Strong Female Characters: Here's What's Wrong with Hollywood's Portrayal of Women
“Anything you can do I can do better!” sang the title character in the 1950 “Annie, Get Your Gun.” That could be the motto of most of the female leads in blockbuster movies today. Consider Rey, played by Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” She’s hailed as an empowering role model for girls, but critics have pointed out how closely she follows the infamous “Mary Sue” trope—an adolescent with no prior experience whose improbable powers and skills save the day.
In the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker lost his hand the first time he confronted the bad guy. Rey, meanwhile, easily bests her story’s villain, despite never having picked up a lightsaber before.
Writing at “Mere Orthodoxy,” Alistair Roberts points to a pantheon of recent heroines from Merida, Katniss, and Black Widow, to Jyn Erso in the upcoming “Star Wars: Rogue I”—all of whom are more than equals to men in combat. These 98-pound kung fu masters routinely make guys look like clumsy idiots, all while showing off petite, department-store model figures.
This “strong female character” cliché, says Roberts, teaches audiences that in order to prove their equal dignity, ladies must be able to best men in hand-to-hand combat. But these portrayals, he argues, aren’t just “failures of imagination” that pit women against men in a “zero sum game.” They also fly in the face of biology.
There’s a reason traditional values taught us to despise men who hit women. Because on average, women simply aren’t capable of fighting back, much less kicking men around the way they do in these movies. Roberts points to studies published in journals of sports medicine and applied physiology showing that men have, on average, ninety percent greater upper body strength, sixty-five percent greater lower body strength, and are twenty-two percent faster. The average man, researchers concluded, is stronger than 99.9 percent of women.
Ignoring this results in more than just corny fights scenes. The belief that men and women aren’t meaningfully different has real-world consequences. We recently told you about transgender fighter Fallon Fox, who brutally injured Tamikka Brents in women’s mixed martial arts. Brents was being treated for facial fractures and a concussion.
And the Marine Corps recently proposed a plan that would allow women to pass the physical fitness test without completing pullups. One anonymous officer admitted that pullups are important metrics of combat readiness, but said allowing women to skip this exercise would positively impact their military careers.
This mindset undoubtedly contributes to our willingness to place women in danger. And if men and women belong together in the boxing ring and the battlefield, hey, why not the bathroom, too?
Even worse, we’ve become blind to the very feminine strengths that the Bible praises. Think of Deborah and Jael in the book of Judges. Think of Sarah, commended twice in the New Testament for her faith, or the Hebrew midwives, whose courage and value for human life saved an entire generation. Think of Hannah, whose patient longing for a child ushered in the kingdom over which Jesus would reign. Think of the loyalty of Ruth, and of Mary, who at a tender age welcomed God’s promise to save the world.
And look at history, too. My colleague Eric Metaxas tells of seven women in his terrific book by that name. My daughter loved the chapters on Mother Theresa and Joan of Arc in particular. But as Eric wrote in the introduction to the book, “When I consider the seven women I chose, I see that most of them were great for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it." In other words, their accomplishments are not gender neutral but are rooted in their singularity as women. Amen! And their lives are so much richer than the stereotyped strong female characters in today’s movies. Even if they weren’t good with a lightsaber.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: April 28, 2016