Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Girls Who Bite Back: Witches, Mutants, Slayers, and Freaks

by Emily Pohl-Weary

Emily Pohl-Weary, unabashedly addicted to tough-babe fantasies, has put together a collection of vaguely related essays and stories about female action heroes on television and in the movies. The result is a wide and undisciplined range of voices and styles, as though Pohl-Weary chose to include any submission even remotely related to her remarkably broad theme of female misfits.

The subject certainly has interesting potential. Contemporary female representation in popular culture and the increasingly violent tendencies or rapacious sexual proclivities of female role models are begging for meaningful exposition. But Girls Who Bite Back lacks any perceptible focus, and is rather a grouping of disappointingly sycophantic and unpolished personal essays and short stories about beloved ass-kicking heroines from Buffy (the teenage vampire slayer) to Angelina Jolie.

There are a few exceptions. Lisa Rundle’s contribution, “Super-Babes are Breakin’ My Heart,” tiptoes into genuine analysis, noting that limited doses of female power (embodied by characters like Buffy) are thrilling only because women have so consistently been portrayed as peripheral victims. Nalo Hopkinson’s short story is a stand out for its welcome lucidity. And there is comic respite in Daniel Heath Justice’s tale of an unlikely heroine who dresses down a local villain as if she were one of the style gurus on Queer Eye.

While mostly tedious and self-indulgent, the pieces collected here are at least correct in their collective assertion that prime-time, ass-kicking heroines have broken with conventional female roles. But what Girls Who Bite Back ultimately reveals is the tremendous desperation of so many women for any model of female strength, regardless of how violent or implausible.