By Alicia Eler
Warrior women: You've seen them in the Kill Bill films, the Xena television series and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They've been everywhere in the media, film and pop culture since the moving image's birth. After absorbing every fascinating tidbit and glorious image pertaining to past and present warrior women in Dominique Mainon and James Ursini's recently published masterpiece, The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women on Screen, Windy City Times had the opportunity to chat with Mainon via e-mail.
Windy City Times: When did you start writing?
Dominique Mainon: I've been writing since the moment I learned how, in some form or other. I suppose it is the standard hobby of the introverted. Although people don't tend to grade writing as 'official' until you are published. I don't have the same standards, but at some point several years back I did begin to share some of my writing with non-imaginary friends and publishers.
WCT: How did you get into writing screenplays and making films?
DM: There is no greater aphrodisiac to me than the power to create a universe, give birth to characters, and place them in situations. Making it all the more tangible by bringing it into the visual realm on screen is so compelling. Maybe I have a closet God complex or something.
WCT: When did you first see a 'warrior woman'on the silver screen? Do you remember your emotional response? Did you identify with her on certain levels?
DM: I have vague recollections of warrior women presented in the seventies on TV, but always in the sexy-innocent sense—the childlike girlfriends of Tarzan or good old Wonder Woman. I recall being more fascinated with their tattered outfits, or the infamous cat suits. I wanted to dress up like them for Halloween. It always seemed like a man was still in charge of these sexy creatures in the end, saving the day.
I identify more strongly these days with warrior women in media in the sense that most pop culture warrior woman are stereotyped as being unable to have functional relationships and seem emotionally isolated by their own strengths and skills. I would love to see a film about a warrior woman who is strong, yet still able to relate to men and have satisfying relationships. So many warrior women are portrayed as born of flaws or tragedy, an abnormal occurrence amongst more docile, 'normal' women.
Why can't a woman be sexually adventurous without being 'punished' on film, even in this day and age? It seems like there is always a lesson being enforced that sexually assertive women are evil, and they are portrayed as monsters or half-human, or at least shown as alone and ostracized in the end due to her own qualities and nature.
WCT: Do you think that lesbians represent the ultimate threat to male characters in pop culture? Would XENA and Buffy testify to this claim?
DM: I don't know. I do point out in the book that we are seeing a lot more emasculated male characters these days. Placing a de-powered man next to a strong female character seems to be an easy contrast to accentuate her power, lesbian or not. Traditional gender roles are certainly being morphed on many levels.
I think though, that pop culture still generally displays lesbians or gay people as essentially the product of something 'gone wrong' in their upbringing. Characters can rarely be alternative without some ( often tragic ) reason such as being raped or molested in past, being influenced by some non-Christian religion, being abandoned or loss of parental guidance, etc. Why can't they just be gay/lesbian or alternative, and yet had perfectly happy childhoods?
WCT: Do you see it as significant that Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is both a powerful Wiccan and a lesbian? Is pop-culture re-enforcing the stereotype that the two go hand-in-hand?
DM: Yes, great point. Neopagan religions and alternative relationships have infiltrated the average household through media now. It certainly has developed as a common stereotype.
It's interesting to note Barbara Creed's opinions about witches and vampires as 'menstrual monsters'in her book The Monstrous-Feminine. I am very interested in the way witches and vampires are portrayed now the protagonists in many cases these days, rather than their more monstrous counterparts of past. I speak about this phenomenon much more extensively in chapter five—'Haunted and Hunted Monster Killers.'
WCT: How does being 'butch' in appearance, like Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, change the whole idea of the sexy warrior woman into something else?
DM: Note that Ripley dies not long after shaving her head.
We do see many of these cases of what I call the 'phallusized heroine.' Linda Hamilton's commanding return in Terminator 2 is another great example. The woman must take on the man's traditional role in order to complete whatever challenge is in front of her. Nothing new about that. However, the drag aspects of it seem to be more prevalent these days. When you considered how technology has changed us, allowing young men to choose to be a female character on a video game for instance, it seems that there is much more common household exploration in gender roles than in past.
'Power beauty' has become much more socially acceptable, and also intriguing. Sherrie Inness touches upon it also in her book Action Chicks, where she breaks down the association of a strong physical appearance as evidence of discipline and superior self-management. Toned bodies might suggest greater management and leadership abilities.
WCT: Do you consider yourself a warrior woman?
DM: Well, I'm a single mother of two. So there you go. But I've also been dealing with breast cancer for a few years. I practice some martial arts. I have a gang of powerful girlfriends. I have been learning rodeo bullfighting as a hobby. I like guns. I guess that might qualify me in the categories defined in the book. But there are all types of powerful women out there. It seems like just surviving in this day and age takes a lot of spirit and fight. I think there is always room for improvement.
Check out her online trailer featuring clips of the many movies featured in this book at www.themodernamazons.com . For more information about work by Dominique Mainon, see www.dominiquemainon.com also.