Writers of books and screenplays explore the female archetypes as they create women characters. These archetypes are usually defined as: Nurturer, Crusader, Librarian, Waif, Free Spirit, Spunky Kid, Survivor, and Boss.
You'll notice there's not a listing for Warrior. I find that odd given that Athena was the Greek goddess of warfare, strength, and strategy (also wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, female arts, crafts, justice and skill).
The origins of Athena were the ancient Egyptians so if all those ancient peoples recognized a female as goddess of battles and war, why wasn't warrior among the enumerated archetypes?
Because the origins of these archetypes were a patriarchal society? Because modern interpretation of them was done by men like Jung and his followers Moore and Gillette? Or, because everyone knew that a warrior lurked inside every female archetype so why point out the obvious?
Chicken Or Egg?
In pop culture, women began to be displayed as heroic about the time that the use of the birth control pill became widespread–or was it with the advent of cool, calm, collected women on old black and white TV shows like The Avengers with Diana Rigg and high-tech PI Honey West starring Anne Francis?
Of course, the women's movement was going full-steam during that era too so it's hard to say which came first–perception of women as warriors or real women battling for equal rights--and birth control. In this last decade, look at how warrior women have taken over the movie theaters, televisions, and bookshelves.
Let's look at the origins of the warrior woman in contemporary culture though you could go back to history as well. Edgar Lee Masters in Spoon River Anthology wrote about a woman who “hated with the hate of Jael when the white hot hands went seeking the nail.” Jael was a woman in the Bible who killed a man by hammering a nail into his head. Oh, now that takes some cold, ruthless determination.
For our purposes, we'll leave Jael and Joan of Arc and many others in the past. Let's look at Honey West, a woman who first appeared in the 1957 book This Girl for Hire by G. G. Fickling, a pseudonym used by Gloria and Forest Fickling who wrote many mysteries including 10 about the girl detective. In the 1960s, Aaron Spelling brought Honey West, starring Anne Francis, to television.
Spelling was inspired by the British series The Avengers, with Emma Peel, a spy who wore haute couture, caught bad guys, and never broke a nail. Diana Rigg was made to play Emma Peel who could handle anything as well as or better than a man. Then there was Barbara Bain in the original Mission Impossible cast. Her character Cinnamon Carter was cooler than Emma Peel. She had ice running through her veins.
Sigourney Weaver made movie history in 1979 as the first woman action star in the original Alien, a movie that scared me witless. Weaver, as the intrepid Ripley, kicked alien butt and blew it out the hatch. She reprised her role in 1966 and should have left it there because the other installments weakened the franchise and were more woman as victim than as warrior.
In 1977, Sarah Michelle Geller’s Buffy kickstarted the whole butt-kicking female trend when Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on television. Until her stint as vampire slayer, popular opinion seemed to be that women warriors on television would alienate male viewers and readers and possibly a lot of the females too.
Au contraire. I think Buffy had as many male fans as female. Sure, maybe the men were looking at Buffy and Faith in terms of hot chicks, but I think those two made being tough, strong, and durable smoking hot.
When Angel came along in 1999, the show costarred Charisma Carpenter as Coredia, a chick who grew from self-absorbed valley girl to selfless she-ro, as Maya Angelou calls such women. Cordelia had a lot of stages in between her transformation, most of them requiring her to fight demons and other assorted bad guys.
I give credit for the rise in women warriors to Joss Whedon. He absolutely knows how to create a strong woman character. He did this in Firefly, a short lived series thanks to Fox TV, and in the 2005 movie Serenity in which all the actors reprised their roles.
Women of Firefly
Notable as the captain's sidekick and right hand man was Zoe, a gorgeous warrior woman portrayed by Gina Torres. Firefly and Serenity also had Kaley as portrayed by Jewel Staite, the vulnerable but horny female spaceship mechanic.
For the exotic, there was Morena Baccarin as the companion Inara Serra, a woman who commanded in a different way but who also knew how to fight.
River Tam, the emotionally damaged teen rounded out the female cast. River was a killing machine trying to be sane and was played so well by Summer Glau, who became a major attraction as a cybernetic organism in the now-defunct The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
In the movies we had Lara Croft in 2001 and 2003 as portrayed by Angelina Jolie, who also played Mrs. Smith to Brad Pitt’s Mr. Smith in 2005. Those two roles are possibly the most realistic when compared to the assassin she played later in Wanted or Salt or Grendel’s mother in Beowulf. Odd that Hollywood sees the waif-thin Ms. Jolie as a woman able to beat up any man.
Jennifer Garner also played a warrior, the comic book heroine Elektra, but that was after she'd made a name for herself as the tough as nails agent Sydney Bristow in Alias which ran from 2001to 2006.
Fall TV Season
Torchwood: Miracle Day just concluded. Gwen Foster, played by Eve Myles, is one of the best part of this series. She's a wife, a mom, and a take-charge woman who knows how to do what must be done–no matter how tough that might be.
Now the fall season is upon us with Maria Bello as a take-charge cop in Prime Suspect, Poppy Montgomery as a crime fighter in Unforgettable, Emily Van Camp as a woman hell-bent on destroying another in Revenge, and Sarah Michelle Geller who assumes her dead sister's identity in order to discover the murderer.
There's horror lurking in this fall season too. Ironically, when economic times are bad, horror becomes very popular. I guess people take comfort in the "no matter how broke and desperate we may be, at least we don't have demons chasing us" philosophy. You can bet that strong women will populate many of these shows.
Warrior women have always been with us. Just look at any mother charged with protecting her child. Is it any surprise that what must be a new female archetype is so visible now?