It’s been almost 10 months since I originally posted “Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords” and about 9 months since I posted “Depictions of Sword Women that are (Mostly) Awesome.” The response remains tremendous. I greatly appreciate the comments and shared links.
Despite the controversy, I have only one regret about that first article. I should never have mentioned Michonne. Here’s why.
When I found that image of Michonne, it appeared sort of generally problematic in that she’s off balance and holding the katana in a way that is NOT effective for cutting, defending or anything. Granted, muscular people can power their way through any cut regardless of bad form. YouTube overflows with videos of “badasses” using blades to whack the shit out of anything standing still. Michonne might be a very fit, badass character, she is not one of these muscle heads.
But I wasn’t pointing out the problems in this photo to scratch my nerd itch. I identified them because they were dangerous to the wielder. My main beef with the photos and artwork in my original post is that the women look more endangered than dangerous. Whether or not they are holding the weapon correctly is almost beside the point. It just so happens that usually when a weapon is held incorrectly it endangers the holder. That’s the main reason that I pointed out incorrect hand and body positions. This is way more common for women in images than men.
The resulting comments and conversations, however, didn’t follow that line. They branched off into distracting arguments of the following flavors.
A few people thought I was picking on the actress. Believe me, I wasn’t. I’ve been in a relationship with an actor now for over five years and I’ve been friends with many others for decades. So, I am not in any way picking on Danai Gurira, who is gorgeous and awesome. The issues lies with the fight master or choreographer. (Granted, sometimes you just can’t train someone to do something. It’s unfortunate casting, but it happens.) If anyone gets my grief for the problems I’m describing, though, it’s the fight director, as well as any director who interferes with appropriate stage combat practices.
Others were incensed that I’d picked on their favorite character from a much-loved TV series. They explained that, if Michonne had faults, it was because she had picked up the katana “along the way” and had not been trained. (Never mind that holding the sword incorrectly means she would’ve never made it out of the first season alive, much less three.) In bringing up Michonne’s past, they inadvertently pointed out the character’s poor construction, which is a deeper issue. It sucks just as much when writers do poor research as it does when artists do poor research.
Ultimately, these concerns distracted from my main point. As you can see in the blog post about “good” photos and artwork, I point out some misplaced hand positions. But I don’t fault them overall because the actors/characters actually look like they’re doing something effective with the weapons they are holding. And while I (and others) can find fault with Michonne and her creators in The Walking Dead, doing so drives the conversation away from the meta concern that women are often depicted as not just incompetent with weaponry but self-endangering. In this case specifically, I don’t think that’s what they mean to convey at all — in fact, quite the opposite. They’re attempting to depict a woman who is dangerous with her weapon of choice. And most viewers perceive her that way, which is important.
So, thanks to everyone who shared their passion for Michonne with me. It helped bring the conversation back to where it needed to be. Merci!
Considering the many, many, *many* issues with female characters on The Walking Dead, I’m quite willing to give a self-taught fighter a pass on some awkward hand positioning. I bet we’d find some similarly awkward stuff from the men (like the unintentionally hilarious season one poster in which Shane is staring intently into the distance–while casually aiming his weapon at Rick’s gluteus maximus):
Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’m going to start watching the show again, just that I get your point and can even handwave it as something that might be in character for Michonne in that situation.
Ha ha! Indeed, I’ve heard about the issues with that show and the comics upon which it is based. It manages to remain wildly popular, however. Why do you think it persists?
(I don’t watch the show. I’ve been over zombies for years now.)
I think it’s the zombies. Post-apocalyptic is in (and probably will continue to be in for our lifetimes) and zombies are *very* in. As someone who’s been in a few zombie anthos, I think the reasons why zombies are popular are fairly complex, but they may boil down to just being a more fantastic situation than nuclear war, while remaining secular. Nuclear war is grim. Zombies are fun. Deep down, even the most otaku zombocalypse devote knows perfectly well it’s not going to happen, which makes it a safe scare.
Add to that the fact that the storylines are soapy and the seasons relatively short (thank God, because the pacing is sloooowwww)–and it’s on cable–and you’ve got a pretty large audience. The production values are beautiful. It’s a gorehound’s dream.
Too bad the writing sucks out loud, but I’ve become increasingly convinced that a show can ride a fairly long time on a great premise, even if its writing stinks (like Heroes post-season one).
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Great article. With regards to Michonne, (warning!, possible spoilers) at least in the comics, another character mentions that the way she uses the katana didn’t seem right. And that she moved more like a fencer than someone who trained with that particular blade.
Interesting! Thanks for sharing that. It’s worth noting, if she moved even a little like a fencer, the katana blade wouldn’t work. One’s a thrusting weapon and the other is a two-handed “slashing” weapon. They demand very different types of movement to be effective. I don’t think they knew what they were doing at all when they wrote either the comics or the TV show. They just thought “cool chick with sword” and dove in.
Yup! I’ll agree with that, having followed both for some time. At least the comics tried a little bit. I think the $$ overrode brains for the TV show, which (sadly) seems to be the case in so many shows that have swords as part of them.