When the U.S. military officially began procedures to allow women to serve in combat roles this week, there was a surprising lack of controversy. While the move didn’t please everybody, when a guy like John McCain who defines himself primarily by military service and advocacy is cool with a shake-up like that, there won’t be much argument (an impromptu poll on my own Facebook page revealed unanimous support for the measure from friends all across the political spectrum).
I have a theory as to why, and it’s this: in our popular entertainment, we have become 100% used to the idea of women kicking ass, taking names and blowing shit up. Many of us even prefer it nowadays – compare the grosses of, let’s say, The Last Stand to those of any generic Underworld sequel in which the plot’s exactly the same as the last. Look at the rise of The Hunger Games, and the expanded role for Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings movies. Women who fight on fantasy battlefields may have begun as wish fulfillment, but they’re becoming a reality.
In honor of all those double-X chromosomed combatants who will be risking their lives in firefights from here on out, I’ve decided to take a look back at the ten ladies we’d most love to let loose on any and all military opponents. The women who taught us all that gender is no barrier to a beatdown. For the purposes of this list, I’m confining it to women who would work on the contemporary battlefield, so no barbarian beauties (sorry, Red Sonja) or stake slingers (Buffy’s a vampire slayer, but maybe not so much a terrorist fighter). These listed enlistees from across the pop-culture spectrum need to haul and use heavy weaponry when it’s needed.
Shawnee Smith’s Saw siren
dived into clawed through a pit of infected needles to grab a vital clue key, cut open a random stranger’s belly to escape a reverse bear trap, and willingly breathed in poisonous fumes to go undercover into a larger death-game. Her reluctance to spare a life was ultimately her downfall, but her loyalty and dedication to duty would make her an excellent footsoldier.
9. Motoko Kusanagi.
Ghost in the Shell’s heroine has a fully cybernetic body with a fully human soul. Maybe this is a bit of a cheat, since cyborgs kinda rule out that whole strength difference issue that used to be the principal objection here, but her ability to wield weapons even when her clothes are falling off is impressive. And if she can teach us how to build those sentient Tachikoma tanks, that’s a bigger bonus.
Jill Valentine may be more popular among true Resident Evil fans, but the film-created heroine of the never-ending franchise would be a better military ally, not just because of her ability to use and abuse sacrificial clones of herself, but also because she randomly attains psychic abilities and super powers whenever the story requires it, a trait that would come in real handy while fighting wars with no obvious end in site. The only downside is that all her allies tend to get killed, so you’ll want to send her on solo missions.
7. Lara Croft.
Take Indiana Jones, switch genders, add guns, ignore nuked fridge and you’ve got the makings of a formidable foe. Add Angelina Jolie as her live-action alter ego and you also have someone who can travel the world while raising a bazillion kids and put up with Brad Pitt – plus in Salt, she showed us just how easy it would be for her to walk straight into the White House and single-handedly start a nuclear war.
6. The Baroness.
The G.I. Joe team has been integrated since the ’80s, but none of the token females in the line ever made quite as much of an impression as the one whose allegiance lies with their primary foe. While we’d suggest an elastic strap on the back of those glasses so they don’t fall off in the heat of a firefight – and while we’re at it, a combat helmet as well – the Baroness’ battle armor and ability to manipulate international arms dealers gives her a kung-fu grip on any combat position she wants.
5. Kara Thrace.
Turning Dirk Benedict’s roguish Han Solo rip-off Starbuck into a woman was by far the most controversial choice the rebooted Battlestar Galactica made at the outside, but nowadays, people are more likely to ask “Dirk who?” Booed by the audience at Comic-Con in 2004, Katee Sackhoff would have a hard time finding haters there now, as her smoking, sexing, boozing pilot proved that men don’t have a monopoly on lovable asshole roles, and that fanboys, perhaps like some military brass, don’t always really know what’s good for them at first.
4. Ellen Ripley.
When Aliens came out, critics called her “Rambolina,” but unlike Stallone’s haunted Vietnam vet, she seemed utterly unburdened by PTSD as she blasted away at acid-spitting xenomorphs and used an oversized power tool to get the biggest, baddest mother in the known universe to die. She’s so tough that even she can’t defeat herself – after successfully committing suicide, she bounced right back as a clone in the next movie.
3. She-Spawn II.
Like so many McFarlane figures, this character has no real backstory, existing mainly because a demented artist was bored one day. But we can deduce a couple of things about her. One, she’s a Hellspawn, and therefore has a symbiotic costume and abilities like teleportation and green flame-blasting. Two, she’s carrying a gun that weighs more than she does. If the symbiote can handle the recoil on that sucker, having her in the platoon will be a real blast.
2. Samus Aran.
Yes, she’s from the future, but if she can handle a powered exoskeleton, modern military hardware shouldn’t give the girl a problem. An intergalactic orphan infused with alien DNA, she’s practically the poster-child for gender-blind recruitment, as fans didn’t even know she had women-parts until they finished the first game, and by then it was too late to dismiss her skills.
1. Sarah Connor.
She’s self-trained to take on an army of remorseless killer robots from the future, can play dead with ease, knows every bone in the human body (though she’s been known to miscount them) and is fully prepared to survive a nuclear attack. While doomsday prepping, she found time to have a son and teach him how to be an effective criminal. Think North Korea’s going to scare her? Not so much.
She even survived terminal cancer in unique fashion, via a retcon that saw her move to TV and get played by a new actress. Now that’s a survival skill.