Some blogger types on movie newsy sites have been commenting on the released images from the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman which is one of two competing “Snow White Reimagined” movies coming down the pipe.

The image in question.

What you see there is Kristen Stewart in Gondor drag. That’s a joke Devin Faraci made to great effect over at Badass and I have basically no problem reusing it here (quality, yo). Obviously they are going for a big, expansive fantasy direction for this time-honored tale. They’ve said as much even, as Devin and others have reported. Devin also points out that Joe Roth is the producer responsible and he also made Alice in Wonderland last year which featured its own titular Disney “princess” in shiny mercurial armor lopping the head off a fucking dragon. Since he’s also making the upcoming Oz the Great and Powerful I suppose people will be expecting the Eowyn treatment for Dorothy.

Alice going full-Aragorn was the best part of that movie and an element I must now look on in a different light given the premise of this article.

Already people are calling this a subgenre. This taking of ultra-feminine fairy tale heroines and giving them swords and armor is seemingly offending a whole bunch of men out there in cyberspace. It’s possible that women think this is stupid as well but I don’t really understand them if that’s the case. Blaming Joe Roth is also strange. He may not produce good films but I doubt he is the one making all these blushing young brides-to-be into swashbucklers. Perhaps Joe is of a subversive feminist mindset and is attracted to these projects. Maybe he has that mindset and infects projects with an agenda. Either way, I don’t really care and neither should you. The phenomenon is interesting without considering who is responsible and it is the phenomenon that I want to discuss.

One of my primary defenses of Sucker Punch was that it was a movie for a new breed of young, nerdy feminists who are just as into orcs and steampunk and swordplay as the boys are. Their choice of characters, stories, and settings that tailor specifically to them is rather limited. The world of geeky shit is still very much a boys’ world. Sucker Punch gave us a story that used a variety of repackaged conventional fantasy settings (there’s the anime, the steampunk/clockwork mixed with WW1, the orcs and knights and dragons castle fantasy, and finally the cyberpunk robot-crunching space heist) and it gave it to us with the target firmly fixed on young women. Men the world over were disappointed by the movie and I have to wonder if that disappointment, whether they know it or not, largely stems from the fact that it was not a movie for them and in that it lacked various kinds of service to the young male demographic that you would have expected to find in a movie from the guy who made 300.

Whatever the case, Sucker Punch is just one example of the way the culture is responding to this unspoken need. Another way is to retell the stories that young women grew up with, stories that pushed various agendas, either incidentally or by design, that were at their worst misogynistic. By now it should be clear to most thinking adults that Disney-style princess fables are probably a bit backward in terms of their gender politics. Their influence is almost certainly a factor in at least one generation’s fucked up response to courtship and relationship expectations (and I do mean the whole generation, but especially heterosexual men and women). To go into this in more detail is beyond the scope of this article but I encourage people to take a careful look at these movies.

In the retelling, the canny storyteller is going to pay attention to the changing female demographic. Today’s young woman is not satisfied with recycled, masturbatory “romantic comedies” that are the same implausible story and unrealistic expectations told over and over. They are getting over that thanks to the much wider variety of influences and the embrace of nerd culture fostered by the internet. Many women around the age of 20, and especially younger, are into manga and video-games and comic books and real movies.

Rather than borrowing from the stuff targeted specifically at men their age (and often far older), they want and deserve their own shit. And why not? It’s not like this need/desire is hinging on putting armor on Alice or Snow White or even Dorothy. That is just one apparent reaction to a cultural situation that is probably too subtle for comment from this new demographic itself, let alone the creative types who are trying to mold it and sell into it.

So what exactly is wrong with putting armor on Snow White or giving Alice a shield? Should they be defended by men, defined by their relationships to them like Bella Swan or all the passive princesses she is doubtless derived from? Should they be victims in need of rescue with all the usual implications this carries for femininity and womanhood, implications that are at best outmoded? Perhaps the knee-jerk rejection of this phenomenon is about faithfulness to the “story”. Snow White never wore armor even if Alice may have in Lewis Carrol’s sequel (I never read it). But isn’t it part of the process of retelling a story about fixing what doesn’t work, whether it’s because it never worked or because it doesn’t fit the audience anymore? In that case, slavish devotion to source material in the case of venerable fairy tales and such seems to me a cover, a distraction from the real issue. An issue which, like so many others we disguise in various ways, comes down to cultural identity especially as surrounds sex and gender.

But the swordmaiden trope, if that’s what it is, is nothing new. It’s also not going to go away. Next year, the critically acclaimed and widely embraced series Game of Thrones is going to be introducing Brienne of Tarth, a woman who wears armor and carries a sword. A knight, in fact, and an aberration in the setting of her story as much as some want us to see this new Snow White or that new Alice.

This character.

Played by this woman (Gwendoline Christie).

Brienne of Tarth will be introduced to the world around the same time as Kristen Stewart’s Snow White. Both characters will exist in worlds where women fight too, if not primarily. This indicates a pattern in revolt, not in reverse. As much as some people don’t like the idea of a woman, especially a beloved and ultra-feminine figure like Snow White, picking up a sword and that it’s happening anyway, I’ll not be calling any of this balanced until we see more subversive fiction. Maybe a fantasy epic where men are the ones taking care of the kids and cleaning the cobblestones while women fight and die for honor, glory, and gain. Someone badass enough to write that, even as an exercise in gender politics, would turn my head more than Joe Roth (or whomever) has with Kristen Stewart in armor.

So bring it on. Bring it all on. Stop bitching about women getting some heroes more on their terms. After all, they are for us too. We can borrow a sword-swinging Kristen Stewart and we can do it with more class than that of manboy fantasy Red Sonja, just as those nerdy young gals can borrow our heroes from us. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill we already have a perfect Rosetta Stone in The Bride.

I look forward to the day when it doesn’t matter what parts the armor-clad hero(ine) has under their burnished steel plating.

Advertisements