Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors

By Caputi, Jane | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), December 2003 | Go to article overview

Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors


Caputi, Jane, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy, Editors. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003.

"We don't need another hero," sings Tina Turner. And indeed, many resistant partakers of popular culture are in open revolt against the conventional saga of the just male warrior/hero vanquishing the "enemy"-usually some version of a feminine, dark, and/or ethnic other. So don't we need a heroine or two? Someone who can reimagine gender, violence, otherness, and justice from heretofore suppressed and repressed narrative locations? That we do indeed need a few good women is the basic premise of Athena's Daughters and, some of these essays suggest, we can find such heroines in the contemporary warrior women of the television series Xena, Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, La Femme Nikita, and Star Trek Voyager. To evaluate the efficacy of these warrior women in combating patriarchal resuppositions, these essays draw upon history, myth, feminist theory, postcolonial "Orientalist" criticism, fan fiction, Internet chat, and textual analysis.

In her foreword to this collection, Rhonda Wilcox, a chronicler of Buffy in a book and a Web site (slayage.com), recalls her pubescent devouring of Edith Hamilton's Mythology and her response: imagining a fictional fearless female detective named Athene, the goddess of wisdom, and writing stories about her. But it is helpful to remember that the story of Athene is a lot more complicated than the one pickled by Hamilton. There Athena was presented as the ultimate daddy's girl, the virgin "warrior who eschews any connection with the mother goddess; indeed, she treacherously aids Perseus in slaying the matriarchal goddess/monster Medusa. But Athena and the Medusa originally were one, Medusa being her "dark side," her other half, her power source. However much Athena has been tamed and made to serve patriarchal myth, this goddess still was able to communicate female power, and perceptive readers like Wilcox continue to reclaim and reinvent her and her sisters.

Just this type of complicated and imaginative vision is required of those who claim the contemporary televisual mythic warriors: Xena, Buffy, and Seven of Nine. These heroines often present a deep appeal to female and female-friendly male viewers. They are active, powerful, complex, sexual, and heroic-but at the same time, paradoxically still serve patriarchal myth. The question remains: Are these contemporary warrior women, sometimes literally high school girls, capable of disrupting the narrative tradition of the male warrior and the system he upholds and exemplifies? Mostly the authors respond in the affirmative while discussing the ramifications of the obvious limitations to her revolutionary potential: her middle-class whiteness, youth, and distance from feminism, sexual violence, and her frequently conventional femininity.

Popular culture always is mythic, comprising deeply symbolic and powerful stories. Patriarchal myth-the stories of gods and heroes-continually recreates the world as we know it. …

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