Thursday, October 3, 2013

Strong women and other Alien creatures

Don't you hate getting upstaged?

For some time I've had a recurring notion to mention the oddity that is The Peasant's Clever Daughter and I only get around to it after running across some stinkin' webcartoonist who's illustrated the damn thing.

Now, a story about a female outwitting males is relatively rare in folklore and remarkable for that in itself. Generally, positive female characters were only rewarded for socially correct behavior, not personal aptitudes. However, what truly makes this tale stand out is its outlook, its focus. Progressive? Humanistic? Hard to tell. Though at home in the grim (pun intended) realities of monarchic societies - extracting information by torture and an assumption of the mental inferiority of peasants* - it treats its main subject, gender relations in a charmingly straightforward manner. The prince is not fulfilling a prophecy or deliberately marrying beneath his station but only seeking a mate whose company he would personally enjoy, and for, of all qualities, intellect! Also, the girl is not proving the superiority of women, not engaging in the usual gender war. Cleverness is her nature, not necesssarily because or despite this nature being female.

It reminds me of something I realized a few years ago. Some cable channel or another was showing a rerun of the Alien movies and billed Ripley (Sigourney Weaver's character) as the first female action hero. Amusing avoidance of the word "heroin(e)" aside, it made me realize they were wrong. Ripley is the only major action-movie heroine I can think of.
Yes, I'm serious. How many female protagonists are there whose sexuality is never played up? The few female action-flick leads are almost always prancing around in leotards with full immaculate make-up in every scene. Those who aren't are mothers trying to protect their children, or angry ex-girlfriends getting revenge on past lovers, abusive daddies, etc. There are plenty of movies written specifically to exploit the novelty of a female lead. Ripley is unique precisely because the role is so knife-edge gender-neutral. She is a person in a bad situation, winning against the odds. Neither the character nor most scenes featuring her would have changed in any major way if rewritten as male.

As long as gender is an issue, there is no equality, no equal treatment. When equality becomes a non-issue, an irrelevant question, an unspoken assumption, only then will it have been reached. We cannot be said to live a truth until we no longer feel the need to proclaim it, until we can take it for granted.

* I am painfully aware of the irony. It's still good to be the king, or any of his courtiers.

P.S. Would Salt also qualify? And isn't it hilarious that it came from the same guy who vomited Ultraviolet? I'm trying to stick to popular figures, Hollywood products or equivalents. I didn't pay much attention to the chicks in the various "Crouching Marketing, Hidden Budget" imports popular last decade, but one or two of them might come close, ironically given China's perpetual stance of "what human rights?" by dint of lack of plot if nothing else.

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