Women warriors in literature and culture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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.[1]: 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[edit]

Medieval women helping to defend the city from attack.

The Amazons were an entire tribe of woman warriors in Greek legend. The earliest known recording of the Amazons can be found in Homer's epic poem the Iliad, in which Homer described them as Amazon antianeirai, a term with multiple translations including "the equal of men."[2] "Amazon" has become an eponym for woman warriors and athletes in both modern and ancient society.

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.[3][4]

Indian folklore[edit]

Accounts of martial women were included in the Ramayana (ca. 500 BCE) and Mahabharata (ca. 400 BCE) In Hindu mythology, Chitrāngadā, wife of Arjuna, was the commander of her father's armies. Satyabhama was a warrior wife of the god Krishna who led an army against Narakasura; she was an archer and expert in wartime tactics. Shikhandini was a princess who learned "archery, martial arts, war-techniques" and fought to avenge herself for past wrongs in another life; she eventually became a man (through supernatural intervention). Kaikeyi was the wife of a king who drove his chariot in battle and saved his life.[5]

Other examples of warrior women in India may be seen in sculpture.


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.[6]

Khawlah bint al-Azwar was a prominent woman Muslim warrior in the 7th century, leading battles in what are today Syria, Jordan and Palestine.[7]

Ghazala the Kharijite was also a commander in battle, making famous generals like al-Hajjaj flee. Her courage was extolled in poems.

Joan of Arc was a warrior in the 15th century and considered a heroine in France for her role in the Hundred Years' War. Joan of Arc alleged that she had a connection to the saints of her church and that they communicated with her to tell her to join the war effort of the French in 1429. Her effort in the battle of Orléans in May 1429 contributed to the retreat of the English from the city.[8] She was later canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. In modern popular culture, Joan of Arc has been depicted many times, including in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928 film), a silent historical film from Danish director Carl TH. Dreyer.[9] The film depicts the real trial of Joan of Arc leading up to her execution.

Folk and fairy tales[edit]

In one Chinese legend recorded by Gan Bao, a girl named Li Ji slays a serpent who devoured many maidens in her village (Li Ji Slays the Giant Serpent or Li Chi Slays the Serpent).[10][11][12][13][14]

The narrative of the woman warrior sometimes involves the motif of crossdressing or disguising herself as a man or a male soldier. These stories belong to the cycle of La Doncella Guerrera, or The Warrior Maiden.[15] One popular instance of this is the legendary heroine Hua Mulan of Chinese history. Mulan's earliest records date back to the time of China's Northern and Southern Dynasties era (4th to 6th century AD).[16] In the ballad, Mulan disguises herself as a man and takes her father's place in war to protect him. Since it was first written, the original story has been retold many times by different authors.[17] Hua Mulan was further popularized, especially in the United States, through Disney's 1998 feature film Mulan.[18]

18th century depiction of Mulan.

In many cases, the disguised maiden enters the service of a king and discovers the queen's infidelity. The queen is punished and the king marries the warrior maiden.[19] One example is A afilhada de São Pedro ("St. Peter's Goddaughter"), a Portuguese folktale collected by Consiglieri Pedroso.[20] These stories are classified in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index index as ATU 513, "The Extraordinary Companions" and subtypes, and ATU 514, "The Shift of Sex".[21]

Other fairy tales include:

Literature, film, and television[edit]

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.[26]: 136 [27]: 25  Films have brought women warriors to the silver screen, such as such as in King Arthur (2004 film), in which Kiera Knightly plays heroine Guinevere, originally the love interest of King Arthur. In this iteration, Guinevere is portrayed as a warrior of equal strength as her male counterparts.[28]

Women warriors have also grown in recent years in part due to the popularity of comics and franchises inspired by them, most notably films by Marvel Studios and films within the DC Extended Universe. Characters such as Captain Marvel, Wasp, Black Widow, and, more recently, Jane Foster, a female iteration of the hero Thor, originally were superheroes in popular Marvel comic series, as well as others.[29] These heroines have since been portrayed in films helmed by Marvel Studios and are a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In feminism[edit]

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.[1]: 269  Professor Sherrie Inness in Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture[30] and Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy in Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors,[31] 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.[32]


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.[33]: 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.[34] 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.[1]: 269  The 2020 film Promising Young Woman also explores the idea of a warrior woman railing against deadly sexual inequity, using either passive or active violence in order to restore some sense of justice to a world skewed towards sympathy for sexually violent men. Often, the violence is only implicit, or threatened, and exists in juxtaposition to the film's pastel colour palette and stereotypically feminine aesthetic.

See also[edit]

Related articles


  1. ^ a b c Stringer, Rebecca (2011). "From Victim to Vigilante: Gender, Violence, and Revenge in The Brave One (2007) and Hard Candy (2005)". In Radner, Hilary; Stringer, Rebecca (eds.). Feminism at the Movies. New York: Routledge.
  2. ^ Foreman, Amanda. "The Amazon Women: Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth?". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2021-01-31.
  3. ^ "Plutarch • On the Bravery of Women — Sections I‑XV". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  4. ^ Plant, I.M. (2004). Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780806136219. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  5. ^ Rashmi Vajpayee. "Discovering the Forgotten Female Warriors of Mahabharata".
  6. ^ Azmy, Ahmed (7 March 2017). "Arab Women at War: Battles, Assassinations, and Army Leaders". Raseef22. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  7. ^ "15 Important Muslim Women in History". Islamophobia Today. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Joan of Arc | Biography, Death, Accomplishments, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  9. ^ "The Passion of Joan of Arc". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  10. ^ Gan Bao. In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record, translated into English by Kenneth J. DeWoskin and James Irving Crump. Stanford University Press, 1996. pp. 230-231. ISBN 0-8047-2506-3
  11. ^ Maeth Ch., Russell. “El Cuento De Li Ji.” Estudios De Asia y Africa, vol. 25, no. 3 (83), 1990, pp. 537–539. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40312235. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.
  12. ^ Journey of a Goddess: Chen Jinggu Subdues the Snake Demon. Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Fan Pen Li Chen. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. 2017. p. 31. ISBN 978-14384-6-7078
  13. ^ Idema, Wilt L. Personal Salvation and Filial Piety: Two Precious Scroll Narratives of Guanyin and Her Acolytes. University of Hawai'i Press. 2008. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-8248-3215-5
  14. ^ He, Saihanjula. "Critical Fantasies: Structure of Chinese Folk Tales" (2000). Masters Theses. 1609. [1]
  15. ^ Delpech, François. "Essai d'identification d'un type de conte. Première partie. Le sauvage et la fille travestie". In: Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, tome 20, 1984. p. 298 (footnote fr. 29). [DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/casa.1984.2419]; www.persee.fr/doc/casa_0076-230x_1984_num_20_1_2419
  16. ^ "'The Ballad of Mulan': A Rhyming Translation". Society of Classical Poets. 2018-09-23. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  17. ^ Kwa, Shiamin; Idema, Wilt L. (2010-08-13). Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts. Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated. ISBN 978-1-60384-871-8.
  18. ^ "Mulan: the history of the Chinese legend behind the film". HistoryExtra. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  19. ^ Delpech, François. "Essai d'identification d'un type de conte. Deuxième partie: Antoine, la princesse muette et l'amour médecin". In: Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, tome 21, 1985. pp. 255-280. [DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/casa.1985.2446]; www.persee.fr/doc/casa_0076-230x_1985_num_21_1_2446
  20. ^ Pedroso, Consiglieri. Portuguese folk-tales. London: E. Stock. 1882. pp. 53-59.
  21. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. pp. 53-55. ISBN 978-0520035379
  22. ^ Ralston, William Ralston Shedden. Russian fairy tales: a choice collection of Muscovite folk-lore. New York: Pollard & Moss. 1887. p. 108.
  23. ^ Hooker, Jessica (1990). "The Hen Who Sang: Swordbearing Women in Eastern European Fairytales". In: Folklore 101:2, 180. DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.1990.9715792
  24. ^ Johns, Andreas. Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale. New York: Peter Lang. 2010 [2004]. pp. 144—145. ISBN 978-0-8204-6769-6
  25. ^ Bierhorst, John. "Myths and Folktales in Latin America". In: The Fairy Tale World. ed. Andrew Teverson. Abingdon: Routledge. 2019. Accessed 04 dez 2020. Routledge Handbooks Online.
  26. ^ Dawn, Heinecken (2003). The Warrior Women of Television: A Feminist Cultural Analysis of the Female Body in Popular Media. New York: Peter Lang.
  27. ^ Tasker, Yvonne (1993). Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema. New York: Routledge.
  28. ^ "Women Warriors Are the Rage in Hollywood--But What Was the Truth? | History News Network". historynewsnetwork.org. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  29. ^ "Avenging Women | Avengers | Marvel Comic Reading Lists". Marvel Entertainment. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  30. ^ Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture
  31. ^ Athena’s Daughters: Television’s New Women Warriors
  32. ^ Book review
  33. ^ Lavin, Maud (2010). Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women. London: MIT.
  34. ^ Verstraten, Katelyn (22 June 2013). "For Indigenous Women, Radical Art as a Last Resort". The Tyee. Retrieved 1 November 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alvarez, Maria. "Feminist icon in a catsuit (female lead character Emma Peel in defunct 1960s UK TV series The Avengers)", New Statesman, 14 August 1998.
  • Au, Wagner James. "Supercop as Woman Warrior." Salon.com.
  • Barr, Marleen S. Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.
  • Clayton, Sally Pomme. "The woman Warrior: fact or tale". In: ELO N. 07-08 (2001-2002). http://hdl.handle.net/10400.1/1440
  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines. New York: Warner Books, 2001.
  • Decoste, Mary-Michelle. "Warrior Woman/Lovely Lady." In Hopeless Love: Boiardo, Ariosto, and Narratives of Queer Female Desire, 23–36. University of Toronto Press, 2009. Accessed June 28, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442697447.5.
  • Delpech, François. Pilosités héroïques et femmes travesties : archéologie d'un stratagème. In: Bulletin Hispanique, tome 100, n°1, 1998. pp. 131–164. [DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/hispa.1998.4963] ; www.persee.fr/doc/hispa_0007-4640_1998_num_100_1_4963
  • Deuber-Mankowsky, Astrid and Dominic J. Bonfiglio (Translator). Lara Croft: Cyber Heroine. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2005.
  • Dugaw, Dianne M. "Structural Analysis of the Female Warrior Ballads: The Landscape of a World Turned Upside down." Journal of Folklore Research 23, no. 1 (1986): 23–42. Accessed June 28, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/3814479.
  • Early, Frances and Kathleen Kennedy, Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors, Syracuse University Press, 2003.
  • Garner, Jack. "Strong women can be heroes, too." Democrat and Chronicle. 15 June 2001.
  • Greenhill, Pauline. ""Neither a Man nor a Maid": Sexualities and Gendered Meanings in Cross-Dressing Ballads." The Journal of American Folklore 108, no. 428 (1995): 156-77. Accessed June 28, 2020. doi:10.2307/541377.
  • Heinecken, Dawn. Warrior Women of Television: A Feminist Cultural Analysis of the New Female Body in Popular Media, New York: P. Lang, 2003.
  • Hopkins, Susan, Girl Heroes: the New Force in Popular Culture, Pluto Press Australia, 2002.
  • Infante, Joyce Rodrigues Ferraz. "REVISITANDO O TEMA DA DONZELA-GUERREIRA EM GRANDE SERTÃO: VEREDAS." In João Guimarães Rosa: Un Exiliado Del Lenguaje Común, edited by HERNÁNDEZ ASCENSIÓN RIVAS, 205–24. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad De Salamanca, 2017. Accessed June 27, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1z27gt1.14.
  • Inness, Sherrie A. (ed.) Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Inness, Sherrie A. Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
  • Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe. "Scream, Popular Culture, and Feminism's Third Wave: 'I'm Not My Mother'. Genders: Presenting Innovative Work in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences No. 38 (2003).
  • Karras, Irene. "The Third Wave's Final Girl: Buffy the Vampire Slayer." thirdspace 1:2 (March 2002).
  • Kennedy, Helen W. "Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo?: On the Limits of Textual Analysis". Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research. 2:2 (December, 2002).
  • Kim, L. S. "Making women warriors: a transnational reading of Asian female action heroes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. No. 48, Winter, 2006.
  • Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York: Vintage, 1975.
  • Magoulick, Mary. "Frustrating Female Heroism: Mixed Messages in Xena, Nikita, and Buffy." The Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 39 Issue 5 (October 2006).
  • Mainon, Dominique. The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women on Screen. Pompton Plains, N.J. : Limelight Editions, 2006.
  • McDougall, Sophia (August 15, 2013) "I hate Strong Female Characters ." The New Statesman. (Retrieved 8-24-13.)
  • Osgerby, Bill, Anna Gough-Yates, and Marianne Wells. Action TV: Tough-Guys, Smooth Operators and Foxy Chicks. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Prandi, Julie D. "Woman Warrior as Hero: Schiller's "Jungfrau Von Orleans" and Kleist's "Penthesilea"." Monatshefte 77, no. 4 (1985): 403-14. Accessed June 28, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30157578.
  • Raber, Karen L. "Warrior Women in the Plays of Cavendish and Killigrew." SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 40, no. 3 (2000): 413–33. Accessed June 28, 2020. doi:10.2307/1556254.
  • Rowland, Robin. "Warrior queens and blind critics." Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 31 July 2004.
  • Spicuzza, Mary. "Butt-Kicking Babes." AlterNet. 27 March 2001.
  • Stoppino, Eleonora. Genealogies of Fiction: Women Warriors and the Medieval Imagination in the "Orlando Furioso". New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. Accessed June 28, 2020. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1c5cj9t.
  • Tasker, Yvonne. Action and Adventure Cinema. New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Tasker, Yvonne.Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Culture. London: Routledge 1998
  • Tasker, Yvonne.Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre, and the Action Cinema. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • Trickey, Helyn. "Girls with Gauntlets." Turner Network Television.
  • Ventura, Michael. "Warrior Women." Psychology Today. Nov/Dec 1998. 31 (6).

External links[edit]