Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords

Recently, an artist pointed out how boob armor can kill you and someone else created a terrific blog entry for Tor on the subject.

But that’s only the beginning of everything that’s wrong with depictions of women warriors.

The biggest problem? Swords.

I love swords. Some more than others, admittedly. I have studied stage combat with some of Hollywood’s most talented sword masters, including Roberta Brown, TJ Rotolo, Anthony DeLongis, Robert ChapinTim Weske, and Richard Ryan. I am currently in love with Shinkendo, and I’ve been a member of the International Shinkendo Federation* for almost 3 years. I have handled a live katana as part of tameshigiri (target cutting) practice, and have had the chance to study directly with Kaiso Obata himself.  I’ve learned a great deal over the years about how to properly wield and care for all kinds of different blades. Only the katana, however, was ever sharpened. And it is that sharpness — or rather, the illusion of danger — that people find sexy.

To augment that “sexiness,” a vast number of artists and photographers depict women holding swords. This should be awesome, right? Strong, beautiful women warriors wielding deadly weapons? But no. While the all-too-familiar bikini chainmail or “boob armor” is a joke in and of itself, almost none of the women hold the sword safely, much less correctly. What the artists don’t seem to realize (and might not care about) is that portraying women as clumsy, brainless blade slingers is even more degrading to women than simply making them sex objects. Instead of looking dangerous, the women look endangered as they grossly mishandle weapons. It says (to men), “Oh, I can’t really do this. I’m such a dingbat. Will you please take this thing and do it for me?”

Here are some of my favorite “dumb babes with blades” categories:

Cutting My Own Throat


Or Cutting My Shoulder


Or Cutting My Own Throat While Shooting Myself in the Head


Hot Celebrity Guy, Will You Please Double-Decapitate Me?


Trying to Decapitate Myself from Behind


It’s Like Doing Pilates!


Oopsie. I’m About to Drop Them!


Is This Sharp?


Check It! My DIY Stigmata!


“This scabbard doesn’t really go with my purse. So instead of wearing it at my waist or on my back, Imma just gonna hold it waaaaay up here like this…”


Breast Sex


Or Just…Sex (Ahem)


(I can’t even…)

The “fate” of the blade in this book cover is that its tip is going to get fucked up because she’s dragging it along the street like a drugged chimpanzee.


Pressing Magical Sword Against Crotch Has Magical Powers! (Bonus Sparklemail Bikini!)


And so on. There are other major categories where women use swords as crutches or canes (endangered and disabled!), but I’ll stop here.

Let’s talk a moment about images of men wielding swords. While some of the same witless stock photographers are posing men in similar positions to women, a lot more photos and artwork depict the man pointing the sword outward at an enemy rather than, say, rubbing it against his crotch. They are posed more like, “I’m going to fuck up something other than myself with this thing.” You know, instead of this pose:


Because, when Sensei teaches Nito Ken (two-sword fighting), he says I should stick out my breasts and keep the swords back…OH WAIT HE NEVER SAYS THAT EVER.

In fact, what he says is to “keep the swords alive.” That is, hold them out in front, ready to thrash the enemy. Don’t let down your guard.

I think some of these creators want to honor the female form. In their minds, women look appealing when holding a bladed weapon.  They are probably fascinated with the contrast of a woman’s curves to the blade’s unflinching edge. I agree that these ideas are artistically interesting and worthwhile. I don’t want people to stop creating warrior art by any means simply because it’s not “perfect.” I just wish someone would learn something about what they’re depicting. Maybe take a class. Or maybe just watch some classes. A simple fencing class would go a long way. The same way that writers must research a topic before writing about it, artists and photographers might do the same thing before creating art on a topic. They might be inspired to create something that is truly complimentary and dignified for women.

I mean, look at this amazing still with Alex Kingston as Boudica:

This is Hollywood, make-believe, dress up and pretend. Stage combat in particular is not about necessarily creating accurate-looking fights, but rather creating fights that tell a story using period-appropriate weapons and techniques. Still, look at how utterly amazing this is! The sword stays out in front of her. It crosses her body slightly in a defensive pose that is still ready to strike. (Check out who the sword master and fight director was.)

But it’s not really about being more “realistic” or taking a class. They could simply pose women doing the sorts of things men would do. Yet they don’t.

People say, “It’s just fantasy! Why criticize?” Well, why is so much fantasy about women with swords the kind that makes them look stupid or inept?  Why do they look anything BUT dangerous? Are you afraid of that? Is it too fucking scary to see a woman who is a competent fighter? Or is it safer to infantilize them? To imagine they’re holding your semi-hard dick rather than a real weapon? Or is this just a great big case of The Lazy?

This “brainless blade babe” thing is a goiter of sexism on the neck of fandom. Let’s excise it and start fresh.

P.S. Don’t even start about The Walking Dead. For example, this is a shitty pose and she’s holding the katana incorrectly. The blade should be at least protecting her head instead of sticking out into no-fucking-where (I mean, what is she protecting? The fern?) and her left hand should be anchored at the end of the hilt. It’s totally ineffective to wield a real katana that way.


UPDATE #1: Now check out the follow-up article to this one, “Depictions of Sword Women that are (Mostly) Awesome.” Thanks!

UPDATE #2: Now check out another follow-up article, “Why I Should Never Have Mentioned Michonne.”

UPDATE #3: And another follow-up. “Some Hilarious Additions to the Women with Swords Wall of Shame.”

*I do not speak (or snark) for the Federation.

Why I Painted a Cool-Ass TARDIS Dress

This last weekend, my beloved and I journeyed to Santa Barbara to celebrate our 4th anniversary. Because he’s the most extraordinary man in the world, he indulged me when I asked if we could take a painting class at The Painted Cabernet, where you drink wine as you copy a pre-selected, super girly painting under the instruction of a real artist. As soon as I saw the TARDIS blue of this last Saturday’s picture to copy, I had to go dip a brush in that luscious paint.

I didn’t paint this. It’s the original painting we were to copy.

I’d never painted before. I spent a year in a Disney workshop with Bob Kato learning how to draw mostly by osmosis from the Imagineers and other artists, although Bob took pity on me from time to time and taught me stuff, but that involved mostly pencils and some charcoal scribbling. My sketches survived only because I managed not to bawl on them over my comparatively incompetent doodling.

When we arrived in the painting class, I felt weirdly confident that whatever strayed from my brush tips wouldn’t make me cry. Maybe it was because Mickey’s yellow shoe wasn’t crushing my self confidence. Or maybe it was the dearth of Imagineers. I’m not sure. My Evil Plan propelled me fearlessly toward the canvas. Our instructor Amelia gave us smocks. I got her favorite smock, upon which a friend of hers had painted a heart on the chest one day to heal her broken one during a rough breakup.

I now had two hearts. Oh, yes.

I listened carefully as Amelia gave us the download on brushes, paint and…other stuff I can’t remember because I stopped paying attention as soon as she pumped a wad of that heavenly blue on her palette. I was hypnotized by that color. It evoked visions of Nine in his leathers, Ten in his tennies, and Eleven in his bowtie. Bowties are cool. Blue is cool.

TARDIS dresses are cooler.

As soon as I started making noises that I was enjoying myself far too much–and not just because I was drinking champagne–Amelia came over and cast a somewhat puzzled look at my swishes and swashes, but continued to make encouraging noises. (She was actually a very good teacher.) As soon as she left, Bret leaned over for a look.

“AWESOME!” he said.

TARDIS dress

My 1950’s TARDIS Dress

By the end of the two-hour class, I was thrilled. Behold: a 1950’s TARDIS dress! I added numerals 1 to 11 in the background and gave her a necklace with the key to the TARDIS.

Bret and I were beside ourselves with fan joy. I was particularly pleased with my subversion of the class and my triumphant first painting. Poor Amelia, though, squinted at the thing as we chattered and asked, “Will more than a few people get the reference?”

Something broke in my head when she asked that question, dampening my excitement a bit as I realized I was really in another world. We then explained that, in fact, lots of people in science fiction fandom would get it and shared with her the goodness of The Doctor.

Me, Two Hearts and a TARDIS dress

Me with Two Hearts and a TARDIS dress

Now, if only someone would make me this dress…