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A Jungian Analysis of the Warrior Woman in Popular Culture and a Brief Look at What the Archetype Means Culturally and Psychologically

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A Jungian analysis of the warrior woman in popular culture and a brief look at what the archetype means culturally and psychologically.

The 1990s and the new millennium saw an influx of female action heroes on television from Xena to Scully, Buffy to Sidney Bristow. Countless girls and boys eagerly jumped to their television set each evening to absorb the warrior energy of their new role models. Adults, too, were intrigued by the possibility of a new gender role for women – fighters.

These women were not only stereotypically beautiful characters, but, untypically, they were also highly intellectual, courageous and strong – stronger indeed than the men portrayed alongside them, if not their equals. These fighting women usually depended on themselves for rescue and did not always wait around for their men.

Some women warriors had martial arts expertise (Xena, Buffy, Sidney, Nikita), some wielded weapons (Dana Scully from The X Files, Samantha Carter from Stargate SG1), while others used magic (Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the three sisters in Charmed), and then there was the cyborg (Seven of Nine from Voyager and Max from Dark Angel). All nevertheless embodied the warrior archetype: a fighting spirit evoking a new female consciousness, one that reflected a shift of values in Western society's gender norms.

C. G. Jung Research Online books, journals for academic research, plus bibliography tools.
Jungian Philosophy
Analytical psychology poses the theory of archetypes or 'instinctual patterns' in the psyche, the 'warrior' being just one among a potentially unlimited human experiences. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) noted that archetypes reside in the third layer of the psyche – the collective unconscious, the universal dimension of a human's mind, where mythological symbols common to all individuals derive.

From the masculine bias of his time came the idea of the Hero's Journey, an internal quest undertaken by men to find their true selves. Myths of the hero symbolized the 'psychological life cycle'. Women in these stories had no such quest; they were either the hero's prize or the witch/seductress who tempted them away from their paths. In this psychological journey, the hero must become a warrior and slay a dragon in order to claim his treasure. Television has always captured this patriarchal pattern in characters ranging from Bond to Tarzan, and not to forget the superheroes from Batman to Superman.

Television Representations as Feminist Reactions
From the 1970s onwards, a breed of fearless women appeared on our screens; much of these representations owed to the Women's Movement and the '90's warriors were a reaction to this second wave of feminism.

Toni Wolff (1888-1953) was the first to acknowledge the Amazon archetype, a personality type in the feminine psyche she described as being concerned with masculine pursuits, with an emphasis on ambition, independence and the will to succeed. Xena: Warrior Princess embodies this mythological model admirably.

The Warrior Archetype in Women
The warrior hero archetype in women has cultural and psychological functions different to men. The extensive television shows featuring warrior women indicate that females are no longer confined to the domestic, private sphere, but are very much included in the public jungle that once belonged only to men.

Not characterized by sex or social roles, the woman as warrior breaks stale social moulds and redefines femininity for a new age. Having the skill to fight and be brave and noble, have dignity and honor and to not give up are essential ingredients to the growing psyche and to facing obstacles in the world outside.

Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey (1949) narrates quests undertaken by mostly male heroes and feature world myths that are patriarchal in structure. Male mythological quests usually involve the defeat of an engulfing feminine element. In contrast, contemporary television representations of warrior women feature quests to defeat an enemy that usually symbolizes a patriarchal force which threatens their freedom (vampires in Buffy, Ares, the war-god in Xena). The warrior archetype therefore mirrors the psychological and cultural struggles women have faced in an oppressive society, and the battles that have yet to be won.

The hero in warrior's guise has forever remained strong in the cultural imagination and television has been a powerful medium in which to represent the warrior woman archetype.

Sources and Resources:
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Third Edition, New World Library, California, 2008.

Mainon, Dominique and Ursini, James. The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen, Limelight Editions, Canada, 2006.

Pearson, Carol S. The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By, HarperCollins, New York, 1998.

Powers, Meredith A. The Heroine in Western Literature: The Archetype and Her Re-emergence in Modern Prose, McFarland & Company, Inc. North Carolina, 1991.

Segal, Robert, A. Jung on Mythology, Routledge, London, 1998.

Storr, Anthony. The Essential Jung: Selected Writings, Fontana Press, London, 1998.

Wolf, Toni. Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche, Trans. P. Waltzlewicz. Zurich: Students' Association of the C.G. Institute, 1956.

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