Sunday, December 04, 2005

Making a Killing

With the advent and popularity of more kick-ass heroines in various genres, we should inevitably see the introduction of the psychological ramifications of killing and a passing discussion of the said kick-ass heroine's reaction to this necessity.
I have the feeling this theme will make some readers of those novels very unhappy. Especially those who rejoice in the simplicity of absolutes and feel that the heroines are breaking a "Shalt Not."
Further, a major psychological difference exists between blowing away the impersonal enemy by a machine gun or bomb and the down and dirty of close combat.
Previously, many heroines, when put in this unenviable situation by a daring writer, suffer agonies of self-recrimination at their lapse into barbarism and are shocked out of their moral frou-frous. Oh. Oh.
Two exceptions to this standard western liberal ethos when depicting warrior women are Elizabeth Moon and Barbara Hambly. However, Hambly, in the fascinating Darwarth Trilogy describes her character as "cold hearted," implying thereby an essential quality to allow her heroine to accept the kill-or-be-killed reality of her situation; and, incidentally, allow an "out' for sensitive readers.
Moon, on the other hand, in Marque and Reprisal, makes mention of "the darkness within," and allows her character a certain "joy" when putting down a bad guy. However, this is only one of the many possible mental reactions a character might reflect in - I'll use a buzz word here - the new paradigm.
There is a twenty year gap between the publication of these novels. In addition, Elizabeth Moon was a marine. She brings to her fiction various other gender complications that arise in combat reality.
As more and more, women are accepted as warriors, some writers will not ignore the realities that accompany that status. Writers also may find the usual cultural stereotypes (ie. Amazon, Harpy) insufficient.
We may find the usual contradiction develop - more gritty realism and psychological depth on one hand, and its alternative on the other, a resurgence of Too Sweet( or Too Stupid) To Live characters who represent a flight into a single concept of female as life-giver, not life-taker and who cannot accept that she may, Kali Ma, be both.


ali said...

One thing I always find quite hard to believe about these books is that they never have any hesitations about killing. Sure, they might spend the next three chapters having dilemnas over it - but they seem to find the actual act easy.

But yes. I agree with what you're saying.

Bernita said...

For me, it would depend on the previous delineation of character, on her training, for example,where one faces, accepts and makes one's internal dispositions about the possibility of taking life.
Another thing might be the "hot blood" of the situation, we are geared to survival.
On the other hand, in our society, we are slow to recognize a moment of truth, the point where one recognizes that a situation has spiraled down to the simple choice of "kill or be killed."

Sela Carsen said...

I guess my problem with the "kick-ass" heroine is that I simply cannot relate to her. She just seems like a guy with boobs glued on. There's very little about many of these women that feel like women at all. Not all, certainly. I'm sure I've read one or two kick-ass heroines who have appealed, but none come to mind.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sela. That's a cutting inditement, which suggests they may have chosen the amazon pattern without sufficient depth.

Robyn said...

I find the comment interesting: "life-giver, instead of life-taker."

I didn't know how easy it would be to take a life until I had children. For all that society makes motherhood a soft focus lace trimmed Valentine, motherhood is what turns women into ass-kicking heroines, IMO. I am not a violent person, not in the least. And even the extreme close-ups of CSI type television programs give me the squicks. But anyone who threatened my kids? I do believe I'd kill without an ounce of remorse.

Bernita said...

Robyn, yes.
It's even hard sometimes to quell a certain sense of killing rage when one reads of children abused and mutilated and dead.

Tsavo Leone said...

Interesting. Don't know if any of your are familiar with Lara Croft, of Tomb Raider fame. Started off as a semi-role model, eventually turned in to a soft-core fantasy figure (or not-so-soft-core, depending on search engine's settings).

In both the original game and the first film Lara Croft did not kill anyone (barring the principal villian). However, very soon after that (particularly in film-land) Lara was matching Arnie and Sly in the body-count department. Additionally, Lara's (game) breasts seemed to have grown to unfeasible proportions...

In Lara's case the problem seems to be such a simple one to resolve: She's a female character created and controlled by men. Take the men out of the equation and Lara could return to be being a kick-ass kinda gal who female gamers can be proud of again.

The overall problem here is one of sexual identity methinks. Men see women as a great many things, but most of those ideals seem to be mutually-exclusive (there are always exceptions to the rule). However, I've often wondered how women actually see themselves in modern society, given the plethora of contradictory images and ideals that they are meant to portray (interestingly, from my POV, Fight Club has been singled out as being a damning indictment of this for both men and women, even though the tale revolves solely around male imagery).

Oh, one last question. These kick-ass killers you mentioned Bernita (Ha! Got it right this time!): I don't suppose the authors also decided to make their characters extreme in appearance whilst they were at it? It's usually a toss up between Lara Croft or Rosa Klebb isn't it...

Anonymous said...

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