So, recently I’ve started watching Game of Thrones. I’ll save the long story for another time, but the brief edit remix goes something like this: I hate period shows and I hate fantasy shows but I’ve literally heard everyone in my life harp on about Game of Fuck All for so long that I need to at least give it a try so I can cancel their non-stop statements of Thrones love by saying, simply, ‘I’ve seen it and it’s shite/ spectacular/ average/ nowhere near as good as the 90210 reboot’.
So yeah, that was the brief edit remix, apparently. Anyway, I’m only a few episodes in and so of course I’m waiting for later seasons to disprove every annoyance I’ve already built up about the show, but all I keep thinking is Where the fuck are the Warrior Women at? Seriously. This is a fantasy narrative and yet the writer decided to still root it so firmly in reality that the women still have to stay at home and be fuck puppets all day whilst the men go to war?
The only reprieve that I’ve had from this is in the shape of little Arya Stark – a little girl who likes to play rough and act like all the boys her age act. She’s violent and aggressive and sassy to boot. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself even when the grown ups are telling her off for being unladylike. So there’s her doing that, and then a bunch of women just doing as their told by men. I mean, how depressing is that? I have to rely on a 9 year old for my strong female character kicks? I realise I still have a long way to go with that show and that might change (IT FUCKING BETTER) so don’t bother trying to tell me otherwise in the comments. I already know, you guys. I GET IT.
ANYWAY It got me thinking to all the teen girl assassin characters that have permeated our culture in recent years. Wow are we all obsessed with young aggressive women! But sadly, that obsession and idolatry starts and ends there. Become a grown ass women and all of a sudden you can still be an assassin, but you need to be sexy to make it into a movie (with a few exceptions, naturally), and even then you’re often playing second fiddle. Women don’t matter in the majority of mainstream movies. We’re there to look good and boost male narrative. End of. Movie studios most definitely do not believe that their audiences can tolerate or take seriously a grown woman in an action role who isn’t just there to look good or be propped up by a male character’s narrative on her way.
If you look at the main Teen Girl Assassin movies which have happened in the past 20 years, you’ll find the same shit time and again.
Let’s begin with the fact that NONE of these girls have mothers involved with their narratives. Not one. Mathilda in Leon witnesses the murder of her family and is trained by Leon: The Professional to become an assassin to reap revenge on the assholes who orphaned her. Then we have Hit Girl from Kick Ass and Hanna from, err, Hanna both of whom are brought up single handedly by their fathers (so, it’s kinda like a Disney film, folks) to become lethal heroines with the sort of artful fighting skills that maybe all young girls should be trained with (I don’t know about you but I sure would have loved someone to teach me how to swiftly and calmly break a man’s wrist every I had my ass grabbed as a teenager. You know, like it aint no thang).
Now, it’s ace that the male single parent can be celebrated in such a way (albeit with a mentally ill one, still, a dad’s a dad!), but come on. Is it such a stretch for the imagination that any one of these young women could have been trained up by their mothers? Imagine how much more of a powerful narrative that could have been for any one of these movies – a mother training her daughter to protect herself from a World which can be a non-stop threat to women – but instead we have the big, smart, skilful father figure stepping in to teach young girls a thing or two about violence. Like fathers who always yearned for a son but are left to teach the offside rule to their little girls instead.
It’s not like as if Hollywood hasn’t had it’s fair share of capable action hero female characters and actresses to prove that people fight because of their humanity, not because of their gender (Praise be to Gina Carano, Uma Thurman’s Bride and even, dare I say because I hated all of her ‘action’ films, Angelina Jolie), so what the fuck is up, Hollywood?
Teen Girl Assassin characters reflect a grim fact of popular narratives: movies don’t get made about empowering women. Our culture does not support the idea of women being able to stick up for themselves, fight back against everyday abuse or revolt against sexism. Movie studios don’t have a fucking clue what to do with mainstream female narratives, much less ones which embody traditional masculine roles such as fighting or making things go kaboom. They think audiences won’t accept that as it is and force in some gratuitous sexuality, tacky love interest or male fighting partner to level shit out. The World continues spinning.
But young girls are free of all that bullshit, and Hollywood seems to thrive off the juxtaposition between the sugar, spice, niceness of little girls that movie machines love to spit out time and again and their potential for violence against a World which seems keen to corrupt them.
Which is fitting really, because at the heart of all these films are not stories of empowerment but stories of corruption: destruction of innocence. The same narrative wouldn’t work with a young boy in place of these girls. Our culture defines boys as rough and ready and a little violent – that when a fight breaks out between a pack of lads it’s dismissed with a ‘boys will be boys!’ shrug of the shoulders. Boys are brought up to think they can communicate emotionally through violence, girls are told to talk it out or simply ignore enemies. Violence is not an option. Girls are sweet and forgiving – just make friends, and get it over it. When it doubt: GOSSIP.
The Teen Girl Assassin addresses this problem in a pretty backwards manner. On the one hand we’re drawn in to idolise these young girls and admire their empowerment against gender norms and socialisation and eagerness to fight back against a very male system, but on the other they’re in movies which still reinforce gender stereotyping and lack of a strong female presence in the older female characters (or lack thereof) and express a culture in which these young women are doomed for failure.
Women are not celebrated with age as men are. In Hollywood, it’s very much a case of the younger the better. Whilst ageing male action stars are getting regurgitated in The Expendable movies, women in their twenties and thirties are still struggling to make a serious name for themselves at an equal level, especially in ‘action’ roles. In turn, we’ve substituted grown ass women as action heroes for the youngest replacement going: little girls. How twee! If anything it’s the most patronising shit going. Like a pat on the head from Hollywood with Harvey Weinstein cooing ‘See, ladies! We’ve got it covered. These girls probably haven’t even had their period yet, and they’re still kicking ass!’
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: SEX. Regardless of their age, Sex is still rife with these characters. There’s no escaping it.
If the roles were to be reversed as I mentioned before and these characters were to instead be played by young boys then you can bet there wouldn’t be a scene where a teenage boy was baiting himself to a dirty old man looking to hustle some underage rough trade just to get a kill or gain entry to the bad guys lair.
They also wouldn’t have to wear an outfit that has been provocatively sexualised in mainstream culture (the schoolgirl outfit. With bunches. Really?) just because it looks ‘kitsch’ or whatever, regardless of whether it’s ‘age appropriate’ for the character or not (I can’t even think of a ‘sexy’ outfit that men might squeeze themselves into which is a throwback to their younger years. Thank Christ. I don’t think I own enough soap to wash that mental image out of my retinas).
In Kick Ass, Hit Girl wears a bunch of outfits which could easily be seen as fetishised (whether or not she’s sexualised during the film is something which I’ll let the Daily Mail commentary forums argue amongst themselves over), but it’s all style over substance. An empty taunt. The outfits can be seen as provocative only because of the manner with which our culture repeatedly sexualises women who wear similar. The film (which I kind of hate, by the way. Too much white people shit and casual homophobia for my liking, but Yay! Nicholas Cage!) actually turns this cliché on it’s head- showcasing the adorable, sweetheart schoolgirl which our culture dotes on and having her pull out a gun on the assholes who actually buy that shit wholesale.
So too with Mathilda from Leon. I’ve heard plenty of people criticise the film for being ‘noncey’, when it’s anything but. Yes, Mathilda acts old for her age (she’s 12), repeatedly propositions the man training her to become a killer and wears midriff revealing outfits that wouldn’t have looked amiss on Kelly (my favourite slut of the family!) from Married With Children (crop tops 4eva, yo. I loved wearing crop tops as a kid. Even during my fat phase. HAVE THAT YOU NONCEY FUCKERS) but it’s clear she’s merely performing as a ‘female’ – the way in which we’ve all been taught by popular culture to act – which involves lots of forward acts of faux-sexy.
In fact, one of the things that I love most about Leon is that the title character isn’t a nonce. He is just a man put in a difficult position who genuinely cares for and respects this 12 year old. Have we all become cynical as to believe that all men who happen to be around young girls have dirty feelings towards them? Because that’s fucking sad.
What also pisses me off royally about these films is that they’re all about the same looking white girls with cute little haircuts, pouts and outfits. They’re the same white girls that the media goes into a tizzy over when tragedy strikes. Tragedy bad, yep, we can all agree. But you can bet that papers will give way more page space and reports to a pretty little white girl than a non-white girl. So too with Hollywood. You know what I’d love to see? A non-white woman bringing up her non-white daughter as an assassin to fight back against her bullshit neighbourhood. GO. Make that. We don’t need any more young white girls in outfits which would look cool in comic books pulling guns on bad guys and pouting as they go (but remember, I love you forever Mathilda). Broken. Fucking. Record.
What movies about Teen Girl Assassins highlight is the sad fact that violent young women are still seen as being provocative, shocking and against the grain of female identity – more so than violent young men. That gender definitions are still so fucked that we remain to be seen as the delicate ladylike blossoms whom Arya Stark’s family so want her to become, as opposed to the tomboy who wants to learn how to fight in an obviously uber-violent World. That whilst Hollywood is still trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between iconic young girl characters and iconic grown women characters, the rest of us are still waiting for more strong female role models – warrior women, no less – to step forward and give us somebody to gain confidence from next time we want to fight back against another arsehole who is grabbing our ass down the pub.
We exist and we’re ready. Give us fighters to become, not ones we wish we could have been.