When “badass” is a problem

I always love the silent, strong, ass-kicking heroine. The less emotion and more bodies on the ground, the better. Then I found Hermione Hoby’s “The problem with being badass” in The Guardian, explaining how “badass” became both a high complement and a stereotype encouraging masculine strength in women.

Screenshot of results for Google search “badass women.”

For the longest time, I thought women who wore all black, wielded 12 weapons, had physics-defying martial arts skills, and were so done with your shit were the epitome of cool. They were just so badass. As a frequent crier at everything — deaths of fictional characters, Olympic commercials, series finales of favorite shows, you name it — being an absolute emotionless rock that took down bad guys on the regular looked awesome. Whenever I saw those types of characters, they were instantly a favorite, and badass became the highest honor I could bestow upon a woman.

Hoby, however, points out the paradoxes of badass in her column. She notes that by hold up women who don’t show feelings or appear “weak,” it really means saying women who act more masculine are stronger because feelings and femininity are a weakness. She points out a number of examples in her column, saying that for every Jennifer Lawrence, Beyonce, and US Women’s Socer team, calling them “badass” enforces that there’s only one type of way to be strong.

“Women are often told to talk, think or behave like men; telling them to be badass enforces the same thing. The more urgent message, surely, is that we might consider just talking and behaving like ourselves.” Hermione Hoby

This column finally put into words the hypocrisy of female representation and my aversion towards showing my “weakness” in crying all the time. Because no matter how many times people say showing your feelings is another type of strength, seeing it negated by the media repeatedly re-enforces the same stereotypes. Who wants to be the weak princess singing about being trapped in a tower, when you could by the frying-pan wielding heroine smacking bad guys around? I love the stories of women saving themselves, but as Hoby said it’s just as important to talk about women who wear their hearts on their sleeves while kicking ass.

Hoby’s piece blew my mind the first time I read it and has changed how I think about women in my life, fictional and real. I still love the stoic ass-kicking Melinda May in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but that doesn’t mean Rebecca Bunch from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is any less a strong female lead. Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones is a badass for being the amazing comedian that she is, just as much at The Daily Show’s Desi Lydic. Women with independent thought, depth, emotions, backstories, goals, and fears — all capable, all strong, all badass.

“Let’s never stop cheering on female strength, but maybe we can find more ways — and words — with which to do it.” Hermione Hoby

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