Kick Ass v. Kick Ass
January 23, 2012
When I say something is “kick ass,” I may be talking about a couple of different things, especially in terms of the proverbial “kick-ass heroine.” There’s literally kick ass — this person has combat skills, can get into a fight and clean up, is aggressive and confrontational, does not take flak.
But a lot of times when I talk about “kick-ass heroines,” I mean the phrase figuratively — it means, simply, that she is awesome. She stands up for herself. She’s smart, capable, motivated. She stands out in a crowd, for whatever reason. She makes me pump my fist and say, “Yeeha!” (Hillary Clinton and Queen Elizabeth (I and II) kick serious ass, figuratively. People tremble when they walk into rooms, you know? Kate Winslet’s character in Contagion kicked so much figurative ass I still weep thinking of it.)
Essentially, when judging whether or not a woman character is strong, her combat skills should be irrelevant. This is going to sound counterintuitive to some people. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: strength and the ability to inflict physical violence are not equivalent. Nor should they be. In many cases, inflicting physical violence doesn’t make one strong — it makes one a bully. There are so many ways to show strength: standing up for yourself and your beliefs, pursuing goals and dreams, finding alternatives to violence, overcoming adversity. Being independent can be a sign of strength, and so can building a family and circle of friends. Survival can be an act of profound strength. There are so many different kinds of strength, defining a “strong character” by only one of them seems terribly limiting.
I think I would like to see more figurative kick-assery, especially in urban fantasy.