I don’t need to do a whole lot of setup for this one. Let’s be frank, this is one of those many things where you already have plenty of your own examples. I will still do some, however, for those of you who are tired and need a helpful neuro-nudge.
Ignoring some of the more effusive social justice rhetoric (I believe in social justice, but all movements have their crazies), male heroes do not need to put emphasis on their maleness. Unless it’s in the context of a (BETTER FUCKING BE CONSENSUAL) sexual encounter with a person interested in men, there’s no real relevance to it. Male heroes just do hero things. Their maleness is not a major concern unless the author decides it needs to be. The author almost never does this, because there’s currently no sound reason to do it.
If Robocop stopped in the middle of the factory shootout to loudly announce, “You see, male robots can shoot well!” he’d be able to mow down the rest of the goons while they stood there scratching their heads. Obviously, that’d ruin the entire sequence, and Poledouris’ soundtrack wizardry would fall rather flat. Why would Robocop say that? No one ever thought otherwise! And that’s the response you’re supposed to try and get regarding femme-fighters.
So, when writing a female lead to deconstruct the still-prevalent idea that men make for better hero material, do not have her constantly emphasize her ladyness. We can see she’s a woman, alright? It’s clear enough from the fact that every third-person pronoun you’re using to describe her is feminine. Every time you have a male character exclaim, “But you’re a woman/girl/chick/female entity!” you actually reinforce the idea you’re trying to fight. Particularly in fantasy worlds where gender roles can be whatever you want them to be, this is a silly, silly tack to take.
I have been desperately unfair to it in the past (forgive me, I was young and full of newfound martial arrogance), but one of the best things about Tarantino’s Kill Bill was that it nearly avoided calling attention to B’s femininity. Admittedly the hospital rape thing was totally unnecessary (yeah, she wrecks his shit before he can get anywhere, but it’s still cliche and tasteless), but the fact that B is a woman only comes up in regards to her relationship with Bill and that whole “being pregnant” thing.
Having a baby is primarily a woman’s endeavor (gentlemen, get over yourselves and embrace medical science), which has never been questioned. Having the deadliest assassin on the planet being a mother who cares for her baby is actually a brilliant move as far as deconstruction goes. This way the deadliest assassin bit is made to seem equally as natural as motherhood (even though it’s really not, regardless what gender we’re discussing). Without saying anything, message becomes, “B is a total hardass and happens to be a woman, which has no bearing on the HRC of her glutes but is totally fine.”
…that analogy got weird, and I apologize. Point is that for the most part, the fact that B and her fellow assassins are all women isn’t treated as a big deal. The only ones who ever make an issue out of it are total assholes. B and the others don’t fight any differently from the men in the movie, except that in general they fight better (aside from Bill, who trained all of them, and Pai Mei, who is not so much flesh and blood as Wushu given physical form). This is how you really deconstruct gender roles: put the women in conventionally “male” roles without ever acknowledging it. The movie doesn’t take any potshots at men, either, which is the point.
There are no callbacks to the trend Kill Bill fights, because acknowledging it even by sniping at masculinity would still reinforce the paradigm in a twisted way. It would still tell people that Kill Bill is presenting an alternative to the norm (male dominance), not a new norm entirely. Even the way that B and the others react is handled masterfully. Except for Sophie Fatale (who, to be fair, loses an indeterminate number of limbs first), none of the women in the movie reacts in a stereotypically female way. They just react to things the way humans logically ought to. It’s not that they never act feminine, but there’s a difference between feminine and girly.
These lessons have not been learned well. Remember, male heroes are still male, but only in relevant situations. Their strength is not called into question just because they show emotion, and they’ll likely be shredded in parodies if they don’t. Most media either tries to press strong women on us by making them so stoic that we’d be right to question whether they’re human at all, or with an unsettling overtone of “Girls can do it too, only better!” The former is just imbecilic (and ladies, trust me, being expected not to feel things is not one of the perks of being a man), and the latter ranges between dull and outright obnoxious.
Even The Force Awakens tripped up; it wasn’t enough for Rey to be as good as the men, she had to be better than all of them. Now, even that would’ve been okay if she’d still failed at some point. She didn’t. Even when Kylo captured her, that became an advantage because it meant Rey managed to beat him by invoking “The Force?” Unless she gets her ass handed to her for the entire course of the next movie, I’m not going to be able to take her seriously. Remember, B got fucked up repeatedly throughout both Kill Bill parts. First off, shot in the face. B survives. Fights several dozen Yakuza and two other assassins. B survives (albeit incredibly bloodied). We find out Pai Mei ruined her shit constantly just to get points across. B survived that too, you get the picture.
You cannot deconstruct gender roles if you do it by contrivance. People will see that it’s contrived, and you’ll end up arguing with people who would normally agree with you. What you want is, “Well, of course she won. She fights good,” not “It makes no sense that she won, and you obviously did that just to be all social justicey. Preachy fuck.”
Strong characters are first and foremost strong characters. Putting the emphasis anywhere else will naturally detract from their strength. Focus is the key to all things in writing, which is presumably why I suck at it.