Tag Archives: women warriors

Q&A: Can a Woman Pick Up A HOUseCat?

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite: I was wondering since I read this in a fic… how true is that a woman wouldn’t able to use a great sword since it uses strength and mass?

Complete bullshit.

Great swords, like zweihanders, only weigh eight pounds. That is considered heavy, by the way, for weapons. They can be wielded one handed. You probably wouldn’t want to, but you can. If a small man can wield a zweihander, a small woman can to.

The argument a woman can’t wield a weapon because it’s too heavy is he-man machismo chest beating that’s often wriggling its way toward outright misogyny. It’s right up there with women can’t fight, and the bow being a weapon that doesn’t take much strength to wield. (Which can be true, but that depends on the bow’s draw weight. War Bows like the English Longbows? 180 pounds. That’s lifting a normal sized man with one shoulder. The strain these bows produced was so high they warped archer skeletons after periods of prolonged use. Now, if you’re asking, could a woman draw one? With enough training, yes. Same goes for men. You gotta build the right muscles.) We invented crossbows because shooting with regular bows required a lot of skill, and was difficult for the average person.

The irony is that heavy weapons work against battlefield goals. The heavier the weapon is the more drain it places on the combatant’s energy reserves and their endurance, meaning they can’t fight as long as they might with a lighter, but similarly effective, weapon. The trend in weapons development is always to make the weapon more effective, more streamlined, more usable, and ultimately more deadly. The better the forging techniques, the lighter a weapon became while maintaining its structural integrity. Bronze isn’t just a soft metal, bronze is heavy.

You don’t want a weapon (or gear) that’s heavy to carry when you’ve got to march six or seven miles to the battlefield and then fight. You don’t. Male or female, you can’t fight forever. The more exhausted you are, the higher your chance of being killed.

While often treated as anomalies, history is filled with examples female combatants. The truth is that women have always fought, even if they are often forgotten by history as leaders, battlefield tacticians, strategists, and warriors. As it turns out, the Amazons were real. They were Scythian, and recent archaeological discoveries about their tombs have discovered that about one third of Scythians originally assumed to be men were women. This has happened a lot to women warriors in history. Many archaeologists assumed skeletons buried in warrior tombs were men when they weren’t.

The truth is that the impediments to women pursuing a career in combat is cultural not physical. You don’t believe me? Read this article by Micah Ables from the Modern Warfare Institute refuting arguments against female combatants in the US Military. (That’s the West Point website.)

Martial combat is about enhancing your own advantages and stripping the enemy of theirs. Skill is the hallmark, experience, endurance, and luck are the secondaries. The arguments against women are dressed up in discussions about physiology, but it’s really just enforcing cultural gender norms. It’s racist and sexist phrenology all over again. (This is the 19th century pseudoscience which argued that because women had smaller heads than men they were less intelligent. Then, when they realized women had proportionally larger heads in connection with their bodies and thus proportionally larger brains than men, argued women were intellectually similar to children because children also had proportionally larger heads.) This is just someone trying to use science to justify gender bias and chauvinism. They show their hand by focusing on physical differences and factors which are simply not relevant. Or, they don’t understand martial combat enough to grasp the importance (or lack thereof) of upper body strength. Just look at this short list of weird things men have believed about women.

Think about this, the idea a woman couldn’t lift an eight pound weapon, much less effectively wield one, is as idiotic as the idea women can’t do math.

Now, go watch Hidden Figures.


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What do you think of women’s chestplates that have breasts shaped into them, like in the new Power Rangers movie that’s coming out? I always thought just having the chestplates men wear would be a better idea but I’m no expert.

I kinda suspected we were going to get this question, but you can rest easy. That’s a creation by Hollywood and the media. Sensible people wear armor that doesn’t kill you.

Real women wore real armor, real women wear real armor. The armor they wear isn’t any different from the armor men wear. Real women throughout history have hidden their gender and gone off to fight. Sometimes, they got caught. Sometimes, they didn’t. Sometimes, they didn’t care if everyone knew. Sometimes, they flipped the bird in the face of cultural norms and swanned off to defeat male opponents in very public duels.

However, they did so dressed like men. Why? Because what men wear when they fight is what makes sense for a person to wear when they go to war.

Hollywood, media, and other forms of entertainment often feel the need to remind you that women are women. They often use audience ignorance as an excuse to sex up their costumes.

Apparently, for Power Rangers, the color coding and a short skirt over the leotard was no longer good enough.

I will cop to having watched a great deal of Power Rangers when I was younger, I was in the target demographic when the original American production aired in the 90s when the Yellow Ranger’s actress, Thuy Trang’s Power Ranger double was actually male because they used the film of the Rangers battling monsters from the Japanese series and there was only one girl rather than two. The Pink Ranger got a miniskirt, but she also got pants.

Ironically, given how much crap it gets, Power Rangers has always had pretty decent parity for it’s time and, as far as, I know, it’s only made the racist color choices mistake once. It is consistent about having at least two female characters with one being a minority and when they switched them out they just swapped races for the colors people complained about. (An African-American actress, Karan Ashley replaced Thuy Trang as the Yellow Ranger, and Johnny Young Bosch switched in for Walter Emanuel Jones. These two were in the team that made up the first Power Rangers Movie which had a theatrical release. I’ll be honest, doing better it isn’t a high bar to hit.)

The boobplate and the heels are new additions to the American version of the franchise, at the very least. I haven’t seen all the runs of the Sentai so I can’t comment.

Real women wear real armor and their armor looks just like a guy’s.

For more information on this subject, I recommend checking out:

Bikini Armor Battle Damage – This is a fun blog that talks a lot about bad design elements for female characters and will give you a host of terribleness to make you cringe. Good for a reminder that it’s ridiculous and that most female outfits are designed for titillation, not combat efficacy.

Rejected Princesses – This is a Tumblr blog about real life female warriors/women history forgot. If you’re on the hunt for inspiration for your own characters, this might be a great start. (While first impressions are good, always remember to research thoroughly.)

Samantha Swords – HEMA practitioner, you want to read about sword fighting/Historical Martial Arts/Training from a woman’s perspective, then Samantha is a great place to start. Her Sword FAQ’s are predominately female focused. If you hunt around, you’ll find some shots of her in armor.

We do have a #WomenWarriors tag.

I hope that helps!


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Hello! I’m hoping you can help me with a story I’m writing about a girl who’s really badass that can fight very well, with guns, knives, etc. but wears many skirts. What are the advantages (if any) and disadvantages of fighting in a skirt?

Skirts are hardly a deal breaker. They get in around the same range as pants, for women. Tight skirts like tight pants? Yeah, that’s going to restrict your body’s movement. Loose skirts? Those are fine. The high heels and sandals that usually come with them? That’s where it’ll fall apart.

You need proper ankle support, proper foot support, and proper knee support when you fight. This means fighting with a fully enclosed foot on a flat sole like a sneaker or not at all. (Trust me, you don’t want to be fighting barefoot anywhere other than on a mat unless you absolutely have to.)

The other problem with skirts is the same one you’ll get with shorts and short sleeve tops: lack of leg protection and skin protection. This equates to more injuries when falling (even on grass, but especially on asphalt), more friction burns, more bloody scrapes, and showing more scars.

It doesn’t matter how badass your character is. If she fights, she’ll get hurt. Training doesn’t make you super-humanly resistant to injuries, even if the injuries aren’t serious, she’ll be walking away with fights and training exercises full of little bumps and bruises. In terms of long term preservation, the skirts are impractical in the same way wearing skinny jeans is impractical. They don’t help you and serious combatants aren’t going to pick them as combat wear. Avoiding injury is important and that includes wearing clothes that help safeguard your body from injury. If your character is picking skirts as her preferred choice to fight in then you’ve got a problem.

If she’s in a situation where she could be in combat at any time, you might want to step back and think it through. “Badassery” isn’t really about how well your character wields a gun or a knife, or how “kickass”
they are. It’s how well they can sell that they know what they’re doing.
A character who chooses to ignore the reality of their situation, who
fails to come with the appropriate mindset, and dressed for their job
isn’t a badass. You wouldn’t go fight a fire in a skirt, you wouldn’t muck out a stall in high heels, you wouldn’t go wading through a sewer in your sandals, so why insist on fighting in skirt? Are you feeling insecure about this character’s feminity? Do you feel like you need to remind your audience that she’s female? If so, then in the words of Henry Jones: “Indiana, let it go.” Come to terms with the idea that women dressing appropriately for their job isn’t “dressing like a man”. Men don’t dress the way they do for combat because it looks cool, they dress that way because it makes sense.

If it’s casual wear or “civvies”, it really doesn’t matter.

So, what it really comes down to is a question of vanity.

Does this character mind other people seeing her bruises? Her injuries? Her wounds? Her scrapes? Her scars? Preferentially wearing skirts into a fight is a fast track to getting more of those than she might normally. Is it a problem for her? Is her appearance, in a conventional femininity way, something that matters to her? Do the opinions of others on the subject matter? Are her “looks” (again, in a conventional femininity way) something she wants to preserve?

For the record, it can go both ways. Some women are very proud of their bruises, proud of their scrapes, proud of their cuts and their scars because they can point to them and say “Hey! Look at this! This is mine! I earned this!” in the manner of “you should see the other guy!”. They love showing them off, even wearing clothes that expose them (and sometimes make other people feel uncomfortable just from looking at it). Other women? They don’t like it, they don’t want other people to see their injuries. It’s not a part of themselves they want to draw attention to. Whether it’s because they’re embarrassed or just don’t want to deal with the invasive questions, the stares, or the assumptions that someone is abusing them is up to them.

Both approaches, and all the myriad in between, are valid. Whether your character is perfectly happy to put on a miniskirt and tube top and go dancing with a body that’s black and blue, or moans, complains, and tries to conceal each new unnoticed scrape and bruise, it’s all water under the bridge.

What you should think about is how she deals with it and how she feels about it. In the end, whether you’re male or female, dealing with the physical fallout is part of combat. It’s actually part of all physical activities. It’s also what makes her human.






Princeless – Book One: Save Yourself (2012)

Story: Jeremy Whitley , art: M. Goodwin

Avaliable at comixology / amazon

“And this one—-”


Protective clothing that actually protects is such a novel idea.

I featured the first three panels waaay back, but the broader context makes it even better!


Hey, so you know, that Viking study you linked an article about doesn’t actually say half of all Viking warriors were female.

The Economist dubbed this as “journalistic deficit disorder.” Where mainstream media take content from academic research and then mangle it in the reporting, either by presenting preliminary data as facts by screwing up critical details, or by reporting stuff that no one is actually saying.

(Specifically they were talking about presenting preliminary data as final and signing off. But, the other two do occur, and it is a good blanket term for the phenomena.)

Here’s a fantastic example from The Escapist. The article talks about a drive that breaks the laws of physics, and would allow for interstellar travel. Except, it’s from a conference paper; the academic equivalent of, “hey, this thing over here is being weird, anyone know what’s wrong with it?” (I’m singling The Escapist out arbitrarily, a lot of news sites grabbed that same “physics defying engine” story and ran with it.)

The problem is, once one site runs the article, others are inclined to follow, notice the example above links back to an article from Wired. In some cases, these “scientist discovers new thing” end up tracing back to some crazy’s blog, but once it’s in circulation, it’s stays there, with tech sites referring back to each other.

Sadly, it looks like that’s in full effect here, as well.

Digging through the Tor.com and USA Today articles, the actual point of the research was to determine if Vikings traveled to England in the ninth century as raiders or as settlers.

Historically the view has been that they were raiders, and predominantly, male, but the sex identification of corpse suggest there were far more women that migrated, than previously believed.

This includes corpses that were previously misidentified as male because of the grave goods that had been found included weapons but no jewelry. Archeologists were using jewelry (specifically broaches) to identify female burials and weapons to identify male ones, but, unsurprisingly, that methodology is a little flawed when we don’t know what the grave goods actually meant.

We do know that a lot more Viking women were buried with weapons, though, as I just said, we don’t know what that actually means.

So, Stubby the Rocket picked a title that was just this side of clickbait. To be fair to them, I don’t think they did this intentionally, they probably read Viking and assumed Viking Warrior, especially given that women being buried with weapons was an issue the paper was addressing.

The article’s since been updated to point to a post by Andrew W talking about this in more depth. Actually, if you haven’t looked at it yet, go read it, there’s some really great points in there. There’s also this post by Hjalti if you want to see more.

There’s an article here, that talks about the actual implications of the find.

That said, I could swear I’ve seen articles recently that were revisiting battlefield deaths and finding a staggering number of remains were women, though I don’t have a citation on it because random internet browsing is the enemy of coherent research.


What sort of sword would you recommend for a female fighter? I have also heard that the sword was a secondary weapon, but the time period is pre – guns and I have no a clue how much muscle is needed to fire a crossbow vs a long/short bow? Which one?

My best recommendation is to stop thinking about this character as a girl first and fighter second. You’re trying to come up with ways to make the fighting possible for her, instead of accepting that combat is a skill that can be developed by anyone given the proper amount of training and dedication. What weapon would you give this character if they were male?

That’s your answer.

As for picking weapons, I tend to pick weapons as a part of character creation and developing backstory (that blows up a little if the character is already established). I have a habit of doing this the same way I would write a crime: Motive. Method. Opportunity.

Motive: Why did this character want to learn to fight? What reason did they have to seek out training?

Most times, even in a family of established fighters, a character has to make the decision to train and to fight. This decision is a personal one and it can be anything from a desire for self protection to dreaming of being a knight in ballad. If you are working with a setting where female warriors are uncommon, then the character’s motivation for going against societal norms becomes that much more important.

Learning to fight is hard work and depending on that character’s background may well ruin any chance at conventional beauty/traditional womanhood/marriage opportunities that will better the standing of their families. It’s more than just an unusual choice, depending on the setting and gender constraints it could very well be an incredibly selfish one.

So, it’s important to establish that as part of the character.

Method: Who taught them? The good combatants have a teacher and the sword is a weapon that requires instruction, both in the manner of caring for the weapon and how to use it against other opponents. The character is going to need a teacher who can teach them to use that specific version of the weapon.

Did they have an in house tutor like Brienne of Tarth or Arya Starke? Did they receive their training when they joined the local military or militia? Did they have a parent train them? Were they carrying a blade that was common amongst peasants of their time like the arming sword or a weapon that was more regularly associated with the nobility like the long sword?

Opportunity: And what is a method if the character has no opportunity to take it? Think about your character’s background and social constraints, then pick a path that makes the most sense for them and was common for the people of their time (or the time/culture you’re basing it off of). The method they use will inevitably lead them to the right weapon.

This is where research is your friend, by narrowing down your path to profession and time period, you can better establish what your options are.

Remember: any weapon will work. Combat is a skill that can be learned and the only real physical barrier to entry is how hard you’re willing to work to learn it and the opportunities given to learn.

I didn’t pick taekwondo because it was the best suited to my size and body type, I picked the Ernie Reyes organization because they put on a performance at my elementary school that I really enjoyed. I saw it, said “I want to be able to do that”, took home the flier, and my parents signed me up.

I knew a lot of other kids (both boys and girls) who got into martial arts because they loved Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.

The longbow versus crossbow question is actually fairly easy, both require a fair amount of strength to wield, but the truth is that care for the weapon is the most important point to maintain ease of drawing. Both require regular oiling and careful, specialized handling to ensure that they remain in a ready state of use.

The longbow is for characters like hunters, scouts, and nobles. Someone who grew up learning to or needing to hunt as a means for providing for their families. It can fire more rapidly than a crossbow, but requires more time to learn, more practice, and more training to be used effectively. In mass combat, archers were used in the same manner modern artillery is used today. The crossbow surpassed the longbow for the same reason that the gun surpassed the crossbow: it took a shorter amount of time to become as or more deadly than the other weapon, thus cheaper to replace when your troops fell. A lost archer is one to two to ten years of experience, compared to a lost crossbowman or gunman which is “point that way and fire”.

The crossbow is probably for a character who was trained via the military. A military trained character, depending on the time frame, will also be proficient in the use of anti cavalry tactics and pole arms. A female military conscript could easily just be a peasant girl whose mother dressed her up as a boy to either hide her from the men or hide a more valuable male sibling from the soldiers looking for recruits. It was not uncommon for peasants in the medieval period to be called up as levies to support their lord on the battlefield. They were usually just handed a spear and sent off to die, but there might be some workable ideas in there.

Training molds the body into a more suitable shape for the physical activity. So, if your fighter is a noblewoman, don’t expect her to keep the secret  for long. Also, servants talk. People are observant. They will know.

Some things to think about.


Advice/Resources: Winged Armor and General Armor

Advice/Resources: Winged Armor and General Armor

Well the thing you wrote about women fighting was a good read. Now my experience with female fighters weren’t that they were stronger, but have more control. My experience has been boxing so might be wrong. In that control I’ve seen female fighters be powerful in a different way then male. That female fighters may not have the same strength as male fighters because their strength is different then theirs. Would that be wrong?

Yeah, boxing is a bad test example. The “problem” with boxing is that because the strikes are, for the most part, upper body only, men do posses a much greater advantage when it comes to physical strength. Men can develop their upper body much more quickly and much more fully than women can. Whereas female strength develops more quickly in the core muscles and the lower body. They also have a much harder time building up “weightlifter muscles” and an easier time with “runners muscles”. That’s not a medical definition, but I can’t remember the terms right now.

When we look at boxing, even with the wider hips, the natural advantages that females possess just don’t come into play. This is just the way boxing works, for the most part. Add full rotation of the legs like in kickboxing and the field shifts dramatically. Add in joint locking techniques and free standing grappling, it’ll look different again.

The second problem that women face, and this one is much more important, are the psychological blocks they have developed from living in a patriarchal society. The beliefs a woman has about herself  will be her biggest barrier to learning how to fight effectively. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I can’t do that, I’m not a bad person, I’ll get in trouble” etc are all part of mental barriers that come into play when faced with a male (and sometimes even female) opponent.

The differences between men and women on a purely physical level aren’t really that substantial. When we compare their fighting ability on a cultural and psychological one, the difference is enormous.

We see this one come into play a lot with writing, especially with the latest influx of “badass” female heroines. In most of those cases, the character themselves isn’t the reason for their success. The success is based on X, be that their superpowers, their base fighting ability (which is treated as separate from their personality), the way that other characters around them underestimate them on the basis of their size and gender. But none of that actually has anything to do with who they are as a person or how they see the world around them. There’s some extra reason why these girls and women can win that has nothing to do with them, but instead their victories are based in outside forces at work around them and how those forces fuck up.

The expectation is the same in the beginning for many of the female students I’ve taught and it’s something that they have to get over if they’re going to succeed in their training. Mental willingness to go the extra mile and push past the self-imposed mental limits will actually make the difference over base physical strength.

In the article, I wasn’t just talking about perceived physical differences, though they are important, because success in combat is learning how to play to your strengths. But, I was also talking about mental strength and what we believe about ourselves, how we see ourselves, and our capability for success.

When someone goes into a fight against someone else on the belief that they are going to lose merely based on their gender, they will. Now, across the board women aren’t necessarily stronger than men either. That one is going to come down to the individuals in question. The important thing to remember is that they’re just not weaker and that, at least in the mind, begins to level the playing field.