In Defense of the Warrior-Princess

Last Wednesday, Kat gave us a post titled “Why I Decided to Stop Being a ‘Tough Girl’ and Just Be Me“, a thought-provoking piece on femininity.

I passionately disagree with it.

Let me break it down here.

In her post, Kat referenced this quote by actress Zoey Deschanel:

This idea- that women were or are pressured to be “men”- isn’t a new one. Plenty of folks have made the same observation and there is absolutely truth to that. In fact, we’ve even managed to turn it into a trope at this point, the “warrior-princess”.

Even if you haven’t heard that term, you’re probably familiar with what I’m talking about. Rebellious young women, typically of royal blood (though that’s not always the case), more fond of fighting, riding, hunting, and adventure than arranged marriages and sewing. Competent, independent, intelligent, and fearsome (often to the point of savage). While you’ve got your real-life equivalents like Boadicea, Hua Mulan, Zenobia, or Anne Bonny, the trope has been most heavily influenced by the pulp fantasy and science-fiction of the mid-20th century.

Now again, the argument typically lodged against these characters is that they’re just “male fantasy”, and while that’s not entirely wrong

…there’s more in those criticisms than arguments against chain-mail bikinis. There seems to be this move, however unintentional or subconscious, to brush these characters (and by proxy, qualities) aside. Folks might begrudgingly nod to the role of these characters as stepping-stones away from a wholly male-dominated culture, but at the end of the day, they’re viewed as being “women-trying-to-be-men”. It’s argued that these women are only given value through their participation in “manly” activities (battle, sport, cut-throat business negotiations, etc.). As Deschanel states in that quote, “We don’t need to look like men or dress like men or talk like men to be powerful.”

Here’s the thing, though- stoicism, toughness, will, ambition, aggression- these are not things women should aspire to because they are “manly” traits. They are things which everyone should aspire to because they’re good traits.

It’s how we get our strongest female characters in literature and film. I’m talking about your Laura Roslins, your Dana Scullys, your Elizabeth Jennings, your Lana Kanes, your Gemma Tellers, your Claire Underwoods-

Princess Buttercup turned into one scary mofo, I can tell you that…

-you get the idea.

Frankly, this is how **** gets done in life.

While there’s absolutely a place for sensitivity, sentimentalism, and whatever other so-called “feminine” traits get thrown around. But these typically aren’t the traits that are associated with humanity’s greatest accomplishments. Civil rights weren’t won with meekness. Polio wasn’t cured by passivity. Great novels aren’t created through submissiveness.

How is this helping?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that supposedly “masculine” traits don’t have their downsides or that they can’t be taken to extremes. I’m certainly not calling women to imitate all male behavior or attitudes, because not all male behavior and attitudes are commendable (guiltless promiscuity, I’m looking at you).

In her defense, I am genuinely curious why she did that…

I don’t think it’s the craziest thing in the world to hold certain qualities above others. Brains beats brawn, integrity trumps charm, and passion beats apathy. These traits aren’t inherent to either sex- they’re designed and assigned by culture (and we’ve got the matriarchal societies to prove it). Overwhelmingly in history, women were controlled by being labeled as “weak”. The point of feminism should be to eliminate that weakness- not to label it as a good quality on equal standing with strength. Deschanel claims that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way.” Only I’ve seen the characters Deschanel plays. Ditzy, emotional, pathologically neurotic people who don’t need no man to help them be… whatever this is:

I don’t think this is something we should tolerate, much less aspire to…

I’m not trying to argue for everyone learning how to sword fight, wrestle gators, or punch through a wall (as cool as that would be). But the characters Deschanel so often plays simply don’t strike me as the kind of folks who’d be out discovering radium, inventing kevlar, or ending the Peloponnesian War. You don’t have to be a blackbelt, but you do have to be tough. You don’t have to be a CEO but you do have to be self-reliant. You don’t have to be a secret agent but you do have to be resourceful.

Deschanel states that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way” [emphasis added].

No you ****ing can’t.

There’s no separate-but-equal clause attached to character. There’s no “masculine powerful” and no “feminine powerful”- there’s just plain powerful. Likewise, there’s no “male intelligent” and “female intelligent”- there’s just plain intelligent. Honesty, integrity, honor, will, decency, dignity, strength- these don’t change with your gender.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


11 responses to “In Defense of the Warrior-Princess

  1. While I agree with your end statement–that character traits should be measured on the same playing field for both men and women–I ultimately disagree with the value system by which you measure those traits. There’s no denying that stoicism, toughness, will, ambition, and aggression get things done… in SOME situations. Whereas empathy, sensitivity, meekness, etc. are far more appropriate and empowering in other situations. The most effective people are not the ones that exhibit power set A over power set B. They’re the people that know when either set is appropriate.

    And man, when Jessica Day stood up to the school staff about their dumb as **** field trip ideas, she was a hell of a warrior princess.

    • And had Jess been less concerned about her image in the first place, she wouldn’t have subjected an entire busload of kids to work as indentured laborers on Brian Posehn’s property.

      That’s kinda the thing, aint it? While appropriateness is great, 9 times outta 10 I’d rather someone be too aggressive than too passive, to brusque than too gentle, and too ambitious than too apathetic.

  2. I totally disagree with Gordon. First of all, no one calls submissiveness and passivity positive strengths and to market your opponents as trying to claim them as such is rank strawman arguments. Secondarily, great human accomplishments have had female elements catagorically removed and scrubbed out so to claim that only these masculine traits are successful is to ignore this historical abuse. .The traits of the warrior princess are good; discipline, self-sacrifice, and purpose are human elements that should be developed. However, I can and do see those traits in distinctly non-male realms. When the only place you see those characteristics celebrated are within the violence and physical combat domain that has for most of history been the purview of men, then it is actually a male-imitation rather than a nongendered display of character. A mother’s discipline and self-sacrifice is far different from a soldier’s and there’s a level of disregard that truly does exist because keeping house isn’t masculine so the sacrifice doesn’t “count”. One of the strongest examples of character in my literary pantheon is Marmee from Little Women. In it she discusses, and lives out, consistent self sacrifice. She disciplines her temper, provides for her family, and models interdependence and courage.

    • Ok, a few things to respond to here.

      Firstly, I’d argue that there absolutely are folks who’d take this position. Some are certainly more extreme than others, but the pervasive idea that there’s a distinct separation between male and female virtue does exist. While this typically gets touted by “Biblical complementarianists”, you even get well-meaning feminists arguing for a double-standard. Maybe it’s Postmodernism, maybe it’s just over-eagerness, but you do run into folks who’ll argue that all qualities, traits, and characteristics are equally important.

      My point here isn’t that women should pursue these things because they’re manly traits- these *aren’t* masculine traits at all. They’re universally good. I’d argue that the mother in Little Women is an example of just this (though the way she talks about suppressing even the *feeling* of anger should probably be cause for concern…)

  3. Reblogged this on encompassingchaos and commented:
    Right on…*throws fist into the air*

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