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Inspirational fictional feminists: She-Ra

2011 July 28

I make no apologies. I love She-Ra. Even just saying it makes me feel all empowered (come on, give me some “She Raaaargh!”). It’s like Riot Grrrl for pre-teens.

One of the main joys I had from the show was that it featured an awesome female hero in a world of other awesome women. All too often, as a girl, my female heroes were lonely, sore thumbs sticking out of a world populated only by men. Also known as The Smurf Problem. My other examples of female heroes were all Smurfs: Princess from the deeply confusing Battle of the Planets, Teela from the He-Man series, Cheetara from Thundercats and The Pink Girlie One in Transformers. Female fighters were the exception. They were The Girl. The pat-on-the-head for female viewers: “there, look, she’s joining in too!” Not so on Etheria.

still showing the She-Ra Cast - a group of heroic women with colourful outfits

To me, my Y Women!

Female-heavy shows were a rarity at the time – and are still (sadly) a rarity. But the ones that exist are inspirational.

Like an animated precursor of Xena (noted fact: warrior + princess + sword = kickass) She-Ra lives in a world of female fighters, bitches-getting-shit-done, lady-doers and action women.

Seriously – take a look at all of them (more to the point, take note of the fact that the only bare midriff on display is from Bow, one of the few male characters who aren’t boyfriends, brothers or fathers). Nice bit of gender-reversal there, Mattel.

Oh and did I mention they’re all freedom fighters? Female freedom fighters battling against the Patriarchy Evil Horde using epic and non-gender stereotypical super powers such as ass-kicking, laser beams, ice and um… being an intergalactic Space Bee. The best bit is that none of them appear to be suffering from Sex Assassin Syndrome (SAS). Except for maybe Bow. Who also sings, bless him.

She-Ra title screen - a blonde woman in a white dress and red cape brandishes a swordThe full backstory is over here on Off My Bird Chest, and some more stuff on Wiki which contains a huge amount of very cool She-Ra facts, but my main takeaways (and prime feminist inspiration fodder) as a child were:

  • Women can be just as cool, if not better than men – Unlike many ‘girlification variants’ She-Ra is so much better than her brother He-Man (although now I have a mature and rich appreciation for the gay icon himself, including the epic levels of homoerotic implication that I completely failed to see as a small girl). Even in her ‘normal’ form as Princess Adora, she is an effective war leader as opposed to Prince Adam, who is basically Clark Kenting it. Also, her sword can do more stuff.
  • Princesses do NOT sit in towers doing nothing – this is a very important lesson to learn as a young woman. There are umpteen tales of royal ladies hanging around turrets waiting to be rescued. Not so with She-Ra, who is basically too busy defeating evil, saving the planet (in both senses of the term, there’s a bit of eco-warrior going on here too) AND having romances with sexy sea pirates to even consider such vain idleness.
  • There are other important female professions aside from Being Famous – whilst Maxie might have had “her own TV show” and Jem was “truly, truly, truly outrageous” ultimately their main goal in life was to be celebrities. Great. Not so She-Ra – in fact, keeping out of public view is generally a good idea for rebel leaders. Obviously, she had her followers and people who thought she was cool but she didn’t court the publicity… (for some reason I’m now thinking of her as Che Guevara, only in gold lame. Sorry for that image. But I’ve got it and now you have too).
  • You do not have to save the world by yourself – harking back to my original point, but that’s because it’s a really important one for me to have learned. She-Ra fights her rebellion not just with her magical sword and cool flying horse, but because she creates the United Nations Of Kick Ass Women (and Men Who Wear Crop Tops). Most of the other female characters are leaders in their own right, of different realms and even planets. Take that, Barbie.
12 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    July 28, 2011

    I was He-Man OBSESSED child. I even had the toys from the crappy 90s reboot – not the 2000s second attempt at it, the so-called New Adventures series – but I naturally turned my attention to She-Ra after they stopped showing He-Man. When you think about it as an adult, there are obviously so many things that are actually cooler about She-Ra – not least the reverse Anakin thing where she was raised by Hordak but her natural goodness is un-suppressable and so she gains the Power of Grayskull (wasn’t it the Honour of Grayskull, actually, or some such?). I honestly think the only way a reboot of the whole MOTU franchise could work is by including the story of Adora and the Evil Horde as a major plot point – Skeletor has a master and he’s brought He-Man’s sister with him, who’s just as powerful as He-Man and can kick his ass, until the inevitable face turn just in time for the last part of the trilogy…. (must stop geeking out now, nearly time for work)

    Oh, one last bit of shameless geekery. Technicall He-Man’s Billy Batson-ing rather than Clark Kent-ing.

  2. July 28, 2011

    Howdie from a fellow She-Ra fan.

    Do you realize that I don’t know, like, half of the characters in the picture? How could this happen? I’ll now be hunted forever!

    I actually preferred Adora to She-Ra, ‘cuz she was a proper leader of the “Rebellion”.

    Also, nobody died in She-Ra. Not even the robots, and they were almost cute.

    And the sexay sea pirate! Swoon!

    Cool points for coming up with the expression “Clark Kenting it”.

  3. July 28, 2011

    For a cartoon series created to sell toys it wasn’t half bad. I was absolutely obsessed with She-Ra, dragged my poor mother to the feature-length version which almost killed her and had all the dolls. And I never believed in She-Ra’s relationship with that Bo dude. I reckon she was more of a lady’s woman myself.

    I liked He-Man as well and had a lot of those dolls, sorry “action figures”, too. My sister and I have hysterics when we remember how gay that cartoon was. Skeletor was so camp. The action figures weren’t much better; there was one call “Fisto”. I can’t help but wonder if someone was having a laugh somewhere.

    • Russell permalink
      July 28, 2011

      Fasten your safety belt, Beast-Man!

      (my personal favourite Skeletor line)

  4. July 28, 2011


    • Russell permalink
      July 28, 2011

      Actually, research shows that her name was originally supposed to be He-Ra, tying her even closer to He-Man and referencing the Greek God Hera. Presumably someone then realised what the “He” in “He-Man” was actually doing and decided to be boringly gender-essential about it.

      • Miranda permalink*
        July 28, 2011

        “He-Man” is a terrible name. They needed a better starting point than MALE PRONOUN HYPHEN NOUN, really, to avoid the issues with She-Ra you’ve just mentioned. Her name is only better cos it goes RAAA at the end, I suspect…

  5. Colleen permalink
    July 28, 2011

    Thanks for an amazing article! She-Ra has always been my favorite cartoon character, heroine, superhero, and all-around kick-ass chick. I always thought it was interesting that she had more powers than He-Man.

  6. April 18, 2012

    Wow; great take on She-Ra. My own personal take though is a bit different. I brought (as a grown ass adult) both He-Man & She-Ra — Season 1 (for both) on DVD. As a child, I of course loved She-Ra. But now looking at it, it seems that He-Man had a better written script than She-Ra did. Also outside of the first episode (which explains how She-Ra came to be), I find little affinity for Adora. Her official job was to be the leader of the rebellion. However she doesn’t seem to be very successful at that, in that she always runs off to become She-Ra and the slightest sense of trouble. It just didn’t seem believable that no one questioned that. At least Adam was expected to be a lazy prince & that’s it! Also She-Ra did have a boyfriend of sorts with Sea Hawk — who she openly fawned over. That was cute.

    But yes, I agree that She-Ra was very progressive. Especially when you consider that she developed totally independent from the comics, and was created to be the “girl counterpart” of the He-Man franchise.

    • Miranda permalink*
      April 18, 2012

      Hey Shona, I just wanted to thank you for commenting as I’ve just discovered your blog as a result :)

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