Prose Wednesday

Red Sonja and a phallic sword

Some folks love this poster. Some think it adds unnecessary sexuality to what ought to just be a kick-ass warrior. In a chain-mail bikini. Which you have to figure gets cold in the Ukraine. But it’s a worthy point — why is she simulating adult acts with a phallic symbol when she should just be lopping off heads?

I am not, as I just said in a prior post, much of a swords and sorcery guy. I’ve never read anything with Red Sonja (or, for that matter, Conan) in it, but I’ve heard enough of her origin to feel icky.

Red Sonja’s origin is a mess of sexual politics. Briefly: 17-year-old maiden loses her family to marauders, is brutally raped, and in her agony is given kick-ass sword skills by a goddess in order to get revenge (who I think also restores her virginity, if long-distant memory serves.) The caveat is, Sonja’s never allowed to lie down with a man unless he bests her in battle. Presumably, this is difficult at best when your abilities are given to you by God herself.

So: injustice left Sonja thirsty for vengeance, or, “blood thirsty.” Well, there’s that part of the poster. And really, fellas, if your sexual imagery includes rivulets of blood, check into a hospital before you hurt yourself.

In order to attain that vengeance, Sonja’s required by the goddess to forego sex except after being bested in combat; inextricably linking violence to sex for this character. Sex now requires a degree of victimization (being beaten in battle by a man). Not wanting to ever be a victim again, she becomes a “she-devil with a sword,” taking on ultra-masculine traits (aggression, violence, and a four-foot sword). For her to forego those traits, she must encounter a man so overwhelmingly masculine he forces her to lapse back into the complete opposite: feminine, yielding, sexual. A prize rather than a challenge. Violence is her sexual outlet. So I guess that blood-licking thing fits.

Really creepy portrayal of a victim unable to process her trauma, or healthy response to reclaiming one’s sexual identity? I don’t know and I don’t intend to divine an answer. I’m not smart or sensitive enough to handle this one. But the question is, does the image of this woman licking blood from a sword represent more violence, or more sex? To put it another way: sure the sword’s symbolic, but how literal is the blood?