Edited by Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy

I was overjoyed when I found this book in my local library. The essays examine the more modern (the book was printed in 2003) warrior women in TV, and if and how they subvert the Western tradition of the just male warrior. It has three essays about Xena, another three about Buffy, and one of La Femme Nikita and one about Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine. I rather enjoy introspective thoughts about pop culture but the books themselves are pretty hard to get here in Finland so this is actually my first such book.

There are some clear similarities in the themes and plots in Buffy and Xena. Both are female warriors who fight against clearly defined evil warlords and conquerors or supernatural evil. Both shows also feature complex, prominent relationships between women. Both defend the helpless and the innocent (often women and children) against evil. Xena also often explicitly defends the home and domesticity against offenders. Even though both series have a lot of violence and and a warrior as the main character, the scripts have often an underlying message of peace and anti-violence (which is thought to be a feminine message for some reason). Therefore, both characters are thought to be an alternative to the male just warrior arc type.

Nikita is more complex case. For one thing, her world isn’t clearly black and white, and the organization she works for has a lot of gray areas. So, it can be difficult to tell who is right or wrong. The viewers can’t be sure if she’s a just warrior, after all.

Laura Ng’s Nikita essay is the only one to mention the traditional way that Western society handles any violent woman: calling her mad and out of control. Even wives defending themselves against abusive husbands are quick to be called mad because the traditional role for women is a passive nurturer. While Buffy has one episode where she’s actually an inmate in an asylum (Normal Again) that’s not because of her violence; in the episode Buffy has only imagined being the Slayer at all. Against this cultural baggage, it’s no wonder we don’t have many action heroines compared to the number of action heroes.

I had a lot more trouble with Edrie Sobstyl’s essay “We who are Borg, are we Borg?” which centers on Seven of Nine. For one thing, I don’t consider Voyager (or TNG for that matter) to be a feminist show. For another, I would think that the obvious just female warrior in the show would have been Captain Janeway. Sobstyl references writers who think that cyborgs can be subversive feminist characters and I have real trouble with that. Cyborgs, as they are often depicted in pop culture, don’t have minds of their own and therefore they are only capable of following their programming. Granted, it can be irrelevant if a cyborg is a male or a female, but I haven’t yet found much evidence of that kind of writing. Seven of Nine is written very differently from Commander Data or even the male Borg Hugh. Granted, Hugh has only appeared on two TNG episodes while Seven was a regular on Voyager for many years. Is it possible that they were written differently because their characters needed different plots and themes, rather than because of gender? If Seven had just blithely accepted her humanity in the first episode when she was freed, would she have been as complex a character? By the way, I do have several problems with the way she was handled and her options as a character were pretty much as limited on Voyager than as a Borg, so the crew were at least somewhat hypocritical when dealing with her.

All in all, I really did enjoy reading these analyses of some of my favorite shows. Can anyone point to some more?