Females take charge, killing damsel-in-distress images


August 14, 1991|By Jean Marbella

"Now you be sweet to . . . your wife," Thelma tells the cop as she forces him at gunpoint into the trunk of his patrol car. "My husband wasn't sweet to me, and look how I turned out."

Look indeed.

From "Thelma & Louise" to Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2," this summer's movies are filled with good women gone bad. Or at least gone totally unladylike -- pumped up on iron or attitude instead of the old sugar and spice.

But it's not just happening in the movies. In their daily lives, at work and at home, more women are realizing that they're going to have to take what they want on their own -- without much help from men, says Judith Hayward, a market researcher with Yankelovich Clancy Shulman in Connecticut.

"We're beginning to see signs they've given up on thinking that the world should be perfect and men will do their share," Ms. Hayward said.

"Our theory is that women, instead of waiting for the world tbecome perfect, are just going to get on with their lives, which is what Thelma and Louise did."

Being "bad," it seems, may be good for today's women.

It's not "bad" in the old sense -- the sexual, loose-woman sense -- but bad as in confrontational and openly angry.

It's bad as in being unafraid of being tough, either mentally or physically, to get what you want. Bad as in being a dame in charge rather than a damsel in distress.

"The time is gone for anything but coming from a point of strength," says one of the New York-based Guerrilla Girls, activists who wear gorilla masks and use guerrilla tactics to fight what they consider the white male domination of the art world.

"It's the only stance for women to take today, from strength, not 'poor, little me,' but from a place of authority and knowing what to do," says the activist, who goes by the pseudonym "Rosie."

The heightened attention in recent years to issues such as battered women, date rape, abortion rights, catcalls on the street and sexual harassment in the office has combined to make women feel under siege and needing to fight fire with fire, some observers said.

There have been fighting women since time began, of course, but a new twist today is the combination of glamour and toughness that image-makers are giving to this badness.

Call it -- as Bloomingdale's has named its new shop that sells only women's motorcycle jackets -- "The Bad and The Beautiful." Leather jackets and tough, homeboy-derived styles are marching down runways more accustomed to the sashaying of ruffles and lace. The look is about clothes that allow you to get the job done rather than attract a man to do it for you.

You see this in gyms, where women who used to work out to slim down now are lifting weights to build up. Strong, toned muscles -- whether you ever actually need to use them a la Linda Hamilton in "T2" -- are the ideal of the moment, much as boyish skinnyness was in Twiggy's days or the hourglass curviness was in Marilyn Monroe's time.

"I really like being strong," said Maria Little, 24, a Baltimore aerobics instructor who two years ago decided to build muscles. "I like knowing if I had to do anything by myself, I can do it. Living in the city as I do, if anything was going to happen to me, I would be able to fend for myself."

At 5-foot-3 and a muscular 130 pounds, she accepts that she's just not the petite and delicate type. She lifts weights six times a week and found that she's developed both physical and mental toughness.

"One time, these three guys were really staring at me, and I had to walk pass them from my door to my car," Ms. Little said. "I started feeling really intimidated and without thinking, I said, 'What are you all looking at?' They immediately turned away.

"I've never done anything like that," Ms. Little added. "I guess I could have gotten myself in trouble."

Which is exactly how women have been conditioned to think, said Amy Reynolds, a feminist psychologist at the University of Iowa. It's part of being "good" -- which girls are raised to be, more so than boys.

And that is precisely why being "bad" can be so alluring, she said.

"That's how women have been socialized -- if there is a threat, you're supposed to give in and worry about it later," she said. "That's not really empowering. You're told time and time again that you're not supposed to be bad. Women have had that part of themselves silenced more than men have."

Yet Ms. Reynolds and other women do not necessarily see badness as liberation, and some observers decry the notion that feminism means that women have to take on the stereotypically male way of fighting back with violence.

"It's important to see that women are the full range of humanity -- there are women like Thelma and Louise just like there are men like Dirty Harry," Ms. Reynolds said. "It doesn't mean that you have to choose that extreme."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.