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.



11 Responses to “Kick Ass v. Kick Ass”

  1. David Bowles Says:

    I still think that a lot of people have problems accepting the strong female in both fiction and reality. Notice that most Hollywood depictions of “kick ass women” usually involve some kind of skimpy outfit.

    My exhibit A for this kind of treatment is “Sucker Punch.” I am stupider for having seen 15 minutes of that film.

  2. Joe Iriarte Says:

    I read a great blog post a few months back that still sticks with me on this topic. (I can dig out where it was from if anybody’s curious.) Off the top of my head, it said that Hollywood misheard the call for kick-ass female characters as a call for female characters that kick literal ass (but otherwise are happy to be eye candy) as opposed to kick-ass characters who were female. It’s all about what modifies what, essentially.

  3. Joe Iriarte Says:

    I have no doubt you’re better read in Urban Fantasy than I am, but figured I’d go ahead and plug Carolyn Crane’s DISILLUSIONIST series, beginning with Mind Games. The protagonist is a hypochondriac, and her “weapon” is projecting that fear into other people, so not so much with the literal ass-kicking. On the other hand, she masters her fear, and then starts to look into evidence that the people she’s thought of as being on “her side” have been lying to her and/or withholding a few key details, so that’s more of a figurative kick-ass heroine, I’d say. If you haven’t read this one yet, you may want to check it out.

  4. Doruk Says:

    Kickass women often seen to manifest as misanthropic. So, just catching up with the 90’s anti-hero craze, maybe?

  5. carriev Says:

    Joe: I know the essay you speak of, and it is here:

    It has been a great inspiration to me!

    I don’t know about misanthropic…partially, maybe. I more see it as they’ve become so fetishized and sexualized they stop looking like real people. It didn’t used to be like that, if you go back to Ripley and Sarah Conner of the 80’s.

  6. Joe Iriarte Says:

    Yep, that was it! 🙂

  7. Re WIlliams Says:

    After reading this I got an email from my bush pilot uncle about a kick-ass women. An 85 year old took on a moose to, she thought rescue her dog, with only a shovel. I thought it might be interesting, for all that it’s about a real person and not a character.

    I have my own, perhaps cop-out way of dealing with the way women are portrayed: I read a few pages and don’t buy it if the women can’t think for themselves. Of course often I walk out of the store empty handed or with something other than fantasy …. I was so happy to find Kitty and then to find out there were MORE books 🙂

  8. carriev Says:

    I was on a panel once and someone in the audience asked “how to write strong women characters.”

    I said, “Write human beings. That’s it.”

    I don’t know why this is so hard for some people…

    And thanks for finding Kitty! 🙂

  9. Just curious; would you consider Gandhi to be kick-ass?

  10. carriev Says:

    Gandhi: I think I would. He changed the world.

    Of course, now you’ve forced me to show you the existence of “Gandhi II: No More Mister Passive Resistance:”

  11. […] an English degree. This three-part series is important because it covers several key points about kick-ass heroines and how they’re viewed by the readers. Carrie helped me realize a few things about the […]

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