine "Girls of Gaming" in the bookstore. It seemed to basically be soft-corn porn with video girls; the editorial box was beneath a Spandex ass.
[User Picture]
Date:April 24th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
While it's by no means a perfect movie, I do have to defend Kick Ass in this respect. Hit Girl is a satire on exploitation. She kicks a lot of ass and plays with a lot of tropes, but in the end, you see a little girl get beat up, suffer because she is separated from her parents, and lose her childhood. The film's motives certainly feel suspect, but after rewatching, I firmly believe the movie is intended to make people question the images they are watching, to develop double vision WRT to empowered characters who are presented using exploitive imagery and situations.

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