The Power of Waif-Fu!

16 November, 2011 Musing Musers 11 comments

Format: select

Trac Changes recently wrote an excellent blogpost on the Dead Cover Girl trend that is the big thing in YA right now.  There was a discussion on the feminine virtues of passivity taken to its final conclusion of death.  Pretty, pretty death.


There was a discussion about how this is nothing new in literature.  Even Heathcliff found Catherine more beautiful in death, as did Nelly.  However, there’s the opposite of this trend, albeit one just as frustrating to the feministly inclined (that’s right, I’ve just turned feminist into an adjective.  Deal with it.)  At first glance it doesn’t appear to be a troublesome trend.  After all, how could she be?  She is the Buffy Insert!  That kickass, street prowling, leather-clad vixen!  She’s dressed, scantily, to kill and even though she’s a 90 pound girl, she still kicks arse.

J.F. Sargent spoke about it to an extent on a Cracked article and TV Tropes calls it Waif Fu.

Not only do we constantly see her on the cover of a whole range of Urban Fantasy novels but she is showing up in YA and Paranormal Romance as well.

Even covers that don’t require this kind of image still have it.  Take Mind Games by Carolyn Crane for example.  Arguably one of the best Urban Fantasy novels I have ever read.  Yet its cover pigeon holes it as a Waif Fu, typical to the genre, kick ass heroine.  That simply isn’t who Justine is!  She only touches a knife once, very briefly.  She’s not some street-stalking vigilante!

Our options for female role models would appear to be either beautiful and passive young women posing around doing nothing in a pretty dress, or a beautiful ass-kicker who looks like she should be a supermodel.  Who also, may I add, is not doing anything.  The only difference?  The Passive teenager is usually in a forest or garden, wearing a ball gown and looking away from the camera.  The Urban Fantasy fighter is usually over looking a city, she has a knife, is dressed in leather/tank tops and she’s either looking straight at you seductively… or her ass is.

Either way they’re objects.  If you fight over-powered monsters for a living then there’s nothing wrong with struggling to rock a frock when you’re off duty.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the message is no longer all about being passive and a giant pansy.  I’m glad there are some sexually aggressive, powerful female role models out there.  I get that these covers are designed to appeal to the senses and to intrigue us.

But do audiences like Marcus Phoenix any less for looking like one of his parents was a pitbull?

This man splits rocks with his face and Does. Not. Wear. A. Dress.

And you know, I always like Michelle Rodriguez a hundred times more than whatever pretty little girl they have standing next to her.  They had to pull out the Jovovich in Resident Evil just so audiences wouldn’t boo when Rodriquez dies instead of her!

And I don’t care who you are, Vasquez has a Trope named after her because she was that awesome.  It’s like the media has decided that the world can’t handle women that aren’t waxed and polished to perfection, but you know what, I think they can.  Because the nerds love Vasquez and so did the general audiences.  I think it’s time we step out from the usual and look into gritty characters – not just as a side character ear-marked to die, I’m talking about a main character.

Clearly if she’d worn more make up, she would have survived.

But at the end of the day for now, the result is the same.  And it’s a sad result.  If you are a woman, whatever you do, whoever you are, you’d better be pretty.  Because these covers add to the multitude of media that tells us that nobody wants an ugly girl.  Even if she can kick arse and save the day.  If she’s not sexy then she might as well be dead.

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
Kat Kennedy is a book reviewer and aspiring author in the Young Adult genre. She reviews critically but humorously and get super excited about great books. Find her on GoodReads.
Kat Kennedy
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11 Responses to “The Power of Waif-Fu!”

  1. Katya

    Have you watched feministfrequency on youtube? They have a fantastic vid bashing Snyder's Sucker Punch, as well as one about the Straw Feminist. I think both have a lot to do with this post – men seem to think that scantily clad women doing dude stuff is feminist, while straw feminists distance cool heroines from any association with real feminism. It's worth a watch.

  2. CuddleBug

    Thanks Katya! I'll give both of them a watch. I definitely had a lot of problems with Snyder's Sucker Punch… just from the trailer! I've not heard of Straw Feminist so I'll give them a look up too!

  3. ahz1

    Adrian Phoenix's Rush of Wings cover always makes me laugh as the female lead never wore kick ass leather, not even once. She was an FBI agent, although probably the worst FBI agent ever.

  4. lissawrites

    Have you noticed that the majority of gorgeous ass-kicking women are often not the most powerful being in their books and still need to be rescued by their more powerful male co-leads? Or there is ONLY that one gorgeous woman around lots and lots of masculine energy?That's not feminism.

  5. rachelhartmanbooks.com

    That Cracked article was pretty sobering all round. It placed the blame pretty squarely on consumers, though, which – ok – I get. But I still think more can be done by brave individuals at the production end, like the guy who stubbornly cast Will Smith in Independence Day, over objections that it wouldn't work. Most people prefer the familiar and don't go looking for challenges; it's up to artists/writers/filmmakers to be challenging.(And I dunno, maybe hiding a challenging book behind a deceptively leather-clad sexay cover is sometimes the best one can do. It's a bit of a gull, though.)

  6. mello sl

    But, but, but how can you be average looking/unattractive like the general teenage girl really is and still be kick-ass and save the day? It's just not possible. You wouldn't look as good in the skin tight leather! Everyone knows you can't fight off monsters without the skin tight leather.

  7. CuddleBug

    Rachel – the problem is that with internet piracy and movie downloading, it's not the safe and PC blockbusters and megamovies that get cut down, it's the edgy, different Indie movies that don't get funded. The very movies that often push us and try new things to make them mainstream. I still think the blame is pretty solidly on the consumer. Hollywood could make the movies, but I guess box office results suggest nobody would come.Mello, I know, I know. Disturbing, huh? How can you possibly fight monsters without skin tight leather?Penelope – thanks! I appreciate that!

  8. Rachel Stark

    Did I ever have the chance to say just how much I love this post? Thanks so much for linking me, and for sharing your own thoughts. I've often thought the same thing, both about covers and about actual characters. I've even had men I know say to me "I love that book. The main character did all the cool things a guy does, but it was even better because I could imagine she was really hot." It's not exactly a great win for feminists everywhere.

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