Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Warriors of all genders

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

I already posted about balance and equality in marriages; today I wanted to present a selection of stories where male and female warriors fight shoulder to shoulder, instead of against each other. Many times female warriors are presented as lone characters or enemies, instead of allies, and I think it benefits people to hear more stories of warriors of all genders standing side by side - and the women don't have to be disguised as men to do so.

Scáthach is a female warrior who appears in the Irish Ulster Cycle; she runs a school for heroes on a remote island, and trains Cú Chulainn in the martial arts (and also, according to some stories, in... other skills). She also leads her select group of warriors into battle against her sister and rival Aoife, whom Cú Chulainn ends up defeating in single combat. She is a formidable woman.
(Read about her here)

I already mentioned her earlier, but I am putting her on this list too, because Gulaim does not only lead an army of girls into battle, but she also fights side by side with the man she loves, and they help each other save their respective kingdoms.
(Read about her here)

While she has her own backstory, Camilla also takes part (and dies) in the battle against Aeneas on the side of Turnus, the king of the Rutuli. The war breaks out between the Italian tribes and Aeneas' men arriving from Troy; the excuse for the conflict is the hand of Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, but it really is about conquest and resistance, which is probably why Camilla supports the Italian side against the Troyans.
(Read about here here, and in the Aeneid)

Water Margin
Out of the 108 heroes of this amazing Chinese epic (also often known as Heroes of the Marsh, or All Men Are Brothers) 3 are women: Hu Sanniang ("Ten Feet of Blue"; she fights with two sabers and a lasso), Sun Erniang ("Female Yaksha"; she is a martial artist who runs a tavern with her husband), and Gu Dasao ("Female Tiger"; excels at using spear and staff). They all get their own storylines, and they are numbered among the 108 Stars of Destiny.
(Read about the epic here)

The Amazon Queen Penthesilea participates in the Troyan War on the Troyan side, attempting to kill Achilles on the battlefield. She brings twelve women with her to join the war, ready to prove that they can hold their own alongside male warriors.
(Read about her here)

Lady Nart Sana
I mentioned before that the Nart sagas include several warrior women, and were probably responsible for the spread of the Amazon legends. This particular story features such a female warrior, who accidentally kills her lover in battle, and kills herself out of sorrow, turning into a fountain of medicinal water. I put this story on the list because it begins with how once upon a time Nart women rode into battle along with the men.
(Read the story in this book)

The only female hero on the Argo during its mission for the Golden Fleece, Atalanta could certainly hold her own along with blockbuster names like Hercules, Jason, Castor and Pollux, and several others. There is some debate about whether she is the same Atalanta that participated in the Calydonian Boar Hunt, but she is generally believed so. That story also features her as the only female hunter, and also the person who wounded the monster boar first.
(Read about her here)

The Sacred Band of Thebes
Historical rather than mythical, but definitely epic - a legendary troop of 300 men, composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. You only need to know one thing about them: They kicked the Spartans' ass in the Battle of Leuctra.
(The band had a long and illustrious history, until all 300 of them perished in the Battle of Chaeronea against Alexander the Great's father. They were praised as heroes even by their enemy, and a lion statue was erected over their grave)
While this is more about sexuality than gender, I wanted it on the list. For representation.
(Read about them here)

Just... mention any of these women next time someone says "you fight like a girl."


  1. If we're going to mention real people. there was Tomoe Gozen, a 12th century female samurai who did lots of good stuff!

  2. Love this post :-) Women warriors make for great fiction too (Disney's Mulan, Rose in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy, the Valkyries in Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase series - actually, there's a lot of kickass female warriors in all of his books).

  3. It's nice to see the ladies doing their part. I shall definitely have to remember some of these, just for the situation you suggest :)
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  4. MOst of these stories are familiar to me, I've been a long time classic mythology lover ;-)
    Great collection as always.

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  5. MOst of these stories are familiar to me, I've been a long time classic mythology lover ;-)
    Great collection as always.

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  6. The ladies can kick arse with the best of 'em! :) We need to tell more of these tales to our children as well as the more well known tales of princesses and princes.
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

  7. I love this! And your comment at the end: "Just mention any of these women when someone says 'You fight like a girl'": yes I do and I'm proud of it!

    Great post!

    Michele at Angels Bark

  8. This is why "you fight like a girl" is a bad insult. ;)

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  9. I'm always amazed by men who deny the reality of women warriors. I had a dear guy friend who absolutely hated any movie that had women warriors in it (like that one with Kiera Knightly.) I think it was too much for him to imagine women being that aggressive--maybe too scary. Which is strange because he was a commercial fisherman and he worked with female fishing captains.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  10. In my 2015 A to Z blog I posted about a warrior queen, a pirate queen, and a female naval commander, all from the 16th century. We need to pass on to our daughters the concept that women are heroes too. I love this post!

  11. oh yeah! women warriors that kick booty! this is one awesome post!

  12. Great post! I used to LOVE the Water Margin when it was shown on tv in the UK many years ago. I'd love to get the series to watch again.
    Jemima Pett

  13. Love women that kick some booty! Great post.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  14. Scáthach is an epic bad ass. 108 heroes?! I need to read that!