Let's give credit where credit is due: Hollywood has started giving us female characters who can kick some ass -- like Furiosa, Black Widow, or the eight-legged kaiju from Godzilla (2014). Unfortunately, it turns out that the whole ovarian shift in our action flicks was a bit of a monkey's paw wish. Yeah, we are getting more "strong" women in movies, but there are some truly bizarre things writers just can't get past. Like how ...
6A History Of Traumatic Sexual Assault Seems To Be A Requirement
Warner Bros. Pictures
Tragic backstories are great character development because they show that the hero suffered in the past ("Suffer? Hey, that's what I do every day!"), but was then able to get over it and become a better, stronger person. And they're really varied, too. Batman witnessed his parents' murder, Harry Potter was mistreated by most of his family, Captain Kirk is a Space-Holocaust survivor, etc.
But when it comes to women, it seems they only get one type of tragic backstory: rape.
Look at, let's say, Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous lead of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She is a capable, strong, ass-annihilating genius with legendary hacking skills ... and also a rape survivor. Now, she was a genius before her assault, but throughout the movie (both the American and Swedish versions), it feels like her rape was the final push she needed to become an avenging angel with a keyboard. And that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if that wasn't also the case for seemingly half the female action heroes on the market. It's as if when writers try to make a tragic backstory distinctly female, only one thing comes to mind.
There's also an 80 percent chance that she'll be wearing a hoodie while brooding in this pose at some point.
Even in Mad Max: Fury Road, the most kickass, female-friendly action movie out there, every female character under the age of 60 was raped by Immortan Joe, and that possibly includes Furiosa. Olivia Benson from Law & Order: SVU was the child of rape, and this became her main motivation to prosecute sex offenders. The Bride from Kill Bill was raped while she was in a coma, after being shot by a jealous male lover. Gretchen, the psycho operative from Prison Break? Raped. Black Widow? Well, she was made sterile by the Soviets against her will, so her tragic backstory is still connected to males doing non-consensual things to her genitalia.
And in most of those cases, their traumatic past utterly defines their personality. Jessica Jones is a good example.
Superhero name: Gloom Girl.
Throughout her Netflix series, Jones (who has literal superpowers) repeatedly freaks out, drinks, and loses her shit because she was brainwashed and raped by David Tennant's character. The show handled her PTSD beautifully, which really could have added a lot to Je-Jo's character. The problem is that she doesn't have much character beyond that. Jessica Jones isn't really a "person with a dark past." For almost the entirety of the first season, she is her dark past, and nothing more. Everything she does stems from that.
5Strong Female Action Star = Tomboy
20th Century Fox
Remember Ellen Ripley from Alien, and all the makeup / pink clothes that she didn't wear? Given her profession of spice mining and then killing aliens, it's no wonder she had little time to care about her personal appearance. However, this hasn't stopped people from considering her slightly tomboyish appearance (the famous panty scene notwithstanding) as a sign of strength, rather than a personal choice or a necessity.
We're not calling out bad or sexist movies here. Even in great franchises with wonderful female roles, we can't get away from the strength = masculinity thing, whereby establishing a female character's badassery means showing her acting exactly like a dude. In The Force Awakens, Rey is quickly introduced as the type of girl who gets dirty and messes around with car parts. "Don't worry, guys. She's a girl, but she's not girly. That's how you know that she'll be taking action instead of getting rescued." In Fury Road, the female ass-kicker scowls and is covered in axle grease, while the damsels in distress are in makeup and flowing white dresses.
Warner Bros. Pictures
"Ugh, this sand is just not working for me."
Sarah Connor from the Terminator series started out as a damsel in distress, completely dependent on a man for her survival when we first met her. This is signaled by her looking and dressing up in traditionally "girly" clothes. Then in Terminator 2, she turns herself into an action badass by terminating every feminine aspect of her personality. It's all about scowling while doing pull-ups in a tank top.
Orion Pictures, TriStar Pictures
"Skynet has mascara-seeking missiles ... I assume."
Even Mulan, before she dressed up as a man, was shown as completely clueless when it came to stereotypically feminine tasks. This was of course to show us that she had the makings of a warrior all along -- because, you know, being able to put on lipstick makes it physically impossible to learn how to fight (lipstick does smudge easily).