Danger Gal Friday: Molly Millions

“. . .if you try to fuck around with me, you’ll be taking one of the stupidest chances of your whole life.” — Molly Millions, the Steppin’ Razor

Molly MillionsI thought it was about time I devoted some Danger Gal space to a few literary kick-ass heroines. There are plenty more TV and movie heroines that I’ll come back to, but I’ve been sorely ignoring my inner book nerd.

Today’s Danger Gal Friday is Molly Millions a.k.a. Sally Shears from William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemnonic. There’s been a lot of discussion about Molly as a feminist character and I’ll link to a few articles here that argue both for and against that notion. I think Molly is a feminist character and one of the main reasons is that both Molly and Case subvert many gender roles. Molly is as JoAnna Thomsen has described:

“. . . a tough-talking street samurai. She is muscle for hire. She has surgically inset mirrored glasses that cover her eyes to enhance her vision as well as ten scalpel blades set beneath the nails in her hands.”

Case is a computer cowboy. He almost exists more in the realm of cyberspace than in the flesh, and in fact seemed ethereal to me and physically fragile. He’s always spaced out on something, and if it weren’t for Molly he’d be dead.

The Cyberpunk Project describes the female characters in the genre as:

… not damsels in distress; nor are they the mother earth goddesses or cyborgs of the feminist SF writings of the `70’s. These characters are not quite the equals of their male counterparts; and in some cases, objectification is still blatant. But in general, there is twisting of traditional gender and sexual roles in cyberpunk writing that helps set it apart from previous SF.

Thomsen sees Molly as the brawn and Case as the brain, and cites the repeating theme in cyberpunk of escaping the body or of treating the body as expendable “meat.” She’s not alone in this analysis, but while I certainly see Case as lacking a respect for his body, I don’t see Molly as disrespecting her mind. She does have much more of an emphasis on the physical than is often seen, but she has to use her brain as much as her brawn to formulate strategy in a fight. She has to know something of human nature to gauge how an opponent is going to react.

Lauraine Leblanc in her essay Razor girls: Genre and Gender in Cyberpunk Fiction says that:

Molly’s tough posturing and martial abilities make her the clearest candidate for female-to-male role-reversal in cyberpunk fiction. Her positioning within the economy of femininity is not at all ambiguous: she is deliberately unfeminine, lacking the traditional womanly attributes of both the “Madonna” and the “whore.”

Except for the burgundy nails under which she hides the “ten double-edged, four-centimeter scalpel blades” (Gibson, 1984, p. 25 via Leblanc). I sometimes wonder if this image is the cyberpunk version of the woman with the knife/gun strapped to her thigh under her dress. Molly’s efforts to save Case finally bring him out of his cyber-stupor and he decides to take part in the physical action.

Leblanc brings up one of the main criticisms of Molly as a feminist character in that she “uses her cyborg identity not to rethink what it is to be a woman, but rather one who does little but take on a masculine role.” Neuromancer was first published in 1984 (ironically, or not). When comparing what else was being offered on bookshelves at that time it seems to me that Gibson endeavored to describe something that had as yet no language: the kick-ass heroine who was still a woman and not a “not-man.” I think it’s unfair to criticize Neuromancer when even in its imperfection it opened the door for other kick-ass heroines, the least of which is Trinity from The Matrix, whose character drew heavily from Molly. Chris Moriarity sums it up nicely:

I find this sort of criticism of Gibson odd for two reasons. First, because he’s made as serious and consistent an attempt as any male SF writer I can think of to create realistic and thoughtfully-drawn female characters. Second, because it identifies as “bad” in his work exactly what most people praise in the work of a writer by whom he was much influenced: James Tiptree, Jr. (a.k.a. Alice Sheldon).

Amazons were rumored to have cut off one breast in order to fire their arrows better, but Molly didn’t remove parts of her female body in order to be a better bodyguard. On the contrary, she added to her body, augmented it. She even kept her red fingernails and tears (albeit the latter rerouted to her salivary ducts), two features stereotypically female.

Now instead of describing a character like Molly in terms of previous male heroes like Sony Mao, Mickey Chiba, Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood, we could describe her in terms of Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Garner, Sarah Michelle Gellar and any of the Danger Gals cited so far.