Sexism and Warrior Women?


Susan J. Douglas argues that despite the recent surge of powerful female characters in fiction—she talked about Xena, La Femme Nikita, Dark Angel, Alias, Charlie’s Angels, and Lara Croft, that sexism still exists. Her premise is that:  a) These women are tough and can take care of themselves but  b) They’re still seen as sex objects and their primary virtue is beauty. 

While I agree that sexism, like every other ism, still exists and will probably always exist, I have never agreed with the feminist position on this issue, mainly, that female heroines are somehow degrading and holding women back from equality, and this book did nothing to change my mind. Real sexism deals with women’s rights to reproduce, attain health care coverage for contraception, and of course, get equal pay for equal work. But Susan J. Douglas’ can’t find it in her heart to champion this modern era of kick-butt females. 

Times have changed and sexism in the United States is no longer the status-quo. No longer are women in books and film relegated to damsels in distress. Certainly, the last 10,000 years has shed an unfavorable light on females in myth and history, and no doubt there are still plenty of backwards men who could use a good lesson in equality. But in the past century, women have moved up in the world, due in part to the enlarged roles of their fictional counterparts. In the world of fiction, there’s not a single role or attribute beyond a woman’s reach, and little girls the world over should be thankful for it.

In the chapter dedicated to this issue, “Warrior Women in Thongs,” Douglas admits to this new empowerment, but finds fault in that these heroines have to be sexy—or as she puts it, a size 0 with 34d breasts and showing lots of skin. For me, I do not see any bias in Xena. Just like her male counterpart, Hercules, Xena needs to be beautiful. This is human nature—design by evolution. It would be dishonest for men to pretend that they are not more interested in beautiful women. After all, it is hard coded into our DNA. While beauty standards differ widely between cultures and time periods (ala Rubenesques) beauty remains a universal selection process for breeding out, albeit subconsciously, genetic defects. The same standards apply for women who watch men. I have yet to see a balding actor play James Bond and I don’t think I shall ever see one. I have also never seen a fat Superman, a scrawny Batman, or any other unattractive male superhero. While women are typically less concerned with beauty, they all, on some level, are influenced by it. And yet, men do not cry foul that no unattractive men are chosen to play Bond. Traditionally, the fact that women are the fairer sex was viewed as part of a woman’s strength, not a hindrance. If Susan Douglas wishes to attack something, better to point the finger at the magazine and clothing industry for so narrowly defining what beauty is, whose chief consumer, incidentally, are women.   

When writing Thelana’s character, I thought a considerable deal about sexism. I made certain that she wasn’t the only character without clothes on, and I also made certain that Xandr never got a free pass in the beauty department. He is, in every way, her male counterpart. But I also wished to avoid 20th century beauty standards so commonly and narrowly imposed on women in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Maxim. Whenever I ask an artist to draw Thelana for me, I always instruct that she not be too thin or busty (one artist called her fat). I have noticed that recently, the very busty physique has gone out of fashion in some respects; consider how Neytiri might have looked if Avatar had been released in the eighties. 

So I hope that, should Ages of Aenya ever get published, I won’t get feminists mad at me for being a sexist. Certainly, my heroine enjoys leaving her clothes behind, but that is not a trait unique to her, and I have known many real world women that enjoy nudism just as much as men do. And if that aspect of her persona helps in some way to push book sales—well what can I say? That’s evolution. 

2 thoughts on “Sexism and Warrior Women?

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  1. Hey Nick, I agree with you in this one. It just so happens that my very first novel has a heroine in it, not a hero. Absolute absence of a hero. Apart from that, I must admit that most stories written in the first person by a female protagonist, tend to be more enjoyable, at least for me.


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