By The Honor Of Grayskull… She-Ra: Princess Of Power

As a child, my first fictional hero was She-Ra. She was both strong and kind, never compromised her values, protected her friends and the people of Etheria, and had spiffy accessories (including a flying/talking unicorn and a kickass sword). What more could a 4 year old want?

The show was developed as a spin off to the popular He-Man series by producers who thought that perhaps little girls would like to be able see themselves as the hero. I know that they probably weren’t out to motivate social change but simply by acknowledging that there was an audience for this sort of character, an audience that was being pretty thoroughly neglected, they did something good.

She-Ra/Princess Adora was retconned into the story as He-Man/Prince Adam’s long lost twin sister: as an infant she had been kidnapped by the evil Hordak and taken to Etheria, where Hordak ruled. She was raised to be the perfect Horde soldier; when we first meet her she’s already become the Captain of the force and that’s before she gets her super powers- even as an ordinary human she was a force to be reckoned with. Later in the series, while Adam maintained a rather lazy and irresponsible persona to hide his secret identity as He-Man, Adora was never anything other than herself- Adora was every bit as strong willed and capable as She-Ra always was.

Adora’s initial journey from evil Horde leader to leader of the Rebellion is fairly unique for a female character. She had been kept in line by Hordak’s sorceress who had cast a spell on Adora to make her believe Hordak when he told her that what he was doing was for the good of the Etherians. When Adam is sent to Etheria in search of the person that a magical sword (almost identical to his own as He-Man) is meant for, he’s quite surprised when the sword leads him to an officer in the Horde. He realizes that the sword can’t be wrong, and tries to convince her that Hordak is not the benevolent leader she believes him to be. Adora is loyal to what she believes in though, so in the end Adam simply asks her to go out and see the people, to really see them and what their lives are like. She does; and realizes that they are poor and starving, taken into slavery, seeing for the first time the cruelty of the Horde Troopers that she was raised to serve alongside. This is a concept more in line with the journey of a hero, not a heroine- if a woman is going to change after serving evil she’s usually brought to the side of good by falling love or by being rescued. Women are supposed to be protected in fairy tales, not specifically shown the horrors of war and allowed to make their own decision about which side they wish to take.

After Adam has been freed and Adora has learned about her powers as She-Ra, Adam takes her home to Eternia to meet their parents for the first time in her life. It’s a very touching reunion, she clearly loves them and they her but she cannot stay: she tells them that she has to go back to Etheria and join the Rebellion, to save the people she once helped control. No one tries to stop her, no one tries to tell her that it’s not her place, even though her parents do not know about her abilities or her alternate identity. For all they know she is just an ordinary teenage girl, their only daughter whom they hadn’t seen in 19 years and feared dead, but they understand why she needs to go back and help free Etheria from Hordak’s rule.

The series was notable in several other ways as well- female villains who were just as menacing as the men, female heroines of a wide range of personality types, male characters being rescued without it being a blow to anyone’s ego- but even if She-Ra had been the only part they got right, it would have been more than enough for me because they got her so very right.

Comments

  1. says

    This post is the final step that has convinced me to buy the She-Ra DVDs when I get a chance to get back to the States.

    She-Ra was totally my hero when I was little, and I like to think that watching the show reinforced some of my better qualities.

  2. Blake says

    Although I never saw many of the other episodes, the She-Ra / He-Man movie was one of my favorites way back when.

    Looking back, it is interesting to see how much more Awesome She-Ra is than He-Man. He-Man had to deal with a politicaly stable, relatively peaceful planet that was only threatened from time to time by Skeletor, who often came across as kind of a doofus. She-Ra has to fight an entrenched power system controlled by Skeletor’s mentor. Her fight, at least in its set-up, is way more dramatic.

  3. Fellow-ette says

    Thank you for writing this! My twin brother and I were obsessed with the saga of He-Man and She-Ra–two brave and noble warriors with a good roster of inside jokes as well. I wish there were more fun shows like this with really strong female characters who did their share of rescuing.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    You know, I never watched this show, but I really like the idea that she was powerful before she got superpowers. It’s easy to dismiss a super-powered woman as someone who’s very cool, but needn’t inform your views on ordinary women, poor silly dears.

  5. SunlessNick says

    I have very little memory of this show, but I do remember that I liked it. I also remember that the tie-in toys sold as well as He-Man ones did.

    And Blake you’re right: He-Man so had it easy compared to her. Heck, he even had the leading authority on the Swords close by.

  6. MaggieCat says

    Looking back, it is interesting to see how much more Awesome She-Ra is than He-Man. He-Man had to deal with a politicaly stable, relatively peaceful planet that was only threatened from time to time by Skeletor, who often came across as kind of a doofus. She-Ra has to fight an entrenched power system controlled by Skeletor’s mentor. Her fight, at least in its set-up, is way more dramatic. -Blake

    This one of the most basic things that I love about the series. I don’t remember the He-Man series well enough to do a comparison, but he had a pretty cushy set up compared to her: raised by loving parents, given the support of the planet’s ruling system, trained to use his powers, and got to be a prince the rest of the time. Contrast to She-Ra who’s fighting against an entire army with largely untrained fighters and is viewed as a criminal. She is the leader of The Great Rebellion- how often is that a job that goes to a woman? We’re not supposed to subvert the system!

    Plus she had better powers than he did: they were even on the strength/agility stuff, but while he can telepathically speak only to the Sorceress she can talk to animals, he gets superbreath (which I so do not even remember, but according to Wiki) and she gets to heal people with just a touch. Hell, if I’m not mistaken she discovers that last one when he needed healed.

    You know, I never watched this show, but I really like the idea that she was powerful before she got superpowers. It’s easy to dismiss a super-powered woman as someone who’s very cool, but needn’t inform your views on ordinary women, poor silly dears. -BetaCandy

    This actually brushes on one of the topics from He-Man that I remember annoying me as a kid; Prince Adam’s fighting instructor was Teela, the captain of the royal guard and daughter of the Man-at-Arms. And while she was very cool and very skilled, Adam was lying about his identity and acted completely irresponsible and lazy. It wasn’t a huge leap to guess that he wasn’t really trying his hardest, so it always felt like they were playing a mean trick on her. On the one hand she yells at Adam for slacking off, on the other she has a crush on He-Man. (And she got captured too often for my taste.)

    None of the happened on She-Ra. Although only a few people knew of her identity, even the ones who didn’t respected her skills. She was considered the most intimidating and dangerous member of the Horde before she got her powers. At one point Adora was worried that her boyfriend liked She-Ra better than he liked her, but nope- he loved the normal Adora. Even characters who were played for comedy like Madame Razz could be capable when push came to shove.

  7. says

    She is the leader of The Great Rebellion- how often is that a job that goes to a woman?

    Well, there was Princess Leia… :-P

  8. MaggieCat says

    Heh, sorry I suffer from a deadly allergy to anything Star Wars related. Although from my completely uninformed opinion, I’d have to say I hear a heck of a lot more about Luke and Han Solo than about Leia everywhere but around here, so I can’t help it if that didn’t occur to me in the slightest.

    Okay, so we’re up to two by 1985. Any others? ;-)

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I can certainly see where someone would get the sense Leia was a leader in the Rebellion – in Empire, it seems clear she’s one of the most respected voices.

    But then in the next movie, Han suddenly gets a promotion from Nothing to General, and she decides to go serve under him.

    I don’t mean to discourage anyone who feels differently, but Leia was a huge let-down to me in the third film. I believe she’s where much of my rageaholic violence about women characters began to crystallize until it formed the cold, dark, hard diamond of fury that is my heart now. :D

  10. Patrick says

    As a child growing up in the 80s, I naturally watched many, many toy-based cartoons. While He-Man was generally my favorite, there was one episode of She-Ra that profoundly affected my six year-old mind.

    One of Hordak’s many enemies poisons him with a fool-proof magical poison: it can only be cured if someone willingly sheds tears for the victim, and no one in their right mind would cry over a monster like Hordak. (Sort of a reversal of the attempted resurrection of Balder in Norse myth.)

    She-Ra, of course, values all life, even Hordak’s, so she takes him with her on a journey to find someone, anyone, who will cry for him. It becomes sort of a “this was your life, Hordak” as She-Ra repeatedly finds that every last person that Hordak has ever interacted with, when told that he will die unless they cry over him, just says “good riddance.”

    Some of these people are evil (Skeletor, etc.), others not. But Hordak as affected all of their lives only negatively, through his choices. She-Ra is repeatedly told that Hordak has no one to blame but himself if no one will mourn his passing.

    She-Ra begins crying. Not for Hordak, she says, but because she has now seen firsthand how utterly he wasted his life. Many times given the oportunity to do good, or at least to refrain from doing evil, Hordak chose to be a monstrous bastard, when he never had to be.

    This is evenough to cure Hordak, and the episode ends with She-Ra expressing the hope that he may still come to see the error of his ways.

    The great thing about the episode is that it presents She-Ra’s breakdown as human compassion, nor as “feminine sentimentality” or the like. She weeps for Hordak after she’s seen just how terrible he really is.

  11. Gategrrl says

    Wow, man, I missed some cartoon, didn’t I! This aired after my time in cartoon land was over, while I was in college. No wonder I don’t remember this series at all, except for the ridiculous names.

  12. Ifritah says

    She-Ra was very much my hero as a kid!

    Actually, I just recently saw the Christmas special, and one scene comes right to mind (well, aside from that frightening song that Bow sang…): He-Man gets trapped by some tentacle things on this plane. He tries everything he can to escape, but no dice. She-Ra comes to his rescue and sets him free. (No, he doesn’t return the favor later on in the special either. This isn’t a tit-for-tat and I love that.)

    (Though I do have to say, my favorite memory of the show was when Hordak takes Perfuma prisoner and she winds up putting flowers all over the place, making everything smell pretty, and humming little ditties. Hordak was so horrified he let her go! *Giggles*)

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