On Kickassitude


I’ve just been reading a fabulous post at Juno Books, which gives an excellent account of the urban fantasy, paranormal romance and sword & sorcery genres. And it also attempts a definition of that wonderful word ‘kickassitude,’ which Juno editor Paula Guran considers to be a defining ingredient of urban fantasy.  

But what is kickassitude? Can only women have it? And who first coined this ridiculous but truly wonderful and adorably grammatically incorrect term? 

It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘violent’, ie kicking ass in the literal sense. But no one can deny that the little girl at the top of this blogpost has kickassitude in eponymous abundance. 

But I would argue that one of the original kick ass dudes is this guy: 


Philip Marlowe, the wise-cracking LA private eye created by Raymond Chandler, has attitude to spare. He’s rude to cops; he makes fun of beautiful women; he’s so smart,  he’s dumb. And I’d argue that Mike Carey’s exorcist detective Felix Castor is totally in this Chandler wisecracking authority-defying tradition. 

But kickassitude is also exemplified by this lady:  


Yes, the classic femme fatale.  Cool, deadly, scornful of authority.  The femme fatale is sometimes attacked as being a misogynist creation, spawned by male writers who were afraid of female emancipation and who therefore regarded women as monsters to be feared. But hey, lighten up; femme fatales are female bad guys.  They’re fun roles; and these are empowered women.  And they’re funny too.  Here are a couple more oldie but goldie kickass gals: 

Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity

Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday

In modern urban fantasy, you can spot the attitude from the cover; moody, brooding, cool, either dressed in jeans 


or in sexy leather. 


Or dangerously armed: 


And go on, really spoil yourself, here’s the Urban Fantasy Book Parade featuring a gallery of empowered ladies, together with a plethora of butts, backs, tattoos and moons. 

One of my favourite kick ass characters is played by Charlize Theron in the mildly under-rated Aeon Flux (directed by Karyn Kusama, who went on to the direct the Diablo Cody-scripted horror Jennifer’s Body.)  Our heroine Aeon looks amazing, and utterly cool, with hair that never moves, no matter how many knock down fights she gets into. And most important, when she is violent, she is gracefully violent, and does an excellent multiple back flip that looks exhausting.  This is violence choroegraphed like dance floor moves; and boy, it’s great. 


The essence of kickassitude is what it’s not; these women do not crave approval, they do not flatter and plead, and they are not defined by their relationship to men.  Men beg for their attention, not vice versa. (Just as it is in my own personal life!)  So I would mark out Claudia Black in Farscape as a cool kick ass lady; she’s a violent psychopath who’s slowly discovering a conscience. 


Kara Thrace has kickassitude in abundance of course.  But Elle in Heroes merely pretends to have it; she curls her lip rather well, but she does not command our fear.  It need hardly be said that Buffy kicks ass - but I’ll say it anyway – and one could certainly put up a case for Eve Myles in Torchwood as an exemplar of kickassitude: 


These are Independent Women; capable women; scary women; and sassy women. And if you look on the urban fantasy and SFF bookshelves, you’ll find them in abundance. 

In modern Hollywood however – with a few exceptions – kickassitude is in short supply.  There are still SO many movies where the women are token women, eyecandy and sidekicks, rather than being  fully fledged heroines or co-protagonists. Even Io (Gemma Arterton) in Clash of the Titans, for all her godly wisdom, doesn’t DO much; and she has no damned kickassitude. 

So in my view, Hollywood hasn’t cottoned on yet to what its audience wants from its female protagonists; butts, tattooes, backs,  a vivid personality, and…attitude.

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