From the archives: Bestial Sexuality in He-Man and She-Ra

Contributed by Lady Bast.

He-Man revolves mostly around bestial relationships rather than sexuality (although it’s there), hence all the human/animal crossovers (e.g. Beastor, King Hiss, Cobra Khan, even the Sorceress). Some are even cybernetic, brandishing nasty little built-in devices (e.g. Trap-jaw and Hordak if you want to cross into She-Ra). Most of these are the bad guys because we want to underline their bestial natures, but some, like the Sorceress, are good guys. The difference is that good guys get to “bond” with animals that are admired and not feared.

Again, this is a Medieval-type society even though technology also seems to be at a high. Most people seem to have mechanical equipment of sorts and many use blasters though He-Man uses a sword to underline his sexuality. Skeletor also uses a sword (it is supposedly the “other half” of He-Man’s) to mirror the hero, but this happens rarely. Usually, Skeletor uses a magical staff with a ram’s skull on it. This is probably meant to represent evil (i.e. horns of the devil – bestiality).

In keeping with this theme, He-Man (as He-Man) is a big, hulking, Mr. Universe kind of guy with a California tan and blond hair (really big with the girls at this time). Adam, though pale, is also a big, hulking, Mr. Universe kinda guy. The difference is that He-man wears reds and browns and golds (and no shirt) because he’s a manly man whereas Adam wears pink and lavender. In the 80s, He-Man equalled a “real” man. Adam was a pasty-faced, pastel-wearing pansy.

He-man rides this big cat, right? Looks like a tiger. Green. Why doesn’t he ride a lion? Only male lions are really associated with masculinity, most other cats are associated with the female persuasion, as is the colour green which is usually a symbol of fertility. This one’s tough to prove, because the colour might just have looked good on the background. And tigers are rather ambiguous sexually: they are not directly associated with the male, but they are muscularly powerful and this one does have a male voice, and they’re not directly associated with the female, though most cats are by default. The nitty gritty details are just something else to think about. Male or female, a cat was used because the cat symbolism was big in the 80s. Especially the big cats because they had the power of the beast and the sleekness of the sexual.

And She-Ra rides a horse. The unicorn horn had nothing to do with She-Ra’s sexuality (or lack thereof), it was there because unicorns would sell. The key here is that She-Ra rode a male horse and we all know what a woman riding a mustang represents, yes?

A word on stereotypes: women are always wimps and/or ditzes in He-Man. Teela is supposed to be this great fighter, right?, but she’s always the one who gets to sound like a total idiot with that whiny “Adam, where’s He-Man?” (or vice versa) thing that she does. And if the Sorceress is so powerful, how come she spends so much time moaning and groaning about this and that and needing He-man to rescue or “help” her (as in he does all the work)?

The only exception to this, as far as I can tell, is Evilyn. She’s one of Skeletor’s lackeys and I can’t remember a single sucky thing she might have done. Mind you, I may be wrong. I don’t remember too much about her because they didn’t use her nearly enough, probably because the presence of a female in the bad guys’ camp removes their illusion of “sexlessness” (i.e. they’re all beast).

This applies to She-Ra as well. The “evil Adora” was much more effective than the “good Adora”. When she was working for evil, Adora was respected as a general in Hordak’s army. As a good guy, she’s a wimp and needs to transform into She-ra to do anything effectively. Notice that She-Ra’s voice is deeper than Adora’s, probably to make her sound more masculine. Female heroes (I don’t use the word “heroine”, a hero is a hero no matter what the sex) are often portrayed as “men with breasts,” a sad affliction that still surfaces occasionally. In fact, the only way to make her seem feminine is to give her these empathic/telepathic animal communication and healing powers. Like a woman absolutely has to be nurturing and healing. I think that all these extra powers succeeded in doing was to make her look weaker than her brother (she needs more power to do the same job). Although I’ve often thought that He-man got the short end of the stick because his sword doesn’t change into other things (Sword to Shield!). That’s like the ultimate Swiss Army Knife.

Other aspects of this stereotype manipulation are all the supposedly strong females in She-Ra who swoon over the male ones (as Glimmer did with He-man in “Secret of the Sword”) and let them take over, or who surrender/run away when confronted with a male opponent (e.g. Catra of the Horde who wimps out every time she loses her mask). Again, only Shadoweaver is of any interest although why she doesn’t just kill off Hordak (who’s too stupid to have been Skeletor’s mentor, I don’t care what the movie says) and take over is a mystery to me. The only really great female characters Filmation comes up with are almost never used… such a pity.

As you can see, He-Man and She-Ra don’t walk the sexual/bestial barrier that Thundercats does. It does use a greater amount of stereotypes, though I’m sure they thought they were quite advanced in using female fighters and lead characters.

Again, I don’t want to imply that the animation companies were trying to project these messages or used such symbols on purpose because they didn’t. And it certainly isn’t what us children picked up on either. The creators of these shows just used the images that were popular at the time, symbols that were created and used by advertisers/designers to represent the facts that already existed and those facts were that people in the 80s really, really wanted sex and bestial imagery and that, in this case, we haven’t yet obliterated all the stereotypes.

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24 Responses to From the archives: Bestial Sexuality in He-Man and She-Ra

  1. The Overanalyst says:

    Let’s not forget the names of the characters: He-Man and She-Ra.

  2. Mufop says:

    I think you misanalyze the She-Ra and the horse. For one thing, you write that the unicorn has nothing to do with her sexuality. I don’t believe this is entirely true. The horse is identified by Freud to be a symbol of male potency, clearly a horse with a horn is doubly so. She-Ra, in dominating the unicorn, and in having her own sword ” the sword of protection”, represents the realization of penis-envy.

  3. kofi annan says:

    You’re not funny. Put some thought into your articles. Layer your comedy and spend a lot of time just rewriting your articles. Old E/N sites (which, by definition haven’t been updated since 2002/2003) like X-entertainment and have content which feels a lot more fresh than yours.

    Anyhow, if there are any other pop-culture commentaries out there, please let me know – I’d like to frequent a few again.

  4. Ipsidicsitismic says:

    I would disagree with your comment in the final paragraph wherein you state that the issues presented aren’t what we, as kids, picked up on.

    The fact that you even recall it well enough to analyze could indicate that you picked up on it, even if you couldn’t do anything with that insight yet, which leads me to my more essential point.

    Many MANY things we learn in our childhood don’t serve us well as children, but rather serve as building blocks for us to use as we mature and find other blocks that fit together with it. How many skills and bits of knowledge did you learn in grade school that didn’t mean a damn to you until you picked your major in college? Childhood is about gaining pieces. Maturation and adulthood is about building those pieces into a better person.

    Therefor, I submit that you did indeed pick up on those details as a kid and that this essay is part of the result.

    Good essay though, not contrived or overdone in the least :)

  5. mandy says:

    I don’t want to spoil anything, however isn’t Spirit/Swifty female? If I remember correctly I think she (he?) gives birth in the last episode of the series.

    Good essay, you made some really good points. Especially about all the swooning in She-Ra. I always laughed at Glimmers reaction to meeting He-Man in the Secret of the Sword.

    Keep up the good work :)

  6. melinda says:

    swifty/spirit was a male they meet some unicorns in another episode which in turn in the last episode he mates with one of them and she becomes preggy but anyway this article is bull dunno why you would degrade a good cartoon from the 80s it leave wonderful meomeries for me and i don’t like this at all all the characters was awesome yes after watching it after so many years it is corny but i still love it ty

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Love this post! Great blog! I’m doing articles on Super Smash Bros Brawl feel free to write back sometime!

  8. Marguez says:

    That was a great post…I love this site…Thanks

  9. daji says:

    Very interesting, specially since I am currently working in the analysis of the Path of the Heroine from a Jungian perspective, only a lot more modern.
    I do prefer using the term Heroine, since it does not portray women as “men with breasts”, just like you said. There are substantial differences in the mechanisms used by Heroines, so it is necessary to make a difference between Heroes and Heroines.

    “The unicorn horn had nothing to do with She-Ra’s sexuality (or lack thereof), it was there because unicorns would sell.”
    Absolutely not. Unicorns symbolize virginity and purity. Evidently, She-Ra, being a virgin warrior would ride a unicorn.

    “The only exception to this, as far as I can tell, is Evilyn.”
    It is obvious. She opposes the traditional male values and possesses the strength of the Dark Goddess. Then, she is independent, assertive and strong.

    “Like a woman absolutely has to be nurturing and healing”
    Now, there I agree.

    “Other aspects of this stereotype manipulation are all the supposedly strong females in She-Ra who swoon over the male ones”
    This is most likely derived by the idea that all women, deep inside them, are nothing but sentimental idiots who will give up everything for love. Yuck.

    “Again, I don’t want to imply that the animation companies were trying to project these messages or used such symbols on purpose because they didn’t.”
    They did not need to!! Every story contains archetypes that express themselves through the artist. Indeed, it might sound far fetched to call animation companies “artists” but they create stories that communicate to people’s unconscious.

    I guess you already guessed two things: first, I am a woman, second, I am a Jungian analyst XD. I really enjoyed your article and hope to read more.

  10. Boerner says:

    Thank you admin good work.

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  12. Has anyone seen the “Masters of the Universe” movie from the 1980s?

    There’s a scene towards the end where He-Man is being whipped before Skeletor, and even since I was young, I sensed an outstanding level of sexual tension between the two characters.

  13. Coelho says:

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  17. I had many heman toys and watched the cartoon a lot as a child. Watching the show now many things are obvious. The female characters were drawn to be sexy as hell!! They all had large breasts, long muscular legs, big butts, and very small waists. Now you could say that male artists enjoy drawning women in this fashion, (comic book like)or you could say that body images were being impressed upon children. (Male and female) Is it just by chance that I like women with bodies like that??? Oh, and i saw an episode of HeMan where they tackled drug abuse.

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