Xena added four former partners-in-crime to her team (so that they totaled a half-dozen) for this season 3 episode: three men and one woman who could be called an angry feminist.
It’s not uncommon for shows to have an episode with a “feminist,” though usually these episodes enrage me, because they tend to completely miss the point of feminism, and the “happy ending” is that the feminist no longer hates men.
This episode was…okay. Glaphyra, the “feminist,” does miss the point of feminism, hating men more than
fighting for equality. And she does “reform” by the end of the episode. But it works.
For one thing, it’s not that she learns that men are wonderful and she shouldn’t be mistrustful– all she learns is that a bit of kindness and forgiveness is warranted for all people. She stops capturing men and selling them into brutal slavery as a punishment for the evils of their sex– but she’s not a patriarchy cheerleader.
For another, she’s learning her lesson from two other women who are fighting the same fight. Xena has to tell her that despite appearances, Gabrielle is the stronger one– it’s Gabrielle’s goodness that has changed Xena and caused her to reform. “Don’t make such a big deal about the patriarchy” is a hard lesson to swallow, but it’s easier when it comes from two women who spend a lot of time kicking men’s asses and saving women from the ill effects of patriarchy.
Plus, it’s heavily implied that Glaphyra has suffered pretty atrociously at men’s hands in the past, and so her anger is not irrational. It’s merely disruptive to her own peace of mind. Glaphyra isn’t who she is “just because”– she suffered, and Evil Xena brought her from her suffering and taught her to fight, and she used those skills for revenge because she couldn’t think of any other way to go. It’s not her fault– even Xena didn’t think another way was possible at the time.
Letting Glaphyra be a fully-realized person, instead of a strawfeminist, and letting the lesson be “don’t let hatred rule your life,” rather than, “the patriarchy is awesome,” went a long way towards making this episode palatable to me. There’s a small part of me that thinks it was written to reassure men who thought Xena was a little too self-reliant, but even so, feminism isn’t about hating all men for the terrible things the patriarchy encourages them to do. It’s about…well, a lot of things, but one of them is allowing women to live their lives unapologetically. Which is what Glaphyra does at the end– sure, she goes off with a man, but not because she was wrong to mistrust men– because this one has earned her trust.
Plus, unlike in every other ensemble of one-shot sidekicks, the woman wasn’t the first to die! Nor was the man with the black dreadlocks! It was the old white guy who died first! And yeah, this still left another white guy to live on happily, but I had gotten used to predicting, based on gender and ethnicity, who would die first– and I’m usually right.
All in all, a happy ending.
(for more posts on Xena, look here!)