I don’t like to intrude myself in internet conversations where I don’t belong (which would be all of them) but the argument between Jeffro Johnson and the Superversives over what is a good “strong female character” brought up Emma Peel from The Avengers. Jeffro’s been knocking on The Avengers which is galling to a long time fan especially since he admitted never having seen it.
He’s right. The Avengers features what is now one of those horribly overdone and obnoxiously unrealistic Action Girls who can take down a man twice her size without so much as breaking a nail.
There’s another BUT.
The Avengers, at least by the time Emma Peel was introduced, had evolved from a more serious spy show into… something very odd. It had a sci-fi elements (robot assassins, mind control) and also dips into satire (for example the Perils of Pauline style climax at the end of “The Gravediggers”). Strange and crazy characters pepper every episode. It is bizarre and wonderful.
Unfortunately, the Action Girl element is a detraction nowadays because the Action Girl has been so overdone that more than a few people are sick to death of it. It’s not realistic; it’s stupid. What’s funny, however, is the sci-fi fans who regularly suspend disbelief for stranger and more unrealistic things but who can’t stand Action Girls anymore.
Which raises the question: why is it easier to suspend disbelief for a mind-controlling, man-eating plant monster from outer space (i.e. “Man-Eater of Surrey Green”) than it is to believe that a woman is beating a man up?
The answer is very simple: because the girl is real and the thing is not.
How many people know a woman who has successfully beaten up a man? I don’t. I knew a teenage girl once who got into a “fight” with a young man. He pushed her around a bit then knocked her glasses off so she threw a fit about how they might have been broken. Then the idiot bragged about how she’d been in a real fight. He should have knocked her down and taught her a lesson.
I had a terrible fit a masochism a few years ago and watched a couple of Anita Sarkeesian’s idiotic “Tropes versus Women” videos. In the first she says that women as just as strong as men. In the second she says that women are disproportionately victims of violence. Hold on just a second. How is that possible? If women are just as strong as men, then shouldn’t they have no problem fighting off attackers?
They don’t because they aren’t. If you believe otherwise, do you personally know a woman who has done this or have you just been watching modern movies? I’m sure there’s a couple examples floating around where it actually happened, but it’s not the norm. It’s nowhere close to the norm.
If you decide to write a story and in it all women essentially have superpowers and can take down any man, then you have to build the world around it to reflect this change. But nobody does. Which is why it begins to stick in the craw. If all women had this ability, society would not be the same. It would be very different. So this element does not jive with the world in which it is presented as much as people would like to pretend otherwise. A man-eating plant monster, however, doesn’t exist. A plant monster could be anything. As long as it follows the internal rules which the writer has set up, why shouldn’t we believe it?
Back in The Avengers, Cathy Gale, Mrs. Peel’s predecessor in the show, is actually I think less realistic that Mrs. Peel is. The show had not at that point taken quite so hard a turn into the surreal and bizarre so the Action Girl element was more straightforward because the whole show was more straightforward. She never got strapped to a conveyor belt about to feed her into a buzzsaw while an insane movie director plays silent movie style music in the background.
If you’ve got to the point where you’re going to puke if you see one more Action Girl, then you’re not going to like The Avengers. It’s a show, however, that used the Action Girl before feminists ruined everything. Mrs. Peel might be a brilliant Karate expert but she also did housework and had to be rescued rather frequently. Several episodes set up final fights where there was a bad guy and a bad women. Mrs. Peel would take the woman and Steed would take the man. It’s from an era before the trope had been done to death and the masculine woman was the only kind that we see anymore.