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Harriet Walker: Of course we still need feminism

And 2012 is supposed to be the year that we all come to terms with feminism being nothing for men or women to be scared of. So how did we kick things off? With a naked lady, of course.

Actor Lara Pulver triggered complaints after she appeared naked if carefully draped before the watershed as Irene Adler in the BBC's Sherlock. Since the brouhaha over her bralessness, she said she felt the stunt was "empowering". Call me old-fashioned, but it strikes me that any instance of a woman using her body to get what she wants – whether fictionally or not – is proof enough that we still need feminism. Holmes, after all, doesn't need to get his kit off to make us take him seriously. He just does that infuriating thing where he works out what colour pants you're wearing from the way you rest your chin on your hand. Women have laboured too long under the illusion that being overtly sexual, not to mention angry about sex, is a form of empowerment. Being naked in front of an adversary isn't empowering; having sex with someone you despise doesn't give you the upper hand. And who propagates this myth? Male writers. From Steven Moffat's Irene Adler to Martin Amis's Nicola Six, retrograde, two-dimensional women who play their sexuality for power end up losing out.

Don't worry, though, there are plenty of other "strong women" proposed as role models for us this year. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features Stieg Larsson's tough-as-old-Doc Martens private investigator Lisbeth Salander, hailed as a woman who doesn't take any nonsense. But Salander is, in fact, a deeply troubled rape victim, whose monomania for finding and punishing men who kill women verges on a revenge malady as heartily theatrical as any such Jacobean obsession. This is not a role model so much as a cartoon character – and one who needs some counselling, at that.

Elsewhere in the new year round-up is Mallory Kane, an undercover agent gone rogue in new film Haywire, touted as the female answer to Jason Bourne. "You shouldn't think of her as a woman," says the trailer. "That would be a mistake." What should we think of her as then? A fembot? Just another cipher, dreamed up by men and women who have lost any sense of what a "strong female" is because the phrase has been so distorted by the moulds into which heroines are consistently strong-armed.

Our New Year's resolution should be this, then: to be strong women every day. Not in stockings or with guns but with our clothes on, at our desks and in our homes, jeering and throwing popcorn at the big screens that try to tell us otherwise.

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