Do women action heroes always have to be role models?

Must women protagonists be role models before they’re seen as individual human characters? Writing for Think Progress, Alyssa Rosenberg considers the challenges of portraying women heroes in pop culture. “First, members of a minority group, or of a group like women that are a majority but are poorly rendered in that space, get to be presented as admirable,” Rosenberg writes. 

“Second, when they’ve achieved enough penetration into the culture, every portrayal of members in that group can stop being limited by the need to be admirable, to represent for everyone else.”

Rosenberg notes that of the characterizations of the male heroes in The Avengers, the least interesting is the idealized Captain America while the most entertaining is the egotistical alcoholic Tony Stark, a non-role model of sorts.

And that raises the question of if action heroines are supposed to be role models, what, overall, are they supposed to model? Should female action heroes just fit into the same sorts of slots represented by men, whether it’s the teenaged glee and snark of Spider-Man, the struggle for self-control of the Hulk, the patriotism and ethics of Captain America? Or should we argue that, just as action choreography for women would be more interesting and creative if it draws on different styles and acknowledges differences in strength between men and women, action heroines should model different behaviors and priorities, too? The Alien franchise got a lot out of portraying the redirected maternal force as a tremendously powerful force of nature. And inThe Avengers, Black Widow’s the person to recognize when force is no longer the solution, and to use tact and cleverness to turn off the source of the attack at its spigot—violence is useful in that it helps her get where she needs to go, but it is not actually the solution to the attack. The Avengers don’t beat Loki’s forces: they outmaneuver them. It’s terrific to model that strength and protectiveness are qualities that don’t belong solely to boys or men. But more thoughtful movies about what femininity brings to the table in fraught situations would make for more interesting storytelling, and more nuanced role models.

[via Think Progress]