Girls Who Bite Back Kick Ass

The Ottawa XPress | May 20, 2004

Emily Pohl-Weary’s edited anthology: Girls Who Bite Back (Sumach Press, 332 pp.)

Girls Who Bite Back

Girls Who Bite Back unrolls the female roll model: Superchick Anthology takes on feminist pop icons

“Everything I know about feminism I learned from pop culture.”
~Sophie Levy, Manifesto for the Bitten

The notion of inequality between the sexes is underlined by indisputable facts: in the ’80s there was only one Smurfette; She-Ra didn’t get as much airplay as He-Man; and Herc! Herc!’s Helena was a fucking idiot.

Thankfully the ’90s gave us Buffy, Xena, Lara Croft and Yoshimi (she battles the pink robots). This year, welcome Toronto’s Emily Pohl-Weary, the writer-editor of Girls Who Bite Back: Witches, Mutants, Slayers and Freaks (Sumach Press).

Noticing the lack of strong, intelligent girls in television, movies, comics and video games, and questioning who we can look up to as we age and pass beyond the Buffy years, Pohl-Weary made like Jem, assembled over two dozen holograms and launched her mission to spy on these pop culture female role models.

And Ka-POW! The result is this stellar collection of essays, fiction, poems, comic strips and artwork on female superheroes. It’s 332 pages of stories and vignettes (varying from three to 15 pages), by women and men, about superchicks in a multitude of contexts ranging from domestic prowess (Crisis Girl in Spring Rolls) to depression (Ready to be Strong?).

This is a young woman’s Bible and a (wo)Man’s Guide to Survival with females of our times. It encourages the reader to appreciate feminine brawn and offers alternatives to Britney Spears or Strawberry Shortcake.

If this is a feminist manifesto, then it’s a very fair one. It does not kick the balls of our male compadres and even holds some women accountable for sullying the image of girl power. Poet-artist Sonja Ahlers describes in one of her poems how irritating it is when female assertiveness goes over the top: “A machine gun of a girl shooting out the words Girl Power was the stupidest thing I ever saw … CRINGE CENTRAL MOLARS WITH FILLINGS CHEWING ALUMINUM FOIL. & another Super Bitch is born … TOTALLY TEDIOUS.”

Others consider race in their discussion of girl power. Candra K. Gill wrote ‘Cuz the Black Chick Always Gets it First, which explores the dynamic of race in Buffy. And Ottawa artist Eliza Griffiths plays with sexiness in Karate Girls by painting her fighters half naked.

Girls Who Bite Back redefines women beyond the traditional view of the female as helpless princess waiting to be rescued by a male hero. If you’ve ever been called a “princess” you’ll know what a slayer feels like when she wants to drive a stake through the heart of a soul-sucking vampire. And hey, why be princess anyway, when you can be Queen?

Killer instinct is pretty hot. But as Lisa Rundle cautions, “superbabes are stereotypical heterosexual male sex fantasies writ large and as much as they kick ass, they wiggle it.”

Though, given the choice of being a porn star or a comic book heroine, if they’re the same in sex appeal, I’ll pick the ass-kickin’ telepathic ninja fighter slayer chick, any day.

– Sylvie Hill