When I first started watching Xena: Warrior Princess, I was fairly young, so gender wasn’t really something that I paid much attention to. A show’s ability to entertain me was my primary focus, and it didn’t matter to me what gender the main characters were. As I got older, though, I started to see patterns in popular television: there were not that many long-standing female relationships that were as strong as the one between many of the women in Xena, and I’m not just referring to Xena and Gabrielle. Look at all the friendships and romances that Xena had with women over the course of her life: Boudica, Cleopatra, Lao Ma, M’lila, Helen of Troy, Cyane, Yakut, Callisto, Ephiny … this list could continue for a while, but I think you get the idea. And the majority of those relationships were based on mutual respect and genuine love for each other.
I think that’s where this show really shines: women supporting women, and not in an exceptionally overt way as to bash it over viewers’ heads. For example, Helen of Troy realizes that Paris doesn’t love her any longer, at least not in the way she needs, and instead of trying to tell her what to do, Xena encourages her to make her own path using the simple criteria of, “What would make you happy?” With Boudica, Xena accepted her role as a helper, not a leader, in Boudica’s battle with Caesar (for the most part), and it was undoubtedly humbling to be in the position of student with both Lao Ma and M’lila. Despite having a much less world-traveled past, Gabrielle herself has very strong ties with other women, as well. Her sister-like relationship with Ephiny grew over the seasons, despite its rough beginning, and honestly, the fact that she was an Amazon connects her to an entire nation of women, one that she is happily and proudly a part of. More often than not, Gabrielle manages to befriend almost anyone she comes across, usually women, with her gentle nature.
Of course, the central relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, even if you remove the romantic element, is my favorite example: two women, completely opposite in experience and temperament, develop such a strong bond with each other that, even in future lives, they are meant to be together. Each holds the other in high esteem and considers her the most important person in her life, flaws and all, but they also realize that their personal paths may require them to be apart. Early seasons of Xena don’t really show this very well – Xena kind of leaves Gabrielle places if she’s going somewhere dangerous because Gabby was a wannabe bard/farm girl – but after Season 3, Gabrielle only leaves Xena’s side if she needs to complete something on her own, a sure sign that she chooses to be there and doesn’t feel obligated.
I just wish more TV shows had this type of dedication to female relationships. As much as I love Buffy, the friendships and romances between women don’t have the same maturity as Xena‘s do, which is understandable because they’re high school students, and Battlestar Galactica doesn’t really focus on that type of relationship between the majority of the characters, regardless of gender. You know what? The only shows that I’ve covered on these challenges that features relationships even close to what I’m describing here are Friends, with Rachel and Monica, and Parks and Recreation, with pretty much the entire female cast. That actually makes me kind of sad, now that I think about it. It really makes me want to rewatch Orphan Black, too. Damn, now I’m going to have to find more shows like this. Just what I need: more television to watch.
Art Credit: Varese Sarabande