Meditations on Male/Female Interchangeability

NOTE: I spoil Power Rangers 2017 a little bit.

So I was at the movies earlier today to watch the new Power Rangers movie. I heard it was an okay movie, and I liked Power Rangers as a kid, so I was like “why not?” Superhero flicks have been getting good recently, and I wanted to see something outside the Marvel/DC axis for once.

But as I sat in the theater, popcorn in hand, I thought about the concept of male/female interchangeability so common in modern fantastic fiction. The trailers I saw certainly gave me much food for thought.

The first, a trailer for The Nut Job 2, had a standard goofy male hero, so I put that out of my mind in a second. Next was a trailer for Valerian, and I heard so many good things about the original comic it came from. I thought hey, the guy seems heroic, the girl looks cute, they’ve got a little relationship going — I might actually watch this!

Then Laureline (the girl) punches Valerian in the face. Then I see a scene of her kicking somebody like she was trying out for Manchester United. After those two scenes, I was entirely put off the movie — no “maybe it might be good,” no “I should give it a chance” — no. Those two scenes left a horrid taste in my mouth that no amount of special pleading would wash away, especially in light of what I heard about it.

Next was Wonder Woman. That one was interesting — in spite of the Amazon warrior princess schtick, it didn’t leave me with the same negative feelings that Valerian did. If anything, it actually left me with positive feelings (more on that later.)

Finally, there was Despicable Me 3. I didn’t care.

Once we got to the movie itself, I was treated to three mopey dudes and two tough grrls who don’t need no man (to be fair, one girl is implied to not be into guys.) I found the Rangers absolutely symbolic of the interchangeability problem I mentioned earlier.

You see, most fantastical stories have a tendency to write male and female characters in almost the exact same way. In an effort to make up for the alleged “weak” and “demeaning” portrayals of women in the past, women in particular are written to be rough-riding, tough-talking fighting machines who treat the men like competitors to be bested, not lovers to be won. The only reminder you get of their femaleness is either a sex scene with a man or an underwear shot. The men are still largely written to be heroic, if sometimes reluctant, but the loss of sexual polarity brings a pall of dreariness over the action.

Nothing about it feels right, and if a male hero does win one of those tough girls, it feels empty, like the creators are just ramming two opposite poles of a magnet together. That lack of amorous emotion is fatal to any such arrangement. It’s telling that this kind of thing is seen ad the pinnacle of “good” storytelling by our cultural elites — it’s almost as if those people consider the very concept of male and female to be evil beyond words.

In contrast, I think the Wonder Woman trailer worked because although Wondie was breaking things and cracking heads, the sexual polarity remained. The WWI-era setting, with its clearer gender roles and distinct differences in how men and women dress, already provided a substantial level of polarity in the background. Wondie’s outfit is very distinctly feminine and alluring, so the polarity is maintained even when she fights. Finally, Wondie is unique in that environment as a warrior woman, as the movie is set in a time when Western women were not encouraged to fight like men. These characteristics ensured that appearance-wise, the trailer did not cause me discomfort like Valerian did.

The way I see it, this tendency toward male/female interchangeability does not produce better movies, only unwatchable mush that I have a decreasing level of tolerance for. Fortunately, books can provide me the kinds of heroes and heroines I’m looking for. I’ll have to use my imagination to see the scenes, though — such books would never see the big or small screen.

P.S.: As if you haven’t figured it out by now, my favorite character in the Power Rangers movie was Rita. She was far more likable than any of the Rangers.

You can get my novella Sword & Flower at the pucture below. The men are masculine and the girls are feminine, so give it a shot.

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4 Responses to Meditations on Male/Female Interchangeability

  1. Rawle Nyanzi says:

    Twitter user @nolankreeger tweets:


    My response: That’s simple: “sexy enough” is not enough. The distinct male and female mannerisms that allow for a sense of romance between a male and a female character are absent, replaced only with a crude sex scene at most. Modern storytelling strenuously denies maleness and femaleness — an essential part of who we are as human beings. While that emotion, rooted deep in our blood, is scrubbed away all the others — anger, sorrow, joy, anticipation, hatred, and many more besides — are allowed their full flower.

    Merely making the girls “sexy enough” doesn’t create the needed sexual polarity to create a true sense of romance.

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