Or: Why GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra Made Me Sad; a Spoilerly Look at Gender in GI Joe
At first glance The Baroness seems like a pretty badass villain. She ruthlessly fights and kills for a real bad guy, but also seemingly because she enjoys it. Sure The Baroness’ greatest weapon was her body. And, admittedly, in her only big hand-to-hand fight, she fights Scarlett in a scene definitely intended as hot girl on girl action. But isn’t there something undeniably powerful and sexy about someone who can use all the weapons (cough cough) at her disposal? It could have been a little woohoo moment for all of us to enjoy a “bad girl” who is actually bad.
Unfortunately, as the movie unfolds we find that her badassery can only take place when she is possessed by evil nano-mites. The Baroness is nothing more than a weapon used by her brother to sexually satisfy and manipulate a powerful man, who in turn uses her to sexually satisfy and manipulate yet another powerful man, until she is rescued by her ex-fiancé, a super soldier. Even as a possessed evil vixen, The Baroness is stalked and sexually controlled by Storm Shadow at the behest of her boyfriend/unknowing rapist(?). She has absolutely no control over either her sexuality or over her violence.
Why can’t The Baroness just be a greedy asshole or evil sadist like other villains? Furthermore, why does the Baroness have to be a pawn?
Because otherwise she’d be a slut and would need to be punished? I guess. Because all women are inherently good, quiet, and sweet by nature? I know I am.
The other female lead is Scarlett, a purported genius who, despite being credited as an intelligence officer, was not shown doing anything other than tagging along, providing unskilled medical assistance, and dodging Rip Cord’s clownish advances. What we do know about Scarlett is that she looks good in catsuits, doesn’t understand male/female relations ships and fires an extremely loud and very slow crossbow (Scarlett’s traditional weapon).
Scarlett is set to contrast the Baroness by being unclear as to the value of her sexuality and body (though seems worried about scarring after a battle that almost left her dead). Naturally a hot lady super soldier/genius, surrounded by the best (predominantly male, predominantly hot) soldiers pulled from military forces from around the world would not have any experience with men. The trope of the gorgeous woman, ignorant of her own attractiveness and innocent in the advances of men is simultaneously creepy and tired. Needing women to be persuaded (oh say for half of the movie) to have sex with you is an ugly idea to continue to propagate, particularly in an armed services environment. A woman like Scarlet can’t have interest in men or sex because then she would have to be possessed by nano-mites or be a bad guy, because nice girls can’t like sex. Just as we learned from The Baroness, you can only be interested in using your body for personal gain whilst a “bad guy”, whose only redemption could be that she didn’t want to have sex with all those powerful and attractive men, neither for her physical or for pecuniary desires.
The thing I liked about GI Joe figures as a kid was having female dolls that didn’t have to be teachers or veterinarians. For me, GI Joe has always represented a future when men and women or all races could be good guys and fight evil together. All GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra said to me was “no girls allowed, unless you want to fight in leather catsuits.”