Throughout history there have been legendary women warriors and leaders. In Greek mythology Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom and Artemis was goddess of the hunt and leader of the Amazonian women, an all-female society of fierce warriors (Goldstein).
An ancient Chinese ballad tell of Hua Mulan, dressed as a man and took her father’s place in the emperor’s army and was never discovered to be a woman (The Ballad of Hua Mulan).
Other women from historical England such as Margaret of Anjou and Catherine of Aragon, as well as Joan of Arc from France were successful warrior-leaders and their actions were immortalized in legends (Wikipedia contributors: Women Warriors in Folklore).
Although there exist many examples of women proving themselves capable warriors, there still exists gender discrimination, particularly in regards to the actual armor worn by women warriors. Camilla, an Amazonic female warrior portrayed in Virgil’s Aeneid, is depicted as entering the fray clothed in tight fitting and exotic garb that emphasizes her idealized beauty while simultaneously demonstrating that she is not an equal to the male warriors (and all their bejeweled armor) portrayed in the Aeneid (Stock 59). Not surprisingly, it is Camilla’s lack of armor that results in her death–not because of the lack of protection, but because of the increased fascination and attraction she has toward the magnificent armor of another (male) warrior, Chloreus (Stock 58). This distraction results in her being struck down and killed, emphasizing her femininity and demonstrating that although she was an extremely powerful warrior she was lacking the crucial element in becoming an equal match for the male opponents she faced in battle (Stock 59).
In contrast, the title character of the Roman de Silence defies all feminine restrictions in knighthood and assumes all the male-gendered responsibilities and prerogatives of knighthood. Not only does Silence receive her own armor, but she has a classic arming passage, individual combat and epic battle scenes that equal an male medieval literary warrior (Stock 69). Eventually Silence gains the reputation as the most skilled knight in France, and receives a magnificent suit of armor as a gift from the King of France (Stock 71). Silence’s cross-gender identity formation hinges largely on her armor, because in order to be successful she must ‘pass’ as a male knight (Stock 73). Her adoption of male qualities allows her to be successful in a traditionally male-dominated arena, but effectually ‘silences’ her natural weapon of femininity–her words (Stock 74).
In comparing the two women warriors from medieval legend, we see that both women were disadvantaged in some way. Camilla retained the prowess and power of her femininity, but her death was brought about by her fascination with (and personal lack of) the full armor worn by her male opponent. Silence on the other hand was granted the full armor and literary prowess of arming and battle scenes, but ultimately ended up sacrificing her femininity to gain success in a masculine world.
Goldstein, Joshua S. “Amazon Women: Myths of Amazon matriarchies.” War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge University Press: 2001. Web. 18 Apr 2012. http://www.warandgender.com/wgamazon.htm
Stock, Lorraine K. “’Arms and the (Wo)man’ in Medieval Romance: The Gendered Arming of Female Warriors in the “Roman d’Eneas” and Heldris’s “Roman de Silence.” Arthuriana 5.4, Arthurian Arms and Arming (1995): pp. 56-83. 29 Mar 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27869148
Wikipedia contributors. “Hua Mulan.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
Wikipedia contributors. “Joan of Arc.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
Wikipedia contributors. “List of women warriors in folklore.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
Wikipedia contributors. “Margaret of Anjou.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
“The Ballad of Hua Mulan.” c.5 A.D. Web. 18 Apr 2012. http://www.chinese-swords-guide.com/mulan.html