Barefoot: Girl power in “Sucker Punch” is anything but powerful

Abbie Cornish (left) as Sweet Pea, Jena Malone as Rocket, Emily Browning as Babydoll, Scott Glenn as Wise Man, Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie and Jamie Chung as Amber in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ epic action fantasy “Sucker Punch,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Courtesy photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Abbie Cornish (left) as Sweet Pea, Jena Malone as Rocket, Emily Browning as Babydoll, Scott Glenn as Wise Man, Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie and Jamie Chung as Amber in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ epic action fantasy “Sucker Punch,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Abigail Barefoot

Being a fan of both Zack Snyder’s campy films and women in leading roles that don’t deal with love, I was very excited to see Snyder’s latest film, “Sucker Punch.” However, as the credits rolled, I left the theater feeling disappointed. Stylistically, it was great. I liked the sets, and the story was OK, but something else was bugging me.

The movie is about a 20-year-old woman named Babydoll, who is unjustly put into an asylum so her stepfather can get her inheritance. To make matters worse, an orderly at the asylum is bribed to give her a lobotomy, and she has five days to escape before she gets an ice pick to the brain. Instead of physically escaping, she goes through daydream episodes, and through these dreams, she gains empowerment and learns about herself. This female empowerment is evidently targeted toward securing a larger female audience.

It’s marketed as a “girl power” movie because it boasts a predominantly female cast that uses guns and worries more about life than marriage and what color nail polish to wear. Critics from “Wired Magazine,”  E! online and CNN all hyped this movie with headlines incorporating the phrase, “Girl Power,” just because it is atypical for so many females in one movie to play the action hero role.

But the phrase “girl power,” and what it actually stands for in this movie, is the source of my disappointment.

At first glance, the film is set up to be an awesome, girl-power film, with a bunch of so-called powerless females who suffer at the whims of the cruel patriarchal staff of the asylum that uses torture and rape against the women. These women must work together to escape and show these men that they underestimated their strength. However, the other elements of the film twist girl power into anything but powerful.

What makes “girl power,” girl power? First off, the phrase is “girl power,” not “women power.” It’s just a word, some might say, but on the other hand, do we call it boy power or manpower? The use of the word “girl” makes this power seem younger, more naive and as if it should be taken less seriously than manpower. Take into consideration that the Spice Girls were the spokespeople for girl power in the 1990s, and then compare that to what manpower is associated with. They are different ideas. Yes, the main character of “Sucker Punch” is described as a “young girl,” but considering she is supposed to be about 20 years old, I think she can be considered a woman.

We should also pay attention to the names of the “Sucker Punch” characters, such as “Sweet Pea” and “Babydoll.” These aren’t powerful-sounding nicknames, especially compared to Kill Bill’s “Copperhead” and “Black Mamba.” To further push the girl stereotype, Babydoll fights in short, sexualized schoolgirl costumes — because nothing sounds as sexy as underage girls and statutory rape.

These women are supposed to appear sexy, as all five main characters are stereotypically beautiful females who use big guns while wearing a corset and sporting a midriff. This relates to a popular conundrum of older females who are supposed to look like little girls, but also vixens at the same time. This is both creepy and impossible. Look at any magazine and you’ll see grown women acting like little girls

In this movie though, dressing sexy fuses the idea that “girl power” is related to sex power, propelling the myth that women use their sexuality to get what they want, rather than their brains, even if they have a flamethrower in their hand. Yes, the majority of the film takes place in a fantasy world, but the images we see focus more on sex and guns then using your brain to create a master escape plan. When they aren’t using guns to get the job done, sexuality is used in the form of dancing to distract the men, lower their guard and help the women get what they want.

Many female action stars, in order to counter their stereotypically-masculine actions such as fighting, shooting and slowly walking away from explosions, seem to think they have to dress sexy in order to secure their femininity — so that audiences are reassured that they are female. Movies also often add a male love interest to prove the “strong” female leads are are heterosexual. Take the pleather suit combo in “Underworld,” Trinity in “Matrix” or Electra’s get-up. Does having a slinky outfit really help a woman fight crime or does it just prove that she indeed has breasts and looks feminine?

What is the power that these females have, anyway? These women are getting the job done through extreme acts of violence, fighting, guns and swords — things that are predominantly done by male action stars. Violence and being strong is what we seem to value in society, over feminine traits like being nurturing and being emotional, so it seems power is linked to violence.

In order for these females to be perceived as strong or powerful, they have to take on male roles and backtrack their femininity. In order to escape, they have to use guns and fire, and beat the crap out of anyone who gets in their way. They don’t use the female stereotypes, such as compassion and nurturing, to get the job done. I don’t want to spoil the film, but I can tell you the main character doesn’t save the day by using her “soft side” to show the villain the error of his ways. The film might not have the same punch if that were the case, but it does show that being powerful means acting like a man.

The ending of the film makes it seem like females can’t completely take on the masculine role of action fighting and win. They have to save the day by becoming passive and giving up in order to find freedom. Not exactly awesome girl power traits, in my opinion.

While it’s great to see females branching out into male-dominated roles, many of these characters are still hyper-sexualized, and use male traits to get the job done, without incorporating the traits of stereotypical femininity.

“Sucker Punch,” while a cool movie, is not what I would call a step toward female empowerment or girl power. This girl power is just a shadow of what true girl power can be: Strong women who fight using activism, intelligence and compassion to get the job done — without having to show any midriff.