Women warriors in literature and culture

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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.

In Hindu mythology, Chitrāngadā, wife of Arjuna, was the commander of her father's armies.

The Amazons were an entire tribe of woman warriors in Greek legend. "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.[2][3]


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.[4]

Khawlah bint al-Azwar was a prominent woman muslim warrior in the 7th century, leading battles in what are today Syria, Jordan and Palestine.[5]

Joan of Arc was a warrior in the 15th century and considered a heroine in France for her role in the Hundred Years' War. She was later canonised as a Roman Catholic saint.

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.[6]:136[7]:25

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[8] and Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy in Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors,[9] 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.[10]


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.[11]: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.[12] 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

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. ^ "Plutarch • On the Bravery of Women — Sections I‑XV". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Azmy, Ahmed (7 March 2017). "Arab Women at War: Battles, Assassinations, and Army Leaders". Raseef22. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  5. ^ "15 Important Muslim Women in History". Islamophobia Today. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  6. ^ Dawn, Heinecken (2003). The Warrior Women of Television: A Feminist Cultural Analysis of the Female Body in Popular Media. New York: Peter Lang.
  7. ^ Tasker, Yvonne (1993). Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema. New York: Routledge.
  8. ^ Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture
  9. ^ Athena’s Daughters: Television’s New Women Warriors
  10. ^ Book review
  11. ^ Lavin, Maud (2010). Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women. London: MIT.
  12. ^ Verstraten, Katelyn (22 June 2013). "For Indigenous Women, Radical Art as a Last Resort". The Tyee. Retrieved 1 November 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]