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28 May, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Today I'm adding another female voice to the topic of the week, the recent increase in female action heroes.

Like Associate Editor Jessica Wolf, I applaud seeing strong female characters in roles that don't relegate them to chick flicks. I like seeing female Jedi and Starship Troopers, even if it was a long and circuitous route to the big screen.

In a sad and twisted way we owe the strong women of the action genre to Jell-O wrestling and video games.

The first real female action heroes to make it to the silver screen were the products of male creators whose creative juices seemed to flow primarily from south of the human equator.

Heroes like video game ass-kicker cum screen princess Lara Croft and her anime predecessors were not designed to appeal to women. Lara's body type even prompted one wag critic to comment, “She'll put someone's eye out with those” – not the first thing most women would design into strong female characters.

No, Lara is an adolescent male fantasy come to life: as anatomically impossible as Barbie, as deep as the number of rounds in her ammunition clip and completely conducive to the typical adolescent male's first and second leisure pursuits. Finally, a gal he can relate to!

The one thing a woman might have designed about Lara is that when she says no, a guy had better listen. Not much ambiguity in her responses.

Some anime plotlines also have strong female characters, but they often rely on an unsettling blend of (sometimes concurrent) sex and death that I would like to think most mentally healthy folk are better able to keep separate in their minds.

For as much as movies have the ability to advance technology and influence viewers, the film industry still seems to prefer the market-tested, focus-grouped safety of vapid female characters, no more heroic or relevant and not much better costumed than Jane Fonda in then-hubby Roger Vadim's Barbarella.

TV is doing a better job with female heroes. The medium took the spoofy Buffy the Vampire Slayer of film and turned her into a bright, witty and strong co-ed whose nontraditional friends are also smart and emotionally strong, if not as confident.

Even the movie industry's recent revivals of female TV characters have been lame. The camp of a Charlie's Angels or Josie and the Pussycats is no substitute for any one of “Star Trek: Voyager”;'s female heroes, from Captain Janeway right down the command chain.

So I applaud, along with my colleagues, the leading edge of what we hope is a big-screen trend toward action heroes with depth and estrogen. But I won't forget we still have a long way to go.

One more thing: I want to offer congratulations to our own female action hero, Stephanie Prange, for doing a job too big for a man last Thursday. As a result, I would also like to welcome to the world its newest Powerpuff Girl, Mia Katherine Prange. Good job, Steph.

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