The Many Skills of the Warrior Princess

I have spent the last few days going back and forth in my head – and with friends – about what princess I want to write about. I originally volunteered for Giselle or Mulan, but I hesitated. Giselle I love because I love her optimism and how even though she ends up with the guy, they don’t have to get married. And I love Mulan because she cares more about her family than gendered expectations, even if she ends up with the guy.

And one of the great things about National Princess Week is sharing the universality of the princess experience. But I am not feminine, and I will not end up with a guy, and it seems to me that I should spend my post sharing the universality of a princess who’s a teeny bit more like me:

A teeny bit. I’m not a sword-and-chakram-wielding warrior with a dark past, striving to atone for my life of war and plunder by traveling the world and righting wrongs. But I do have a problem with traditional gender roles, and I do think Gabrielle is pretty cute.

Super cute!

In the second season of the show, Xena goes undercover at, well… a beauty pageant. It’s a fond rip on Miss Congeniality, something the show does a lot (fond rips). There are two things that make this episode central to why Xena is the princess for me. First, she struggles with the “traditional” strappings of femininity. It’s something that happens throughout the show; Xena has to dress up in fancy clothes or “peasant” clothes, and she walks like she’s wearing ten tons of itchy cotton on her back. Second, a drag queen (played by Karen Dior, a transwoman) ends up winning the contest, with Xena’s help.

There’s a great exchange, where Miss Artiphys (GET IT?) talks to Xena about why she’s in the pageant, a pageant that Xena hates on principle:

“You really don’t get it, do you? I guess being born a
woman, you wouldn’t. This is a chance to use a part of me most
people usually laugh at– or worse. The part I usually have to
hide– only here that part works for me– you see?”

Sorry for the bad quality. Had to take a screencap on my phone.

I don’t think I realized at the time what it meant to have these different portrayals of what it means to be a woman. And that’s just one episode. There were six seasons of different kinds of women, and of women who grew over a period of years, and whose femininity and masculinity shifted. There wasn’t just one kind of woman, and there wasn’t just one kind of way to be a woman (or be female). Heck, Xena even had a baby at one point, and she wore leather pants and kicked ass the entire time she was pregnant.

And Gabrielle helped her raise the kid.

I’ve used this picture before. For reasons.

I’ve talked about Xena, and episodes of the show, a lot before here on the site. I talk about it on twitter regularly. I reblog stuff on tumblr several times a week. Over a decade after it ended, this show is still with me almost every day. And, yeah, I know that Xena is technically not a princess. She’s not the daughter of royalty, and she sure didn’t marry into any (nor did she marry at all, notably). She was an Empress in an alternate universe, but that’s as close as she technically got. It was really more of a professional title than a noble title, but I think everyone knows who you’re talking about when you say warrior princess.

I never grew up picturing myself as a princess. I loved the fairytales, but I didn’t see myself in a dress, at a ball, dancing with a handsome prince. I used to think it’s because I wanted to be the prince in those stories, riding around with my sword, rescuing people, kissing the princess, and being the hero. But then Xena came along and I saw a princess cut from a different cloth, whose story was different than anything I’d seen before. She didn’t have to be a prince to ride around and save people, or even to occasionally kiss the princess (though, you know, YMMV on that one). Xena was the prince of princesses.

And that’s why Xena’s my princess.

  • Great article! Xena was my favorite princess too!