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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

a) Women warriors and masculine men

1) Female warriors: subjectivity, sexuality, and medievalism

Mathilde van Dijk

Texte intégral

1A constant presence in Western imagination since the mythical Amazons, from the 1990s the female warrior rose again: in films, games, and TV series. Often set in a medieval context or in a context in which supposedly medieval horrors such as vampires resurfaced, she (the woman warrior) kicked ass dressed in skimpy clothes and stiletto heels. Moreover, she had sexual relations with men or women or both and stayed independent throughout these adventures. Feminist philosophers and theologians either deplored her rise as a deplorable regression to catering to the male gaze or applauded it as a hallmark in the struggle for full subjectivity for women. The latter were inspired by the fourteenth chapter of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe, entitled “La femme independante,” in which the French philosopher argued that men and women would never be regarded as equal subjects as long as women were not allowed an independent sexuality. From the first wave of feminism in the nineteenth century, feminists had been interested in the Middle Ages: first, in the context of the suffragettes, in powerful abbesses and queens, who proved that women could function in government; later in female authors, who were seen as exemplars of a typically female subjectivity. As far as female warriors are concerned, in the meantime, the dial turned again: the most recent female warriors are not cast as overtly sexy but dress in suits of armor or practical clothes. Moreover, their sexuality, like their performance of it, appears to be all over the place. Game of Thrones’s Brienne of Tarth is often cited as an example of a woman who is definitely heterosexual but who is formatted as a lesbian butch. This paper explores the development of the female warrior since the 1990s. It discusses the potential of the female warrior as an exemplar of female subjectivity, in connection to her sexuality and her prowess as a fighter. It specifically focused on the “medieval” elements in her construction: what is the purpose of these? Why does she need to be so “medieval”?


2Beauvoir, Le Deuxième


3Game of Thrones


University of Groningen

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