Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween! (and why Medusa kicks ass)

Halloween is one of my two favorite days of the year. I love Halloween. I love that you get to carve pumpkins and dress up in awesome costumes and that kids get to go around and horde candy. Now that I'm an adult, Halloween is an excuse to play dress-up and watch horror movies- two things that I think are tons of fun.

I've been a little busy lately (I'm taking the GRE on Saturday. Saturday!), so this is going to be an open post: what are you doing for Halloween? Did you carve a pumpkin? Want to share a picture? What's your favorite costume? Favorite horror movie? Something else?

In the meantime, I decided- in an effort to continue with the "I'm not just posting terrible things that make me angry" effort- to create a list of fictional women I like. These are women from books, video games, comic books, movies, and mythology that I think are pretty kick-ass for various reasons. Feel free to contribute, criticize, or congratulate my choices. I'll probably (maybe) post more as time goes on, but here are a few:

First up: Medusa, Queen of the Gorgons.

Why: Because Medusa kicks all kinds of classic ass. I've seen some feminists adopt the image of Medusa as a symbol, and I love it. It makes sense. Now, the image that most of us probably have of Medusa is from Clash of the Titans, where she's a horrible monster whose sole purpose is to be there for Perseus to kill and use as a weapon against the Kraken.

But there's so much more there. According to some sources, Medusa was originally a beautiful nymph, until she was raped by Poseidon in one of Athena's temples. Athena cursed Medusa, and changed her into a gorgon.

So why do I love Medusa?
Because it's an excellent representation of patriarchy in action. Medusa is a woman who is raped by someone in a position of power. Rather than blame him for his actions, she is blamed- if only she weren't so beautiful. She is punished for the transgression of being too beautiful and causing a man to lose control. Her punishment is to be made ugly. Instead of destroying her, though, this gives her more power (literally, in fact- she is more powerful as a gorgon, since her gaze has the power to turn men to stone and her blood has the power to kill or cure). When Perseus is sent to kill Medusa, he is aided by Athena- the very goddess who transformed Medusa into a monster in the first place.

Medusa became a symbol of female power- and the fear that power represented. Her blood was alternately a deadly poison, or a life-giving cure. I also appreciate that, in a world designed around the male gaze, Medusa's gaze- the female gaze- was so feared. I love the idea of co-opting Medusa- a being typically thought of as a terrible, evil, destroying women- and reimagining her. She's not evil- she's a victim who was punished for being victimized, but turned that punishment into a source of power, and was eventually slain for it... and yet, her legacy lives on. She's easily more recognizable as a figure than Perseus or Athena are.

Next up: Warrent Officer Ellen Ripley.

Why: It's no secret that I love the first two Alien movies. I think that they're amazing films. The first one is one of the most tightly filmed horror movies ever. There's hardly a wasted scene in it, and it's still scary as hell today as it was almost three decades ago. Add to that the fact that Ripley is completely kick ass, and you've got a winner.

What's not to love about Ripley? She's written as an actual character, not as a stereotype of a woman. She's in the charge, commands respect from her crew, and isn't hypersexualized. The only real cliche that she falls into is that of being the lone-survivor of a horror film, but I can forgive that, given that she doesn't spend the rest of the movie screaming in fear or relying on other characters to protect her. She's smart, tough, and full of awesome.

One thing I don't understand: How does she rank lower than Clarice (from Silence of the Lambs) on the AFI 100 Heroes and Villains list? Clarice is cooler than Ripley? Really? Because I don't remember Clarice kicking a bunch of alien ass.

Also: Part of what looks to be an interesting article about "tough women" is over here.


roses said...

I just read a post about kick ass women! You might find it interesting:

Torri said...

I'd like to mention Sarah Connor from T2, she's also one of my favorite female action heroes right up there with Ripley. That version of the Meduca story also brought up memories of Lilith, the first woman who was made from the earth same as Adam, only to get fed up with the idea that she had to be submissive during sex (and all other things), wanting a more equal role since they were made the same. So she flies away and Adam whines to god that she left so god sends three angels to try and get her back, the Angels go get her, threatening to drown her in the sea. When she refuses to go back god decides 100 of her children will die each day and so she later existed as a demoness who would kill newborn human children.
The link talking about Jamesf's commentary on Ripley reminds me of an article I read a while ago that was talking about action heroins, the author didn't like Ripley or Sarah Connor either and seemed to think the heroines in the new Charlie's Angels movies were a step in the right direction where 'a woman can kick ass while still being a woman'
A view I find rather insulting to say the least since the girls in the new Charlie's Angel's movies are basically only different by conforming more with gender stereotypes and pandering the the straight male audience.

assembling words to armory, she waits... said...

fun post roy!

you know who i really love is leeloo in the fifth element. i mean, she embodies what saves the planet. and the movie isn't centered on her sexuality, but her strength, emotion and tenacity. not to mention jean paul gaultier designed almost 1000 amazing costumes for the movie! i keep telling myself i'm gonna be her for halloween, and every year i forget, lol.

Anonymous said...

Thomas says:

Less known is the Angela Bassett character in Strange Days, Mace. The director, Kathryn Bigelow (best known for Point Break) is Jim Cameron's ex.

EG said...

My goodness, how I do love both Medusa and Ripley (in the first two movies, which are the only Alien movies whose existence I acknowledge). Vasquez is also a hero of mine.

But there are so many. As boring as it may be, I must doff my hat to Wonder Woman, my original, first feminist icon.

Roy said...

Thanks for that link, Roses! Buffy is pretty awesome, and I'm not about to argue against any promotion of the graphic novel League over the film version.

Good call, Thomas- I love her character in Strange Days.

EG, I'm going to use that as an opportunity to *ahem* shamelessly promote my own thoughts on Wonder Woman here. It's actually about her costume, but, you gave me an opportunity, how could I turn it down?

Anonymous said...

Zoe, on "Firefly", kicks some serious ass. THAT is the woman I want covering my butt during anything scary.

I've always liked Ripley. :) She doesn't just scream and flail helplessly -- she fights back. And she took the ship's kitty with her into cryo-suspension-whatever-technology-that-was-supposed-to-be. And I approve of saving the ship's cat. *grin*

I always thought Athene herself was pretty kick ass, being the goddess of both wisdom and just wars, AND needlework. (Yes, I admit, I am a needlework junkie. As a kid it was comforting to realize there was a goddess who kicked ass, took names, AND wove tapestries. I am a geek.)

I don't recall that version of the Medusa myth -- I'll have to go poking about to see what I DO have. I know of at least one version where she has two (?) sisters with the same affliction/powers she does.

I do have to say, though, that re-reading the Greek myths as an adult with a feminist view does tend to be sad and disappointing. I never realized what huge sexists the Greeks were when I was a kid. And that makes me sad. :( Pleh!

Laurie in MN

EG said...

Thanks for pointing me to that essay...I am in complete agreement with you, of course. WW's costume is rather silly, especially when it's drawn with that weird French-cut bikini recent artists seem to enjoy.

It does seem like making WW's costume more Xena-like would be the way to go.

Personally, I've always wondered why superheroines never seem to get cold.

apu said...

very nice bit on medusa, that was. the little bit of greek stories and myths i've read never mention that bit about her history..

RMislander said...

Perhaps not plausible for a Halloween costume, but Joan Allen's character in The Contender was pretty powerful, as is Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.