Several months ago, HM and I saw a movie called “Haywire.” It didn’t quite live up to its riveting previews, but it was still an entertaining, engaging action movie. And what I really dug about it was that the main character, Mallory, was a serious badass. Unlike so many women action heroes, she was not what associate professor of politics Caroline Heldman has so aptly deemed a “fighting fuck-toy.” She was not on display to titillate viewers, she was not made to prance around half-naked, she was not sexy because she was some Hollywood-generated hybrid of porny and violent. She wore clothes that worked for an assassin, her one “love scene” was a passionate kiss with a colleague, and no one ever doubted her agency or prowess simply because she was a woman. Mallory was smart, driven, and capable. Period.
However, the movie haunted me on a personal level. And for a rather hilarious reason, I’ll admit. Watching Mallory deal with crisis after crisis coolly and efficiently, watching her cope with situations and stressors beyond normal human comprehension, watching her exquisite badassery unfold, I finally realized that my own badassery was … nonexistent.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m well aware that there is not now and never has been anything truly, traditionally badass about me. But I’ve always identified with badass women on a very personal, emotional level. Wonder Woman, Buffy, Starbuck, Trinity. I didn’t merely look up to them, I felt like them. I was convinced that underneath all my anxiety and privilege and geekiness was a core of tough, capable, superhero gold. That, if the time came and I was called, I’d step up. I’d fight.
But I can’t throw a punch. I can’t shoot a gun. I’m deathly afraid of bugs, I bruise easily, and my hacking skills consist of my ability to locate any style of shoe on the Internet in mere seconds. Hell, I can’t even run more than a few blocks without getting winded.* And, more importantly, I do not like conflict. Of any kind! If the time came and I was called, I wouldn’t step up. I’d ask what else needed to be done.
And initially, that bummed me out. Big time. I felt like part of my identity had been stripped away. I felt disappointed in myself for my lack of badassery, AND for being so delusional about it all for so very, very long. I felt weak and soft and timid. I was surprised by how much of my self-image was linked to this diamond-in-the-rough fantasy, and by how upset I was to see that fantasy shattered.
But, thankfully, the fantasy made way for the reality. In realizing that I wasn’t a badass, I was forced to think about what I was. What I am. I’m a creator, a clown, and an observer. But if we’re talking about crisis roles, I’m a caretaker. When everything goes kablooey, I may be the wrong person to send out on a revenge mission, but I can delegate tasks, calm upsets, and heal. And that might not seem as cool on the surface, but if fighters were all we had, we’d be in deep doo-doo.
I will always love dressing as badass as I possibly can without feeling ridiculous. But I’m getting comfortable with the notion that, when the zombie apocalypse arrives, I won’t be on the front lines with a shotgun. I’ll be behind the scenes tending wounds and soothing nerves.
What about you? How badass are you? How do you conceptualize your own badassery? Is it related to crisis management? Actual fighting skills? Something else entirely? Why are you tough? Why aren’t you? Is the idea even important to your identity at all?
*Give me a bike and that’s another story …