I watched the first episode of the remake of Gladiators, and the thing that struck me was how the female gladiators looked and acted. I’ve broken it down into three categories, appearance, attitude and names. This is the Australian version I’m critiquing, but I would love to hear how other versions compare. (And I recommend you check the site out, it’s hard to describe just how homogenous this group of women is.)
Every one of the seven women was tall and slim (none shorter that 165cms or heavier than 80 kgs). They were muscular, but not obviously physically imposing. Four had long blond hair; another had long brunette hair. They were all predominantly white (three of the Nordic blond variety) and feminine-looking.
By comparison, the men ranged from 167cms to 195cms and 76-137 kgs. The ranged from the short and compact to the towering hulks and were black, white, Asian, and more. There was a colour and size that every guy could relate to. I wonder how much of an uproar there would be if all the men were tall, slim white blonds?
What stood out for me in the first episode was two of the women, Destiny and Olympia, being very gracious and supportive towards the contestants. It was all ‘it’s such a hard journey and they’re winners just for completing it’ kind of stuff. Meanwhile, the male gladiators were anywhere between civil and absolute strops. It seemed like the typical ‘women must be nice’ trope we see so often in the media.
What kind of name for a gladiator is ‘Angel’? Or Destiny and Olympia for that matter? The men got names that connoted strength and combat, but ‘Angel’? Yeah, they had Viper and Amazon too, but if you were facing down a warrior based solely on their name, who would strike the most fear in your heart – Outlaw, Hunter… or Angel? I guess it’s just not sexy for women to have names that connotated strength and power… even when you are talking about gladiators.
The overall impression I got from the first episode of the show was this: if you’re a man, it’s OK to be all ranges of shape, size, colour and temperament, but if you’re a woman, you have to be tall, slim, white (preferably blond) and nice.
We get a lot on this site about media targeted for children and families, that we should leave it be because it’s meant for children, not meant to be taken seriously. I would argue that it’s important to critique media meant for children and families because it’s meant for children and families. Joss Whedon can write strong roles for women to his heart’s content, but how much of an impact is he making when girls and boys are being introduced to the ‘tall slim blond’ stereotype ten years earlier? How much more of an impact would be made if little girls and boys saw from an early age that women come in all shapes, sizes and colours, just like men?