Femme. Faux-independence. Fetishized object. Fucktoy.
These are the main qualities used to describe female action heroes in the media. Though in modern day they’re featured as the alpha character in most mediums, they’re still depicted as sexual objects, something to be desired by men. Yes, they fight crimes like badasses, but their physical appearance, body type and wardrobe – the huge bust size, small waist and little (or see-through) clothing they wear that leaves nothing to the imagination – are mainly the qualities that hook people in (especially the men).
Though there are numerous sexy, seductive, in-combat females featured in films, most of these “fighting fucktoy” characters originated in other mediums, such as video games/RPGs, comic books, television shows, etc. Well-known examples are characters such as Catwoman, Wonder Woman, the Angels on Charlie’s Angels (the 1976 TV show) and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.
Now here’s a fun fact:
Lara Croft’s famous bust was a complete accident. Artist Toby Gard was toying around with the dimensions of the character. When he got finally got to setting the dimensions of her chest, his mouse slipped and as a result, he increased her breast region by an unrealistic 150 percent. Though a huge mistake, the rest of the male crew voted to keep it, solidifying a kind of stereotyping that not only video gamers were guilty of, but also the filmmakers, directors, writers, etc. that all let it carry into the medium of cinema. Sure enough, Lara Croft’s physical appearance didn’t change once it hit the big screen, as evidenced by Angelina Jolie’s enormous bust size. To quote the Tomb Raider crew, the unfortunate truth is that “Gard’s accidental ‘one-fifty’ design made picking out a marketing strategy remarkably easy.”
With the release of Tomb Raider in 1996, Lara Croft and, of course, her blockbuster hit featuring Angelina Jolie, paved the way for other female game characters. She was, and still is, considered the first video game sex symbol and is often used as a prototype for other female characters. What’s even more unfortunate is the fact that Lara Croft was considered a progressive female character for her time. The featured female characters before her time either fulfilled the role of hostages or weren’t present at all. So though the backstory of the creation of Lara Croft’s physical appearance is a prime example of blatant misogyny, it was still a step up from before. However, Lara Croft wasn’t the first hyper-sexualized female character to make it big.
Long before the creation of Lara Croft (and her breasts), two little birdies named Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg decided to create one of the most iconic television shows to date in the mid-70s. Believing the television shows on air at the time to be too grim, Spelling and Goldberg sought out to create something flashy and glamorous. In an effort to stray away from the male-dominated world of television (and as a way to compete with the escalating number of series featuring women as the protagonists), Spelling and Goldberg came up with the idea of featuring three female detectives who fought crime while still looking drop-dead (and unrealistically) gorgeous. Thus, came the birth of Charlie’s Angels (1976). The show quickly became known as “Jiggle TV” and “T&A TV” (a.k.a. “Tits and Ass television”) by critics because many believed that the show had no real depth or substance and was solely focused on attracting viewers through the exploitation of the scantily clad Angels, whom donned different sexy undercover outfits almost in every episode (ex. beauty pageant contestants, female prisoners or just plain bikini-clad). show was cancelled after only 115 episodes, it was able to make a comeback through its cinematic equivalent of the same title, Charlie’s Angels (2000), which faithfully kept to the essence of the show, featuring women as the erotically appealing action heroes.
All of these examples bring up a huge paradox in these types of heroines: while these female characters are supposed to be strong, independent and kickass, they’re only “strong”, “independent” and “kickass” under the terms and conditions of the phallocentric world, as they are still deeply scrutinized under the male gaze.
In short, while these women do fight crime, they still have to be erotically pleasing to the (male) eye, thus, dubbing these female heroines as “fighting fucktoys”.
By Audrey Shih