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Tough Gals: Do They Still Exist?

Posted: 08/11/11 02:03 PM ET

Women are girly. Again.

Don't believe me? The proof is in the blogosphere: Women who blog about cupcakes! Women who blog (okay, rant) about gardening, Hello Kitty, and knitting! Even BUST magazine is sponsoring a Craft Fair in NYC. Women who blog about cats! And then there are cats who blog, but let's not get into that just now. Don't get me wrong, these are all lovely blogs, smart and entertaining. And some blogs, like the wonderful Jezebel, keep us on our toes pointing out what a long way we haven't come, baby (like in this piece on how female superheroes are sexualized). But.. seriously... cupcakes?

What happened to our hard-won bad-assery? All those years of being suffragettes, bra-burners, free love artists, corporate queen bees, supermoms and women-who-wanted-and-got-it all? I mean, hadn't we arrived and become a force to be reckoned with? Okay, maybe that model of a superwoman that rose to prominence in the 1980s was a myth (think Sigourney Weaver's Wall Street ball-breaker in Working Girl). Maybe "having it all" was a silly fantasy that ultimately made women feel exhausted and inferior. Maybe we just wanted to sit on our asses and knit and eat cupcakes in our Hello Kitty jammies.

And now that so many women have seemingly retreated from our reign of awesomeness to immerse themselves in the feminine past-times of yesteryear, it does indeed appear that we've lost sight of what it means to be a badass, strong, tough woman. Not that our pioneering foremothers were not bad-ass... have you seen Meek's Cutoff?

Maybe it's the "new" (crappy) economy, or our fear of the imminent zombie-vampire-Tea Partier apocalypse, or the realization that teaching our kids self-reliance instead of whiny entitlement really is the best approach to parenting, but there's so much emphasis on, well, ultra-femme domestic activity these days. This weird retro world of cooking, heirloom tomatoes and Jane Austen is starting to feel a bit smug and smothering. Where's the fun?

Oh, we still drink: why, we're doyennes of vintage cocktails. We still go dancing: why, we take pole-dancing classes from burlesque starlets now. But somehow we've lost that righteous indignation born of centuries of oppression. And take it from me, ladies, we're not fully equal yet. But we have become complacent. We're not tough anymore; we're soft (Pilates and yoga classes notwithstanding).

Maybe being called "tough" makes some women uncomfortable (sorta like being called a "bitch," right?). Well, too bad! There are tough times ahead, and we need to be tough bitches to face them. Growing vegetables is useful; but so is learning how to shoot a gun, hot-wire a car, and manipulate our way into a bomb shelter.

Remember our tough gal role models? They were strong, sexy, and took no crap. They wore leather and sang rock and roll. Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, Grace Jones, Courtney Love. They kicked ass in the movies: Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Sally Field in Norma Rae, Meryl Streep in Silkwood, Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. (See, what's cool is, those last two films were based on real women.) They battled monsters on TV: Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Lately women on TV seem to be all about glamor and acquisition: cougars, not tigresses. Mad Men, bless its arty vintage soul, retreads our humiliating recent past (though 1967 approaches, and things are heating up). And really, glamor has limited practical value; do you want to be left behind when the revolution comes, back to the wall, crippled by your stilettos? Hell, no; you want to be on the run with a sackful of penicillin, Kruggerands and organic chocolate bars.

Thankfully, television has some new tough gal role models. There's Jemma (Katey Sagal) from Sons of Anarchy, the matriarch of a clan of California bikers, who keeps the peace with an iron hand and a heart of chrome. A phenomenal actress, Sagal's success after 50 belies the Hollywood myths about middle-aged actresses.

Then there's Mireille Enos, star of the new AMC series The Killing (based on a successful Swedish series of the same name). With her slight frame, flame-colored hair and ivory skin, she seems frail and fey. But as Detective Sarah Linden, she exudes quiet courage, intelligence and no-nonsense grit.

And check out the lusty bunch of vamps and their foils on HBO's True Blood. Sookie Stackhouse may be a nubile blonde waitress, but she's tough as nails. Her troubled badass pal Tara is a force to be reckoned with, as is vamp-lesbian Pam. Actresses Anna Pacquin, Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer are but three standout performers in this show that portrays strong, tough women, which says a lot for a genre normally full of victims. Let's hope tough gals become a new trend.