I like strong and dangerous women. In fiction. In real life. Strong women are wonderful. They can open their own jars. They can make my decisions for me. They can go on top if they want to do the hard work. I genuinely believe in equality.
My only grievance with Hollywood’s interpretation of strong and dangerous women is that so many are beautiful to the point of being anodyne.
My son and I are currently working our way through the Resident Evil movies. As I may have mentioned before: I’m a zombie fan. The Resident Evil movies are, essentially, zombie films. And, whilst they’re entertaining pieces of popcorn-flavour eye-candy, Alice, the central character, pisses me off because she’s attractive to the point of ridiculousness.
Alice is, first and foremost, a strong woman. She can kick the teeth out of a zombie’s head; operate machine guns and back flip from a moving motorcycle. But Alice is Hollywood-beautiful – unrealistically attractive – and, to my jaded eye, that facet of her appearance involves a greater suspension of disbelief than the concept of a world being over-run by zombies.
Played by the actress, supermodel and fashion designer Milla Jovovich, Alice is so painfully thin that her clothes were more fully filled out when they were still on the hanger. There’s a scene in the first movie (and it’s repeated in the second) where Alice is naked save for a very thin paper towel. It’s the first time I’ve seen an attractive unclothed woman on film and my initial thought has been, “Quick! Someone put some food inside her!”
(Admittedly, I’ve thought similar things when looking at other images of some near-naked women, but carrots and cucumbers aren’t really food: they’re nature’s edible dildoes).
It sounds like a ridiculous thing to whine about: the women in these films are too attractive! But the truth is that it sets unreal expectations of society as a whole. Yes, women are allowed to be heroic and strong, but only if they’re thin to the point of emaciation, or have faces that would not look out of place advertising make-up, eyeliner or lingerie. Ugly fat women can be as strong and resourceful as they like but no one is ever going to look at them so they might as well not bother.
(It should be noted here that men can get away with being ugly in films. The phrase ‘ruggedly handsome’ was invented as a euphemism for the words, “Yes, we know he’s got a face like an arse, but he’s still the hero in this film.”)
However, instead of whining about the disparity of a patriarchal hegemony, I’ll introduce you to a strong and dangerous woman from my latest title: Death by Fiction. This is a scene where Annabel (a writer and a surprisingly strong woman) is encountering White: a publisher.
Wearing fishnets, stilettos and a silky red dress, she had felt as obvious as a sex toy in the Vatican. Her blonde hair shone from fresh conditioning. Her trench-coat was cinched tight. It emphasized the slenderness of her waist and the fullness of her breasts inside their Wonderbra. When she had seen White leave the bar and head toward the smokers’ cage attached to the side of the building, she eagerly followed.
A cool wind from the nearby Manchester streets tugged at her hair. Flecks of rain spattered from a starless sky of night and rain clouds. She shivered lightly in the chill and stooped to light her smoke.
“Excuse me?” White began politely, “Do you have a light?”
She recognized him from the author’s photograph at the back of her copy of The Writer. The years had been kind to him. Or the original photograph had been cruel and unflattering. Either way, his appearance didn’t present the unappealing prospect for the evening she initially envisioned.
His eyes shone with curiosity. Potential devilment.
She could see him appraising the shine of the L’Oreal grape gloss on her lips. His obvious approval suggested her plans had a good chance of success.
She handed him her Zippo.
After lighting his cigarette he studied the design on the lighter’s casing. “A death’s head? You come with a warning label?”
“I’m a killer. The memento mori is a reminder, should I ever forget.”
He raised an eyebrow. “A killer? Surely not. If anything, I’d have labeled you a thief.”
She had no idea where the conversation was going but, as long as White was talking to her, it gave her the chance to negotiate things to her advantage.
“A thief? Why?”
“Because those big blue eyes of yours have just stolen my heart.”
In all her years of trying to write mystery stories, she had pondered many curious puzzles. She understood some of the devices needed to create a satisfying locked-room mystery. She had studied writers who foregrounded clues, yet who could still surprise the reader. She had read the violent and bloody biographies of history’s worst serial killers, as well as the police investigations that led to eventual arrests. But she would never understand the mystery of how a writer with M R White’s esteemed reputation could produce such a shitty chat-up line.
She blushed, embarrassed for him.