Sucker Punch, Witchblade, Zoe Winters, and Power

After seeing Sucker Punch, and reading Zoe Winters’ blog entry about it, and strong women in general, especially “When Weakness Wears the Mask of Power,” I am reminded of a good friend’s comments about the first Witchblade graphic novel: “it was interesting to see the contrasts in masculine and feminine power.”

I never fully understood what he meant (and I may not, even now), but I’ve thought about it some more since then and formed my own opinions about masculine and feminine power.

Zoe Winters rightfully questioned why “strong” women in fiction (especially genre fiction, double especially urban fantasy/paranormal fiction) had to either be unrealistically/supernaturally physical powerhouses or emotionally manipulative temptresses.  Winters proposed an alternative, that real strength was found in authenticity, integrity, interdependency, and even in vulnerability.

Which led me to think of masculine and feminine power, Mars and Venus, Aries and Aphrodite . . . physical violence and sexual/emotional manipulation.  That’s not to say that women can’t be violent or deadly, or that men can’t be sexually or emotionally manipulative, but that one is much more closely associated with the masculine (“manly virtue”), and one with the feminine (“feminine wiles”), to the point that physically powerful women used to be called “viragos,” a word that has the same roots as “virile,” the Latin “vir,” meaning man.

Seconds after having this thought, of Mars and Venus, violence and sexual/emotional manipulation, I realized that sane people don’t want to be around either of these.  While both kinds of power can be used defensively, it’s much better for everybody involved if human relations are kept peaceful, honest, and communicative.

It’s not much of a story, but it’s a much better life.  But a great deal of good storytelling can and has arisen from people who are truly strong (male or female), meaning they have integrity, authenticity, and interdependent, healthy relationships, dealing with the affects and aftermath of unhealthy masculine and feminine power in their lives.

Further, these masculine and feminine forms of power are, in their own ways, expressions of weakness and fear.  Those without the inner strength and courage to meet the world on its own terms feel the need to control it, generally by controlling those around them.  This domination can come in different ways, physical or social, but it’s always hurtful, and destructive.

Those who internalize this fear into obsessive compulsive disorder are objects of pity, schadenfreude, and even ridicule, while those who externalize it and dominate those around them (without getting arrested) are often lionized as “queen bees” or “alpha males” – and then everyone acts shocked when they do cross the line, someone gets visibly hurt, and the police come (using force to dominate a situation, once more) and drag them off to jail.

Is it any wonder that so many of us write and read about about grim-faced, larger-than-life crusaders who hunt the hunters, prey on the predators, and bring justice where the law can never reach?

What does this have to do with Sucker Punch?  Well, other than it having helped jump-start the conversation, not a lot.  I do recommend it, if you can handle the “unreliable narrator” aspect.  You never entirely know what exactly happens, because of the layers of metaphor/delusions, but that’s part of the fun.  (Hey, I liked The Fall of the House of Usher).



  1. You have an interesting point on the topic. I read Zoe Winters post about women main characters. I’ve never really understood it.

    “While both kinds of power can be used defensively, it’s much better for everybody involved if human relations are kept peaceful, honest, and communicative.”

    Agree. Triple agreed, really. And you can work that into a story because there are ups and downs to anything in life, even the peaceful, honest, and communicative parts.

    Oh, and hi. I stumbled here randomly and thought I’d give an opinion. Worth two cents? Maybe one.

    • Thanks for commenting; it was definitely worth more than two cents, Elisa Michelle.

      It’s strange, because I tend to write about people who use these kinds of power with good intentions (either because they’re forced into the situation or are responding to someone doing terrible things).

      But Benedict, the protagonist of my “Blood for Blood” novellas, doesn’t really consider himself a good person. He’s not going to change, not going to stop hunting predators (at least not until something really big forces him to reconsider his life and his oath), but in his mind, “good” is something else entirely.

      Maybe “good” is what he’s trying to defend, but not what he is.

      I think I’d like to write something at a more personal level, something with less intrusion of violence/manipulation, or defensive use of violence/manipulation. I’m not at a point where I’m writing that yet, but there is a lot of future to grow in…

      • Well the concept of good changes from person to person and, therefore, from character to character. Yours could mean good=what he’s defending in his life, but he’s not an actually good person. A lot of villains in some good movies are like that, though if he’s your protagonist that’ll be an interesting switch-up.

        Writing on a personal level, to me, is one of the hardest things to do well, mostly because it takes vulnerability and writing itself lends to conflict. I would love to see what you come up with in that regard.

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