by Sean Taylor
Last week we covered (no pun intended) all the ways pulp magazine covers portrayed women as victims and powerless and little more than a damsel in distress with no more function in the story that to be rescued by the strapping young (or crazy old) hero.
This week we're going in a different direction. For all the ways pulp covers depowered and dehumanized woman, they also portrayed them in positions of power -- even over heroic men!
The (Not So Helpless) Damsel in Distress
they say in the movie WHAT ABOUT BOB, baby steps. And baby steps from
last week's covers would most definitely have to be when the
stereotypical damsel in distress fights back (with or without the help
of the hero). They may still be (mostly) at the mercy of the villain,
but not going gently and ladylike into that role.
Enter the true woman of power -- The Bad Girl! This empowered woman could defeat the hero because her lust for evil gave her strength to ignore society's rules and get her own way. She maintained her power at the point of a blade or the business end of a pistol. But, only for so long. In the end, the hero did have to one-up her (and often try to redeem her back to the soft, little lady who follows the rules).
The Girl Friday
Sometimes even the good girl gets to experience some power, even if she is relegated to the sidekick role. Regardless, her importance grew from damsel in distress to the Girl Friday without whom the hero would be lost. This was still a good first step out of the dark ages and into truly heroic women of some level of ability.
Now we're getting somewhere. This woman has the kind of power that makes the hero take notice. (But it's okay, she's just a fantasy.) The goddess holds absolute sway over the hearts and wills of almost all who see her -- or she takes their worship by force. But... as a fantasy of a woman with ultimate power, she can usually only hold it in her place of power (as in She Who Must Be Obeyed) or risk losing it all to find love with the hero. Except for those rare opportunities in which she gets to be the heroine and the hero at the same time.
The Solo Adventurer
The ultimate growth for the female heroes. This adventurer could hold her own with the boys. She tamed the west. She explored the galaxies. She solved the case before the cops. She bent the jungle cats to her will.
She may have often been paired with a male hero, but it was clear she didn't need him. She saved as much as, or even more than she needed to be saved. She fired as many bullets or lazers as the good guy at her side (or not at her side). In some cases, she also had her own male foil as a sidekick, a "guy Friday" if you will.
The times were a'changin' and it was her time to shine.
What the Future Holds...
Next week we'll look at what pulp covers got right to help little boys grow up to be confident, stalwart men.
So, until next time, keep it pulpy.