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'Brave': Girl power hits a bull's-eye at the box office, but ...

With 'Brave,' 'Snow White and The Huntsman,' and 'The Hunger Games' we're seeing the box-office triumph of strong, young female characters. But has Hollywood – or American culture – really changed how it sees women?

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Merida, the heroine of ‘Brave,’ voiced by Kelly Macdonald.

Pixar/AP

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Hollywood has always loved its plucky movie heroines, but this year the girls – and yes, these are girls, not yet women – are younger, braver and less focused on men. This, say some media watchers, is the good news in the rash of “kick butt” teen protagonists on screen in films such as “Brave,” “Snow White and The Huntsman,” and “The Hunger Games.” All three movies have drawn large audiences to cheer on strong central characters that seize their own destiny and buck traditional fantasy story lines of a damsel in distress waiting for her life to begin.

"I love that young women are seeing images of girls being powerful and surviving against terrible odds,” says Deborah Reber, author of "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” and spokeswoman for Heart of Gold, a newly launched website helping young women embark on business careers. The media has an important role to play in changing attitudes, she says.

At the same time, those who work with young women say the media is not helping them, pointing out that while these movie characters may be dashing, they are still sexy, mostly skimpily dressed and, most important, dwelling in purely fantastical realms, disconnected from the problems and realities of the modern world.

Merida (“Brave”), Snow White (“The Huntsman”), and Katniss (“The Hunger Games”) may be noble characters, says Ron Bishop, culture professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, “but what are they actually doing and what’s the context in which they flex their empowerment?” The strong female characters are kept at a safe distance, he says via e-mail, adding, “they're not running for Congress, vying for a spot on the board of directors, or trying out for the boys football team. “

Beyond that, not all female moves into traditional male realms are progress, says Robert Epstein, former editor of Psychology today and author of “Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence.”

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