Whoosh! Issue Nine - June 1997

IAXS Research Project #150
By Suzanne Sheldon
Copyright © 1997 held by author
6829 words

Don't panic! Xena's just pretending to be in a beauty

Xena: Feminist Princess?


  • Amazons Who Came Before
  • The Birth of a Warrior Princess and a Hit TV Show
  • A Lucky Break
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Making It Up As They Go
  • From the Amphipolis Girl to the Warrior Princess
  • If You've Got It, Flaunt It
  • That's WARRIOR Princess to You
  • A Woman of Many Skills
  • The Power of Camp
  • Better Than Friends - But Not Quite Sisters
  • Doomed From the Beginning
  • Together Under the Stars
  • The Ratings Game
  • A Warrior For All Seasons



    [01] I still remember my first episode of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. I was sitting in my parents home during winter break of my sophomore year at the University of Washington. While channel surfing I happened upon the scene of a leather and armor-clad woman beating up a giant in order to save a blonde woman held in a cage. The scene was so unusual compared to the rest of shows on television that I paused to find out what exactly I was watching. I observed a warrior woman who defeated the odds and rescued her friend while making everything look easy. On top of that I was laughing hysterically. Here was the kind of woman that I wanted to see more of on television! Strong, intelligent, and independent, Xena was and is a character that I could look up to as a role model. A mix of high caliber camp acting, goofy but surprisingly well done special effects and entertaining, intelligent scripts, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS hit a note with other viewers as well. While XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS appeals to different people for different reasons, I am particularly interested in the show's feminist aspects. In this paper I will be supporting the theory that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS promotes feminist themes and that Xena, the character, is a feminist icon.


    Amazons Who Came Before

    Emma Peel, the first female action hero on TV

    The lady who started it all,
    Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel

    [02] Sadly lacking throughout the history of television, strong female lead characters are rarely given the attention and credit that they deserve. It is not too difficult to understand the absence of Xena-like characters in American television when one looks at the patriarchal society that the shows stem from. However, despite society's seeming disdain for powerful women, a few characters managed to break through. Most of these characters could be found during the politically charged 1960's and 1970's in the shows THE AVENGERS (1961-1969), THE BIONIC WOMAN (1974- 1978) and WONDER WOMAN (1976-1979). From three different genres, each show ran for over four years and still has a cult following today.

    [03] In order to better understand XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS' place in American television history, proper respect must be paid to the female television action heroes, the television Amazons, that paved the way for XENA's existence. From the popular action show THE AVENGERS, Emma Peel was the first female television action hero. Although originally a British production, THE AVENGERS did make the trip across the Atlantic to hit American televisions in 1966 with the show's fourth season - the first season with Emma Peel. The partner of the popular character John Steed, Emma Peel (named so for the idea of M Appeal - M for Man) could be relied upon to be an active member of the duo who could use her brains and body just as well as her male counterpart.

    Her alter ego now shills cars

    Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers

    [04] Like Emma Peel, Jaime Sommers was a female character who participated in the action of a show instead of standing by like so many of the other women on television. First appearing on an episode of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN in 1975, Jaime Sommers was such a hit with viewers that the producers ended up reviving the character from the dead to create a spin-off: THE BIONIC WOMAN. Unlike Emma Peel, Jaime Sommers was the sole focus of her show's story lines and had actual super powers, hence the Bionic part of the show's title. Again, Jaime Sommers was a huge hit with television watchers and THE BIONIC WOMAN proved that a woman could hold her own in the action genre.

    What a costume! Frighteningly reminiscent of what LL wore to
the hockey game

    Linda Carter as Wonder Wonder

    [05] About the same time Jaime Sommers was leaping over small buildings in a single bound, WONDER WOMAN, played by Lynda Carter, found her own niche in television history. A show that underwent a number of alterations, including cast, network, and title changes, THE NEW ORIGINAL WONDER WOMAN managed to shock all the network executives with her popularity.

    [06] Of the three Amazons from 60's and 70's television, the character of Wonder Woman, also known as Diana Prince, is the most similar to Xena. Unlike Emma Peel and Jaime Sommers, Wonder Woman was consistently shown outwitting men, who were often shown as a bit dim-witted. Response to all three of these female action heroes was phenomenal, especially among female viewers.

    [07] Despite Emma Peel's, Jaime Sommer's, and Wonder Woman's popularity, during the post-feminist 80's and the feminist backlash, television lacked strong female characters, let alone female action heroes. This absence can be attributed to a number of reasons, one of which is not a lack of female viewer interest. As post-feminism emerged and society hit a new level of materialism, women were offered a new set of rules to follow. Popular magazines and newspapers began attributing the feminist activism of the 70's to single women's frustrations with a man shortage and reduced their concerns to man-bashing diatribes. Although women were still visible on television, all the female roles could be reduced to a few simple and worn out stereotypes. Women demonstrating this stereotype, like June Cleaver of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, Elyse Keaton of FAMILY TIES, and Clair Huxtable of THE COSBY SHOW, became a popular theme. Mothers, daughters, or ditzy airhead characters were the only images of women for years between the end of THE BIONIC WOMAN and the birth of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

    The Birth of a Warrior Princess and a Hit TV Show

    [08] Like THE BIONIC WOMAN, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS has a male predecessor. HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS began as a series of two-hour long made-for-television movies. Part of a new programming concept offered by MCA Distribution called The Action Pack, HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS was geared towards a testosterone-based audience. Different from the typical image of HERCULES as a thick-chested, thick-headed demi-god, Kevin Sorbo portrayed a kinder, gentler, smarter Hercules who had a brain and heart equal in size to his muscles. Being so far from the mainstream, few industry experts expected "would spark such interest when it debuted in January 1995." Xena first hit the airwaves on an episode of HERCULES titled THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (HTLJ, #09).

    [09] A number of stories revolve around the origins of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS the series. One such tale speculates that HERCULES' producers had already planned on spawning a Xena series from the beginning. Another popular story theorizes that the audience response to Xena's first appearance in HERCULES was overwhelming and a series was conceptualized after the airing of THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (#H09). However, the most likely scenario is a combination of two primary factors. First of all, Action Pack producers realized that the pairing of the HERCULES films with the modern day martial arts Action Pack series, VANISHING SON, was not quite working. Studio executives wanted a show that was more compatible with the hit HERCULES. Secondly, Robert Tapert, an executive producer of HERCULES, had long thought about creating a woman-centered action series. Combining the HERCULES/VANISHING SON mismatch, with Tapert's creative desires, and drawing from the popular , Xena was given her own series instead of the fiery death she was slated for in the HERCULES movies.

    [10] But the creation of the series is only part of its success. Catching "a wave, a need of some kind for a stronger female hero," XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS has proven to be a much needed relief from the typical male-centered action series.


    A Lucky Break

    I was there! screamed the editor of this article at the top
of her lungs

    on October 30, 1996

    [11] XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS must have been born under a lucky star. Created from an already popular show, XENA started out with strong potential. Many fans attribute their devotion to the show to the lead actor's, Lucy Lawless, portrayal of a mighty warrior princess. However, Lawless was not the original actor slated to play Xena and only received the part due to the original actor, Vanessa Angel, falling ill and five subsequent offerees declining the job. Perhaps the luckiest bit of chance, although arrived at out of a tragedy, was an accident on the set of Jay Leno's THE TONIGHT SHOW. While filming the third take of Lawless, as Xena, riding onto THE TONIGHT SHOW set, Lawless' horse slipped on the slick pavement and sent Lawless crashing to the ground. As a result of the accident Lawless fractured her pelvis in four areas and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS received a great deal of free publicity. Television audiences who would normally never have been exposed to Xena watched an agonized Lucy Lawless being loaded onto an ambulance during their nightly news. A carefully planned publicity stunt on THE TONIGHT SHOW ended up being one of the greatest accidental publicity stunts.

    Behind the Scenes

    [12] Created by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert of THE EVIL DEAD fame, and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS started out with a small band of fans who followed Raimi's and Tapert's work. Working together since the 1980's, Raimi and Tapert have produced sometimes surprisingly high quality projects including the action film TIMECOP. Other shared credits include THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY, and the DARKMAN movies. Raimi and Tapert also produce HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. Tapert produces and directs while Raimi writes and directs. Often working in a genre that commands less respect than serious dramas and situational comedies, Raimi and Tapert built a reputation of creating some of the most original, innovative, intriguing, and funny fantasy movies and television shows of the past two decades. HERCULES and XENA carry on Raimi and Tapert's devotion to witty dialogue and irreverent humor.

    Making It Up As They Go

    [13] Clearly, Raimi and Tapert's senses of humor have infiltrated XENA. A signature of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is its rather relaxed attitude towards historical accuracy. The show's ability to play with history stems from the freedom granted to works of the fantasy/ science fiction genre. Working within the fantasy genre offers producers, writers, actors, and special effects crew an incredible amount of artistic liberty because in every fantasy based show, a new little universe is created. Nothing in this universe, dubbed the Xenaverse by fans in the case of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, is real until dictated by its creators.

    [14] Some fantasy shows choose to place their stories on different planets, dimensions, or solar systems. In typical Raimi and Tapert style, the Xenaverse is set on a familiar earth where it just happens to be that "history is bunk." By blending actual historical figures, familiar mythological beings and totally original characters, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS hosts a diverse cast of characters ranging from Goliath to Bacchus, and Aphrodite to Autolycus, the self-proclaimed King of Thieves. In the Xenaverse, "plotlines don't so much careen across eras as commingle them, a milieu that's primeval, classical, medieval, and surfer dude all at once." Although this cornucopia of facts and fiction may sound confusing, strong writing manages to tie together a credible level of continuity between the show's story lines and actual history.

    [15] Though the lack of any firm historical setting enables writers to use their imagination and create fantastical scripts, the benefit of the genre to XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS as a feminist show is huge. Totally unrestrained by any social norms at all, Xena cannot be inhibited by any gendered expectations. In the Xenaverse, it seems perfectly plausible that a young woman can be the mightiest mortal warrior on earth. The mythical setting also makes it easier for the audience to accept Xena's strength and independence. Without a set of rules dictated by a specific historical period or a standard of female behavior, Xena's actions can be considered totally reasonable.

    [16] However, the Xenaverse is not filled with travelling Warrior Princesses. The land Xena lives in reflects many characteristics of today's American society. In order to take anything meaningful from the show, an audience must be able to relate at least some of the story to their own lives. It is a delicate balance between creating a totally unrealistic world and pandering too much to today's status quo. By walking that thin line, Xena ensures that in the real world, women can look to Xena's freedom for inspiration because her behavior often falls outside of the very real set of gender roles women are expected to adhere to. Instead of trapping Xena in a specific time, the crew behind XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS makes her a timeless character.

    From the Amphipolis Girl to the Warrior Princess

    hands of steel!

    Xena with her trusty chakram

    [17] In order to better understand Xena as a character one must know a bit of the character's personal history. The only daughter among three children, Xena, around the age of 16, saw her younger brother slaughtered by the warlord, Cortese, during an attack on her home village, Amphipolis. While most of her village fled to the hills, Xena chose to stand her ground and managed to rally a small group of people into running off the attackers. However, Xena did not stop there, and found herself building an army to defend her village. From there she moved to take over surrounding villages in order to create a buffer zone between her home and possible raiders. (DEATH MASK #23)

    [18] Soon losing site of her original intentions, Xena quickly became one of the most feared warlords of the land. In her drive for power, fame and riches, Xena plots to kill the mightiest man on earth - Hercules. Devising a plan to use Hercules' best friend Iolaus to get to Hercules, Xena seduces Iolaus and turns him (temporarily) against Hercules. However, her plan backfires when Hercules (literally) knocks some sense into Iolaus and the two then manage to fight off Xena and her army. (WARRIOR PRINCESS #H09)

    [19] Despite Xena's violent tendencies she never goes "over the edge" and refuses to kill women or children. With her defeat by Hercules, Xena loses some of her men's respect and they begin to make unauthorized raids on villages -- killing women and children along the way. When Xena discovers her army's dissension she tries to save the life of a single infant the murderous raiders missed. But her army finally turns on her, and Xena is brutally beaten before being driven into exile. (THE GAUNTLET #H12)

    [20] This single act of compassion changes Xena, and she begins to remember why she picked up a sword in the first place -- to protect those who were too afraid to protect themselves. After making amends with Hercules and Iolaus, and becoming Hercules' lover, Xena finds herself on a path towards redemption (UNCHAINED HEART #H13). During her travels she meets an energetic young woman, Gabrielle, who is in search of excitement, adventure, and an escape from a boring fiancee. Despite Xena's protests, Gabrielle follows and eventually befriends Xena (SINS OF THE PAST #01). Practicing to be a great bard, Gabrielle prefers talking over fighting and often serves to keep Xena's spirits up. Together the two travel the land in search of underdogs to help.


    If You've Got It, Flaunt It

    [21] From the red-blooded male fantasy of I DREAM OF JEANNIE to the typical chick on the beaches of BAYWATCH, women on television have a history of having their sexuality controlled by men. One of the cornerstones of patriarchy and the continuing oppression of women is men's control over women's sexuality and sexual expression. Many men admit to watching XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS simply because they enjoy watching the leather clad Lawless riding a horse. However, an analytical feminist eye might take a closer look at what the significance of Xena's costume is. Although designed to be reasonably functional (long skirts impede movement), Xena's sleeveless, short-skirted outfit is reminiscent of something out of an S&M catalog. In spite of its potentially alluring qualities, Xena's costume is worn and treated as an asset in battle. Totally unself- conscious and unconcerned about what others think of her appearance, Xena does not try to fit a form that women are supposed to fit into.

    [22] At the same time, Xena is unafraid to express her sexuality. Although she is selective about her lovers, Xena has had a number of intimate relationships with men. Although not totally dominant in these relationships, neither is she totally submissive. Instead, Xena's relationships with men seem to be built upon a system of gives and takes. Clearly, Xena does not enjoy any kind of relationship with someone who does not challenge her in some way. Furthermore, when Xena is interested in someone, she is unafraid to express herself. Seen as the aggressor occasionally and the submissor at other times, Xena knows and understands her body, its needs and wants, and welcomes them.

    [23] How different Xena's attitude is from women's perspective towards their bodies today. Socialized from the beginning of life to be shy and body conscious, girls grow up in America willing to physically damage themselves to look like a certain fashion model. Worse yet, girls and women hide from their sexuality as they were not encouraged to explore it as young men often are. And for those women who do find pleasure in exploring their sexuality? Society has a name for them too - whore.

    private pre-Mycenaean dance club

    Xena "undercover" as a dancer in CRADLE OF HOPE #04

    [24] Xena is also fully aware that her sexuality can affect others around her. At times Xena has been more then willing to exploit another's desire for her to get where or what she needs. One example of this can be found during Xena's first appearance in when she seduced Iolaus to get to Hercules (WARRIOR PRINCESS #H09). Even after her enlightenment Xena has been known to tease men into carelessness. Xena's willingness to exploit her own body is one of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS' most anti-feminist aspects. A woman should not have to use her body to get something that she wants. However, at the same time, part of Xena's appeal, especially when compared to Hercules, is the depth of the character. Xena is a complex character who still has a dark side to her. One might wish that the crew behind XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS might be able to add character mystery without having Xena use sex as a weapon. On the other hand, men have used sex as a weapon against women for centuries.

    That's WARRIOR Princess to You

    [25] Although she has a strong sexual persona, perhaps the greatest appeal of Xena to women is her near invincibility in battle. While good writing has made XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS a dialogue heavy show, Xena is an action hero. Every episode contains at least one battle scene. Filled with over-the-top stunts that have Xena knocking out a dozen warriors in a single whirlwind blow and using everything from frying pans to towels as weapons, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS relies heavily on Xena's ability to beat seemingly unbeatable odds. Of course, even if Xena did not always triumph in battle, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS would still be radical in that it shows a woman in combat regularly. Not only does she fight, but she fights with skill. In a nation that chokes at the thought of sending women into combat situations during wars, Xena is an example of a woman who can fight and fight to win. Of course, as a fictional character only so much of Xena can be taken at face value. However, the message Xena sends when she faces off with male opponents is simple; women can do whatever men do - and can even do it better!

    [26] In battle, Xena uses a number of techniques to defeat her opponents. While many a battle has been won with a sword, Xena has three trademarks which fans adore. Xena's unique weapon is called a chakram. A metal circle that operates similarly to a boomerang, Xena hurls the chakram with incredible skill and is able to impale or just knock out an opponent with it. In unarmed combat or prisoner interrogation, Xena utilizes the Xena touch. Skilled in the use of pressure points, Xena is often known to jab an enemy's neck with her fingers and then announce, "I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. If you don't tell me what I want to know you'll be dead in thirty seconds." Needless to say, all those who face the touch comply quickly. Throughout the show, all fans can always rely upon Xena's battle cry. In print the cry is represented by YIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI, which one would have to hear to believe.

    [27] A bit silly? Definitely. But fans adore it. In a TV show sea filled with wispy soap opera stars, brainless beach babes, and all-American moms, Xena is a "welcome anomaly".

    [28] Unquestionably, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS falls outside of the norm for female characters on television today, but she does not break all the rules. Xena never faces off against someone she views as defenseless; this list includes women, children, and unarmed men. In order to remain an accessible character for whom an audience member can feel sympathy, Xena must never cross the line between warrior and monster. On the other hand, Xena can be ruthless. Unlike Hercules, who seems to be the golden age of myth's golden boy, Xena will kill her opponents. As Robert Tapert points out, "It's a weird designation," especially since women are usually seen as life-givers, not life-takers. Beyond the novelty of being on television a woman who fights, Xena is a woman who kills. That may be Xena's greatest gender role bender as she challenges the concept that women do not kill.

    [29] At this point, it is important to note that Xena is not a feminist icon because she continually dominates men. Xena simply does not back down from doing what she thinks is right. More about equality than domination, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS centers a woman who can operate very effectively without the aid of a man. The battle-filled fictional setting only enhances Xena's independence from men. Furthermore, Xena does not win every battle she enters. The hits go both ways and Xena has given as much as she has received. It is her ability to bounce back from the blows that earns her praise. An analogy can be drawn between Xena's bounce back attitude and the attitude women can have towards sexist oppression. Never give up the fight because it becomes difficult or painful. Perseverance offers its own rewards, one of which can be the desired goal.

    A Woman of Many Skills

    Um...why'd you go out there, Gabrielle? Er, Gabrielle?

    Xena tending to a severely wounded Gabrielle

    [30] Alone, Xena's sexuality or fighting skills would not be enough to make a feminist character. It is Xena's ability to not just juggle, but combine many different aspects of her life. Xena is a warrior, a lover, a mother, a friend, a hero, an intellect, and a darn good singer. While Xena may take lives, she also saves them. A skilled healer, Xena also eagerly uses her knowledge to help those in need. The duality within the character make Xena all that more real; after all, who has not had an internal conflict before?

    [31] Despite her violent past and tendencies, Xena remains a likable character. If Xena is to be seen as a role model, she must be someone another person would want to be like. Today, not many women have to face a horde of evil warlords, but reduced to its essential theme, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is about, "a working woman in a tough environment." Despite all of her skills, Xena is not perfect. She loses battles and she says things she later regrets. This is what makes Xena a true feminist television icon -- she is human. She can have faults but, "the one thing with Xena is that she may not be thick at any time, she may not be stupid. She can be wrong, which is unusual in a heroine's part," but she can never play dumb. For the most part, Xena's imperfections serve to make her more human, thereby putting her into the attainable role model range for women today.

    [32] One area that has been neglected for the majority of this paper has been the class and race issues in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. Once a wealthy warlord, Xena had a great deal of wealth, most of which was plunder from her victims (DESTINY #36). However, when she was exiled from her army, Xena lost all of her money as well. Although money is rarely addressed in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, the issue has arisen a few times. Xena exists in a time where hunting is a normal way to get food. However, Xena and Gabrielle have been seen with only some cheese and bread to share between them. The few times the show does deal with class issues is when Xena and Gabrielle aid those who are less fortunate then them.

    [33] Just as XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS does not deal directly with class often, the show also avoids dealing directly with race issues as well. That said, Xena did have a lover named Marcus who was portrayed by an African American actor (THE PATH NOT TAKEN #05). Once a part of Xena's army, Marcus and Xena shared a great love for each other. When Marcus dies (do not worry, he comes back from the underworld in a later episode, MORTAL BELOVED #16), Xena mourns deeply. The two also share some very passionate embraces, which is not nearly as controversial as the first interracial kiss on STAR TREK, but still delves into a taboo area: black men and white women.

    [34] That race issues are not raised pro forma in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS can be attributed more to the fact that the Xenaverse seems to exist on the same level as a STAR TREK episode in which race is literally a non-issue. While different cultures can be acknowledged and given due respect, skin color is not a source of division. Instead of skin, race is dealt with in terms of species. In the Xenaverse, the war between the Amazons and Centaurs has been going on for years, until Xena comes along, helps straighten out some misunderstandings, and an Amazon Princess and Centaur warrior marry -- and right-wing fanatics think a white woman kissing a black man is risque! (HOOVES AND HARLOTS #10.) While this treatment of the issue may seem to be trivializing, within the show, the misunderstandings between Amazons and Centaurs are as deep and serious as any real world conflicts.

    The Power of Camp

    [35] To truly appreciate Xena's potential as a feminist icon, one must fully appreciate XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS' roots in the camp tradition. Obviously, much of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is done tongue-in-cheek. While the show "may enjoy pushing the boundaries a little," while coming up "with some thought-provoking stories," the cast and crew emphasize that "this show is not to be taken too seriously." However, hidden deep within the silliness and teasing on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, deeper meanings can be found. Grounded in camp, Xena's attention to the artifice of the situations and characters, "helps undermine and challenge the presumed naturalness of gender roles and to displace essentialist versions of an authentic femininity." Although it may appear that camp reinforces oppressive images, by embracing the image, turning it around and using it as a tool to fight oppression, camp "offers feminists a model for critiques of gender and sex roles."

    At least we didn't put in the graphic of them

    Ms. Artiphis in triumph and Xena joining in

    [36] One episode of Xena paid tribute to its camp roots by parodying modern day beauty pageants. After much back-stabbing, hem-yanking action, the winner is declared. Miss Artyfice (played by a well-known transvestite actor, Karen Dior), the new Miss Known World, turns out to be a man dressed as a woman. While that alone is a salute to the gay camp tradition, this episode, HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (#35), goes further by focusing on Xena's frustration with having to pose as a beauty queen. By utilizing stereotypical images, Xena acknowledges the "female spectator's recognition of herself in those images, while it also allows the spectator to misrecognize herself, to that her 'self' does not exist prior to the mimicry, but is always already a construction."

    [37] To add the crowning touch, at the end of the episode, Miss Artyfice dips Xena and gives her a big kiss on the mouth on the middle of the stage. Although some may disapprove of using subversive methods to pass along message and others may not appreciate the message once they get it, sometimes "the best way to convey more challenging ideas is to make something that functions on a mainstream level but that has subtext that people can pick up on or not."


    Better Than Friends - But Not Quite Sisters

    [38] The most controversial and radical part of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is the subtle sexual tension between Xena and various women. Although Xena's overt sexual relationships have been with men, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS leaves enough ambiguity about the true nature of Xena's sexuality to cause much speculation and controversy. In one scene a group of women play in the water while Xena looks on from above with longing in her eyes. A preferred reading would suggest that Xena merely wished she could join in the fun, something her warrior heart would not let her do with strangers. That story works with the history of the character. However, other viewers -- including many of those among XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS' huge lesbian fan base -- see Xena staring with longing for the women themselves.

    [39] Xena's relationship with her young sidekick, Gabrielle, is the connection that really sets off the subtext radars. With the producers, writers, and actors remaining vague about the potential for a lesbian relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, lesbian fans watch the show carefully, searching for every hint of closeness between the two women. Liz Friedman, an out lesbian who is a producer on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, say that she has "no interest in saying [Xena and Gabrielle] are heterosexuals" calling that "no fun". Although it may not be as fun, playing with some lesbian subtext incorporates aspects of camp philosophy as well as some feminist theory as well. Lesbians are among the most marginalized people in this nation and are virtually invisible when it comes to television representation. For years, fishing for subtext has been the only way to find a way to relate their sexuality to the women on the screen. What is unique about XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is the way it seems to be playing to the subtext fans.

    Doomed From the Beginning

    [40] To add fuel to the fire stoked by subtext fans is Gabrielle's inability to hang onto a boyfriend. During the first season, Gabrielle had a couple of love interests of the opposite sex. However, any poor young man who caught Gabrielle's eye would die tragically or turn out to be such a weakling that he became undeserving of Gabrielle's attention. Essentially, all the male characters interested in Gabrielle ended up dead or effectively desexualized.

    [41] In an odd twist of fate, Gabrielle eventually meets up with the fiancee, Perdicus, whom she was trying to escape when she first followed Xena. After falling in love with Perdicus, the two marry, much to Xena's dismay. The next day, Callisto, Xena's arch-enemy stumbles across the newlyweds and murders Perdicus (RETURN OF CALLISTO #29). While some fans, and a heartbroken Gabrielle, mourned the loss of Perdicus; other fans, and one wonders about Xena's position on this issue, rejoiced because Gabrielle was once again free to journey with Xena and deepen their relationship.

    Together Under the Stars

    Is it a bear or a dipper? You decide.

    And so ends another day in the Xenaverse
    in A DAY IN THE LIFE #39

    [42] A close analytical eye determined to find hidden meaning in the traveling conversations between Xena and Gabrielle are sure to find the subtext they so desire. However, not all of Xena's subtext is so subtle. Although the producers, writers and actors on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS are noncommittal at best about the possible lesbian relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, two recent scenes have pushed the envelope of subtlety and deserve special note. Referred to commonly by fans as The Hot Tub and The Kiss scences, they are composed of very intimate moments between Xena and Gabrielle. The scenes are found in the episodes A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) and THE QUEST (#37), respectively.


    Xena and Gabrielle grooming themselves
    in A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39)

    [43] In The Hot Tub scene, Xena and Gabrielle are actually sharing a hot bath after a long day's journey. While discussing ways to defeat a marauding giant and engaging in some friendly teasing, the two women take turns washing each other's backs and hair. Bathing with someone is a very intimate thing to do. While there is definitely room for a preferred reading that this was just a scene of two good friends sharing a hot bath so as not to waste hot water, it is actually easier to come to the normally marginalized reading of Xena and Gabrielle as lovers who were sharing an intimate bath together.

    Don't worry -- before making true contact 'they' cut to
Gabrielle and Autolycus

    Xena and Gabrielle during a tender moment right before Autolycus butts in
    in THE QUEST (#37)

    [44] In The Kiss scene, Xena has begun to cross over to the underworld, but is fighting to stay in the mortal plane. In order to do so, Xena's spirit possesses the body of their mutual friend, Autolycus, a man. After figuring out how to talk to Gabrielle, Xena initiates a conversation through Autolycus, and Xena and Gabrielle's spirits wind up on some astral plane together. After saying that there was so much they "wanted to say", the two women lean in as if to share an embrace. After some clever editing and camera movements, the audience is greeted by the sight of Gabrielle kissing the male friend. The question remained, "Who got kissed?!" The level of intimacy between the two women during this scene illustrates the deepness of their relationship, but many insist that somehow the kiss was caused by the male friend's influence. Although it was an interesting scene, it raised many questions for curious fans. For now, most subtext fans will just have to wait and accept that Xena and Gabrielle "have a love for each other," and that it is "up to the audience to determine what that love is."


    The Ratings Game

    [45] From the very beginning XENA was heralded as a success. In part, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS piggybacked HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS' popularity. However, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS has begun to surpass its progenitor in the ratings. While XENA's ratings continue to rise, HERCULES' seems to have hit a plateau. Not only have the Nielsen ratings recognized XENA's popularity, but mainstream publications and even other television shows have given their nod of approval to the Warrior Princess. Besides in-genre publications, magazines like MS. MAGAZINE, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, and NEWSWEEK have all run articles about XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS as well as notable newspapers including the NEW YORK TIMES and the SEATTLE TIMES. National Public Radio has even run a few informational and analytical pieces about XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

    [46] Perhaps the best proof of the influence Xena has had in its short existence is the acknowledgment of other mainstream television shows. Popular sitcom ROSEANNE, often seen as a radical show on its own, made a reference to XENA by having Roseanne dressed as the Warrior Princess and proudly discussing her prowess in verbal battle. In an episode, SOMETHING SO RIGHT, an NBC situation comedy, Lucy Lawless made a cameo appearance as herself. The story line in this show revolved around an one of the daughters acting in a show named Thena: Warrior Girl, and Lawless' anger at having her show "ripped off". Finally, another NBC situation comedy, MEN BEHAVING BADLY, which focuses on two male lead characters who embody every male stereotype imaginable, offers their Xena accolades as well. One of this show's recurring comedy bits involves the main characters vocally expressing their love for their favorite show, XENA, while displaying their precious Xena Action Figures.

    A Warrior For All Seasons

    Nothing like a little mayhem to start up the morning juices,

    Xena during a happy moment with her army after a good slice 'n' dice
    in THE PRICE (#44)

    [47] Much of Xena's success must be attributed to the character's wide appeal. Just about everyone can find something intriguing about the show. Advertisers have picked up on this and like XENA because it "attract[s] such a broad audience of men, women and children." Heterosexual men love Xena's "sense of humor almost as much as her scanty leather outfit," while gay men might find the show's camp aspect appealing. Little girls might see a "beautiful role model," and little boys think Xena's cool "because she is an unflinching, powerful superhero on a par with Hercules." Women, straight and lesbian, tend to be "very much aware of her love 'em and leave 'em attitude," and enjoy doing a little bit of fantasy roleplaying about what they could do if they had Xena's abilities. Everyone, young or old, woman or man, can appreciate a character who is "always fighting the good fight."

    [48] XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS' popularity continues to grow and has expanded to an international audience. Aired in Japan, Germany, Finland, and other countries, Xena has proven it can appeal to a non-American audience as well, indicating the show's themes and story lines go deeper and strike more chords in viewers than the average fantasy camp show. By hiding messages among humor and outrageous images, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS fulfills the feminist call to use "gender parody as a critical tool and a promising means of initiating change in sex and gender roles." If a single television show has the potential to influence on a domestic and international level the creation of positive strong female characters and social change, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is that show. Battle On Xena! YIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI


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