Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Red Haired Sex Goddess With A Sword

As a young man who liked Conan, Marvel's Red Sonja was, well, mind blowing. She was basically Conan with long red hair, breasts and a vagina. It's easy to see why she appealed to male comic book readers. But why, in this era of bad ass female heroes and villains, does she still have appeal?

There are Red Sonja books still being published. I haven't read any of the new ones, and I haven't even read many of the Marvel ones. I don't think the Marvel series was a huge seller when it came out, but I could be wrong. I do know, however, that the character remains popular because of what she represents.

Red Sonja is sex holding a sword. Her armor, what little of it there is, protects those parts of her body that make her female and nothing else. The rest is bare skin. The fact that she isn't covered in scars says she's not only good offensively in a fight, but defensively as well. The parts of her body armored against attacks from blades tells readers that her femininity is firmly in place, but the rest says she's all male. Even her name evokes masculinity. Red is primarily a male's name, despite it being used to describe her hair here.

There is a theory out there that says much of genre fiction aimed at young males just experiencing their first sexual desires often features a female in the lead role that has a masculine role. She's still a woman, but is seen in a traditional male light. This, the theory goes, is to let young boys who are starting to get interested in the opposite sex get those desires while at the same time appealing to the latent homosexuality in many males and/or the "girls are yucky" remnants. A perfect example of this is Jamie Lee Curtis' character in Halloween.

Red Sonja's exaggerated sexuality is matched only by the exaggerated violence. It lets boys take interest in a female without seeming "gay" to their friends (though if you believe the theory, it is almost the exact opposite). She is "safe" reading for boys who just discovered masturbation.

Today's fans of Red have far more characters to choose from. They don't have to read her adventures. So what makes her special? Dominance, perhaps. Being unique in her genre may be another reason. She's been around for decades, and she's maintained her name in a genre not exactly none for strong female leads. It could be that, deep down, these readers subconsciously respect the power of the female.

Or they could just be waiting for her top to fall off. Either way, she's still around and probably will be thirty years from now. As long as the stories don't get old, she should be just fine.

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