cover image Brave Dames and Wimpettes: What Women Are Really Doing on Page and Screen

Brave Dames and Wimpettes: What Women Are Really Doing on Page and Screen

Susan Isaacs. Ballantine Books, $8.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-345-42281-1

After beginning with the reasonable claim that the media too often present women as one-dimensional victims, Isaacs's foray into cultural criticism quickly turns into an object lesson on oversimplification. Novelist Isaacs (Red, White and Blue, etc.) gives her analysis of female characters in books, movies and TV a facile framework by lumping all women characters into two categories. A wimpette (Madame Bovary is the archetype) is a passive-aggressive masochist whose identity depends on a man. Her opposite, the brave dame, is common in real life but elusive in pop culture. She is ""passionate about something besides passion,"" resilient, competent, moral, a true friend (think Jane Eyre). The book is a series of litmus tests. Kathleen Turner's cheerful soccer mom/psychopath in Serial Mom comes out well (after all, she's a multidimensional character), while the wife played by Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction, who kills Glenn Close for sleeping with her husband and boiling the pet rabbit, is a mere wimpette, because she acts only to protect her home (the basis of her weak identity). Although Isaacs repeatedly describes herself as a feminist, her particular brand of feminism asks women to handle every aspect of their lives--relationships, motherhood, career--without any complaint or sign of weakness. Unsurprisingly, few brave dames are found, and many of them belong to the realm of fantasy (Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Occasionally thought-provoking, the many character studies here are fatally weakened by the absolute judgment at the end of each one, and, as every analysis can have only one of two endings, the book quickly becomes repetitive. (Jan.) FYI: Brave Dames and Wimpettes is part of Ballantine's Library of Contemporary Thought series.