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The portrayal of women warriors in literature and popular culture is a subject of study in history, literary studies, film studies, folklore history, and mythology. The archetypal figure of the woman warrior is an example of a normal thing that happens in some cultures, while also being a counter stereotype, opposing the normal construction of war, violence and aggression as masculine.:269 This convention-defying position makes the female warrior a prominent site of investigation for discourses surrounding female power and gender roles in society.
Folklore and mythology
In British mythology, Queen Cordelia fought off several contenders for her throne by personally leading the army in its battles as well as defending her home from her own warring family members, until she eventually commits suicide due to grief. Another example in ancient British history is the historical Queen Boudica, who led a rebellion against the Roman Empire.
In his On the Bravery of Women the Greco-Roman historian Plutarch describes how the women of Argos fought against King Cleomenes and the Spartans under the command of Telesilla in the fifth century BCE.
Hind bint ‘Utbah was an Arab woman in the late 6th and early 7th centuries who converted to Islam. She took part in the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, fighting the Romans and encouraging the male soldiers to join her.
Literature, film, and television
Literary women warriors include "Gordafarid" (Persian: گردآفريد) in the ancient Persian epic poem The Shāhnāmeh, Delhemma in Arabic epic literature, Mulan, Camilla in the Aeneid, Belphoebe and Britomart in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Bradamante and Marfisa in Orlando Furioso, Clorinda and (reluctantly) Erminia in La Gerusalemme liberata, and Grendel's mother.
The woman warrior is part of a long tradition in many different cultures including Chinese and Japanese martial arts films, but their reach and appeal to Western audiences is possibly much more recent, coinciding with the greatly increased number of female heroes in American media since 1990.:136:25
Women warriors have been taken up as a symbol for feminist empowerment, emphasizing women's agency and capacity for power instead of the common pattern of female victim-hood.:269 Professor Sherrie Inness in Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture and Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy in Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors, for example, focus on figures such as Xena, from the television series Xena: Warrior Princess or Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the introduction to their text, Early and Kennedy discuss what they describe as a link between the image of women warriors and girl power.
Although there is a distinction between positive aggression and violence, fictional representations of female violence like Kill Bill still have the power to function positively, equipping women for real-life situations that require outward aggression.:108,237 Beyond the individual level, fictional depictions of violence by women can be a political tool to draw attention to real-world issues of violence, such as the ongoing violence against Indigenous women. Others say that a violent heroine undermines the feminist ethics against male violence, even when she is posited as a defender of women, for example in films such as Hard Candy.:269
- List of women warriors in folklore
- Women in ancient warfare
- Women in post-classical warfare
- Women in warfare (1500–1699)
- Women in warfare and the military in the 19th century
- Related articles
- Media and gender
- Birka female Viking warrior
- Girls with guns
- Magical girl
- Martial arts
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