Amy Jenkins: The fantasy that is violent women

Making Kick-Ass's main character female is what gives it a twist
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After all the hype, Kick-Ass goes on general release today. In case you've just got back from Outer Mongolia, I'll remind you that the film features an 11-year-old female assassin known as Hit-Girl. She is gloriously au fait with a vast array of weaponry. She thinks nothing of gunning down a room full of baddies. She will slice off your leg with a machete as soon as look at you and she wants a Benchmade model 42 butterfly knife (whatever that is) for her birthday.

The film is based on a comic book by the Scottish writer Mark Millar and is directed by Matthew Vaughn who came out of the Lock, Stock stable of British film-making. It's written by Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman – who should be famous for her 2007 film fantasy Stardust, but who can't ever shake off being the wife of Jonathan Ross.

The previews say it's funny, exhilarating and set to become a huge hit – but the film has also taken some flak because of the extreme youth of the female protagonist. In fact, Hollywood refused to fund the film for that reason and Vaughn had to raise the money himself. But the real controversy here is not the youth but the gender.

Now – I really don't want to rain on the well-written, feisty, British parade that is Kick-Ass – but I do just want to point out that although women may be men's equals in many ways and although they may be just as proficient with machines as men are and although they may be as foul-mouthed as it comes – the one thing women are not is violent.

Jane Goldman says: "We just really wanted Hit-Girl to be a character who, in a sense, simply happens to be an 11-year-old girl, in the same way that Ripley in Alien could have been a guy but the part happened to be played by Sigourney Weaver."

Because making the character female is what gives it a twist, she might have added. It has no bearing on reality. It makes no comment about the state of feminism or the role of women in today's society. And making her a slim little teen is just a way of exaggerating the joke – because women really don't go around murdering people. They don't even hit other people very often. So why do we enjoy the fantasy of women stepping out of character like this? Because we think they should?

You could certainly say that if it's pay-back day for women, then there's a hell of a lot of paying back they might justifiably do. Or perhaps it eases our conscience about male violence. Perhaps it's a kind of violence free-lunch. We get the violence without the serious threat of it ever coming true. I mean, that's why we went to see Thelma and Louise and Linda Hamilton in The Terminator and Basic Instinct and all those films – for the simple reason that it's sexy and subversive to switch the gender roles.

And yes – I know – we've just heard that the Moscow suicide bombers were women. But believe me, they are a truly extraordinary exception. In this country only 5 to 15 per cent of violent crimes against the person are committed by women. That's a tiny proportion.