Behind the tag – Faux Action Girl

My co-blogger James suggested that we should discuss some of the tags that we use. In general, we tag in a fairly whimsical fashion, but some things show up more often than others. Today, I’m going to talk about the Faux Action Girl.

This is a concept that I have plagiarised borrowed from the mighty time-stealing juggernaut that is TV Tropes. Let’s begin with their definition:

‘An Action Girl whose “action” aspect is more of an Informed Attribute if anything else. She’s established from the very beginning as a powerful, capable heroine, but never does anything or ever succeed in being heroic. She has a well-grounded reputation as a strong fighter in her field, but always fails miserably in the line of battle. Her talents and skills are well known to fellow characters, but for some strange reason they’re never seen by the viewers, outside of perhaps a Day in the Limelight episode.’ –

You can see all the examples you could ever want over on that page, so I’m going to talk about why the faux action girl is such a common occurrence in bad movies.

For starters, the relationship between the faux action girl and badness is both causal and symptomatic. While a particularly bad example can be the cause of a movie’s badness, or at least one of it major failings, even a mild specimen of femina pseudobadass is often indicative of deeper flaws. Their inclusion smacks of tokenism, and of a complete misunderstanding of why that kind of tokenism is bad in the first place, which means that there will almost certainly be other flaws in the writing, including but not limited to token ethnic characters and painfully broad moral conclusions.

Faux action girls, in their modern incarnation, come not from feminism but from a reaction to feminism. As an aside, proper action girls – female characters who are actually strong, and interesting, and flawed and human – do not automatically come from feminism, but tend to be associated with text which, if not overtly feminist, at least have an awareness of feminism.

The push towards more a more egalitarian fictional milieu says that not all women are victims or princesses and calls for strong female characters. The faux action girl arises from an interpretation of this call which interprets strong as ‘combat ready’, yet shies away from making a female character the equal of a male in an actual fight, resulting in someone who is ascribed more skill than they ever show, or who at a critical moment is immobilised by fear, Kryptonite, being grabbed lightly by the arm or simply by a surfeit of feels at an inconvenient moment.

The problems with this kind of character are only emphasised by the fact that they are usually presented as if they are an improvement on the classic movie role of distressed damsel. This is of course false; the faux action girl is not an improvement, being as often distressed with far less excuse. It is also a thin claim that the viewer should accept slow progress; it is not significantly more difficult to write an actual action girl than a faux. the quality of the writing may vary, of course.

Now, this is not a universal trend, and many films now have legit action girls in major roles, or even in the lead, but there are still far more fauxs than there really should be. All in all, the only reason for the continuing prevalence of the fake version of the female action hero is the continuing perception that ‘women can’t open a film’, and that therefore any female character must ultimately play second fiddle to a man.

Which is crap, and only more so if it’s true.


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