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Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.
Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.

Sexy, Dangerous Women Are Everywhere

Has the feminine mystique been replaced by media machisma?

I was attracted to the woman who became my wife because she had spunk (sorry, Lou Grant). Early in the relationship, she suggested we play one-on-one tackle football in Hollywood’s Griffith Park. She’d invariably tackle me low and fell me like a tree.

I, on the other hand, opted to tackle her high to avoid a mouthful of a sneaker (and maybe to get in a few fondles and squeezes). She was seven inches shorter, 40 pounds lighter, and had a sports IQ a dozen points higher than mine. I kept falling, and she kept scoring. Different agendas (ya think?). It worked for me. I married her.

There were other reasons, of course. I’m not that shallow. In addition to editing my screenplays and effusing a can-do spirit for both of us, she charmed me with being a sex slave in the kitchen and a gourmet chef in the bedroom. Basically, she just loved to mix it up (wink, wink). Tomboyish and gutsy, non-classic beauty with a dirty face, she was a lover with benefits. Not bad.

In absurd contrast, a few years earlier, I ran into the “spunk” of ex-military, Ayelet. She was combat-ready, trained in the martial arts, and brought an artistic plus—she ran a Santa Monica photography gallery. One of her pleasures was playing rough in bed, wrestling for dominance, occasionally pinning me on the bed, or throwing me on the floor and then pinning me. It was fun—kinda—a few times.

I was pretty sure I could take her—but only if I stopped holding back, which didn’t seem a safe option—she might get the same idea. This imbalanced balance got old—real fast.

"Oh, what a tangled web we men weave" when it comes to women and “getting physical.” There is something elusively appealing about women who fly in the face of Freud’s dictum that anatomy is destiny, women who successfully balance the gender coin.

Balance, of course, is the operative word. Take 32-year-old Jodi Arias, who is facing the death penalty for the vicious, cold-blooded killing of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, while he was in the bathroom, mind you—stabbed and slashed 27 times and shot in the head. Wrong kind of balance. She was out of her mind, and he was out of luck.

Jodi’s courtroom demeanor and her librarian image have added a salsa spike to the media proceedings—for at least 49 percent of the population. Guys and librarians—go figure.

We’re a kinky species.

To illustrate, I received an email from a friend in L.A.—L.A., the everlasting, jaded home of televised trials of Crimes of the Year or Decade or Century. His lurid, licentious leering was about the sex appeal of Ms. Arias. I quipped that he could try to get a date if she’s acquitted or strike up a correspondence with her if she’s convicted. Or have Skype sex until she’s executed. He said he'd have to get back to me. (Guy humor, what can I say?)

Maybe Freud was right about the iniquitous, ubiquitous connection between sex and aggression. Perhaps that’s why there is a proliferation of films, video games, and TV series with fem sexy, gun-toting, martial arts body-slammers.

Just look at this online Turner Class Movies ad touting the appeal of dangerous women who kill men with their gender-reversed phallic symbols: "A beautiful woman with a gun has always proven to be a provocative image on pulp novels and movie posters, and we have four films that bring that image to life, from Gun Crazy (1950) to La Femme Nikita (1991)."

Armed fems! Start with Halle Berry’s film, The Call, about a serial killer who kidnaps a young girl. The audience was 61 percent women—because women wanted Halle to rescue the innocent from the bad guys. That heroism is gender-consistent, keeping with the accepted role of a passionate woman putting herself in jeopardy to protect children or family.

What is new is a woman putting herself in jeopardy for the adrenalin rush. We now have a generation of armed female characters who put themselves in perpetual danger for a noble cause or to make a living by living on the edge.

A bold sample is the current Showtime hit series, Homeland, where the blond, beautiful (and bipolar) character Carrie Mathison is an undercover CIA operative; but there’s also Hunted, wherein blond, beautiful Samantha Hunter is an espionage operative for a government-connected, private intelligence agency; and USA Network’s Covert Affairs, where blond, beautiful Annie Walker is an undercover CIA operative.

Lastly, to catch the international flavor, we can watch The Americans on FX, where an occasionally blond Elizabeth Jennings is a beautiful, black belt-lethal wife in a pair of Russian, deep-cover spies posing as an average, 1980s American family.

All of these women are tough, CIA-like operatives, and all use sex for business and pleasure. All embody the current spy-trinity of sex-violence-beauty.

Real-life, beautiful, blond, “outed” undercover CIA operative, Valerie Plame, might be the inspirational model for these modern fictional operatives, but not the catalyst.

Remember actor Jennifer Garner’s orange-wig character Sydney Bristow in ABC’s 2001-6 series Alias? Cool Sydney may have started the modern trend in beautiful, buffed, and bodaciously sexy spies who apparently love the juicy rush of adrenalin as much as their male counterparts—maybe even more.

It must be noted that hypersexualized female action-heroes, like Lara Croft, a videogame superstar, have been toned down a bit to avoid offending the growing numbers of female gamers. Yet, crucial, crazy questions remain:

  • Are these mass-produced, nascent female archetypes merely catering to or actually creating a taste in men for "machisma," for weaponized female bodies, for eroticized G.I. Janes?
  • Are we witness to a refashioning of the S&M dominatrix-"John" relationship into something more trendy?

It seems fairly intuitive that the more males play these games and watch these films and TV series, the more they are reinforcing associating females with sex and aggression and with sex and objectification. Can we control how this will play itself out in reality? Who wins? Who loses?

How do women feel about what’s happening? Is it welcome, rejected, or just dismissed as more of the same obsessive culture objectification of women?

Our culture plays fast, loose, and louche with mythic female anatomy as a come-on to dilating male eyeballs. Dramas and thrillers with physically aggressive female role models can be easily framed as socialization menus and propaganda vehicles, inflecting female choices toward physical aggression in resolving conflict—just like men. Are the children watching?

Putting perhaps too fine a point on matters, look at what ABC is considering for the upcoming Fall TV season:

Killer Women (ABC Studios)

Logline: It's hard to fit in when you're the only woman in the notoriously male Texas Rangers, but that doesn't stop Molly Parker—our ballsy, beautiful badass who knows how to get to the truth and isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

My final big question: How much more of this testicular transformation of women do we need?

About the Author
Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., was Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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