Fight scenes are about visual spectacle, power dynamics, adding thrills and tension. They change the stakes quickly and move a film forward. When women are put in this environment they add something different… often a touch of unnecessary sexuality and silly recurring tropes.
Thankfully these tropes seem to be fading with the introduction of more well-rounded female action heroes whose power and skill is more important than how their body looks.
Perhaps with one last kick in the face, we can leave these tropes in the dust.
1) Using household items as weapons
Men are crashing about in the house fighting furiously, fists are flying, kicks are landing. A woman stands nearby, terrified and aghast.
But she’s the queen of the domestic domain, well-practised in wielding the familiar household objects around her. She grabs her trusty rolling pin or heavy skillet and gives the enemy a whack around the head, saving the day.
Some household objects make very good weapons but the link between domesticity and women’s power leaves a sour taste. The suggestion, intended or otherwise, is that the space in which women hold power is the home. They will fiercely defend it using the items directly linked to their labour in these homes.
Men have been known to do this in film too of course. But it’s much less frequent and is more often used for comedic effect as they are emasculated by the act.
2) Power thighs
While fighting a big powerful man a woman leaps into the air and wraps her upper thighs around his neck. A quick twist, a look of horror in his eye, and he’s taken down to the floor, choking.
Or maybe a woman is grappling with a guy during a fight and wraps her legs around him like tentacles from which he is unable to escape. He’s incapacitated and emasculated by an intimate part of a woman’s body.
Given the difference in muscular mass it could conceivably make sense that a woman’s thighs hold the most strength. This isn’t the most efficient way to fight but no fight scenes on screen are technically efficient, they’re made to look good. So what about a woman wrapping her thighs around a man’s neck could be designed to look good, I wonder.
It’s an excuse for a crotch shot and to hint at something suggestive. A woman with her crotch in a man’s face, oo-er!
Delve too far into comments sections and you’ll see raging debates around the validity of this manoeuvre in various martial arts and its effectiveness against a larger opponent.
But have you ever seen a man do it?
3) Boob armour
Anyone who’s ever worn a sports bra knows that the best way to protect and secure breasts is to strap them down. Less movement means less pain and discomfort. But it doesn’t make for such a sexually attractive look, so boob armour is the favoured approach.
Impractically large, solid moulded salad bowls are integrated into women’s armour so that the viewers are guaranteed a busty view from all angles.
Both impractical and dangerous, it impedes free movement and introduces weakness into the integrity of the armour. Those poor breasts are rattling around like chicken fillets in a cement mixer. It’s going to hurt. Unless they’re properly supported underneath, in which case what’s the point in leaving all that empty space?
The closely related pec armour serves a similarly pointless function but pecs don’t hurt if left unrestrained. Pec armour emphasises strength not sexuality (with the exception of Joel Schumacher’s bat-nipples).
4) Excessive gymnastics
Backflips, cartwheels, handstands and the like often get integrated into women’s fight choreography.
An effective fighter uses the least amount of energy possible to take down their opponent. Why risk pulling a muscle doing the splits when you can just kick normally and have done with it?
But as we’ve established, fight scenes are meant to look good not be realistic. So the gymnastic performance in a fight scene is designed to look flashy, show us a woman’s flexibility and make sure we see a lot of her body. If she’s this bendy in a fight what could she do in the bedroom, I wonder?
5) High heels
Many essays have been written about this alone so I’ll keep it brief.
Wearing high heels shifts the centre of balance, causing the wearer to flex in all the right places and give them a sexy silhouette. Over the long term wearing high heels is incredibly damaging to your feet, knees and spine.
So why would anyone fight wearing them? To look good! Does it hinder their ability to fight effectively and put them at risk of unnecessary harm? Well, yes, but look how sexy she looks!
Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.