Move over Indiana Jones. James Bond you’re done. There’s a new gang on the action front, and just about the only thing they’re lacking is testosterone. The newest batch of heroes, or rather heroines, is stronger, more cunning, and devious than ever. And they just so happen to make those spandex suits, army fatigues, and business suits look better than ever. Just as many women have taken the opportunity to move from the house into the business world, they are no longer leaving the adventure only to the men.
Since the beginning of film women have always played the role of the damsel in distress; the one to be rescued, but never the rescuer. However, as time has passed, women’s roles in society have changed and evolved into one of more prominence and diversity. The United States now has a woman in one of the highest government positions, Secretary of State. Careers and fields typically reserved for men only a few decades ago are now brimming with women. Females can attend any institute of higher education and emerge with a degree that allows them to make a living and gain accomplishment and pride in their work. All to recently women were completely dependent upon men, and lacked the invigorating and endless possibilities that meet young girls today. Girls do not grow up believing that their future career is going to have to be cooking and cleaning if they don’t want it to be, and that individualism and quest for knowledge and achievement is something that is now reinforced as a core American value. Mirroring this shift in familial and societal values, female characters in film have moved from the background to the common ground as partners with men, to more recent roles at the forefront of the action, excitement, and work.
In Disney’s earliest movies women followed the typical gender roles of the times. Snow White stayed home and kept house while the seven dwarves went off to work in the feature film in her name. Cinderella was only able to be truly happy when she was swept off her feet and out of the grasp of her evil step mother by none other than Prince Charming. And Sleeping Beauty could only by saved by the kiss of the handsome prince. Even though these movies persist in their popularity, Disney has moved on and up and given women leading characters that are involved in action and heroism as much or even more than their male counterparts. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, it is Belle who moves to save her father and ultimately to save the Beast. Although Belle may not have been involved in any of the primary fight scenes, she illustrated a new type of female character; one empowered to do something when presented with adversity, and not someone who sits around and waits to be saved. Very recently in Mulan, the title character of the same name joined the Chinese Imperial Army in order to save her father and eventually lead a group of misfits to save the entire country from the Huns. Although Mulan essentially becomes one of the guys in this film, she still is able to retain her femininity and illustrates the ability of women to do it all. She Saves the day, saves her family, and in the end is still able to get the guy.
The transformation of women’s parts in movies is not limited only to cartoons or children’s stories designed to empower and teach children. In films aimed at teens and adults as well women are taking part in action, adventure, and danger, and doing just as well as the boys. The famous Indiana Jones series, in which Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones, a rebel archaeologist in search of ancient ruins, adventure, and excitement now has its compliment in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider series, in which Lara Croft of the Lara Croft video game series embarks on adventures and expeditions through the world’s tombs. She’s as tough, resourceful, and strong as any man. Such recent superhero movies such as Daredevil and Batman have had spin-offs of their popular female characters in Elektra and Catwoman. And crime fighting has never been quite as fun as it is when you’re accompanying Charlie’s Angels, the all-woman crime fighting and recovery team in one of the Charlie’s Angels series as they execute the wishes of their elusive boss, Charlie.
As with just about anything, the exciting and adventurous lives of the female super spies, super heroes, and even super villains are an exaggeration of the real lives of the empowered females of modern day. However, it still remains that in the case of films life imitates art, or vice versa. As women have become empowered and their status and ventures outside of the traditional domestic realm have widened, so too have their film roles, broadening the horizons for the female character. Viewers the world around are enjoying the exploits of the newly emboldened female characters. Films of the past, and even recent pass serve as examples of how far the women have come in such a short time and will continue to go. Women and men are now on an equal playing field in terms of what they can and do take on in both film and life. So forget about it Superman, I think Lois Lane can handle herself. Maybe she’ll even get a movie of her own.