Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Biological Imperative Of Female Self-Preservation In Action Movies

Something I’ve been musing on lately is how all the ‘girls kick-ass!’ movies so common today are almost entirely created by men – Buffy, Dollhouse, Kick-Ass, Kill Bill, Salt, Sucker Punch (most misandric film of the year), all the superheroey ones... All are repeatedly sold to us as ‘empowering role models’ etc for girls & yet the strange thing is it’s not women that are writing & directing them, it’s men. These films are predominantly watched by males, too - women may like the propaganda that they can 'do everything as well as men' but for the most part would much rather be home watching Sex And The City & Twilight.

So I've been puzzling over why this should be & the conclusion I have come to is that, under the system we have had the past 30 years or so, which denigrates masculinity to such a horrific degree, male creators have resorted to using female protagonists to play out their heroic ideals, ideals which, in the real world women would not think to carry out - think of the differing expectations of women in the police, the army, the fire service, for instance.

In the classic Alien films, Ripley – the first real female action hero – sacrifices herself to save the human race in a very chivalric, Christ-like (greatest hero of western society) way. I find it hard to imagine a female author coming up with that, a woman laying down her life for strangers. It just wouldn’t occur to them. And in the past it would never have occurred to a male writer either. Women’s bodies are a precious rare resource to be protected at all costs by the men, even at the cost of the mens own lives. That sacrificial role is a male burden, & a male fantasy, but one is now rather strangely being projected onto a female canvas.

Feminism has really messed with our heads.

Although some women might be consumers of heroic violent action movies with female protagonists, they don’t choose to create them themselves. It’s not like Jane Campion or Miranda July (two directors I hold in some esteem, by the way) are working on writing & directing a female Die Hard.

I mentioned the military, fire service & police earlier not to say that no women serve in such capacity, only that they are not serving under the same expectation to sacrifice themselves in the way their male counterparts are. Around 20% of the US armed forces are female, yet 97% of the troops that died in Iraq were male, & of the 3% of the troops that died that were female, more than a third of them died from other causes than combat. It has been said (with only a little exaggeration) that serving in Iraq is one of the safest places for an American woman to work.

Same happens in the police force. Female police officers overwhelmingly take the safer day shifts & on the beat, particularly in less safe areas, are almost always accompanied by a male officer, who’s unspoken role is to protect her. This has been looked at with concern in the past as it doubles the danger for the male officer, who has no one along for the ride to protect him. Of the 4000 deaths of police officers in the UK, 3956 of them are male, while only 44 are female, even though women now make up 25% of police officers on the beat & 62% of staff.

In the fire service, again, there are female firefighters, but hardly any. In the U.S. it’s about 2%. Women are not attracted to dangerous work generally, jobs in which they daily run the risk of death. Which is why, even though women now hold the majority of all jobs in the USA today, over 95% of all deaths at work, across the board, are male.

To restate my point perhaps more clearly, I am not addressing ‘strong female characters’ but rather female characters carrying out the traditional male heroic role of willingly sacrificing themselves for the tribe, for the greater good, for everyone else.

These figures, to pretty much all intents & purposes, don’t exist (as I say, the only one I could think of was Alien's Ripley), but when they do they are written exclusively by men, who are, it seems to me, projecting their own innate set of heroic values & behaviour somewhere where they do not occur in real life. Women in the real world do not, as a very strictly observed rule, sacrifice themselves for a bunch of strangers.

There’s a case to be made about how this is because of the females greater biological imperative for self-preservation {"MustSaveMyself&MyChild"}. If there are any instances of a woman writer portraying her female protagonist sacrificing herself it will almost certainly be for an immediate family member, a younger sibling or child most likely, rarely for her husband or lover & never for the greater good of all, for wider society. This is not a condemnation, it’s just the way things are: Neither men or women see women as being expendable in that way.

The only exception to that rule I can think of is a Thelma & Louise type story where (spoiler!) two women would rather drive off a cliff than live in a world with men in it. This, however, is obviously ideologically driven & shows only how ideology can make us perform strange, unhinged, fanatical acts. Thelma & Louise’s actions are essentially self-serving – the best you could say is that they are a personal protest about how they feel about their situation in the world – they are not done to save anyone else, the people of their tribe or the world. Even their staunchest defenders would have to admit that Thelma & Louise are not sacrificing themselves to save the men of their community.

This seems to me a fundamental natural difference between the sexes, but one which, due most likely to present day PC teachings of the interchangeability of the sexes, is increasingly obscured, giving us wildly unrealistic expectations of each of the sexes roles, motives & capabilities that aren’t based upon anything in nature or our daily reality.


  1. feminism has emasculated these (putatively) male writers sufficient that they are ever-eager to show Mommy Sossity how evolved and enlighted they are, by pandering to female vengeance-fantasies and smashing (other) men

    that such self-loathing is profitable adds to the motivation for these weaklings... hardly fit to be called men

    good post, Lord Byron

  2. Mentioning Twilight I had the most bizarre conversation with a feminist critic of the saga. To make a summary Bella being human has been the cause of every problem and both Edward and the Cullens had been protecting her all this time, in the last book when she is finally a vampire she has the chance of saving everyone else but sine her daughter is in danger her the plan is to sent her away while she fights with her husband and family trying to make sure she will survive even if herself and her family won't. Well according to her this was yet another antifeminist message because she rather die with her husband and new family (you know the people that had been risking their lives for her all this freaking time) instead of taking her daughter and running with her. I'm like "Bella would be the most ungrateful bitch in fiction if she ever did that" Unsurprisingly the dogma seems to be that sacrificing for a man is antifeminist no matter how much that man has done the same for you. *headmeetdesk*

  3. Twilight is still like a foreign language to me, Steph, but I get your point.

    Womankind's innate selfishness IS simply nature, of course, so it's pretty pointless getting all worked up about it, but it's still pretty ugly when you look at it with the lights on like that.

  4. "Twilight is still like a foreign language to me, Steph, but I get your point."

    Is actually is. I for better worse can understand pretty much everything. But after being in this subject for a while I realize that some people can't read, for real there are like words that totally skip their brains. Is a fascinating discovery. I read forever war and neuromancer and get it and I still can read pink romance novels and get them too. I'm totally baffled that certain wordings and literary resources can just elude people.

    "Womankind's innate selfishness IS simply nature, of course, so it's pretty pointless getting all worked up about it, but it's still pretty ugly when you look at it with the lights on like that. "

    I think your worst defect is that you are always selling our species short (and you do that with men I think too) as mentioned in Twilight the whole series was building up to Bella having the chance to return the favor and I mentioned that Hunger Games has a female protagonists that is the hero written by a woman (not sure how that works out because I won't read a book about kids dying thank you very much) but I think you always fall back into "biology is law" like my astrologist friend used to say the stars influence but don't force. Even if we live in "lazy narcissists" times I think not demanding people to rise above their natures only means we will never get out of this mess, YMMV

  5. Well, it's not so much biology as 'Nature Is The Law' that I fall back on. Our biology is a part of nature, but then so is music, & philosophy & religion. Nature is reflective of the whole, & recognizing & allying ourselves with that flow seems to me to be the healthiest course of action, because that is a reality which is self-sustaining, it's not dependent on the continued belief in a mass ideology.

    But I think you're right that it is very easy to fall into biological reductionism, & I do notice myself doing it from time to time. Hopefully it's just a phase.

    To try restate my earlier point:

    The female's greater drive for self-preservation is natural, & there for a purpose. It is in fact essential for the survival of the next generation of the human race, so it is foolish in the long run to expect women's behaviour to be enormously different from how it is. That doesn't mean we shouldn't expect to hold women accountable for their actions, the same as men. But when we objectively hold women [as a group] up to the predominantly male standards of Justice, Equality, Heroism, Altruism, Philanthropy etc, they do [again, as a group] come up looking pretty poorly behaved.

  6. Okay I can see that.
    Interestingly enough I had been planning for a while, to rewrite my favorite Greek myth Andromeda and Perseus and in my version Andromeda voluntarily offers herself as a sacrifice to Poseidon's monster save her people from starvation and the wrath of the gods. So there along with hunger games add me to the list of women that think sacrificing for others is noble regardless the gender.

  7. Well, you're a bit of a one-off, Steph. But you knew that already.

    I had a go at attempting The Hunger Games upon your suggestion but it's really not my thing, & as far as I see it is simply more of what I've listed above: unrealistically heroic female warrior protagonists doing 'empowering' things AsGoodAsAnyMan & then skipping off without a scratch & living happily ever after. The lead character in The Hunger Games - Katniss - doesn't sacrifice herself for anyone, & in fact by the end of the series has settled down with the obvious love interest & had kids, so I can't see what it is you are seeing in it you think is so different.

    We WILL though, most likely be seeing at least a small increase in fictional female characters deaths, especially in stories which are unfolding in male-invented genres, like the action film or this futuristic dystopian Battle Royale ripoff: it kind of comes with the territory, after all, & having women shoot bows & arrows & kill big men with a single blow is great feminist propaganda. If feminist writers see the fictional death of the hero as being some sort of male privilege or mark of high status, then at least one of them will inevitably seek to plant a flag there in the name of 'Equality'.

    The real world, obviously, is a different matter, & if women started dying or being hurt in greater numbers than they presently are in any profession there would be an outcry from everyone - men AND women - that would shut all that down very soon.

    And as far as I'm concerned, that's grand: all the men I know (including myself) feel as protective over women they've never even met before as women tend to feel about children. That, again, is simply nature - we're wired to protect the womenfolk, to take the bullet & leap in front of the bus to push them out of harm's way. Feminism is working really hard to make men dislike & stop caring for women, but it's going to be a long, uphill struggle, as it's been in us for hundreds of thousands of years, & for very good reasons. It's not going to disappear overnight.

    I really don't like to see women get hurt, & that is the main reason I am so uncomfortable with these unrealistically violent female characters. In the real world I don't want stick insect Sarah Michelle Gellar to punch some 6 foot thug in the head & then find out only too late she's not Buffy. That would be needlessly foolish & unpleasant.

  8. Oh I never read Hunger Games that was my impression given all the ravings about how great heroine she is, I mentioned that I don't want to read a book about children dying.

    I'm not sure what you mean about real sacrifice. I mean Andromeda will end up being rescued anyway like in the original myth so is more the intention, so you think it should be a real death for it to count as a sacrifice?
    I don't have a habit of sacrificing characters (happy ever after girl after all) and I do think sacrifice is noble but not necessarily a symbol of status, more like a necessity on a extreme moment, so not sure if my version would be something you will consider an "improvement".

  9. Well a sacrifice, by definition, usually involves the giving up of life - there's generally a death involved.

    My point was - as you've demonstrated - that women (& men writing women) would never think of sacrificing their lead female character in the way they would put to death their male hero. Everything in us, male AND female, is screaming 'SAVE THE WOMEN'. That's just how we're all made. I'm not actually saying that is BAD - it is nature, after all - I'm just drawing attention to that being there, & noting how peculiar it is that it is never talked about.

    Increasingly, female action heroes are being presented as being 'equal' (whatever that actually means) with men, yet they obviously aren't, though the fictional world works to keep that from us - the laws of those imaginary worlds morph around them so that no-one really hurts them, their faces remain unscarred & they live happily to the end. Many men can die along the way but it can still be a happy ending if the woman survives. A woman's life is worth more than a mans. This clearly is the case, so why is it never pointed out?

    To clarify: I am not asking that either you or any other writer starts having the heroine in their works give up her lives to save those of everyone else. First off, no-one would enjoy it, violence against women makes us all uncomfortable in a way men having their faces beaten to a pulp somehow doesn't. And secondly, that would be so unlike the male-female dynamic in real life that it could even be taken as an insult to men, like those changed tributes to the dead in the first world war - now amended to 'the men & women who died in battle'...

    The male sacrificial role is so fundamental, & universal, we don't even notice it is there most of the time. We never question that it is men we send into war, send into the burning building. It is so obviously the right - natural - decision that no one ever thinks to ask if it should be any different. The men internalize that that is their role & the women internalize that they will always be looked after & put first.

    And so it has always been. But when it is expected from men (as it still is) but not even rewarded with acknowledgment, it ends up being simply misandry, treating men as disposable utilities, less than human - or rather, women.

    GirlWritesWhat has some nice stuff to add on this here:

  10. I don't know about the whole sacrifice. I remember some male characters willing to give their life even though they didn't died at the very end that is for me more than enough. I did hated the end of matrix with neo dying for example.
    Interesting that you think is robbing men from something noble. Now that you said out loud there is a writer totally writing that I'm sure rule of the Internet :p

    Another thing how about human sacrifices? A lot of cultures had no qualms about killing their pretty virgin women and maidens in droves. Were does the imperative plays a part in this?

  11. The difference between the two is the willingness to die: men are raised to be ready to give up their lives for The Greater Good, while women are taught they will be put first & given seats in the lifeboat.

    In our modern society, we don't think of virgins being sacrificed as heroes, but victims. There is the difference.

    I don't know how many human sacrifices were actually female - certainly many of them were - or how the people put to death were chosen.

    I think the best guess is that ritual sacrifice is a primitive superstition going back to the times when man was more the hunted than the hunter. Early humans would have observed that once the last straggler got picked off by the tigers chasing them, the tigers stopped chasing, & the rest of the humans were spared. Ritual sacrifice was likely an attempt to appease the gods through the same magical formula: if we sacrifice one of our number, the crops may grow & the rest may live.

    As usual, there is good & bad in all of this: it points to a time before the rise of individual rights, when we didn't think of ourselves & our needs as separate from those of the tribe. That way of thinking led to something that to us seems unimaginably cruel & barbaric, yet probably made for a more happier, loved, meaningful existence for everyone than almost all of us living isolated & alone in high rise flats in concrete tower blocks have today. It is what it is.

  12. Interesting is indeed true that human sacrifices are not seen as heroes anymore this time. The sense of serving your community and believing in appeasing the supernatural has been lost for a while. Also christian's did a great job substituting human sacrifices for symbolic sacrifice (that is the essence of communion at mass) so yeah totally different theme.
    I still promise no to sacrifice any male in my book, and all of the good ones having a happy ending, male or female. :)

  13. That's good to hear. Let's hope it catches on.

  14. OK, I had a GREAT piece pulled together detailing the parallels, but I'm at work and can't afford another 30 minutes to try and remember it all. (IE closed the page, not sure if my fault or not... but it's gone.)

    Sweet Pea is the "flag" that Byron mentions, (L. Byron @ Dec 15, 2011 03:40 PM), since she knowingly becomes a sacrifice at the end of the film (two ways, one by distracting the guards, and again in the aftermath when she's lobotomized; the one follows from the other).

    Given the four psychotic minds of the main characters, it's difficult to tell what is what, and where fantasy and the film "reality" merge. An additional good breakdown is on IMDB, in the "Dark Side of the Sucker Punch" item under "Trivia".

    Lots to analyze here, if you want; how much is our projection vs. author's intent is hard to say. Compound that by the "sucker punch", see the quotes page, Baby Doll talking to Sweet Pea, "This was never my story, it's yours." Having built up all the pathos for Baby Doll, our "reality paradigm" is power-shifted without a clutch: Sweet Pea is the protagonist and the one to escape, Baby Doll may or may not be 100% psychotic (so the entire opening framework of the film is disputable / unconfirmed).
    It still goes through a fair amount of the "hero's journey", though, and I have little doubt that our reading into it this way - was intended by the author. Just to be another one of the, "GRRRLS CAN DO IT TOO, AND BETTER, 'CAUSE WE'RE NOT MALE!"

    Soon enough, the women will grow weary of "proving themselves" over and over again (as men must do, it's always What have you done for me lately?) and DEMAND their special status back. Real life is just too HARD for the poor dears, don't you know? (And I speak from experience, having carried one of those "Strong, Independent Women" for 5 of the last 6 years, being told she didn't need me or ANY man, and she'd started with nothing many times before, and would do so again - while I paid for the child custody case, the house, her craft business that will never get out of the red, and her fun, and her daughter's needs, and lost my entier savings -> bankruptcy and reposession and almost foreclosure followed. But she don't NEED no MAN. Now she wonders why I'll never love her? Grow up, ladies, your words and actions have consequences. And men have good memories.)

  15. "OK, I had a GREAT piece pulled together detailing the parallels, but I'm at work and can't afford another 30 minutes to try and remember it all. (IE closed the page, not sure if my fault or not... but it's gone.)"

    Oh I hate it when that happens..

    Thanks for commenting Monsieur Bill. I hadn't looked with any depth at Sucker Punch, really, but that might be because it's a truly awful bag of arse.

    Nice points, anyway. Stuff to think on.

  16. Hmmm... SuckerPunch wasn't "awful" per se (great cinematography, good "imagination" of psychotic minds, acting was good enough - can't argue much when the rules of reality don't apply, after all.)

    It was a betrayal, though, of the viewer, for the very reasons I mentioned - the key character (protagonist) is a sacrificial lamb, whereas a rather minor character is the actual focus of the story. All our emotional investment is tossed aside in the last few minutes of the film.

    There's the rub... :-)