Pop culture needs more Briennes of Tarth

A few months ago, my husband was watching “Hunted” on Cinemax while I was puttering around on the series of tubes, and after one particularly action-packed sequence where the female lead dispatches a whole posse of would-be assassins, he says, “I don’t mean to be sexist, but I can’t believe that she can just beat up all of those huge men like that.  Look at her! She’s so skinny!”

“But that’s not sexist,” I told him.  “It’s actually true.”

After a few minutes, he switched over to the UConn/Notre Dame women’s basketball game and we watched that instead.  At some point, UConn center Stefanie Dolson made a solid rebound, and I said, “Why don’t we ever see female action heroes that look like Stefanie Dolson? I’m way more likely to buy that she can beat up a bunch of guys than most of the actresses in these shows.”

My request was answered a few months later, after we joined the rest of the free world and started watching “Game of Thrones.”  Partway through the second season, we are introduced to Brienne of Tarth, a highborn woman who ditches the trappings of Westerosi ladyhood in favor of swords and fighting and knighthood.  Brienne is often the tallest person in any given scene, she wears her armor like a tank, and most importantly, when she fights off three attackers at once, you believe she could actually do it.

It should probably go without saying that I love Brienne of Tarth. Not only do I like that she kicks ass, but I like that she represents for all of us ladies who have heard over and over again that we are freaky and undesirable because we happen to be a lot taller than the average women (or average man, for that matter).  I get her defensiveness and her awkwardness.  I get it because I lived those things.  (And I’ll admit, I totally ship her and Jaime.  They are my OTP. And yes, I am aware that I am outing myself as a ginormous dork in this paragraph. But hey, at least I’m not the only one.)

But even putting aside my own personal feels on the matter – of which I admittedly have many that are quite strong – I have to say that I find Brienne of Tarth refreshing.  She is the proverbial tall drink of cool water in a desert filled with size-0 actresses who prepare for their action roles with “rabbit food” diets (h/t Scarlett Johansson during a press junket for The Avengers), which I suppose is understandable considering that the actresses who don’t go the rabbit-food route are showered with criticism for looking “too fat” (as with Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games).

Hollywood’s insistence on giving us female action stars that still look rather underfed is a blatant example of pop culture-makers wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be praised for having “strong female characters,” but they don’t want to deviate too far from the ever-narrowing standards of fuckability.  They want to make a grab for female fans but they don’t want to challenge the status quo too much. They want to appear modern while still clinging fiercely to outdated beauty standards.

The end result?  Movies and TV shows in which we are asked to unquestioningly accept the premise that a woman with arms courtesy of the Tracy Anderson Method (TM) can throw a punch that would knock out a dude who looks like he body-slams elephants in his free time.

You know, I get that there is a certain suspension of disbelief required when you get involved with pop culture. I am not asking for perfect realism here, but some nod to the realities of human anatomy would be nice, and the reality is that anyone – no matter what their gender – who wants to be able to kick some ass is going to need some muscle with which to propel the instruments of ass-kicking.  Male actors regularly spend time in the gym to put on muscle for these kinds of roles, because the role demands it.  Actresses undergo training, too, but the most important goal remains making sure they still look good in their mandatory latex catsuit.

It’s not as if the female action hero who actually looks like she can kick ass is foreign to Hollywood.  I mean, I can’t possibly be the only person who remembers Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2:

And more recently, MMA fighter Gina Carano in Haywire:

And what about Michelle Rodriguez in, well, everything:

Don’t get me wrong: all of these ladies are still operating very much within the constraints of Hollywood feminine beauty. All of them are slender and beautiful and still recognizably feminine. It only required just the tiniest widening of acceptable appearances – in these cases, by allowing the women to have some arm muscles – for them to become believable as ass-kickers.

Even Gwendolyn Christie, the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth – a character who is mostly derided within the Game of Thrones world as being beastly and horribly unattractive – is really quite beautiful:

As I thought about this and wrote it, I realized that I was inadvertently making the argument that I don’t think thin women can be strong or can fight, which is not my intent.  Nor do I think that an actress is necessarily going to be unbelievable as a fighter just because she is thin. For instance, Michelle Yeoh may not have martial arts training but she has the skills to make her stunts look realistic, and I really liked Scarlett Johanssen as the Black Widow in The Avengers.  I’m sure we could all think of individual instances in which thin actresses made believable action stars.

But the problem isn’t with the individual actresses and the individual roles.  Rather, when you step back and take a look at the big picture of female representation among the fighters and action heroines of pop culture, what jumps out is the lack of diversity.  It’s not that some thin, small women are capable of being believable as action heroines.  It’s that we only see thin, small women as action heroines. (And let’s be real: we mostly only see thin, small women as ANYTHING in movies and television.  This is a problem that is not limited to entertainment that includes violence and action. It is fucking endemic in our culture.)

This kind of lack of diversity of on-screen representation is one of the things feminist media critics address when they talk about the demographics of those responsible for making pop culture.  Five percent of directors are women and most of those directors are white.  Women of color are even more underrepresented.  Women are also underrepresented in screenwriting, producing, cinematography, editing, you name it.

But it’s more than just the fact that white men overwhelmingly dominate the creation of pop culture in our society.  After all, George R. R. Martin, who wrote the Song of Fire and Ice series, is a man, and a white one, too.  Most of the directors and the show writers are white guys, too.  I think it’s simplistic to say that white men are not incapable of creating art and pop culture in which women are given space to exist in a variety of ways, because they certainly do.

It’s more that a sensibility promoted by a certain kind of white guy is what dominates the way things are made. (You could call it the “Michael Bay effect,” I suppose.)  It’s the expectation that the only kind of woman who should be seen on-screen should be a fuckable woman, and that what is defined as “fuckable” is a very specific kind of female body and appearance, which in turn is transmitted around the world as the standard of female beauty to which we all should adhere (whether through emulation or through desire).

And if you want to get sociological about it, we can talk about how the seeming contradiction posed by these waif-like ladies who kick ass reflects other trends in our society at large, particularly the way many women and girls feel huge pressures to be perfect at school, their careers and their families, all while maintaining a flawless appearance and making the whole thing seem effortless.  “Yep, you can have it all, but you better make sure you look hot while doing it,” the overwhelming message seems to be. (In fact, a whole documentary just came out about this very thing.)

So when I think about the rise of Brienne of Tarth against this messy cultural background, the fact that she even exists feels fantastic.  That she’s a total badass makes it even better.  I just wish we had more of her.

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54 responses to “Pop culture needs more Briennes of Tarth

  1. LOVE THIS!

    So we train a ton of MMA fighters at our gym and even the “small women” at least look muscular and strong. They at least look like they could beat someone up and have the moves to prove it.

    I do have problems watching heroes or heroines who look like you could break them in half with one slap. That just isn’t realistic unless they also have a ton of super powers and even then it isn’t really very fun to watch.

    And I think I may have you beat on the dorkiness scale…One of my favorite TV shows growing up was Xena: Warrior Princess. I LOVED Lucy Lawless. She was a tall woman and strong…not super muscular or super skinny…and I always believed she could kick some serious ass!

  2. I love Brienne (and Game of Thrones, in general!). It’s awesome seeing her as a character and she’s also one that I loved in the books too. George RR Martin creates a very imperfect world but he really does make a point to make characters heroes who are normally at best side-kicks on the big or small screen. I’ll try not to spoil much in case others haven’t read the books but I have a feeling we’ll see more diversity to come and more of a play on main characters who stray from Hollywood’s perception’s of beauty.

    Even though I’m pretty average in height I have a larger frame and am naturally more muscular so it’s nice to see a women who has a similar body structure to my own. Also, the fact that her worth in the show is based on her fighting skills and loyalty and not her looks is just amazing.

    I know too that my daughter looks for similar female role models and keeps asking to hear stories about the girl hulk (sadly, I don’t think she’s ever appeared in any movies?).

  3. Now I may have to watch this thing. I’m already hooked on Dr. Who (so we love some of the kick-ass — and plain and not-size-0 — women on that program?). There goes my free time.

    Did you mean the double entendre in “ever narrowing standards of fuckability”? Because the allowable fuckable woman is narrowing by the half-year. Ogden Nash, where are you?

    I think it fine from women to be lithe and lissome
    But not so much so that you cut yourself if you happen to embrace or kissome.

    I want to be remembered as a tough old broad who looks as if she could stop a truck. Trying to figure out how to practice with the truck.

  4. LOVE Brienne. And though Gwendoline Christie is stunning in real life (100%, I walked past her in a supermarket once. Claim to fame) I appreciate that the show went out of their way to cast someone physically different. Their casting directions for her: “must be a MINIMUM of 5’10″. Do NOT submit actresses that look like models. We are looking for a big, WARRIOR-TYPE woman,”

    • Neato! I admit, I was worried they wouldn’t be able to find an actress as big and muscular as Brienne is described as being.

      (Before the role was cast, I had fantasies of going and trying out for it myself, even though I am not an actress. The whole reason I got into A Song of Ice and Fire in the first place is that a friend of mine told me it had a character just like me in it. And he was right.

      I’m 5’8″ though, so I wouldn’t have made it in the door. Which is fine, because Brienne is supposed to tower over everyone, and I don’t tower. I do loom, though. Sometimes I even loom *up* at people. That takes some doing.)

      And I love the fact that Gwendoline Christie is wearing high heels in that picture. I don’t like high heels in general, but since it’s a thing that women even at my unremarkable height angst over wearing them (“What if they make me taller than my date? Oh NOES!”), I’m happy to see someone as tall as Christie wearing them unapologetically.

      • True story: when I saw her in the supermarket she was wearing four-inch heels and seemed to be choosing wine. Love her.

      • I don’t generally wear high heels either – I find them really uncomfortable, and yes, the height factor is something I have not figured out how to deal with yet – but I also love that she was like, fuck it, I’m wearing pretty heels to go along with my gorgeous minidress. I love her.

        Your other comments on this post have me psyched to read the rest of the books in the series. I stopped reading after the first book because I realized I was going to need something to fill the gaping hole left by GoT when it goes on hiatus, and so instead I’m saving the books for the spaces between seasons.

  5. I love her character in the books; I am pleasantly surprised to see that the casting didn’t screw up her character for the show (although they’ve done a great job with everyone so far it seems). There is something else great about her character in the book which I think I loved about Katniss Everdeen’s character- they are strong females that actually think about things besides men and love, etc. The whole thing about Brienne of Tarth is that she’s super big on her honor. It’s great! She’s just into kicking ass and righting wrongs and telling people to fuck off. It’s lovely!

    • Katniss – another fictional character I love! Isn’t it interesting how pop culture that inspires some of the most rabidly obsessed fanbases also happens to have a lot of strong female characters? Not just GoT and Hunger Games but also Harry Potter, for instance. (I mean, Hermione is a badass for the ages.) There’s obviously a huge desire for female characters that are not just plot devices through which the male character can actualize himself. I don’t know why more writers aren’t stepping up and answering with even more great female characters.

    • Yeah, I like that there’s so much more to her than just her size and strength (though I would’ve loved her for those alone, what with there being so few heroines like that out there).

      She’s very young in the books, just starting out in her knightly career. I don’t remember exactly how old she is, but she’s definitely an older teen. I loved how Martin gave her the stubbornness, the overly black-and-white thinking, the sense that a strong will can overpower any and all obstacles, that you often see at that age, while at the same time making her smart, cagey and aware that people will underestimate her and she can use that to her advantage.

      (There’s a flashback of her with her master-at-arms, where the master-at-arms tells her that men will try to defeat her quickly because she is a woman, and they don’t want it to be said that they struggled to defeat a woman, and that this will make their technique sloppy and leave them wide open for her counterattack.)

      She’s actually quite calculating in fights, tending to stay on the defensive and *study* her enemy. I like how intelligent she is, even if she is inarticulate and not well-read. And I LOVE that GRRM could make it abundantly clear to us that she is intelligent, without giving her the verbal deftness that authors usually use to telegraph intelligence.

      I like to imagine her having long chats with Tyrion, and the two of them REALLY “getting” one another. They’ve had such similar experiences, even though Tyrion is written more like an intelligent character is typically written: he’s witty, he’s good with words, he’s read a lot. I like to think he would recognize Brienne’s intelligence, though. He recognized Jon Snow’s, and Jon Snow is also young, pigheaded and not terribly well educated.

  6. Glad to see Lucy Lawless was already mentioned. I don’t have to go there.

    Have you read the books? Yes, Martin created this kick-ass female character who has been brought to life by Gwendoline Christie. But in the books, she’s not played up as a kick-ass female. She’s written more as a tragic character – too big, too strong, and too ugly. She’s an outcast, ridiculed by men and women alike. The knights don’t accept her even after she proves she can hold her own (and even best them in combat). Catelyn Stark mostly pities her. When we hear Brienne’s POV, it’s mostly self-loathing.

    • I’ll agree with you that Brienne is mostly an object of ridicule and even self-loathing within the books, but so is Tyrion. (Interestingly – she is too big and strong for a woman, he too small and weak for a man.) You could make a case that Varys is, as well, also for reasons of not being the masculine ideal.

      I think Martin does a really great job of setting it up so that the way they are treated, and any self-hatred they’ve internalized, is a reflection of the social order around them – the beautiful are revered, even when they are rotten to the core, (and they so often are in Martin’s world – and if they’re not, they end up in unenviable positions, like Ned or Sansa) – and many of the best characters are outcasts in some or many ways.

      He’s basically inviting his audience to demonstrate their moral superiority by loving these reviled characters. The deposed, disinherited, and the deformed are all thrown away by Westerosi society, only to become fan-favorites. It’s brilliant, and I look forward to seeing people like Gwendoline Christie and Peter Dinklage get the kind of career momentum their non-standard looks might have otherwise prevented.

    • I’ve only read the first book, but I stopped because I realized I was going to need my fix when the season ends. I had heard that Brienne was written the way you describe her, but that seems to be about par for the course for a lot of the characters in GoT. Even the powerful characters seem rather pitiful and sad, but maybe that’s because I think Westeros seems like a positively wretched place to live? But I do think that it’s a lot like Ariel says, that GRRM is likely including that characterization as commentary on the way we regard people whose bodies and appearances lie outside of the norm, the way they are scorned and mocked for failing to fit the mold of Proper Man/Woman.

      I’ve seen hints of the backstory about her being too strong and ugly to be a proper woman showing up but I think it’s interesting that the showrunners decided to play that down and instead provide us with a woman who is really quite unapologetic about her badassery.

    • You know, that’s actually part of the reason I identify with her so strongly.

      It’s a little different for me, because my strength and size were never the reason I was ridiculed — it was things stemming from my autism, like social awkwardness, inability to understand others and fixations that made sense to me but no one else — but I definitely had experiences like hers. The parts where she has to stop and ask herself whether a friendly stranger is really trying to be friendly or whether they’re just setting her up for some cruel joke especially hit home for me.

      I do have a lot more self-confidence than she does (even at her age — she’s, what, seventeen? Yeah, I was very comfortable in my skin by then), but it’s sort of a defiant self-confidence. I’m not what you want me to be, but I’m a darn good specimen of what I am.

      I like to think Brienne will get there, too.

  7. Concerning the statement, “making the whole thing seem effortless”. Not only in appearance but in smarts too! Hollywood features smart people. Usually they are smart people that solve crimes. But, in all these cases it is always effortless. Even real super geniuses have to study and work hard. But, not on TV and movies. Smart people are experts on multiple fields that would take 10-15 years of intense study to be experts in. To be an expert in 4 different fields would take at least 30-40 years. But, somehow the smart people on TV are experts in numerous fields, are under 30 years old and have perfect bodies because they never spent anytime in the library studying. haha

    • That’s something I dislike about most of the CSI-type shows – EVERYone is some sort of super genius savant. I don’t think that’s the way it generally works in real life: detection seems to be a whole lot of grunt work.

    • It would be so much more believable if we could actually see older actors who are less physically burnished in a lot more roles. I don’t even think one has to sacrifice the sexy factor to make that happen, as there are plenty of older men and women out there who are total foxes. (Even though I do tire of the idea that everyone on every screen has to be omg! sexy! all the time.)

  8. Great post, has inspired me to start a pinterest board for StrongWomen, starting with the ones you have named here :)

  9. Well, I’m going to mention Lucy Lawless again anyway, because she was such an anomaly. I didn’t really follow Xena, but I always enjoyed seeing her, wearing armor and kicking ass, and taking no shit from anyone (sort of the physical embodiment of Diane Rehm’s personality). And I absolutely LOVED how Xena was just a little bit… not very bright. A stereotypical brawn-not-brains character – VERY unusual to allow a woman that kind of latitude in a portrayal. You know that saying about “we’ll know we’ve reached equality when we’re allowed to be as [fill in the blank with negative quality] as men” instead of having to perfect.

    Linda Hamilton made a huge impression on me. Sadly I hadn’t yet at that time had any epiphanies about taking pride in my body instead of shame, and desiring to be strong and not just sexy, so I can’t say she actually inspired me, unless it’s her example still 30 years later.

    Does anyone remember Red Sonja from the Conan books? (not the movies) If memory serves me, she wasn’t a tiny thing either, not to mention expert with swords and such.

    Anyway, I agree completely with your frustration with scrawny female action heroes. Sure, there’s different kinds of strength, there’s such a thing as wiry, like Bruce Lee, but he was all muscle, not all bone.

    Helen, will you link your Pinterest board? I would love to see it.

    • IIRC (Wikipedia confirms) Sonja appeared with Conan in comic books but not book-books. She was created by Robert E. Howard, the author of the Conan books, but appeared in a story from a different time period than Conan’s. (Apparently that short story, “The Shadow of the Vulture”, is available online. I should probably read it!)

      There are currently Red Sonja comics being published. I’m a fan. The quality has gone up and down a bit over the years–volumes 6,7, and 8 of the trade paperback and some of the side comics weren’t great, Volumes 1 and 9 were my favorites–and the art style & how her body is drawn changes every time they switch artists. She’s drawn wiry-muscular to very muscular, though, never scrawny. Her breasts require a little or a lot of suspension of disbelief depending on the artist, though. (The artist who drew the most ridiculous breasts was during volumes 7 and 8.)

  10. Love Brienne,Xena, Hermione, Katniss. Did anyone read the Alanna books growing up? Girl pretends to be a boy so she can train as a knight? They are great, complex and strong role models.

    Only problem is the genre… they are all fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for curling up with a cup of tea and a tale of high magic. It just startled me to read through these posts and realise that all of my favourite characters had to exist in completely fictional worlds. It seems like a genre that suspends the rules of reality is an easier habitat for our bad ass female characters to thrive.

    Time to strap on some armour and bring a bit of Lady Knight into THIS world too.

    • The Alanna books are awesome! The author, Tamora Pierce, has also written a prequel to it with another woman fighter (a guardswoman), the “Provost’s Dog” series. I’ve been hearing good things about it.

      And your “They are all fantasy” comment reminded me that I have a book sitting on my bookshelf called “Warrior Women: 3000 years of Courage and Heroism” by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles that I need to read. Maybe a good place to look for real-world inspiration instead of fantasy inspiration! Or look to the USA’s women soldiers and their recent victory in being able to serve in official combat positions. Or the ones in other country that have been doing that for years.

    • Great point about fantasy – and in some ways, science fiction – providing more of a cultural space where these kind of strong female characters can exist. Of course, considering that the world is full of bad-ass women, it’s a little weird that so many culture creators feel they have to start over from scratch to have a world where those kind of characters can exist.

      or maybe there is just something about fantasy and sci-fi that attracts the kind of people who write strong female characters? I wonder…

  11. Lovely post, and Brienne is one of my favorites on that show. In response to Beth’s request for Pinterest content on this subject, I wanted to say that I made a sort of dorky Pinterest board about strong women:

    I’ve really spent some time with the concept of depictions of “strong” women and what that even means. It has both informed my quest towards better self-knowledge through lifting but also frustrated it. Lots of conflicting messages exist even within the strength training world of ideals for women lifters–it’s difficult to ignore them when lifting is one of the most important aspects of my life. I’m 5’2″ and just not built to be very “big.” To make matters “worse,” I happen to be a pretty competitive powerlifter in the 105 weight class, which means I need to stay relatively lean and small in order to maximize my strength in that class. I enjoy being my size and doing what I do, but I come across MANY discussions that suggest that women of my size aren’t legitimate lifters–can’t be truly strong. I have a 303 lb deadlift and damn well intend to improve on that number in the coming year. My size is not a determinant of my strength.

  12. I love Brienne of Tarth as well. However, while I’m grateful that they found a tall actress (and a good one to boot), she only looks like a tank because she’s in armor all the time. In the hot tub scenes it’s obvious that she’s still model-thin. I was disappointed that a diet of squats and milk was not prescribed for her training for this series. I think her fight scenes look good, but I was hoping for a Brienne that was more true to the woman depicted in the books. Guess I should just be grateful that she’s tall (busting at least one stereotype).

    • You are right, she’s still very slender. It goes to show just how limited the standards put forth in mass media are, that even the smallest deviations are celebrated because they are so rare.

  13. On a related note: why boob-shaped armour is a terrible idea (so glad Brienne doesn’t have it!):

    “If your armor is breast-shaped, you are in fact increasing the likelihood that a blade blow will slide inward, toward the center of your chest… It is literally a death trap—you are wearing armor that acts as a perpetual spear directed at some of your most vulnerable body parts. ”

    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/05/boob-plate-armor-would-kill-you

    • Whoa, good point.

      (I’ve always been annoyed at “boob-plate” armor because boobs are compressible — there’s no need to fit armor to them, and it just adds another dimension of difficulty to the making of the armor. I’ve fenced in the past, and the plastic chest-plates come in flat and boob-plate shapes, and the thing that annoyed me about the boob-plate chest guards was that they made you easier to hit. I’m big, but I have a flattish chest, so on me the chest protector has huge pockets of air between the hard plastic exterior and where I begin. If I jump backwards to dodge your thrust, I have to jump further back to get the stupid *armor* out of range. You’d think it would be more useful to bind breasts down, making the target area a bit harder to reach.)

      I hadn’t known that about boob-plate directing blows toward the center of your body, though. That would be very bad!

      Anyway, it always struck me as indicative that artists, fencing equipment designers, etc. are more interested in clearly delineating who is female than in maximizing utility.

  14. Best blog entry I have ever read. I love Gina Carano, Linda Hamilton, and Lucy Lawless! In fact, I never really liked Game of Thrones until Brienne entered the scene…and I want her and Jamie together as well despite his weird sister thing.

  15. I remember when I was young watching the first episode of Wonder Woman and wondering myself why in the champion selection scene on Amazon Island (as I remember it) these runway models who couldn’t throw the javelin had been cast when it would have been very easy to go to the local athletics club and get some real javelin throwers.

    And it’s not that a small woman can’t win a fight; I remember a news article where a slender 5’3″ female Canadian boxer knocked out a British soldier with one punch at a social event; but that woman had biceps like Popeye. However I would like to see a meaty fit woman, that takes up space, in an action role where her winning doesn’t rely on some magical martial art technique.

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  17. Posso solo dire con sollievo che ho trovato qualcuno che sa realmente di cosa sta parlando! Lei sicuramente sa come portare un problema alla luce e renderlo importante. Altre persone hanno bisogno di leggere questo e capire questo lato della storia.

  18. This is such a major sticking point with me. Much as I love seeing women get into the mix and fight, I can’t stand it when they’re these size zero chicks mowing down meaty jock types when its obvious these women are, at the most, lifting tiny pastel weights. With or without a supernatural component, it just doesn’t ring true!

    And it’s such a wasted opportunity to show the various ways various bodied women CAN dominate in a fight. More muscular women are of course more likely to rely on strength and brute force. Thinner women might take up weapons, esp long range ones, or rely more on cunning or firepower. Also, if more shows would stop choking on the smurfette principle, we would see that girls tend to win in fights when their crew is with them; true friends don’t let friends fight alone!

    But nooooo, can’t have some actual complexity going on, gotta stick to the formula. Which sucks!

  19. I’m catching up on old posts and OMG I’m glad I did because I love Brienne sooo much! I haven’t read the books so maybe it’s just Gwendolyn’s acting that has made me obsessed. In addition to playing a badass warrior, she almost has this childlike quality about her honor and loyalty that I find fascinating. And that dress!

    Anyway, I find her so refreshing. I’m exhausted by seeing frail women as action stars which is a major sore point for me enjoying many of Angelina Jolie’s action movies. She always appears to have little awareness of her body and how it moves in addition to looking almost sickly thin to me. She might have charisma and beauty, but her fighting scenes seem to be pushing it for my personal level of believability. I feel like it’s nothing but elbows and knees flailing around on twigs in the general direction of bad guys. Just me?

    Giving the audience such a conventional (and narrow) definition of beauty is insulting to not only the people that fall outside those standards but also the people that like those outsiders.

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  21. I am 5’2″, definitely small, usually am strong, but lost much of my upper body muscle over last year, so pretty damned weak. So if my little arms can’t manage much, how can those hollywood stick arms do it? By small I think you mean Hollywood thin, right? Look at the women at the awards shows and bless, they are so thin! Give them a cookie, and cake, and pizza. At some point it was trendy to have some muscle, but that seems gone again. Also, large breasts out of proportion with slight builds and weight? It’s pretty much expected for women in Hollywood etc to have boob jobs to have a certain size-hence the jumbo boobs on very slim women. Angelina Jolie was infuriating me for years until she revealed last week she’d had a double mastechomy as a preventative measure.
    Another thing is that women are still running around in high heels, make up etc, in shows or movies where they are CIA, FBI, police, superheros etc.. Not possible….and usually super thin without muscle that they are not believable.
    Briennes rocks!

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  23. I am coming in from another angle here. Why don’t we praise women who are strong because of their feminine qualities, instead of their ability to act like a man? Men and women are different, and that is actually a GOOD thing. It’s the same why in which we act like complete racists and judge a black man on his ability to act white. Why can we not accept women who are strong because they use their feminine qualities to achieve their goals, instead of just calling them whores? This is one reason why I actually like Cersai’s character. She might be an asshole, but she utilizes power through utilizing herself as a woman, not trying to be a man.

    • Stephanie Boss,
      I disagree that being a warrior or soldier is “acting like a man”, but my disagreement with you is more basic than that. You say that men and women being different is a good thing, and imply that acting like another gender is a bad thing. Why? To me, whatever differences there are between men and women are not good or bad, they just are. And neither conforming to one’s gender (or what society believes is part of one’s gender) or being a gender nonconformist.is inherently good or bad. However, both femmephobia (and slut-shaming) AND gender essentialism are inherently bad! You’re trying to fight slutshaming/femmephobia using gender essentialism.

  24. Pingback: Wo sind die Frauenfiguren im Kino? Zumindest in “The Heat”! | Kleinerdrei·

  25. i’m totally agree with you. In the same way, when they show us some men who play a though guy, they have not only “strong” body, but “jacked” body too. And all the men (and women ;) ) who tried to have that kind of body, now it asking daily training and particular diet too keep it.
    The best unrealistic example of that for me is on the show “supernatural”. Both brothers are alaways on the road and barely training (and never with , both of them eat junk food (specially Dean) and both of us have a strong and jacked body. But is not new that cinema and tv show us a fake image of reality. After all it’s “dream” industry

  26. Just wanted to say I came across your blog when this was re-posted on the all female HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) online group that I belong to. As a female sword fighter (not olympic style fencing, rapier and dagger) I have to say I really enjoyed reading your take on this. I’m also actually on the smaller end of the spectrum at 5’3″, it may seem inconceivable that I can fight with a one handed 44″ metal sword that weighs close to 5 lbs., but I do. And the rest of the females that are in HEMA range in all shapes and sizes (both height and weight).

    Just thought you’d like to know we’re always thrilled to read these kinds of posts and I’m confident your stats took a sweet increase, with good reason. I was particularly happy, because I’m a fellow wordpress user so now I can hit that follow button from warrior woman to another.

  27. One book you’re missing: “Ash”, by Mary Gentle. Ash is a mercenary captain in an alternate medieval Europe, and she’s realistic.

  28. I haven’t watched GoT (I know, I know) but I really like that in the first photo (Brienne in armour) it’s actually hard to be sure whether it’s a man or a woman. It’s very realistic, compared to, say, photos of modern soldiers — when you put enough armour on, everyone starts to look the same.

    It’s always a bit distracting to see women fighters in movies who are dressed like they’re ready to go out clubbing.

    One more example that I feel should be mentioned, Vasquez in Aliens. I, umm, like Vasquez. A lot. Though it is weird to see the actress (I don’t remember her name) in the making of documentary. She’s a rather normal seeming, feminine, Jewish woman.

    • Vasquez! Good pick.

      Your comment is making me think about how boring a lot of today’s movies are, and how I often don’t like watching them anymore for a variety of reasons. I don’t expect perfect realism but I do get tired of watching fantasy versions of the world that all seem like the puberty-inspired fever dreams of preteen boys.

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