The Badass Female Project: Tesseract Edition

Meg Murry is an early (1962!) female sci-fi heroine of children’s literature: Madeline L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in Time is a true classic. I remember reading this book as a kid and really loving it, but I didn’t remember it as science fiction. Yet it clearly is. To me, that suggests how much it succeeds. And this is science fiction with some actual science— physics and time/space travel, inpsired by Einstein—  not with futuristic weapons and spaceships like so much of what we’re inundated with.

So, Meg: what makes her so compelling, keeping this book in the zeitgeist all this time? Meg is awkward, physically. She has no confidence herself, and she wishes she could fit in (like anyone who was ever a teenage girl). She’s smart but can’t always work the way she’s “supposed” to, she’s angry, she gets in fights (fiery!), she’s impatient.  She’s fiercely loyal to her brother and her father.  And like many other badass females, she ultimately relies on love and integrity to fight the power. She puts herself through what she knows will be difficult circumstances because she knows she is the one who can succeed. She never set out to be a hero, but she sure acts like one. Meg is counseled to rely on her “faults” when she needs them— and that she does, to great effect, rescuing her father and her brother from frightening forces of evil.

Frightening, indeed:

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The Badass Female Project: She volunteers as tribute

Katinss Everdeen: Undeniably a badass. I am mostly interested in the first Hunger Games book— I found they got less interesting as the series continued. I thought the movies were fine (great cast!) but didn’t have anything of value to add to the books. Female author, check! But the movies? Written and directed by dudes. One great thing about The Hunger Games movies is that they allowed a prickly, young, female protaganist who was not treated as a sex symbol to lead. Yes, it’s true of the book, too, but it’s more unusual coming out of the Hollywood hit machine. But I’m a book person, when it comes down to it. So sue me.

Back to Katniss: she is willing to break rules from the get-go. She is quick to judge — and call out— injustice, which in her future world on the brink of rebellion, is everywhere. She has useful and subversive skills (archery? Neat. Foraging? Maybe even neater). She is undaunted by fear, perhaps to a fault. She isn’t ever cowed by authority (especially that which is taken, not earned). She also views herself as a protector and a provider, stepping into danger without thinking twice when she wants to help family or friends.  Even before she is pushed (or did she jump?) into the center of a major situation, she is subversive, slipping out of the allowed bounderies to hunt because food is scarce, and trading in the black market. She’s not concerned about acting like a “girl”, either— she’s willing to be the stronger and more skilled one, unlike a traditional female sidekick. She’s not submissive, she doesn’t need rescuing, and she (spoiler alert) doesn’t have to die for that sin. It’s a low bar, but clearing it isn’t all that common. Continue reading

glass door of "Alias Investigations"

The badass female project: Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones: she has the surface-level badass bonafides: leather jacket, attitude, drinking problem, super strength (!?).  But Jessica’s rightousness is buried a little deeper—and her exploits throughout the series poke relentlessly at the question of what it means to be a hero.

So what was I doing watching Jessica Jones in the first place? I’m not really a comic book person. I like me some great graphic novels, but the superhero stuff hasn’t ever really been my thing. When I first saw ads for the Luke Cage TV show, I thought it said “luge cake” and I was excited about that. But Netflix thought I might like Jessica Jones, so I gave it a shot. (Aside: I did read some of the Jessica Jones comics when I got interested in this project, but they’re more Marvel-y than the TV show, and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole— not today, anyway). My first impression was that the first episode drew heavily on Lisbeth Salander for inspiraiton, so I was ready to like it. And I did.

So, what is Jessica’s deal? Continue reading

The Badass Female Project: the Woman who hates Men who hate Women

I’m starting with Lisbeth Salander because she’s the one who got me thinking about this. I liked the idea of working more with female creators as well as female characters, and I still do, but I love Lisbeth so much that I can’t leave her waiting. It took me years to start reading this series, because it seemed like a fad, like a throw-away thriller. . . but no, no, no. They’re  action-packed, yes, but also smart, creative, and thought-provoking. (There are movies, too— a Swedish triology, and an American version. They’re all pretty good, but read the books first. I’m just a book person, OK?).

First, a little background (but no spoilers): Lisbeth Salander is the protagonist of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s “Millenium” series, the first and most well-known of which is called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in English. The translation of the original title, however, is Men Who Hate Women. They should have kept it, because it’s the heart of what makes Lisbeth a badass. Not her boxing, hacking skills, tattoos, or motorbike (but those are all pretty dope). Lisbeth Salander has a solid internal moral code, and she is not cowed by anyone or anything. She will not excuse men who hate women, and she has plenty of material to work with.

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protester at science march

Why “badass”?

The badass female is on the rise! As I’ve been thinking about this project, the first question that comes to mind is: What is a badass, anyway? Sure, you know it when you see it— someone’s in full-on fight mode, kicking ass and taking names, and you watch, awe-struck. What a badass! But what makes a badass different from a villian, or a soldier, or a bully? I did some reading (because that’s what I do).  Megan Garber wrote in at Atlantic blog, pointing out that the term has shifted beyond big tattooed guys with guns to also include women with swagger. Jim Taylor wrote on Psychology Today about different kinds of badass— the macho and the humble. And Tyler Protano-Goodwin has a Thought Catalog piece suggsting the softer and more complex charactaristics of the female badass. says badass is vulgar slang for a person who is difficult, mean-tempered, or touchy— OR, “distinctively tough or powerful; so exceptional as to be intimidating”. Similarly, Merriam-Webster suggests two definitions: one suggesting a troublemaker, and the other a person of “formidable strength or skill.” These second definitions— strength, power– are closer to my meaning.

Better still: suggests a badass is “fearless, authentic, compassionate, and ethical.” Now we’re talking— add that to the strength and power, and we’re in business.

How about: A person who channels her strength and power into value-driven, authentic, and compassionate action.

This has a tinge of Paolo Friere’s definition of praxis,too, doesn’t it? Transformation through action and critical reflection. A distinct willingness to stick it to the man when called for. Grit.  That, my friends, is badass.


The Badass Female Project

Recently, I spent a year or so trying not to read things written by white men. It was challenging and led me to read a lot of things I might have overlooked otherwise. It was also surprising to me how difficult it was— not that I couldn’t find things to read, but that I had to look. And now, I don’t keep it as a rule, but I still seek out writers who are not cis-het-white-men. Try it. It may broaden your exposure to points of view you weren’t even aware you weren’t hearing

I’ve turned my sights on movies, lately, too. This is decidedly harder. I’m not a film scholar by any stretch of the imagination (I’ll leave that to Julia and Max), but I am interested in movies, in general. I am persistently astounded by how few movies pass the Bechdel test (which is an absurdly low bar), or how even very knowledgeable friends struggle to come up with more than handful of great female-led films.

I have lots of friends with little kids, so I think more about what kids are exposed to than I used to. Friends are on the lookout for great female role models besides the basic princess motif to inspire their kiddos. And then I realized, you know what? So am I. For me.

facebook post & replies looking at badass female protagonistsHence: The Badass Female Project. I started out by asking my facebook friends to identify favorite badass females in fiction, with bonus points for female creators. They came through, my facebook friends. And I was gratified that there was so much. And so this year, I’m taking it all in. It fuels my desire to be a more awesome human— be it training in the gym, improving my krav maga technique, spending time in mediation and yoga, building my professional accomplishments, being a super and strong partner/sister/daughter, and all the other stuff I do in my life. I’m looking for badass females— strong, imperfect, interesting, and inspiring folks who identify as female. From fiction, from real life, from anywhere in between.

So welcome to the #badassfemale project: a zabbylogica production. Please let me know your thoughts— what should I cover here? What should I read, watch, listen to? Who should I meet?

Coming soon: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Hunger Games, and Jessica Jones.