Toronto
3 min

Violent femmes

Babes, bikins & heavy artillery

“Now, shoot me!” he says.”What?””Shoot me!”

I can’t do it. It’s a game, but it isn’t. My fingers won’t tighten into the shape of a gun without my stomach going weak.

Paolo is standing on the end of the diving board after staggering across it, fatally wounded. I am sitting on the edge of the pool, watching Tarzans, skateboarders and superheroes fly through the air into the water.

“I can’t,” I call. “I’ll feel sick!”

“I’ll do it,” says Reeta, sitting beside me, and before I can think of the smart thing to say there’s a bang and Paolo is tumbling from the board like a bird from the sky.

Simulated death is all around me: in movies and theatre, in games on the playground. I have never been comfortable playing at death, no matter how many hours I spend with children watching them die, with glee, over and over and over again. Maybe it’s because I lost a sister when I was 10. Maybe it’s because my parents never let us watch anything with real violence in it, never left the newspaper lying around, never provided an example of violence. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had cable or even rabbit-ears television since I moved out on my own. I’ve become resensitized, and I frequently feel like one crazy anomaly.

My wife and I went to a movie last night. One of the preview trailers was for a movie in which a woman becomes a bounty hunter. She’s a Hollywood-beautiful girl, and she’s not just holding a gun, she’s actually using it. To kill people. The audience generally found her totally sexy. It made me nauseous. I hate the image of a girl with a gun, but I have to admit, I also see her image as a lesbian one.

I realize, shamefully, that in seeing her as a lesbian, or at least lesbian-like, I am eating up the stereotype that all women who deviate from normal “feminine” behaviour are queer – truck drivers, mechanics, boxers and bounty killers alike. Seeing her as a lesbian means I see some of myself and my community, some of our real or desired characteristics, in her.

People see the character as strong, independent, fearless, capable. She doesn’t flinch at the sight of blood. Actually, she enjoys it. She isn’t afraid to die. She isn’t nurturing or trustworthy. She doesn’t give a shit if your family will miss you when you’re gone. We see her as strong, but it’s really a man’s definition of strong.

It’s not like people typically look at a single mother feeding and raising four children on minimum wage as “strong.” No one sees the struggling single mother as sexy, or queer, because her image is so common and so dumped on that there’s no room for sexuality. She doesn’t look glamorous, she looks tired, the way any truly strong person ends up looking eventually.

I read stories in the paper about female suicide bombers. They carry weapons, and they use them. No one thinks they’re sexy, or speculates about their sexuality. But if someone made a movie, cut the bomber’s clothes down, taped her getting dressed and caressing her gun, perceptions might be different.

The attraction to Hollywood girls with guns can’t be discussed without including Audre Lorde’s idea of the master’s house – it’s a girl playing a boy’s game. (It’s not like women invented guns or stand at the forefront of the National Rifle Association.)

But not all women who play at boys’ games are seen as sexy. Hockey players, for example, or cab drivers certainly aren’t. It’s something more. Maybe it’s the uniform. A woman can be wearing a bikini and still wield a gun. She can show off her body, keep from sweating, keep her eye-makeup on and still shoot someone. Former Team Canada goaltender Manon Rheaume only looked good in the photo shoots.

As a lesbian I see a beautiful woman with a gun as a woman struggling to find her place in a world that won’t let her choose it. I see a woman wanting to be feared instead of being made afraid. I see a woman wanting power and control in a world that denies her those things (and seizing the only kind of power our society seems to respond to). I see a woman taking the one thing that has always determined her value (her sexuality) and completely maxing it out instead of fighting thanklessly to reclaim it.

So I, and perhaps other queer women, relate to her mission, even as I hate her means. I guess any oppressed person, like any oppressor, has a list of people they could do without. When we get sick of trying to please people, trying to be heard, trying to fight internal and external demons, we welcome the fantasy of a girl with a gun, the cold, calculated woman who blows your individual head off instead of working like hell to transform you and the entire world she can’t kill.