Monday, July 12, 2004

G.I. Guinevere?

In the new King Arthur film the character of Guinevere has been transformed, in the words of the film's publicists, from "English Rose to Warrior".

The new Guinevere is described as follows by the actress who plays her part, Keira Knightley:

"She's no damsel in distress ... Our Guinevere is a lot tougher than that. She's a fighter, a warrior, as much as any man ... That's based on historical fact - the women did fight on equal standing with the men. That's never really been shown before."

I have two problems with this. First, it's a rewriting of history. The "historical" Arthur lived during the period of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England. There aren't a lot of historical documents from this period (it was the "dark ages"), but I've never come across a single document from the entire 700 year period which suggests that women routinely (or even occasionally) fought on equal terms with the men.

The Roman historian Tacitus, writing a few hundred years before these events, does mention that Germanic women sometimes formed a line behind the men at a battle. But this was to prevent the men from fleeing the combat - a man who did so would shame himself by running past and deserting his own womenfolk.

The second problem is that I find the masculinised portrayal of women in films unenjoyable. Nor am I alone in preferring a more feminine portrayal of women: according to the 2004 AustraliaSCAN survey, what Australian men find least appealing in women are ... "masculine tendencies".

Men do not love women for their ruggedness or muscularity or physical toughness. These qualities are not the distinctive inner qualities of womanhood.

Why then do we end up with so many "warrior women" on the silver screen? In a liberal culture, it's considered "emancipated" to act in a contrary way to your own gender. This is because liberals want to be self-created by their own reason and will, rather than by inherited things like the sex we are born into. In the liberal view, our sex isn't something we naturally and positively identify with; it is instead a kind of impediment to the self-creating individual to be overcome.

It's possible that the new King Arthur is still a worthwhile film. What a pity, though, that the liberal blowtorch has been applied to the leading female character.

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