There are some really kick-ass women on screen right now, and I’ve loved hearing testimonials of how seeing Wonder Woman has made women in the audience want to take up martial arts or other combat fitness methods. (Recently I had a student in my class whom I hadn’t seen for a while, and she told me she was there because she had just seen Wonder Woman.) This past Friday, Netflix released a new series called GLOW, fictionalizing the 80’s TV show about the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” and a friend told me that she accidentally binged it and couldn’t wait to get into the gym after. Next month, the women of Game of Thrones will be back on HBO to wield swords and ride dragons.
One of the things I love about moments like this on TV and at the movies is that the emphasis is on strength and commitment—not on being waifishly thin or uniform in body type. The women of GOT, for example, range in size from pixyish Arya Stark, assassin-in-training, to the strong and strapping Brienne of Tarth, a female knight. On GLOW there’s the petite Ruth (Alison Brie), facing off in the ring against Carmen (Britney Young), who’s built more like her professional wrestler father and brothers than the other girls in the crew. The scenes on Themyscira in Wonder Woman where the Amazons are doing combat training are all about athleticism and endurance.
When Hollywood gives women this kind of representation—different looking women in different situations being strong and agile in different ways—that translates to an uptick in women in real life pushing harder and trying things they might not have considered before. Knowing things about the actresses’ real lives, like that Gal Gadot actually served in the Israeli army as a combat trainer, also helps make their on-screen feats seem achievable. Sure, they might have the time, budget, imperative and opportunity to work out at the levels they need to, but these are real women who’ve used real hard work to achieve something more than just a bangin’ bikini bod.
Media messages about beauty standards and physical norms can be incredibly harmful, so it’s refreshing to have a number of examples right now of women being more than simply beautiful. These depictions might still be exceptional and supported by the rest of Hollywood’s bag of tricks (lighting, makeup, costumes, retouching, etc.), but ultimately they’re inspirational.
When Keri Russell’s character on The Americans, Elizabeth Jennings, is teaching her daughter self-defense fighting techniques in their garage to help her overcome a trauma, it’s bloody and sweaty… and empowering. When Wolverine discovers that he’s got a daughter with all of his gifts who needs training and is a killing machine in Logan, she gets to be sympathetic and vulnerable and crazy strong and fierce. When little Diana sneaks to watch and mimic the combat training in Wonder Woman, we see a tough girl who wants to fight, and we want that for her.
If you look at everything that’s been released so far this year, on TV and in theaters, you’ll see that there’s still a lot of room for improvement. That said, I can’t remember another time when it was so easy to find depictions of women who didn’t need someone else to rescue them, who worked hard for their strength and weren’t afraid to get dirty and who made me and other women want to go lift weights and learn to do roundhouse kicks.
Do you love this trend as much as I do? Did I leave something off the list? (Probably.) Please share!