Peter M Howard ::

‘Sucker Punch’ and the Decline of Strong Woman Action Heroines

29Mar2011 [links]

Sady Doyle has an interesting article in The Atlantic, 'Sucker Punch' and the Decline of Strong Woman Action Heroines.

Like Doyle, I had great expectations for Sucker Punch, not as a good film, but at least as an entertaining one. Mashing together a bunch of action genres with a bunch of strong, and yes, sexy, female leads seems like a winning formula. It even worked for Dollhouse, once it got through the pilot and the ick factor of dressing girls (and a few boys) up sexy to play out sexual fantasies. But of course, Snyder is no Whedon, and the reactions I've heard to the former's work haven't been promising. I've not yet seen the film, but now I'm not sure I want to, when not long ago I was absolutely going to see it. From Doyle, describing the film's appeal:

It had to do with the goofy, thrilling payoffs promised by its trailers: Strong Women with dragons! Strong Women with robots! Strong Women destroying robots and dragons, with swords! Indeed, all of these things were present. But Sucker Punch still managed to disappoint. It has the dragons, the robots, the steampunk zombies; it has everything. Except for the Strong Women.

She continues, reviewing the "strong women" concept within film's recent history, placing Sucker Punch at the end of the title's decline.

But the mixed messages of Sucker Punch—girls are powerful! Resistance to male abuse is ultimately futile and you will die! Being reduced to a sexual object is terrible! You can take charge, using your sexuality!—are weirdly compelling, as a statement on our cultural cluelessness about what "female empowerment" means.

She doesn't delve much into it, but the confusion around empowerment is key, and fascinating (though of course, I can afford to be fascinated so long as my own empowerment is unquestioned). I'm reminded, tangentially, of Atwood's Lady Oracle, which I've only just read, but which was written back in the 70s, and yet seems so modern. It features some contextual elements that date it, but for the most part its message around identity and empowerment is crucial. I'm left wondering just how much of that is the novel's contemporary feminism, now lost to subsequent feminist waves, and how much is Atwood. Even as a combination of both, it's no surprise that 70s feminists might be disappointed by the lack of progress since then, and if Sucker Punch is any indication, by the cause's regress.

The good news: People hate Sucker Punch. [...] There's a chance that Hollywood will listen; that theyʼll see a need, among moviegoers, for "girl power" movies that don't insult the girls. Of course, there's a better chance that they'll shrug their shoulders, and go back to making movies about men. That always works.