Australian Gladiators

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.)

Appearance

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?

Attitude

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.

Names

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?

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting…I used to love “American Gladiators” as a kid (here in the US), but even then I could tell the imbalance (it was worse…the women had names like “Lace” and “Diamond”…we won’t mention the costumes).

    “American Gladiators” was recently brought back in the states…I haven’t watched it, but took a look at their website. Thought I’d give you some comparative data.

    Sizes/Body types:

    The men were actually more similar, in size, then the women (though not by much)…all between 6’3″ and 6’8″, 220-280 lb., heavily muscled. The women tended toward the “lean athletic” look, with the notable exception of Hellga (6’1″, 205 lb.). Lower end was 5’2″, 123 lb. I was pleased to see the “big muscular woman” represented. I was surprised not to see the “lean compact” guy niche filled.

    I give them a B, maybe B+ for effort.

    Race/Description:

    Of the men, we had 2 white guys (blond clean shaven, brown bearded/longhair), 2 african american (both with fairly “natural” hair), 1 either african american/middle eastern (bald), 1 polynesian. That’s a pretty solid mix.

    Of the women, we had 5 that I would call “white”, but with a variety of hair/skin tone (2 blonde/fair, 1 redhead/fair, 2 brunette/darker skin). Only one african american, and she had straight hair.

    I give them a C-…they tried, but fell pretty short on the female side.

    Names:

    The men, naturally, were fine…Wolf, Titan, Mayhem, etc.

    The women…

    Hellga: meant to be tough and reminiscent of viking/valkyrie stuff, but seemed kinda “kitschy” or stereotyped to me. B.

    Crush: that’s a fairly solid, tough name. A.

    Venom: that’s a dangerous name, even if they tried to make it “sexy danger”. B+.

    Fury: I like this one…aggressive, but (if you know mythology) feminine. A+.

    Stealth: I didn’t care for this…they could have done better. C.

    Siren: WTF? Again mythology, but again…sexy danger. F.

    I can’t speak for attitudes, having never watched an episode (anyone else?).

    I took a look at the Aussie site…yeah, the lineup of blondes there is pretty noticeable.

    Anyway, thought you might like the comparison. I do at least note definite improvement over what I saw as a kid. Maybe progress is being slowly made. Now we just need some more progress on the costumes…

  2. Scarlett says

    sbg, thanks for fixing up the links. Was it from my end of the site’s? Because teh computer I used is extremely temperamental so if it was my end, I’ll use my brother’s the next time I need to link.

    Jay, as a child, I have a vaguememory of my favorite gladiator being a woman similar to Angel, Destiny or Olympia – a tall, slim nordic nordic blond with a sweet attitude. I don’t know how much of it was that I AM tall, slim and blond and how much of it was I was conditioned to find that body type and personality the most acceptable.

    Another thing that bugs me about the costumes is how much cleavage there is. OK, I know several of the guys are topless, but I think that’s more to show off their muscles(a couple of the women have their outfits cut to show off their abs) but what pysical prowess are you demonstrating with cleavage?!?!?

  3. Patrick says

    I definitely agree about the oddly uniform appearance of the female Gladiators. However, name-wise, I fail to see how Olympia fails to connote strength and power, as it brings to mind the Olympian pantheon of gods, Mount Olympus, and the Olympic games.

    As for Angel, for mainstream audiences that obviously isn’t going to be very intimidating. For me, though, it brings the following to mind:

    “Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?” – The Prophecy

    But, then, I have a facination with angelology and a corresponding aggravation at the ignorant inanity that is “pop” angelology (which has been pretty popular in the US for the last 15 years or so).

    Sorry for the tangent (though it does point out that not everyone will have an expected reaction to something as simple as a name).

  4. MaggieCat says

    Patrick, that’s what I said when Scarlett first brought up this article amongst the other writers! The whole “pissed off immortal figure with a flaming sword” thing impressed itself very strongly on my mind as a child.

    And here I thought I was the only one whose mind didn’t go in the Precious Moments figurines direction at the word ‘angel’.

  5. says

    Nah, the fearsome vision of an angel IS something more than a handful of people would think of. Myself included. But without the religious or sci-fi background – which a lot of people don’t have – it conjures fluffy fairies.

    Or – worse – Victoria’s Secret. *shudder*

  6. Scarlett says

    The athlete who plays Angel actually talked about the concept of immortal avengers and it made sense to me BUT I think there’s a lot more people who connotate ‘Angel’ with something sparkly and peaceful than there are the idea of an immortal avenger. I thought in general the women’s names didn’t pack the same punch as the men’s. You COULD make a connection to strength, power, anger etc, but it was a hell of a lot easier to make such a connection with a name like Tank or Outlaw.

  7. Gategrrl says

    I think part of the problem with naming women wrestlers with powerful names is rooted in the difficulty of finding an approriate female animal name that hasn’t all ready been taken as derogatory names by men and *other women*, such as:

    Bitch
    Sou
    Cow
    Cat(ty)
    Hen

    These are the ones that spring instantly to mind. The male, or default names, of these species, even the ones that denote power, are usually only applied to men.

    Wolf (cause Dog is derogatory)
    Razorback (because Pig is derogatory, oftentimes)
    Bull
    Lion/Tiger/Panter
    Rooster or Cock

    Not too many powerful female names that *have retained* their power in their old meanings and contexts – as has been pointed out with “Angel” or “Hera” or name-your-female god. They’ve all been long-declawed and defanged.

    Try looking up female pro basketball teams and see what they came up with. It’s eye-opening, even when some of them have sone good jobs getting the idea across that these are serious athletes.

  8. Scarlett says

    I think you have a point, Gategrrl. I think it’s hard to strike a balance between cutesy and insulting with women’s names, more so than men’s, at least not without being innapropriate. (I can’t, for examle, see a woman named Tank – maybe that’s just social conditioning thought :p) I think MORE thought could have gone into striking that balance, though. ‘Cougar’ comes to mind for some reason.

    I think the name wouldn’t have bothered me so much (certainly not enough to write an article) if it wasn’t the whole package, appearance, attitude etc. Angels may have connotations of immortal avengers, but how many people are going to think of that when presented with an ultra-feminine, gracious woman? How many girls and boys watch the show and unconsciously take note of the fact all the women are tall and slim and many of them are very gracious competitors?

  9. Patrick says

    Oh, I doubt many will consciously take note of it, because they’ve long since ingested it as Just How Things Are.

    And, oh, could I go into long rants about pop angelology. You have all these people writing books about angels who couldn’t tell a Seraph from a Cherub, and have seemingly never read a single book about angels that wasn’t written for the “Insirational” shelf.

    I do think that there is a fair amount of room for strong-sounding names for female gladiators, it’s just that there’s a death of strong-sounding names that are explicitly female. Which is a consequence of the “male-as default” aspects of the language. But there are plenty of good names that could be used by either gender.

  10. Scarlett says

    I think Crush and Venom (going by what Jay said about the American names) were good examples of how you can give the female gladiators strong names without needing to make them explicitly feminine. (To nitpick, I was annoyed that Amazon was one of what I considered to be just two cool names for the women, and that was an explicitly feminine name.) And I could forgive them if they wanted ONE overtly feminine gladiator with an overtly feminine name.But three nordic blondes with names which are actual women’s names? Go to the time out corner!

  11. scarlett says

    I’m watching the fourth episode, and Angel just got disqualified for not obeying the rules. She was her gracious about it and said ‘it was (the competitor) who had her gaurdian angel looking out for her’.

    I think this is what bothers me about Angel in particular, the connotations of a gaurdian angel rather than an avenging angel.

  12. Elwyn says

    I suspect that Olympia’s name is inspired by how she (Tatiana Grigorieva) was an Olympic silver medalist.

    Now, Kouta is just a lame name and probably Anthony Koutoufides’ nickname.

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