xena_warrior_princess-show

The age of rock gave birth to a new generation driven by dreams and ideals, and this very attitude of daring to dream inspired a wave of social changes with independence at its root. Amidst these changes is also the post feminism movement in which women play up to sexual stereotypes only to then successfully exploit them for their own power. Xena: Warrior Princess, a youth oriented image of female power, is a product of the movement. While she began as simply another male-driven fantasy, she became a genuine role model and prime example of female self-empowerment.

Xena’s character is set in a fantasy version of ancient Greece. She helps the poor and disenfranchised people, taking over the image of the hero that before her was a right reserved almost solely for the male gender. Like all her other heroine counterparts, including Sheena and Wonder Woman, Xena was created as a male driven fantasy (p74, Inness). Her creation as simply an object of fantasy ranged from a variety of reason, of which included the dominant male audience in the action television genre to the acceptable norms of society. The female body is the object of fetishistic gaze. She fights evil in an outfit arguably illogical for her profession—a tight bodice that accentuates her chest and a very short leather skirt, all of which seem to do little in terms of protection and achieving only highly sexually provocative results. In addition, as was the customary shooting style for a female character, the show had many tight and long pans of her body, reinforcing the concept of the male gaze (p23, Heinecken). In her battle garb and normal dress then, Xena was fit into the almost inescapable sexual stereotype of a woman, misleading the audience into thinking her character and the show is just another reenactment of the a male fantasy.

In that sense then, Xena: Warrior Princess, truly is a male-driven “fantasy.” However the fantasy is thinking  Xena is just another female stereotype. In truth, Xena was able to break all the previous molds and ideas of the female hero. No other heroine on the same level as her has been created since either. A large part of uniqueness that was Xena, which allowed her to achieve such high levels of success, is her duality. She is the product of countless binaries, starting with but not limited to her title, the name of the show: warrior princess. While “princess” advocates the sexual stereotype of women, “warrior” illustrates the masculine counterpart. This is further illustrated in her wardrobe. While she wears a very skimpy outfit that otherwise could be construed as solely sexually provocative— a concept to be expected of in female representations, the aura of danger her obvious armor oozes is just as undeniable. It solidifies her image as a warrior. Although Xena possesses the physical stature of a classic male hero, close to six feet in height and sinewy build, she wears the face of the stereotypical female: white and strikingly beautiful. The aforementioned examples may seem to only reaffirm Xena’s status as a male fantasy; however factor in the contradictions, and a reinterpretation by the audience transforms her into a role model.

It has already been established how Xena is easily the objectified female body. But it is not her physical attributes that make her the post feminist woman who has harnessed the her sexual properties to invert into female power. Xena is the epitome of the modern woman in her character and ideals. Her status as an equal of the classic male hero is achieved through her principles (p61, Owen). She sees herself as an equal to man. Just as she would expect nothing less of herself, she will not allow any man to see her as anything less either. This is clearly depicted in all her relationships with males. This is exemplified best in her first real relationship; her relationship with Julius Caesar, as depicted in the series changed her forever. Her biggest mistake with Caesar was trusting him and believing that he saw her as she saw herself, the self reliant, independent woman worthy of him because she was his equal. Caesar, however, saw her as the stereotypical female. Borias, whom she had a relationship with for years saw her as his equal, and in many cases her inability to trust after Caesar, often placed her in command over Borias. This attitude is what makes Xena the role model figure. She has an inherent confidence and unshakeable belief in her abilities. This confidence is translated into immense sexual power. She is comfortable in her body. It is the female acceptance of the objectifying male gaze that diminishes the female stature. If a woman, like Xena, does not see herself as strictly the object of the male gaze, then the sexual powers are exploited. Xena understands her sexual attraction, but her sense of self is not tied to it. So she is able to use this attraction as she wishes, to lure and distract men.

Female hero characters before Xena always had a dominant male figure in their lives, from Diana to Sheena to Buffy. And these normally powerful women would bow to their male counterpart. In the presence of the male, they were subservient in an attempt to maintain their femininity. Xena, on the other hand did not need a male character to reaffirm her femininity. Her masculine identity and heroic feats are not the result of purposeful attempts to achieve a male image, but merely products of circumstance and environment. Therefore, Xena has never lost her own femininity. Only in battle does she become the male stereotype because it is needed of her. In other circumstances such as her compassion for people and the deep caring she has for her friend Gabrielle reasserts her feminine traits (p56, Shugart). She does not go out looking to be a hero or save the world. In most circumstance, she wishes she did not need to have to fight or take up the mantle of the hero, evident in her exasperation when warlords or thugs challenge her. In every situation she finds herself thrown into, she is able to find a solution on her own (p69, Inness). She never expects someone else to come to her rescue much less a man. This self reliant nature and streak of independence is what defines her “manhood” and makes her a role model as opposed to simply a male-driven fantasy. To be objectified by the male gaze, the female has to also see herself the way the male sees her. Xena, however, does not see herself as such, thereby creating the role model. It is not a specific trait associated with masculinity such as her fighting skills that inspire emulation but her independence and confidence.

This role model stature is often reassured not by stressing her masculine characteristics but by the lack of manhood traits in the male characters around her (p77, Shugart).  Joxer is a loyal friend but completely not self-sufficient; he is often dependent upon Xena or Gabrielle to save him. Salmoneus displays traits normally associated with the female, such as vanity and timidity. Xena provides the role model of the woman who has the strength of character and traits associated with manhood yet in retaining her femininity and at times purposefully exuding her sexuality, she proves the point that women do not have to be subject to their sexuality. In congruence with strength of character, the sexuality can be a powerful tool. More than once Xena is able to lure the men in with her sexuality, especially Ares. As opposed to her sexuality making her subject to the males, Xena’s sexuality made the males subject to her. Thus this inner strength presents her as a role model that can be related to and understood by both genders. Her ability to invert the male gaze presents her as a woman admired not for any of gender related stereotypes, but for the spirit of individuality and strength of conviction that she possesses. This spirit transcends gender and even race. Xena has become a powerful persona accessible by all.

Xena’s traits that allow her to be role model material stem from her intellect, perseverance, and hard earned skills. Her obvious flaws and haunted past add to her believability and solidify her status. She spends her days trying to atone for her past mistakes. That she could easily make mistakes added to her desire to change and stay on the right path make her a genuine inspiration for the show’s audience. Unlike Wonder Woman or Buffy, she does not possess supernatural abilities. Every of her successes are a result of hard work, risk, and sacrifice.

These ideas transcend time and can apply to people and be a source of inspiration regardless of time past, further creating this character who began as only the product of the male driven gaze to join the ranks of the few female lead characters, but ends up as an archetype role model for both genders. Xena is far beyond the categories of male and female stereotypes. She is a role model for society and a byproduct of the post feminist movement. 

 

Heinecken, Dawn. The Warrior Women in Television. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2003.

Inness, Sherrie A.  Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: University of

Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Owen Susan, Sarah R. Stein, and Leah R. Vande Berg. Bad Girls: Cultural Politics and Media Representations of

Transgressive Women. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007.

Shugart, Helene A. and Catherine Egley Waggoner. Making Camp: Rhetorics of Transgression in U.S. Popular Culture.

Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2008.

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