Rosa Montero is a highly respected Spanish journalist and author. She writes a regular column in the newspaper El País and has published 29 books.
Rosa Montero, El País – 17 Dec 2017
There’s no need to invent unrealistic heroines: history is full of extraordinary women who have made their mark in all walks of life.
The other day I was talking with some friends about the new Wonder Woman film, released in Latin America under the more audience-appropriate title, ‘Mujer Maravilla’. It’s the first movie in which the comic book character appears as a fully-fledged protagonist; at last, a film with a superheroine instead of a load of testosterone stuffed into tights. Even more refreshing, the director Patty Jenkins is a woman, and you could say that the story contains a few nods to feminist ideas.
The film isn’t bad, as far as this type of high-budget blockbuster goes, but I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the star, Gal Gadot, in her little ‘warrior’ outfit. It consists of a tight-fitting, strapless bodice whose absurd design looks like it would struggle to contain her ample bosom when she throws her first punch (it must have been glued to her skin to prevent her nipples being unleashed), a tiny pair of hot pants worthy of a vaudeville chorus line, and a pair of heels in which she is supposed to run like a gazelle. Of course, I realise that this image comes from the comic book, and from the prototype of a woman as dreamed up by the horny, male mind. But in the spirit of innovation, that age-old, clichéd hyper sexuality could have been tempered somewhat. Indeed, now that I think about it, how strange that in the world of comic books, the girls always seem to represent some objectifying, straight man’s daydream, while the male superheroes, tightly squeezed into their Lycra, seem to be more of a gay fantasy.
Coincidentally, the writer Carlos Bassas Rey was recently telling me about female Samurai. It seems to me that there’s no need to invent unrealistic female warriors: history is full of women who have made their mark in all walks of life, from the most statuesque to the most brutal. If we don’t know about them now, or we believe that they never existed, it is because sexism has denied them a place in the history books.
Following my conversation with Carlos, I did a little research into the Samurai, the legendary Japanese warriors who served feudal lords from the 10th century onwards and, most notably, became a powerful military elite in the 15th and 16th centuries. Incidentally, there was apparently a homosexual tradition among the Samurai in the style of Ancient Greece, where adults were partnered with their teenage apprentices (I’m reminded once again of the leotard-clad superheroes). And yes, there were of course female samurais. Instead of the traditional sword, or katana, they used a naginata, a long spear topped with a fearsome curved blade. They too had a suicide ritual so that they could die while preserving their honour, but instead of seppuku or harikari, the well-known practise among male samurai of disembowelment followed by decapitation, the women slit their throats (jigai).
Apparently, there were always female Samurai, and there are a few whose names are still remembered. As expected, however, the majority of them were swiftly erased from historical record. The most famous was Nakano Takeko, who lived during the twilight years of the age of the Samurai. In fact, she died in 1868, a year before the Samurai were abolished. Nakano, born in 1847, began her military training as a child. At the age of 16, she was already a master of combat and trained other girls, including her sister. She refused to marry and when war broke out between the shoguns (or feudal lords), and the emperor supported by the United States, she commanded a group of 20 female warriors. She took part in the defence of Aizu, the final battle of the war. These women didn’t have firearms, and they faced the rifles of the imperial army with their spears as their only defence. Even so, it’s said that Nakano killed six enemy soldiers before being shot in the chest. Dying, she chose to end her life with honour, and asked her sister to cut her throat. Her sister, exhausted from battle or from pain, lacked the necessary strength and a male Samurai had to finish the brutal act.
They say that when the imperial troops arrived at Aizu, they found the bodies of 200 female samurais who had undergone this ritual suicide. There are photos of Nakano, elegantly coiffed and dressed, a small, frail-looking woman whose delicacy is in stark contrast to the weapons she bears with pride. Now, with her as a protagonist, you could definitely make a good film.
Translated by Molly Shevlin