Sometimes a Girl Needs an Action Heroine

When I was growing up, I was reading mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy novels because I liked action scenes.  Maybe it was because I was so non-athletic!  Yet, there wasn’t anything that represented me.  Most of the stories didn’t have any girls in them at all, and those that did either felt like it was a token nod or the girl was a victim.  Was that all the world thought of us?  I felt like I didn’t matter because I was a girl.

Then three TV shows came along: The Secrets of Isis, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, and The Bionic Woman.  All these women had some form of super powers.  The Bionic Woman was different from the other two, in that the actress, Lindsay Wagner, had a say in how the character was portrayed.  She didn’t believe in guns, and the character never uses one on the show.  It made for a creative use of  action scenes, because Jamie Summers is a school teacher and former tennis player, not a highly trained spy.  Creative meant the action scenes often brought Jamie’s characterization in as well, as in the scene from the “The Return of Bigfoot” episode below.

But the show did something else, which I realized while I was revisiting it recently.  Most shows that have women in them tend to have a lot of guys, and only one woman, who often feels like the network shoehorned her in to get women viewers. The Bionic Woman always had a lot of women on the show, and it naturally fit into the stories.  Jamie had a friend, Callahan, who worked for Oscar Goldman, was a semi-regular character.  The Bigfoot episode had Sandy Duncan and Stephanie Powers, both with important and distinctive roles in the story.  That’s a credit to the writers and directors, who could have gone with tradition and didn’t.

Right now we’re seeing a lot of discussion about women in action films because of The Hunger Games.  Everyone is surprised, because unfortunately, it’s still an unusual thing.  If a movie or a show is a big success, the media thinks it’s an isolated thing.  If another one comes out and then fails, then the assumption is that the first one was purely luck and people must not want to see action-adventure heroines — not the problem might have been a bad story.  The Bionic Woman premiered in 1976 — 36 years ago, and now we have the U.S. Marine Corps looking for women volunteers for infantry school, and yet it’s still hard to find stories for us.

What do think the impact Hunger Games will have?  Do you think we’re going to see more films with characters like Katniss in them?  Is it going to influence the book industry?  I want to hear what you think!

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