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Xena slaughters the entertainment stereotypes

Posted 01-12-99

The Denver Post
By Page F2
Photo: "Lucy Lawless plays the fierce and fearless warrior princess Xena"

A look into the feminist overtones of XWP, includes quotes from Sarah Dyer (Space ghost Coast to Coast and Action Girl Comic writer), Robert Tapert, and Kym Taborn.


She is being hailed as the "post-feminist icon," gracing the
cover of Ms magazine, winning role-model contests among seventh-
and eighth-grade girls, and handily beating "Baywatch" in the
weekly television syndication ratings.

She is Xena, and she is a feminist challenge.

Xena is a warrior princess, dressed in a leather bustier and
armed with a chakran, a razor-sharp discus weapon she hurls at
her enemies.

Xena is smart and fearless and strong and powerful. She takes
lovers across racial lines, she kills enemies, and she is
forever loyal to her sidekick, Gabrielle.  

She really appeals to younger, post-feminist women and girls,"
said Sarah Dyer, editor of Action Girl comic magazines. "She
wears a skirt, and she proves you can fight really well in a
skirt. She has cool-looking hair, but she kills people."

If good hair and wearing a short skirt make you a post-feminist,
then let's all sign up.

Why shouldn't women embrace their own sexuality as power - and
use it?

If feminists of earlier generations shied away from that most
traditional source of female power, it was largely because they
had more experience with sexuality as a route to the bottom than
to the top. When Xena walks into the room, men look, but they
don't dare touch. As for the atrocities people have seen her
commit, most of the violence these days is aimed at rapists and
marauders, but Xena is not above slugging even Gabrielle when
pushed to her limit.

Early on, many local TV station managers were reluctant to air
the show, according to Robert Tapert. "They thought no one would
want to see a woman hitting men." Not so. Tapert and his
partner, Sam Raimi, created Xena after building their careers
with male fantasy thrillers. The genius of this show, according
to its creators and staunchest supporters, is the extent to
which gender is not an issue.

I believe, in the basest and crassest of ways, that there's a
formula to stories about heroes, and no one had ever tried to do
this before with a woman hero," Tapert explained. "Or if they
did, they made excuses for her being a woman."

Kym Masera Taborn, chairperson of the board of the International
Association of Xena Studies and editor of the on-line Xena
magazine (there are dozens of Xena-related websites), offers
essentially the same assessment: "In the past, when a woman was
inserted into a basic male archetypal story, they made the
female almost too female. With this one, they've kept her pretty

Liberal feminism has been much criticized for buying in to the
notion that equality consisted of the chance to beat the boys at
their own game, while sending the message to more traditional
stay-at-home moms, wives and volunteers that what they did was
less valuable. Notwithstanding the efforts of feminist law
reformers like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to represent men as
often as women, feminism's earliest and greatest success has
indeed come in allowing women to cross over into a man's world
and compete on men's terms, with all that implies about whose
world is better.

The pendulum of current thinking has swung so far in the other
direction that the view that women can be just like men is
actually being labeled "post-feminist." Retrofeminism is more
like it. Of course women can be as strong and tough and powerful
as men. When do we get to stop proving that?

In her autobiography, Katharine Graham recounts a moment when
she told Warren Buffett, the largest investor in the newspaper
company she had just taken over, to be unsparing in his
criticism but to deliver it gently. Xena would never say that.
But I would, and so would many women I know - and even some men.

Xena's way is fine. But so is Graham's. She's my "post-feminist"
superhero, and judging from the best-seller list, I'm not alone.

Watch out, Xena. 

Susan Estrich is a law professor and a contributing editor of
the Los Angeles Times. She was national campaign manager for
Dukakis for President in 1988.

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