So somewhere around 1996, I started watching this TV show called Xena: Warrior Princess. To this I owe my fascination with ancient warfare, my love of travel to foreign places, my affinity for knee-high boots, and my first steps toward feminism.
Disclaimer: This is a subjective blog post. So when I say that Xena is the best thing ever to exist ever, you are free to disagree with me in any and all ways. Of course, you’d be wrong.
Xena: Warrior Princess: It started out as the poorer sister show to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys after the character’s brief but memorable appearance on that show. It aired on the Sci-Fi Channel from 1995 through 2001, and featured two female protagonists – an ex-murderous warlord and her young innocent sidekick – as they went up against Greek Gods, mythical monsters, and the Warlord of the Week. A cult favorite, it is upheld by feminists, lesbians, and other people with brains as one of the best shows for women in television history.
Xena’s Biography: Xena was born in Amphipolis. A nutsack named Cortese attacked her village, and she got everyone to fight back rather than surrender. Her younger brother Lyceus died, as did many other men from the village. She decided it would be a good idea to have a standing army for protection, then to take the surrounding towns as a buffer for if Cortese came back. It was the beginning of a long, slow slide. Ten years down the line, with bitter betrayal, a secret child, and a lot of death under her belt, she was a rampaging psycho warlord who refused to kill women and children, but definitely killed everybody else. Then she plots to kill Hercules, who is a little out of even her league, and he Turns Her Good. She meets her soon-to-be best friend and sidekick Gabrielle, and they go on to do many kickass things, traipsing across the land to Help People. If she had not been turned from her evil ways, it’s suggested she would have become known as the Conqueror, and made the world her domain.
My Xena Obsession and Its Effect on My Young Life: When I first get into something, I get into it really, really hardcore. Xena was my biggest obsession back then, just ahead of Kerri Strug’s performance as a gymnast in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Mr. Rogers, and Barney.
I remember being very young and curling up on the bed with my grandparents and my mother to watch Xena and Hercules every week. I used to run around the house asking them questions like, “WHO WOULD YOU RATER KISS, XENA OR HERCULES?” And getting a lot of answers like, “Um.” And also, “What?” About a week later we ended up seeing the Xena Trilogy where, lo and behold, Xena and Hercules kissed each other. My head exploded.
I forget if I found Xena or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys first. I know that I was not much older than six years old and Hercules’s (and Iolaus’s, and Ares’) male – and therefore cootie-ridden – nature would have left me highly suspicious of him. I got over that with age. Still, all the men in both shows lost brownie points when they tried to make a move on Xena. To be completely honest, there weren’t a lot of men with brownie points left.
We didn’t have a TV after we moved from Massachusetts to New York, so we made regular visits to my grandparents’ apartment where all sat on the couch to watch that week’s episode. It was just What Was Done. I had the CD soundtracks, the episode guides, the magazines. I knew all the songs to the animated movie, Battle for Mount Olympus. I had the posters, one of which now still hangs on my door. I have not once through the waxing and waning of my interest in the show even thought about removing it.
But mostly, I wanted to be Xena. In Elementary School, my mother sewed me a pleather Xena costume for Halloween, which we recently revamped for my trip to New York Comic Con. When I turned nine, and I showed up to 3rd Grade with a signed permission slip, asking the teacher that I be allowed to be called ‘Xena’ in class.
Looking back at the entirety of my obsession with an adult (sort of) gaze, I have come to realize a few things. The first being that I now finally understand where my love of ancient battle tactics, straight dark hair, tall boots, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel, and badass female characters comes from. It was fed by other things, like my mother’s own badassery and all the cross-countries hiking in Lord of the Rings and my grandmother’s history expertise, but Xena was where that shit started.
Thank fuck for it, because I would not have grown up any other way.
Xena, Gender in Action Movies, and Character Development: "I’m looking for my best friend, maybe you’ve seen her? Six foot tall, dark hair, lots of leather, fights like the Harpies in a bad mood." – Gabrielle, on Xena.
People often cite Xena as an inspiration for being a noteworthy female action star.
It’s true, but I don't give two shits. People have been giving weapons to scantily-clad hot chicks in books and film for ages. You can stick a weapon in just about any actress’s hand and expect it to ~look cool. Charlie’s Angels had ninja levels of butt-kicking skill, but I never felt they particularly inspired me to pick up my own weapon and go charging into the sunset. (If they did so you, that’s all well and good, obviously.)
I think the main problem is that while artificial physical prowess is the first and easiest way to judge badassery, being able to kick ass does not make a character a kickass. It certainly does not make them three-dimensional. This could be a failing (or simply a characteristic) of the action industry in general - no one watches Shoot-‘Em-Up-Number Bazillion for the lead’s ability to be simultaneously badass and intelligent, and I don’t ever want to suggest female characters should be held to a higher standard simply because they are female.
But male leads in straight-up action movies are cast for their ability to sell the action scenes, and those in critically-acclaimed action/thrillers are cast to sell both the action and the emotional roller-coaster, granting them enough legitimacy to attain legendary Hollywood status.
I don’t think that every possible idea for a character needs to have a female counterpart simply for the virtue of their being female. I don’t think that a show with a male lead can’t be amazing, or feminist, or in promotion of equality. But there is a discrepancy between the amount of women in the industry and the parts that they are given.
Certainly, from the written-to-be-male militaristic role of Ripley in Alien to the much-debated interpretation of Irene Adler as a dominatrix in BBC Sherlock – both of which I consider to be superbly inspiring roles at the opposite ends of the spectrum – there are many powerful female characters that have been played with believability, legitimacy, ass-kicking supremacy, and brilliance. But all in all, the number of women that have received the same treatment is sadly lacking.
For every Natasha Romanoff and Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace and Aeryn Sun? Every Laura Roslin and women of Game of Thrones? Every Eowyn and Major General Armstrong?
There is a dozen Jason Bournes and Himuro Kenshins, Doctor Whos, Captain Jacks (Sparrow, Harkness, etc), Sasukes, Gaaras, Aragorns, Neal Caffreys, Bruce Waynes, Tony Starks, Winchester brothers, Eamses and Arthurs, Captain Kirks, Cho Hakkais, Sirius Blacks, Spencer Reids, Michael Scolfields, Edward Elrics, V for Vendettas and Number Sixes. James Bonds, sauntering about in suits looking suave as fuck, picking up girls right and left. Sherlock Holmeses and Gregory Houses, representing crazy, grumpy, messed-up genius. Dexter Morgans, sociopathic and psychopathic serial killers ‘on the side of good.’
They are fully fleshed out characters with angsty feels about dark pasts, and plenty of kickass skills to show for it. They get manpain, they have ex-lovers, they have guilt and anguish and determination and really, really, can just fucking kill you.
And I adore them for it. Seriously, I do. I love my angsty boys with dark pasts. Just check out my Saiyuki obsession. And my everything else obsession, to be honest.
But can we even conceive of a female Dexter? A female Doctor? A female Corleone or Winchester? A female Holmes?
I love every companion in Doctor Who, I love Marie in Bourne Identity, I love Debra in Dexter, I love – LOVE – Sara in Prison Break, not to mention Hermione and Mrs. Weasley and Tonks in Harry Potter – all shining examples of strong women in intellect and character building as well as action capacity - but all of them played second fiddle. Trinity was a kickass lady in The Matrix, but Neo was in the spotlight. Wanted had a badass Angeline Jolie, but James McAvoy was still the lead. (This is not a comment against James McAvoy. I love James McAvoy.) And when Jolie went on to make her own superspy movie, its failure to break box office records was used as ‘proof’ that a female action hero was 1) unconvincing, 2) unmarketable, and 3) not what the public wanted. It was used again in discussions of making a Black Widow movie – which Scarlett Johansson has been pushing – in saying that it would be unsuccessful.
Xena poos on all of these ideas, and puts them in the same garbage bin from which M. Night Shaymalan took the ridiculous platitude that he ‘could not find a marketable young Asian male actor’ to play the lead in The Last Airbender.
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.
- Xena: Warrior Princess – Role Model for the Ages
Xena, in short, got the kind of backstory and character development that is usually only given to men.
Xena as a Character: “Mother, I am a lunatic with lethal combat skills." - Xena [temporarily crazed] to Cyrene
See, watching things like Avengers and Kamikaze Girls and discussing the various attributes of badass females in film and television, I sort of forgot about Xena. I mean she was there, obviously, the poster hanging on my door staring at me, but I forgot how awesome she was until I began to rewatch the series. Then I realized, oh, the character I’ve been searching for this entire time already exists, oop.
[On episodes where Xena is forced to act ‘feminine’ to maintain a cover story.]
Overall, the masquerades in Xena convey a sense of ironic distance from gender stereotypes. Xena is not a feminist text because it portrays a female character with traditionally masculine characteristics. As Pamela Robertson notes in Guilty Pleasures, it is not enough to simply reverse sexual roles or to produce positive, empowered images of women. The credibility of traditional images has to be undermined. Moments in the text where femininity is reenacted underscore femininity as construction rather than essence. In the more specific case of the beauty pageant parodied in Xena, we are shown the absurdity of women's status as spectacle. Mimicry and parody become politicized textual strategies. It is in this sense that we may regard Xena as a feminist text, one that enables viewers to perceive the artifice of both masculinity and femininity.
- Xena: Warrior Princess as Feminist Camp
The Angsty Past: Xena’s main source of angst comes from her Dark Past as a warlord, during which time she basically killed a shitload of innocent people. She carries the burden of it all on her shoulders every day, and doesn’t believe she deserves or can ever earn forgiveness, but will spend the rest of her life trying. She wants to live, and though she’d die for the right cause, she wants to remember her mistakes rather than die for them.
Xena has consciously chosen goodness over her evil side and struggles with it daily, in her awareness of her ability to exploit and intimidate others, bonding with her audience as she shows this humanity.
- The Female Hero, Duality of Gender, and Postmodern Feminism in Xena: Warrior Princess
The Evil and Crazy: There’s a lot more to her than just the seductress we first meet in Hercules, who wants to kill the world’s biggest hero so that her army will be unstoppable. She started as an unscrupulous pirate maintaining an army for the sake of protecting her hometown. Mostly as the result of a vicious betrayal and harsh loss, crippled and barely able to walk, she became wild-eyed, vicious, and cruel, determined to conquer the world – partly for the power, and partly just because she loved a good kill. She was arguably insane, burning villages and kidnapping children, choking men to death for the sheer fun of it, and more animal that human. She’d come a damn long way by the time we met her. She still has moments of slipping, doubting, wavering back into these tendencies. She is clearly a woman used to command. She seems to revel in a good fight, and the part of her that laughed while slitting throats and screaming, “Kill ‘em all!” will probably never be entirely gone.
The Deadpan: The Xena we see on an average day is monotone, serious, and low-voiced. This is mostly because she is Olympics-grade unimpressed, but also probably because all of the batshittery I mentioned above is still there, hovering just beneath the surface.
The Butch: Xena can be butch as fuck. At times she’s downright masculine, gruffly uncomfortable with praise from Gabrielle, impatiently brushing away tears, angry at herself for moments of weakness, reluctant to be sentimental. In The Path Not Taken we see her walk into a tavern and, being beset by unwelcome figures groping and leering in her direction, casually punches her way through the crowd, breathing fire in their faces before sprawling her six-foot figure down in a chair and propping one leg, bloke-like, on the table before her. She’s proud. She’s nigh impossible to embarrass. She has many skills. She never screams, but has a hell of a battle cry, and occasionally uses her best friend’s scrolls for toilet paper.
The Commanding, Proud, and Feminine: Xena’s pride is the one quality that hasn’t changed much from the olden days. She’s calmer and less interested in conquering the world, but she knows what she’s good at (almost everthing), knows how she looks (awesome), and is still very, very used to being in command. She’s spent a lot of time giving orders and having them followed, and she’s still not the type to play second fiddle without good reason. Xena, on occasion, liked to deck herself out in plundered finery, recline like a queen, and have her every whim answered to. This was mostly her pre-series self, who enjoyed the grovelling of everyone around her. But while she may hate being made a spectical of, she still doesn’t much mind making a spectical of herself.
The Sensual: Xena sleeps with a lot of guys. Like, a lot. I would argue that after being continually screwed over by men she’d screwed, she realized it was a damn good entrapment technique and started to do the same herself. (See: Iolaus.) But more than that, I’m pretty sure she’s just a healthy woman who loves a good wild tumble in the hay, and doesn’t see things like modesty and shame as worthwhile or applicable to her – she’ll turn on the charm, or do considerably more than that, to get what she wants. Try groping her when she is busy not giving two fucks, though, and she’s more likely to plant a fist (or breathe fire) in the guy’s face than follow him into the bedroom.
The Loving: We see her at her most gentle with two people – her son Solan, and her best friend Gabrielle. The woman who enjoys being intimidating disappears somewhat, and we see her cradle her son in her arms or speak amiably, intimately with Gabrielle, smoothing her hair or running a finger along the shell of her ear.
The Funny: As much as she spends time looking less amused than Queen Victoria, possibly my favorite thing about Xena was that she was just genuinely, honestly kooky, with a sense of ridiculous adventure and dry wit hidden behind her monotone. She waded enthusiastically out into a muddy lake and went fishing for eel bare-handed, cackling and hissing over the water’s surface and then lobbing her finds at her best friend’s face. She whimpered like a baby when her horse was miffed at her. She could fake ‘airheaded and friendly’ better than Sherlock.
Xena and Her Guilt: “You see that look of fear and hatred on their faces? I used to want to see that – meant I was doing my job right.” – Xena, to Gabrielle
Xena is a woman with red in her ledger.
She finally begins to square that ledger in Dreamworker, accepting her dark past as an inescapable part of herself.
One of the things that always annoyed me about one of my favorite manga, Rurouni Kenshin, was the schism between Kenshin and Battousai. As exciting as that ‘tip over the edge’ type setup can be, living with your evil past has to ultimately be healthier than shoving it down to simmer beneath the surface, like a multiple personality you are trying to deny exists. I enjoy the acknowledgement that there will always be something broken and wrong, but that the person was the same person. Same with Cho Gonou and Cho Hakkai from Saiyuki - but then, Hakkai would never claim to be sane.
It’s not like Xena never struggles with guilt again - in The Reckoning, allowing herself to be tried for a murder she didn’t commit and then ultimately choosing to live. In Remember Nothing, where she sees It’s A Wonderful Life-style what the world would be like without her and accepts that her brother Lyceus died on his own terms fighting for a cause he believed in; and a dozen other times throughout the show. Forgiven, hardly one of the best episodes of Xena, ends with the characters being forgiven for and cleansed of their sins, and Xena refusing, clearly still believing she doesn’t deserve it.
Callisto, the now-insane survivor of one of Xena’s many slaughters, is in a sense the embodiment of this. She was created by Xena, the same way Xena was created by Cortese. So Xena feels guilty for making her the way she is, feels hypocritical for judging her when if stuck before a fair trial the scales would never wash clean of all the blood Xena has spilt. Xena herself could never logistically balance out the evil she has done with the good even if she continues to fight monsters and save the world for the rest of her life. And yet in one of their later encounters, Xena announces that she is done paying for Callisto’s crimes as well as her own – the blame for Callisto’s actions goes to Callisto alone.
Xena and Her Outfit: “As if your breasts aren’t dangerous enough. ” – Gabrielle, on Xena
Half the action heroines in existence have been portrayed as wearing sexy outfits. They are often ‘feminine’ versions of regular warrior’s garb, just tighter, shorter, and more boobtacular than their male counterparts. Women like Ellen Ripley and Kara Thrace are at the far end of the spectrum, similarly Eowyn and Mulan. But the opposite end of the costuming scale teeters dangerously atop Boris Vallejo territory before toppling right into the land of sword-bearing pin-up girls.
Xena: Warrior Princess had some ridic midriff-baring outfits. Behold, the Amazons! Also, Xena in her ‘Japanese’ metal bikini from the Episode That Never Happened. Also, Athena. And it’s pretty undeniable that Gabrielle’s outfits got smaller as the seasons went on (and Ngila Dickson left).
Still, I would like to draw your attention to this monstrosity Xena wore in the shamanistic ‘spirit world’ and in Siberia for multiple episodes, which I hated as a child but grudgingly enjoy now. Or the ragged furs she sported as an evil warlord in China.
Now, her usual outfits were a little skimpier. I won’t deny that part of this was undoubtedly born of such discussions as; ‘hey, let’s make her sexy’ and ‘hey, more boobs’ and ‘hot, make it hot!’ And I won’t deny that this makes me mad, and that the problem of female objectification is always a topic worthy of discussion. But just take a look back at Dreamworker for jokes about breast daggers and dangerous boobs - Xena has absolutely zero problem with using herself, her body, and her sex appeal to her own ends. She does it less as the series goes on, but hello, she was introduced to us in the Xena Trilogy as a seductress. She knows what effect an outfit can have, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. In short, she uses sexy to her advantage, and her outfit is part of that.
The female body is the object of fetishistic gaze. [Xena] 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.
- Xena: Warrior Princess – Role Model for the Ages
At least it’s not a massive double-standard, right? At least any and all times a scantily-clad warrior is shown charging into battle in naught more than some undies, fetish boots and a sexy cape, we are all able to come together and laugh at how that impractical image was clearly created for the gaze of the opposite (or any thusly attracted) gender. ….Right?
Is there a difference between accentuation (by males, for males) of male symbols of pride and strength in clothing and armor – and objectification (by males, for males) of female bodies and female sexiness in clothing and armor? Sure. But here are the types of comments I am sick of, not in their judgment of the pros and cons of various types of armor, but in their criticism of her costume as being styled for the purpose of sexiness and sexiness alone: ‘This outfit is entirely impractical.’ ‘She is showing too much skin.’ ‘She needs more armor.’ ‘Black leather and knee-high boots? FETISH WEAR,’ they say. ‘Boob-exaggerating chest-plate? TOTALLY RIDIC,’ they say.
Excuse you, but suck my dick, I say.
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.
- Xena: Warrior Princess – Role Model for the Ages
But here is Xena next to a handy-dandy image of a hoplite warrior. WHY ARE YOUR ARMS BARE, HOPLITE WARRIOR? TRYING TO SHOW OFF YOUR BICEPS? WHAT’S WITH THOSE LACE-UP SANDALS? DON’T WOMEN WEAR THOSE TO BE SEXY AT CLUBS?
Xena has the same basic size and shape of outfit (boobs not included), greaves, armbands, whatever, as male warriors of ‘her time’ theoretically did. She had FLAT soled boots with no heels, no wedges, no nothing but practical treads. So Xena doesn’t have a helmet, or a shield (let’s be honest, main characters rarely do) but this is a woman who can catch arrows and involves herself in skirmishes where speed and agility are more important than having lamellar sleeves.
Gladiatorial armor was showy and at times sparse covering at best; artwork shows ancient Egyptian infantry as sporting no armor at all; and the Celts, according to legend, ran into battle naked covered in blue paint. So get your judgment of my girl’s costume out of here.
Xena as a Lesbian Show (and the Fall and Rise of my Obsession): “No! You promise me - if something happens to me, you will not become a monster. There’s only one way to end the cycle of hatred…and it’s through love and forgiveness.” - Gabrielle, to Xena
More than anything, two things are particularly obvious to me now in a way they totally were not as a pre-pubescent:
1) Xena’s really hot.
2) Xena and Gabrielle are in a really obvious open romantic/sexual relationship.
Man, things really go over your head when you’re little.
See, when I was eight years old we moved, ending up nearer to my aunt and older cousin, both of whom I adored immensely and both of whom thought Xena was extremely stupid. Being little, I thought the worst offence was when my cousin drew armpit hair in my Xena coloring book.
Looking back, I now realize that the worst offense was their constant teasing about Xena being a lesbian show.
I was eleven years old at most. I responded with, “No it’s not!” because I didn’t really know anything about anything, but an accusation always means that the thing the accused is supposedly guilty of must be wrong, right? I lived in denial. I ignored the shit out of everything I saw, including Xena books in LGBT stores.
In retrospect, I also realize that that same cousin – who along with my aunt had gay friends, and stopped into random LGBT meetings to show her support – came home from her first year of university to declare there were too many lesbians on campus, including her roommate, which not only left her with not enough boys to hit on, but also made her uncomfortable.
Yeah, like I said. Sometimes when you look back, this shit is pretty clear.
At the time, it was awful, and it – along with, okay, a decline in writing quality, the writers’ attempt to make Gabrielle a ~true warrior, my developing self-confidence issues and the show’s eventual end – was responsible for the slow ebb of my enthusiasm for the show. I never saw the very last episode, mind and time going to other things.
(Which is fine. The last episode does not actually exist because I maintain that it never happened.)
And then this summer, a lovely friend and mutual fan gave me the Xena 10th Anniversary Box Set for my birthday. And I started watching it and fell in love all over again.
Because fuck you, Aunt, that’s why.
As an adult with long experience wearing slash goggles, writing yaoi, reading tinhat meta rants – yeah, wow, you don’t need any of that shit here because the subtext is sort of… text. Saiyuki is straighter than this. Naruto and Sasuke wearing matching necklaces with each others’ picture inside is straighter than this.
And it’s sort of awesome. They both have plenty of relationships with m en, mind. Especially in the first couple of seasons, it was ALL THE OLD LOVERS FOR XENA ALL THE TIME, and Gabrielle had ALL THE CRUSHES ON EVERYONE ALL THE TIME. I’m sure this was in part the writers and producers wanting to not only stick sexytimes into the show, but firmly establish that straight sexytimes had happened, and would continue to. But it’s each other they come back to and cherish.
Xena and Her Love Interests: "Us? There was never any us, Xena - only Rome. And I am Rome. Still, don’t think that what we had was meaningless. I’ll always remember it, and you’ll have a special place of honour… among my conquered." - Caesar, to Xena
Like I mentioned, Xena got around. (She also had daddy issues. Psychoanalyze away.) I think she had:
1) People she was taking advantage of, like Iolaus.
2) Bad boys she liked to tumble with while they partnered up, like Borias.
3) Bad boys she had UST with but strung along more than anything, like Draco.
4) Evil or unscrupulous men who had screwed her over by taking advantage of her trust and naiveté, like Caesar.
5) Random one-episode dudes that were maybe powerful fighters but beyond that made no sense for her to be into except for bad scripting, like Ulysses.
6) People she genuinely liked and maybe felt thankful toward, like Hercules.
7) Bad boys she actually liked, like Marcus.
Gurl had a bad track record. The only times it got annoying was when the word ‘love’ got thrown around waaaaaaaaay too soon or too often for a closed-off, snarly lady like Xena. Chariots of War was a little O RLY? And Ulysses made no sense at all. Marcus, her supposed ‘one true love,’ didn’t really come across as all that special even in comparison to Borias or Hercules.
I also like to think that she’s just a free-spirited woman who can appreciate a hotass without it being twu wuv.
She definitely had a thing for bad boys. I hesitate to phrase it this way, because it’s usually said in the context of a Bonnie and Clyde, ‘sweet innocent girl meets rebel dude and gets corrupted’ sort of way. Xena had a thing for bad boys in that she used to be bad and is still a badass, and sort of tended to go for people like herself that surrounded her – tough fighters, warlords, strong people.
As the series goes on, we see how she lost both naiveté and any remnants of herself that would have ever been happy to be subservient to a partner. Caesar took away the last of her innocence and her sanity for a while – something ‘grown-up’ Xena would never have fallen for, or wanted to. It’s interesting that in When Fates Collide – a slightly problematic episode for characterization especially when coupled with Hercules’s Armageddon Now I & II – we are shown that a Xena never betrayed by Caesar would have stayed with him. She would have been unhappy enough to be reluctant to have sex, but – meeker? More mild? More likely to clap at the recital of a love poem? – than ‘our’ Xena. (The last one I still find dubious.)
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.
- Xena: Warrior Princess – Role Model for the Ages
She says some interesting things about men and romance in general, even aside from her insistence to Gabrielle that the ‘strongest tree in the forest stands alone.’
“He looks like a gentle soul. That’s rare in a man.” She says this about Gabrielle’s fiancé, trying to convince her to stay with him. It could be her own experiences talking, some bitterness, some world-weariness… but then, Xena knows that she herself isn’t gentle at all.
Even more telling is her conversation with Draco. “[You look good] except for that ugly scar…. You picked the wrong woman to get rough with.”
“It never would have happened if you’d been more cooperative.”
In a world where her life is sword fights and inter-army warlord politics, and she can beat the tar out of almost everyone, that doesn’t necessarily mean something rape-ish. Rape, mentions of it, threats of it, are surprisingly few in Xena. Game of Thrones, it is not. I’m all for accurate portrayals of humanity and spreading awareness, but it’s also nice to not only have a somewhat ‘safe place’ for women on TV, and a TV show that doesn’t exploit sexual violence as a plot point, but also to have a protagonist that is so ridiculously badass that the threat of rape is pretty… not there.
Draco follows the previous with this line:
“I dreamt of being with you in love or against you in battle. You won’t give me the satisfaction of either, will you?”
Xena seems to get into a lot of love-hate relationships, or maybe sexual-attraction-kill-now-with-sword relationships. They mostly leave her on an even footing with her partners, except for two cases, one notable (Caesar) and one less so, which possibly can be hand-waived away as writer stupidity (similar to Ulysses). In A Fistful of Dinars we learn she was engaged to be married to some motherfucker (I forget his name, we’ll call him The Fiancé) who then sort of lost interest once he ‘conquered’ her and they both fucked off. She never trusted him again until he died saving Gabrielle and turned out not to be suck a schmuck after all. I don’t know what to do with that shit, other than point to a certain continuing naiveté in her young self – a willingness to join up with a man of power and blindness to his likeliness to betray her.
I honestly am not crazy about the idea that all her resistance to joining up to Ares’ or Draco’s ‘invincible team’ propositions, and imperviousness to flirtation in general, is a result of bitterness from past experience, rather than just logic and, you know, being totes happy by herself.
Ares – who I would love to have been Xena’s dad if they hadn’t so clearly had sexytimes at some point – is an awesome and complicated one. He gave her guidance, strength, blessing, favor – she gave him war and death, and it probably turned both of them on more than a little bit. He was scorned and furious when she gave up her evil ways, but there’s still an animal attraction between them that I really sort of like.
Then there is, of course, Gabrielle. Who she loves, lies to, is lied to by, and is betrayed by – but this time, you know, their destiny is written in the stars or some such, and they work through it.
Xena and Her Mystical Magical Baby: For the record, Xena had a son. This was a plotline I particularly liked – that she’d given birth to him back when she was still pretty evil, and had given him away to be raised in secret by someone else. Even back then, she’d known that the best thing she could do for him would be to get him away from her.
And then there was Another Baby, mostly because Lucy Lawless, the actress, was IRL pregnant.
And it became one of those Magical Impregnation Destiny Alien Baby tropes.
Shows – good shows, shows I like – seem to unfortunately do this all the time. Amy in Doctor Who, Kara and Sharon in Battlestar Galactica, Scully in X-Files, etcetera. A woman gets pregnant, and it has to be a magical impregnation that is either the evil plot of aliens or secretly spells the doom of all mankind.
Xena’s second child, a daughter named Eve (later Livia, but I pretend Livia never existed because she definitely couldn’t act), was exactly this – a vaguely Indian hippie-ish Jesus figure had magically impregnated her, and the baby was destined to bring death to all the Gods of Mount Olympus.
Why can’t chicks in film ever just get fucking knocked up once in a while? Can’t they just have a normal baby or even a normal accident and OH PREGGERS and that’s it?
Wombs being used as a plot device is beginning to annoy me.
Not to mention that Eli (hippie Indian Jesus) was mildly creepy, and the ‘immaculate conception’ idea – coupled with Eli’s Jesus-ish position in the show – enabled cracked out parallels to be drawn between Xena and the Virgin Mary.
(Did that make her baby Jesus? Did that mean Xena was impregnated by her own time-traveling offspring? THE HORRIFYING POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.)
The point being, why can’t Xena have been knocked up by Ares one of the times they went rolling around in the hay together? Why can’t the ever-friendly Aphrodite have decided to give the happy lesbian couple a gift in the form of a bun in the oven?
Xena’s Sexuality: "Does Xena ever think about settling down and getting married?" "No, she likes what I do." – Hower and Gabrielle, on Xena
As a person, she’s tangled with a few bad boys. As a warrior and warlord and schemer, she’s clearly not afraid to use her body to her advantage. We first see her seducing Iolaus to get to Hercules, while in the meantime making out with another one of her soldiers on the side, and then a few weeks later after she turns good, she gets down with Hercules, too.
From a writing perspective, again – straight sexytimes and a hot woman for the viewing audience. But from a character perspective – she just wasn’t a shrinking violet. She had sex with Borias on a horse, for God’s sake.
Gabrielle was more of a shrinking violet sexually, but had consummated her short marriage and developed multiple crushes on single-episode characters over the seasons.
Maybe Xena and Gabrielle were both bisexual. Maybe Xena was, in the words of Staceyann Chin, a ‘lesbian who LIKES to fuck men.’
Emotionally, the show is very open to the expression of a wide range of sentiment. Xena: Warrior Princess is as much of a show about dealing with the temperamental unrest of the lead character and her emotional interactions with Gabrielle as it is about action and adventure. There are also no judgments sexually about the characters. In Xena's past as a warlord, she often used sex as a method of controlling her army and in getting what she wanted, and she occasionally used her sexuality to gain an advantage over her opponent, yet she is still the hero, and still the admired one.
- XENA:WARRIOR PRINCESS THROUGH THE LENSES OF FEMINISM
Xena and the Conclusion to This Post: I sort of wish I had a spiritually enlightening TA-DA! Type ending for this post. I do not. So I’ll just have to say keep kicking ass, ladies.
For Further Reading : I particularly enjoy these episode recaps.
Women on television have always been defined through their interactions with men. There has never before been a woman on television that was a signified woman without a male signifier. However the creators of Xena: Warrior Princess have managed to break through this cultural paradigm to create the first woman-identified woman on television.
- XENA:WARRIOR PRINCESS THROUGH THE LENSES OF FEMINISM