Now that the hus-b and I are looking down the barrel at raising a daughter, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to raise a confident, capable and empowered young woman. In a world fraught with sexting tweens and provocative clothing for 7 year olds, it’s a scary time to parent a girl. The rising hemlines and lowering morals of popular culture do nothing to help the situation, and while a child’s best role models are (or at least *should* be) her parents, that a child will be influenced by pop culture is, frankly, as inevitable as the fact that she will eventually hate those same parents for not letting her wear miniskirts or pierce her nose.
Which is why we are cautiously encouraged by the recent spate of tween and teen action heroines hitting movie screens. Last year’s “Kick Ass” featured a smart-mouthed, 11-year-old assassin named Hit Girl, “True Grit” told the story of an unsinkable 14-year-old seeking justice for her father’s murder, and the titular character in recent debut “Hanna” is a 16-year-old bred and trained to kill by her ex-CIA father. Is the teen action heroine replacing the boy crazy, shopaholic, popularity starved teen girl film archetype?
There’s a lot to love about this fresh crop of butt-kicking, take-no-prisoners tween and teen action heroines. They certainly aren’t waiting for a boy to save them — if anything, Hit Girl is the real action hero in “Kick Ass”, perpetually saving the titular male character from his own excess of bravado. Love interests are noticeably absent — Hanna’s one and only date ends with the hapless lad pinned to the ground in a choke hold. Provocative superhero outfits are also nowhere to be found — no Wonder Woman bustiers or skintight Catwoman suits on these young ladies. Physical prowess and intellect are their primary assets — both Hanna and Hit Girl are expertly trained by their ex-law enforcement fathers, and “True Grit”‘s Mattie Ross talks circles around every adult she encounters. The denouement of each girl’s storyline also involves real consequences demonstrating that bravery comes with a price (I won’t spoil the films for you by providing the details), which is a lesson rarely conveyed by pure action films.
This is not to say that this newfound film archetype is without its flaws. First and foremost, where are these girls’ mothers? These tween and teen action heroines are exclusively trained by their fathers and have nonexistent (or in the case of “True Grit”, disappointingly weak) mothers. Is it inconceivable that a woman would be capable of the tough love required to train her little darling to become a killing machine? Or is it simply unfathomable that a mother would consent to training her child as such? Whatever the reason, this aspect of teen action heroine films only reinforces the stereotype of mother as a weak-minded, safety-focused fun sucker and father as exciting, dangerous and (most of all) cool. I also wonder how empowered these girls really are considering that each is doing her fathers’ bidding, or worse, are acting as the very tools of their fathers’ revenge. Perhaps it would be too difficult for moviegoers to believe that an aggressive teen girl could be acting of her own accord?
Notwithstanding their limitations, these girls are doubtlessly better than the alternative: clumsy damsels in distress a la Bella Swan in “Twilight”, heavily made-up and far-too-grown up Hannah Montana, and legions of pitiable, screaming girl fans chasing The Biebs like he’s made entirely of free Bonne Bell Lip Smackers. If you ask us, these girls are a heck of a lot scarier than a teenage girl armed with a machete who knows how to use it.