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Dangerous Dames

Representing Female-Bodied Empowerment in Postfeminist Media


Heather Hundley, Roberta Chevrette and Hillary A. Jones

This book illuminates the rhetorical work performed by contemporary representations of a specific type of postfeminist hero who has garnered a lot of cultural capital: women who are smart, capable, physically agile and fit, and proficient with weaponry and technology. Employing critical/cultural and feminist approaches, Heather Hundley, Roberta Chevrette, and Hillary Jones engage with a range of theories including intersectionality, critical race theory, postmodernism, and posthumanism to examine a range of contemporary texts, including Kill Bill, Volumes I and II; The Hunger Games films; Wonder Woman; Atomic Blonde; Proud Mary; The Bionic Woman; Deus Ex; Dark Matter; and Caprica. Contributing to a robust existing conversation about postfeminist media as well as tracing how representation has changed in recent years, Hundley, Chevrette, and Jones contend that portrayals of dangerous dames offer limitations and opportunities for audiences. Specifically, should audiences read these characters as evidence of a postfeminist apocalypse, they may heed warnings of the limited interpretations offered. Yet as more women serve as role models and gain public attention, particularly regarding their assets and abilities, they provide important equipment for living for navigating around patriarchal constraints raised by postfeminism, neoliberalism, and humanism.

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Chapter 4. Visualizing Violent Femininity: Race, Sex and Femmes Fatales in Atomic Blonde and Proud Mary


Wonder Woman (2017) may have shattered one of Hollywood’s glass ceilings by centering a female-bodied superhero who was not a villain. However, violent, heroic women were not lacking in Hollywood that year. Women starred in blockbusters including Alien: Covenant (2017), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Ghost in the Shell (2017), Red Sparrow (2018), and Tomb Raider (2018), and performed supporting roles in Kong: Skull Island (2017), Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and Black Panther (2018). With the exception of the Afrocentric Black Panther, the preponderance of these films featured white women who are young, thin, and conform to stereotypical standardized notions of beauty. This limited visual representation of violent femininity normalizes a narrow definition of dangerous dames.

To further explore intersections of gender, race, and sexuality in the construction of dangerous dames in media, this chapter examines two films featuring fighting femmes appearing months after Wonder Woman. In Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a ruthless M16 agent. In Proud Mary, Taraji P. Henson plays Mary, an assassin for a major crime ring. Contrasting the construction of these two protagonists and their on-screen ←89 | 90→enactments of violence, we find that both characters transgress as well as reproduce feminine scripts. Although the films encompass differences in the races, sexualities, motives, and skills of their central characters, both operate in accordance with a postfeminist visual style in which beautiful women literally kick ass. The...

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