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NotoriousRRZ: Warrior Princess

2003-08-19 - 8:48 a.m.

Somewhere inside me is Xena, Warrior Princess, screaming to get out.

Because, really, who wouldn't want to be Xena? First of all, you get to be Lucy Lawless, who has one of the loveliest pairs of eyes I've ever seen, a fantastic body, and a surprising talent for musical comedy. That alone would be enough to trade in for. But then you'd also get to be Xena! XENA! You'd get to travel the ancient world--or, rather, a parodic underinformed mish-mash of the ancient world--defeating armies and deities singlehandedly. You'd get to do acrobatic tricks that would have every bright eyed little girl in the Ukraine reaching for the steroids. You'd have a shiny, hollowed out frisbee that's apparently the pre-Hellenic equivalent of a Bat-arang, able to seek out enemies of its own accord only to return to your hand in such a way as to make for an excellent still shot. Then there's the whole hot bisexual babe thing: you get to make out with every hottie over three continents and still come home to an adorable Dar Williams look-a-like who bathes you and cooks you dinner. Sure, people back then were strangers to soap and toothpaste, but everyone was hot enough for it not to matter.

When it all comes down to it though, it's about a woman kicking ass. As a little gay boy, sneaking My Little Ponies into my toybox along with the GIJoes and Transformers (I'd like to take a second to say that I still loved the GIJoes and Transformers; it's just that sometimes the Joes needed gigantic horses to ride on, or Optimus Prime needed to carry hay and oats to Ponyland. He was an 18-wheeler, for God's sake.) I loved to watch women kicking ass. The first exposure to this was Wonder Woman. What gay boy didn't worship Wonder Woman? She could change her outfit BY TURNING AROUND REALLY FAST!!! Do you have any idea how dizzy I made myself at the age of three, trying to spin fast enough to spontaneously turn my Scooby Doo t-shirt and bright red shorts into a red and gold bustier with star-spangled hot pants? Then there were the bullet-stopping bracelets. This woman fought crime with her jewelry! And she fought NAZIS! There's nothing better than kicking Nazi ass! To this day, I still have Wonder Woman journals, and she is one of many superheroines on my coffee mug.

I was always drawn to the woman fighting for the good of humanity, particularly when it was the only woman in an otherwise male team, as in the case of Wonder Woman in the Justice League or Lady J, Scarlet, and Jinx in the various GIJoe teams. I think it may have been because of my kick-ass mother, who took on presidents as a civil rights worker. Yet it wasn't just the good girls I was drawn to; I loved the bad ones too. A woman kicking the ass of a hero was just as good as one kicking the ass of a villain in my book. If Wonder Woman was the first female hero I ever loved, Catwoman was the first female villain. She wore purple. She had a whip. She walked around in pirate boots. When I started watching the Batman TV series, I fell hard for the extraordinarily sexy Julie Newmar and her feathered eyebrows . . . that is, until I saw Eartha Kitt. The only thing cooler in my book than a woman kicking ass was a woman of color kicking ass, and Eartha had the purrrrrrfectly delicious voice and magnificently feline eyes to create the ultimate Catwoman. The only problem with the series was that the various Catwomen weren't allowed to physically attack Batman and Robin. This was, of course, remedied quite well when Michelle Pfeiffer, in a performance that still amazes me in terms of its intensity and comic timing, happily beat the shit out of Batman, particularly after he was willing to stop hitting her because she was a woman.

As Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Supergirl, and Batgirl made room for Storm of the X-Men, Poison Ivy, Tank Girl, and Xena, I started wondering why it was that I loved these women characters in heroic situations. I need to point out that it wasn't like I was only paying any attention to female superheroes. I feel the love for Batman, Superman, Wolverine, Hercules, and all the rest of the crew, but it's the ladies that really wind up being captivating. I've thought long and hard about why this is the case, and I have a few working hypotheses.

First, I think when women kick ass, it's often done with more heart than in the case of the guys. As a survivor of the playground, I know that a big, strong guy can often become a bully, someone who knows they can have their way and doesn't mind stomping on someone else to make sure. A kid pretending to be Batman at age three might decide that the little kid with the glasses (who admittedly was never me; thank god I was always tall and on the heavy side, and therefore able to use the "Come near me and I'll sit on you" threat to full effect) was going to be the Penguin for the duration of recess, and therefore going to get the crap beaten out of him. Women, at least the women I know who like comic book superheroines, tend not to be as cruel, and the characters reflect that. Catwoman is famous in the comic books for never being willing to kill innocent bystanders, and even Poison Ivy has gone from being a petty criminal to an eco-terrorist. She's a supervillain with a good cause! Xena was a reformed villain herself. I felt like these women, although willing to kick a bad guy in the groin hard enough to make his balls come out his ears, would be the ones to make sure everyone around them was okay before blowing up the mountain hideaway or undersea lair.

Second, there's the idea that men are supposed to be the ones to fight for truth, justice, and the American way while the women stay at home and send them cookies. Women still face this stereotype and the problems it causes in the armed forces, and no woman will probably ever have to worry about the draft in the United States. Sure, this dichtomy gave us Rosie the Riveter, who became an icon for feminists everywhere, but it's still putting the woman in the kitchen. My mother was never really in the kitchen until my mid-to-late-teens. She was too busy making the world a better place, and I hated the idea that was still being forced on me that this was somehow wrong, that she should have been home with me. I was fine, and I didn't like the idea that people were still thinking that she was somehow less of a mother. Women kicking ass were the ultimate role models when it came to women in the workplace. They were taking the job that men were holding onto for dear life, the role of peacekeeper and warrior, the one that has apparently been their main role in the tribe for millenia. Well, Wonder Woman and Xena were Amazons, women warriors, and they were not about to let any man go into battle for them. That was pretty much just like my mom, so these women gave me a way of seeing my mother not as less of a mother, but more of a hero.

I think most of all, though, I loved watching women kick ass because women get their asses kicked way too often, and too many of them lie back and take it, and it was great to finally see them demonstrate exactly how much more of it they were going to take. I think of Michelle Pfeiffer's breakdown scene in Batman Returns, when she rips apart all her dolls and toys and spray paints every pink kitten and white bow with a black spray can. Having her sew her own costume was a great move on Burton's part: she uses a womanly art to prepare herself for destroying the man who tried to kill her. No one calls Wonder Woman a bitch or a whore. No one rapes one of Xena's sisters. No one goes after John Connor as long as Big Bad Mutha Sarah Conner is around to personally destroy any Terminator that comes her way. If there's always a Catwoman lurking through the dark streets, then the rapists of Gotham City will sleep a little uneasier and dream of claws in their face, and that's what I call woman's work.

I bring this all up because we live in some violent times right now. I've become more and more of a pacifist over the past few months, as I've realized that violence tends to cycle, that going blood for blood leaves little more than a big red mess. However, I was faced with the conundrum of what to do about violent attacks, particularly on women, when the attacker in question shows no sign of stopping or remorse. Someone was attacked recently because he had raped a girl, and of course the usual he-said/she-said arguments are being passed around with far more heat and anger in the aftermath. I worry that this act will be constured as revenge rather than justice, and that the cycle of vengeance--the same one that's killing off so many people around the world, the same one I have protested against--will begin here. However, I can't believe that the only thing to do with a guy who refuses to seek help or do penance of any kind for his action is simply to keep sending empty threats this way.

I've been thinking of my kick-ass women all night and all morning, and then I began to think about kick-ass women I've known, the ones who had the strength and brains and training to fight off their attacker. I've known women who, when they find themselves in situations where they are saying "No" and the man is saying, "Oh, but you will," feel that the best thing to do in the situation is make the man regret he ever thought about trying something. I like this philosophy, and recommend to all women that they follow it, but the situation becomes more difficult when it comes down to a man, a woman, and a gun.

So what to do? Well, as I said, every women needs to learn to defend herself. Every woman needs to be a Catwoman, able to kick a man to the ground and scratch his eyes out if need be. There need to be more women police officers, and more women in the armed forces, so that when a woman is raped, even when it's by a cop or a soldier, a woman can still seek justice within the system and not have to seek it out on her own. Women need to fight every instance of blaming the victim misogyny they see. Women need to be able to band together, to protect one another not just with their hearts and minds, but with the strength of their bodies. Women need to kick more ass. They need to get out their lassos of truth, their cat o'nine tails, and their pointiest stiletto shoes and let everyone know that they believe in peace, but will not be victims or villains when they can be heroes.

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