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gender roles

Six Lessons From Salt About the Differences Between Male and Female Action Heroes

The lead role in Salt, the Angelina Jolie spy movie out today, was originally written for a man, likely to be played by Tom Cruise. That deal fell apart, Jolie became interested in the role, and ta-da!: A movie about an ass-kicking, possibly shady CIA agent named Edwin A. Salt was transformed into a movie about an ass-kicking, possibly shady CIA agent named Evelyn Salt. The gender switch hasn't slowed down the action: As played by Jolie, Salt has some moves that would impress even the grizzled, ultramacho cast of The Expendables (like the time she uses the shoulder of the dude she just killed as a silencer). And yet, turning Edwin into Evelyn has had some consequences. For a portion of the movie, Jolie makes like Bruce Willis in Die Hard by running through gunfire while barefoot — but unlike Willis, Jolie is barefoot because she chose to take off her heels. A girl can't run, evade, and blow things up in those, now can she? Here are six lessons to be gleaned from Salt about the differences between male and female action heroes.

1. Female action heroes know how to use to maxi pads (also, panty hose); male action heroes do not.
Wounded and on the run, Evelyn Salt goes into a women's restroom, grabs a maxi pad, and applies it to a gash on her side. This is brilliant — they are very absorbent and clean! Action heroes should take note and consider walking into the ladies' room next time they find themselves bleeding and bandage-less. Another lady product that Evelyn makes use of is panty hose, which she removes and throws over a camera to obscure its view. A man would be stuck using a sock, a less clingy item that would be much harder to hang over a lens.

2. Female action heroes can get beat up in lingerie without diminishing their credibility; male action heroes cannot.
The brutal opening scene of Salt shows Jolie being tortured by North Korean interrogators while wearing a bloody, lacy, formerly white bra and panties set. (It's the only scene in the whole film that shows Jolie in any state of undress.) What would be the male equivalent? Nudity? Boxer briefs? Certainly not something to be found in a Victoria Secret's catalogue.

3. Male action heroes can have children; only heartless female action heroes can have children.
In the original screenplay, Edwin had a child. Evelyn doesn't. "I just didn't feel that a woman would have a child in that position," Jolie has said. "And that if a woman had a child, I think it would be very hard for us not to imagine her kind of holding onto that child through the entire film … I think audiences would allow a man to have a child and the child [could] be with the wife back at home. But it would be very, very difficult to see a woman not be 100 percent focused on her child."

4. Female action heroes don't have middle names; male action heroes do.
When Edwin A. Salt morphed into Evelyn Salt, he lost his middle initial. Possibly this has nothing to do with gender.

5. Male action heroes can rescue their wives; female action heroes should rescue their husbands in less flashy ways.
Both Edwin and Evelyn Salt are married, but in the original screenplay, Edwin had a whole action sequence saving his wife from danger. Evelyn has no such scene, though she spends a good deal of time worrying about her hubby. According to director Phillip Noyce, "What we found was when Evelyn Salt saved her husband in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little. So we had to change the nature of that relationship."


6. Female action heroes can convey a lot about character with hair color; male action heroes cannot.

In the film, Jolie's hair color changes often, from blonde, to black, to brown. Particularly when her hair is black, the color — as much as the action, the dialogue, and even the acting — is an intimation that a game is afoot: Is the hair symbolizing Salt's evil? Or is it a red herring? After all, brunettes aren't good girls, they're Veronicas. Or is that just what we're supposed to think? A man's hair color — be it black, brown, or purple — could never do this much work.

Photo: Andrew Schwartz, SMPSP, Columbia Pictures