I have noticed a strange pattern when I talk about women or minorities in movies, books, or comics. Suddenly the person arguing with me wants to argue about something else. Oh, they make it sound like it’s related, but it’s usually only related tangentially. Usually it’s something that’s true, about a bigger societal problem, and neatly ignores everything else I’ve been saying.
I’ve run into a new one lately, and I’d like to go ahead and nip it in the bud. The bigger discussion is usually something like “It’s great to see more women or minorities in action and superhero movies.” The argument is “but should we be teaching people that violence makes you strong?”
We’re talking about action movies here. We’re talking about a genre that has redefined walking away from an explosion while not looking at it so many times it is likely now IT’S OWN GENRE. Violence is what these movies are about. In fact, it is the violence that makes our hero great. Usually they are armed with their wits and a pistol against an army of cyber robots or something. Their victory, usually violent, isn’t a victory of that pistol. It’s the victory of their mind, their bravery, and their tenacity. It’s a metaphor.
In one case I was literally talking about a movie where a woman was attacked by a bear and another where she was being stalked by a group of murderers. While their keen minds and ability to braid rope was a major part in their survival, they also were awesome heroes because of their ability to kick an amount of ass disproportionate to the amount of ass usually kicked by any normal human being.
And is anyone going to tell me that Pepper Pots was somehow diminished by throwing down in the new Iron Man? I thought not.
Despite what it says about our culture (or most cultures) I’m pretty sure kicking an enormous amount of ass while also taking names is traditionally a sign of strength and agency and awesomeness. Perhaps we do value violence too much in our society, but ‘we shouldn’t’ does not equal ‘so you don’t get to.’ Perhaps we shouldn’t encourage people to equate ass-kicking with strength and confidence, but we do.
Look at Bond. His ability to negotiate or problem solve is directly proportional to his ability to kick someone in the face. Again, it is the physical metaphor of his overall prowess. To try to exclude women or minorities from that metaphor because it’s icky is ridiculous, and it’s the same argument that has been made about things like Title IX or women in the workplace.
Should we really be teaching girls that letting them kick soccer balls is an innate part of their identity and, without it, they are somehow less? Should we let women in the workplace? But they will get all messy and, in any case, being in the home is just as important.
Well, yes, but that is not the issue. The issue is there is a door and you don’t get to close it to some people and not to others. You certainly don’t get to stand in front of the door and say, “Oh trust me. You don’t want to be in here anyway. It’s terrible. How about those romantic comedies?”