Women in fiction and daft assumptions

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Women in fiction.  How someone told me I couldn’t have a female action hero in my thriller “Blood Summit”. But I published it anyway.

Women in fiction: “Atomic Blonde”

A review of the forthcoming thriller Atomic Blonde describes it as “the biggest action role for a woman on screen to date”.

Sounds good to me.

Atomic Blonde (2017) – trailer

A piece in the International New York Times by Jessica Manafi, which appeared in the Austrian Standard on 22 May, argues that Lorraine Broughton, the MI6 spy who is the heroine of the movie played by Charlize Theron, is getting closer to equality by “grounding the action”.  Thus, when Theron’s character fights (all men, in the trailer) she gets hit, and hurt, and bruised.

I’m not so sure how unique this is.  What about Uma Thurman in Kill Bill or Theron’s own 2003 Monster – trailer below – for which she won the Best Actress Oscar?

Unlike the cartoon violence in Kill Bill, I thought the violence in Monster, much of it directed against Theron’s character, was realistic and relevant.

Monster (2003) – trailer

But there’s a serious point here.  The idea that audiences can’t accept women action heroes is widespread.  I encountered it myself when trying to sell my thriller Blood Summit a while ago.

Women in fiction: “Blood Summit”

Blood Summit has an action-oriented female hero, Helen Gale.  Lots of literary professionals loved it, but it never quite got published.  A key expert, seeking to be helpful, wrote to say:

“One key element I have to draw your attention to… is that there seems to be a problem with Helen in the central role.  The way that she is portrayed makes her seem too much like a man in women’s clothing.  Whatever the realities of the role of women are these days the demands of fiction are different, especially in this broad genre [i.e. thrillers]…  …there would be little objection to having a woman in a major role but not where she would be the pov [point of view] character.  Equally, the plot resolution should not in any fundamental way revolve around the relationship of such a woman with the male protagonist.”  

All my own books are packed with strong women.  They include Ms N and Tatiana in my blackly comic Seven Hotel Stories. Helen Gale, the hero of my hard-hitting Berlin thriller Blood Summit is as dynamic a woman as you could wish for – I published the book and it has earned countless fans.  In my sci-fi comedy thriller Eternal Life I’m rather proud of Sandy Banks – although she doesn’t appear until the action reaches New York City. As for Elif Mutlu, the heroine of Palladium – don’t mess with her.


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2 Responses

  1. “The idea that audiences can’t accept women action heroes is widespread”, I find somewhat surprising, what about the classic, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens who was braver than her macho marines and more resilient but also capable of gentleness and understanding.

    It was the female characters in Kill Bill II not the male ones who shined. Think of Lucy Lu who kicked ass better than any of her male counterparts, and still managed to look drop dead gorgeous in a kimono; Elle Driver with her warrior physique and ruthless character, who did not think twice about trying to kill a woman lying in a coma. Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator made me want to sign up for year’s membership at the local gym.

    I could list film after film in which the female characters are the interesting, complex, and intriguing ones and after watching the trailer for Atomic Blonde I am looking forward to when it comes here in August to settle into my seat and enjoy with a beer in one hand and huge carton of popcorn in the other 🙂

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