Strong Women, Terrifying Women

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I often use “terrifying” as a compliment when describing women. That’s not a compliment when describing a woman’s hair or breasts or complexion (or any aspect of a woman’s appearance, really), but it is a compliment when I say that a woman herself is “terrifying.” I would probably say “awesome” if people would understand that I mean it in the archaic sense—awe-inspiring in nature.

It is not the dream of every young woman to be described in such a manner, but it is a role to which to aspire. A powerful woman whose personality can dominate a room. One who can eviscerate men and women with a few words or with just a look.

These are your Sue Sylvesters (I may not still watch Glee, but I’ll put on imaginary hipster glasses long enough to say that I watched Glee before people wouldn’t shut up about it). Remember Portia DeGeneres’ character on Better Off Ted (one of the best comedies that I have ever seen), Veronica Palmer? She is definitely in this category.

Both of these are comical parodies of this type of character. But the real world is full of these powerful, inspirational female characters (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?). And so is the fictional world. Women do not need superpowers to be terrifying badasses, even in fictional universes that are filled with superpowers. Amanda Waller* from DC Comics is an excellent example: she is female, significantly overweight, and black—in the world of comic books, even more so than in real life, these are three tremendous disadvantages. But she has such a powerful force of personality that she intimidates supervillains into obeying her.

Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer. Sharon Raydor on The Closer and Major Crimes. The amazing Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis (who ranks among my favorite fictional characters of all time). Adele DeWitt from Dollhouse. Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. Nan Flanagan on True Blood. Ivanova on Babylon 5. Sumiregawa Nenene on Read or Die! Maxine Gray on Judging Amy. Avery Jessup on 30 Rock. . . . Fox on Gargoyles, because I am all kinds of nerdy and have the best taste. Elizabeth Donnelly from Law & Order SVU.

Also, Elaine Barrish from Political Animals. But I think that “marvelously terrifying” describes just about every character whom Sigourney Weaver has ever played. Hot damn, I love Sigourney Weaver.

Beyond highlighting examples, do you guys think that women with powerful personalities have a greater psychological and social presence in a room or in a book or on television than male characters who have just as powerful and domineering personalities?

I remember reading in a how-to-draw-manga book when I was in high school (spoiler alert: I have never drawn manga) that, if you did not draw a female as being noticeably shorter than a male character, she would visually dominate any scene with just the two of them.

As you may have guessed, a powerful woman, in real life or in fiction, seems more “real” to me than a powerful man. But, then again, my first role model was Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.


*For these purposes, I am referring to the real Amanda Waller from DC Comics, who has been voiced on Justice League: Unlimited and in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies by the magnificent CCH Pounder. I am not referring to the skinny sociopath “Amanda Waller” in the most recent Suicide Squad issues who is just . . . no. Just no.

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Watch This Now: Political Animals

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I was somewhat anxious about watching the USA network’s Political Animals miniseries, even though I love political dramas about powerful women. Does anyone remember Commander in Chief, in which Geena Davis played a Vice President who assumed the Presidency after the President died? And I am currently madly in love with The Good Wife, though that is both a political drama and a legal drama, with the stay-at-home mom protagonist going back to work at a law firm after her Chicago politician husband lost his job after a sex and corruptions scandal. Both series were/are absolutely amazing.

I worried about Political Animals because, well, you never know how a high-powered female politician is going to be portrayed. And, personally, I like high-powered castrating career-oriented women, in real life and in fiction. I love them. My first role model, as a preschooler, was Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and I kind of look for elements of her in characters and in real people to this day. But I think that there is a temptation, if not a tendency, for writers to show people who are politicians but also mothers as having sacrificed any real maternal skills for their careers.

From what I have seen in the first few episodes, Political Animals does not give in to this temptation. And I could not be happier about it.

Sigourney Weaver, who is always amazing, plays a character who is a former First Lady (whose husband’s very public sex scandal was a tremendous embarrassment) who ran for President but did not receive her party’s nomination and then accepted the position of Secretary of State at the request of the new President. If that sounds familiar, it should, but this fairly clearly isn’t a story about Hillary Clinton. In many ways, Political Animals is about all of the American “political dynasties,” and others who have been in the White House and later try to get back in. And aside from being a southern former governor and former President who has exposed his family to a couple of sex scandals, her husband bears few similarities to President Clinton.

Sigourney Weaver plays the mother of two sons; one of them is engaged and the other is gay. One son works for her, and the other is still trying to get back on his feet after some “problems with sobriety.” I was very pleased to see that she is a good mother. She is also a wonderful politician, though she faces some serious difficulties. She is working with a President who is from her own political party, but who does not share her priorities and who is unafraid to use her popularity for his own advantage, even if it is at her expense.

There are strange and awkward relationships between the women of this show. I will say that I really love how it never becomes cat-fighting. There are no female feuds over men. And I cannot say anymore without giving things away, so I just have to strongly recommend that you watch this miniseries.

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There Is Nothing Funny About Ladies Cussing

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This past week, Cameron Diaz’s small-budget comedy Bad Teacher premiered, and the critics aren’t amused. Most agree that you’ve probably seen Bad Teacher before. And while it was funny when it was Billy-Bob Thornton as a hard-drinking, wise-cracking mall Santa or Walter Mathau as a hard-drinking, wise-cracking girl’s little league coach or Tom Hanks as a hard-drinking, wise-cracking women’s baseball league coach or Jack  Black as a hard-drinking, wise-cracking substitute teacher, there’s just something, well, different about how Cameron Diaz comes off in the same hard-drinking, wise-cracking part. But whatever could it be?

Sure, you can argue that maybe Diaz just doesn’t have the comedic abilities of the other actors above (frankly, I didn’t find School of Rock that funny, even though I tend to like Jack Black, and I haven’t seen Bad Santa), but it seems like, for the most part, people are just uncomfortable with an openly “loose,” foul-mouthed, hard-drinking woman in the way that a male character can be a loveable roustabout.

If you’re not convinced that the division between Diaz’s Bad Teacher and every other movie about hilariously inept male childcare providers likely comes down to …

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Angelina Jolie Another Woman Making Strides in a Male-Dominated Field

Angelina Jolie is a hot button topic, no question. There’s the role she might or might not have played in the demise of Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston. The fact that she chooses to adopt children from other countries when there are plenty of children in need right here in the USA. The blood vial necklace. The, uh, intense public kiss with her brother. The fact that her father is totally bananas. However, Jolie has forged a great path for women in the movie industry, particular in the action/adventure genre, with her $20 million dollar payout for next summer’s action flick Salt … and the victory is especially sweet when you consider that the role was intended for a man (well, if you consider Tom Cruise to be a man).

From Yahoo:

“It’s definitely unusual that a female has become an action star,” “Salt” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura says. “But it’s a funny thing. She’s not a female action star; she’s an action star. She’s really the first female to transcend gender. I don’t think it’s occurred before.”

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