Tag: women warriors

Kira, That Dopey Belt, and the Sword Girl Ghetto

Mostly I’m loving Teen Wolf‘s Season 5 with the Dread Doctors. (MANY SPOILERS AHEAD.) They are legit creepy-ass mofos and the “operations” they perform are frightening. I also adore the idea of a book that changes your reality after you read it. It’s a wonderful metaphor for what writers try to achieve, and bonus that it’s super spooky.

dread-doctors

This is what steampunk should look like.

But while the main storyline is tearing up viewer veins with adrenaline, my favorite character, Kira, is suffering some incredibly poor storytelling and treatment. Not totally surprising because she’s a female wielding a sword.

kiraswordbelt

The Belt

Jesus, this thing is stupid. I get it. She needed a way to carry the sword that wouldn’t bring attention to it. But think about it: how many inches around the belt line is Arden Cho? 26 inches? 30? Do you know how long the sword would therefore be? Your arm. Not much longer than your dad’s favorite bread knife. Compare that to my iaito, an actual albeit unsharpened katana, which is 40 inches. I mean, there’s dope, and then there’s dopey. This is the latter.

But whatever. Let’s just pretend this isn’t ludicrous. I mean, idiotic weapons seem to be the norm in film and TV these days. If they want to turn Teen Wolf into Batman Lite, fine. There are more serious problems with the character this season that reflect the typical biases against women with swords.

The Sword Girl Ghetto

Speaking as an experienced swordswoman, I’ve written before about how Kira is portrayed as a fancypants sword juggler that can’t hit the broadside of a barn when she should be the most powerful character on the show. (If you haven’t read my previous Kira article, you should before commenting on this one.) With so many fantastic, competent female fighters in the series, this seems strange. Why does she have this problem? I’ll answer that question in a minute.

In Season 5, before Kira arrives, Stiles and Scott discuss how Scott has hardly heard from her all summer. Despite the glut of life-threatening horrors they face on an ongoing basis, he isn’t worried? At all? Not even that she might have met someone else? The extreme implausibility of this boggles the mind. Sure, they haven’t been attacked in six months. But it doesn’t logically follow that Kira, too, experienced nothing on the East Coast.

She later reunites with Scott under the bridge before they head to the Senior Scribe event in the library. A creature battle ensues. She whips out this crazy sword belt thing and no one bats an eyelash. Who made it? How? And why does this thing not slice the living shit out of her belt loops? There is zero discussion of where the sword came from or who she was with in New York that could have made it. Maybe it will come out later, but so far her story’s gotten short shrift.

The worst part is that it’s clear during their fight with the creature under the bridge that she hasn’t learned a thing about how to use her sword over the summer. Unlike Scott and Theo, she doesn’t get in a single real blow. She makes two dinks as the bad guy brushes away her blade. No cuts. She then lies on the ground for the rest of the fight. While every other character on the show has grown, she still sucks.

Hold On There Little Miss

Thankfully, when they’re battling Tracy the Kanima, Kira’s sword finally makes effective contact with something. She cuts off the kanima’s tail.

This is the second time in three seasons that they let her actually hit something, and finally she did it on her own merit. Compare that, however, to Malia. Or Kate. Or, hell, ANYONE AT ALL. They’ve reigned in Kira so tightly, either it doesn’t matter that she’s there or it’s a disaster (e.g., their visit to Eichen House).

Then, just after she shows a glimmer of competence, she’s turns evil. She suddenly becomes this Kitsune Flambé that almost delivers a killing strike to Tracy. Scott stops her because it’s not okay in his book to kill the kids who’ve been operated on by the Dread Doctors. We don’t kill the victims. Fair enough.

But the message is clear: a woman with a blade must either be incompetent or straight up evil. There is no in-between. That’s consistent with the messages we get in most photos, drawings, TV and film dealing with women wielding swords. It’s getting a wee bit better in TV, but Kira is one of the weaker portrayals.

More to Come

Granted, it’s only a third of the way through the season. And believe me when I say how much I love the Dread Doctors storyline so far. They are fantastic villains, beautifully conceived and created by the writers and designers. I’m also enjoying Liam’s growth and the inclusion of his friend Mason. The actors are all very talented and fun to watch.

The show’s been accused of whitewashing its characters, and there is definitely some truth to that. However, I could totally relate to Kira complaining that she’s both Japanese and Korean yet she can’t speak either language. I experienced something similar growing up. My father was fluent in both Greek and English, yet never taught my sister and I a single word of Greek. The only connection I had to my heritage — besides its relentless misogyny — was the food. We see the food thing in Kira’s family, too.

Still, I’d like to see her develop in a way that’s not framed by her relationship to Scott without demonizing her. They’ve been able to do this with Allison, Malia, Lydia — pretty much every other female teen on the show. Why not the girl with a sword?

I probably won’t get my wish, given the plot telegraphing, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed until the end.

Some Hilarious Additions to the Women with Swords Wall of Shame

Just when I thought things had died down, a Russian blogger recently discovered my well-disseminated post about why I hate most photos and drawings of women with swords. In that article, I give many examples of how photos and drawings tend to depict women (unlike men) as grossly incompetent with bladed weapons, far more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. Anyway, as website activity has been crazier than usual around the article, it made me realize that it’s been two years since I posted that rant. I love that it still resonates with people.

Examples have only proliferated since then. Like this:

“Men go to battle. Women wage war – ON THEMSELVES.”

thewhitequeenduh

Seriously?!? This isn’t waging war, people. This is cutting the shit out of your own hand so that you can’t even wield a sword. Starz marketing really fucked this up.

I guess at least she isn’t poised to slit her own throat like in this one:

(Oh, honey, let me help you with that.)

Or trying to use the sword as a… chin-up bar? Oh, fuck. I have no idea what is going on here. Do you?

Look at my bloody sword that has the blood on it!

The crap I posted two years ago was good compared to this. Although, I should note that, in German and Scottish longsword fighting techniques, it was legit to hold the grip with one hand while simultaneously holding the blade somewhere up toward the tip as you fought. If I understand my sources correctly (and perhaps I don’t), the part of the blade where you held it was a bit duller. Regardless, you usually held the blade with a heavily gloved hand.

And then there is this.

japanese-sword

::drops microphone::

::walks offstage::

::returns, picks up microphone::

HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO THIS AND NOT REALIZE IT’S EVERY SHADE OF STUPID? LIKE, EVEN ULTRAVIOLET, INFRARED AND X-RAY STUPID? Did they not notice she is slicing open her scalp? She’s parting her hair. Permanently.

This unbelievably bad photo originally appeared on the “What Do Nerds Like?” website. I guess what they’re saying is that nerds like to humiliate women? I doubt that’s what they meant to say, but that’s what came across to me. To be honest, I was also like JJ:

giphy

Just so you know, it’s not just swords. Take this photo for example, which is supposed to be marketing a corset:

1901391_10151939720718157_1659165741_n

Arrow drawn and pointed at foot? Check!

Right hand upside down? Check!

Left arm on wrong side of bow string? Check!

Can you even see the damned corset? Nope!

There is no reason to pose this model with a weapon, especially if neither she nor the photographer know how to use it. Undoubtedly, somebody thought this would look “sexy.”

They were wrong.

Mind you, people send me loads of this stuff now. They almost never realize how bad it is. In fact, they often think it’s good. For example, when this interview with a “deadly” martial artist went viral, many people sent it my way. It was clear from her website that, while she claims to be a martial artist, she is certainly a model who poses in all kinds of appalling, dangerous (to herself) ways with her weapons.

In her interview, she talks about how women have to be tough, and this is how she poses — like a pre-1970 Disney princess who has never held a weapon in her life. (A sensei of mine especially condemned her website photos.) Some of her interview poses are so poorly formed, she would tear the tendons of her arms if she actually tried to attack. Even the way she holds a bo stick — more like a pool cue than a staff — she would break her fingers. Why not pose correctly? With strength? Was she afraid of looking too “angry”?

(If your martial art is what tells you to hold a bo stick that way, you need to find a new discipline. Stat.)

We have to be honest when we’re buying into the game of appealing to the male gaze at the expense of our power. We who know better — that is, female martial artists — have to do better than this.

(And, boy, am I going to get hate mail for that last critique. Hoo!)

I now leave you with this wonderful longsword duel between Bénédicte Robitaille and Amy Graham at the Montreal Winter Tournament 2015.

Bénédicte went on to take the gold at the 2015 Medieval Combat World Championships.

Kick ass, ladies!

Depictions of Sword Women that are (Mostly) Awesome

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-Beast

In my previous post — that was both lauded and lynched* — I complained about how most depictions of women in photos and artwork make them look more endangered than dangerous. As a follow-up to that post, here are some photos and artwork that don’t make women look like feeble idiots when they pick up a sword. Truly, quite the opposite.

We’ll start with Brienne. There are multiple stunt coordinators on the Game of Thrones TV series, but only one swordmaster listed — C.C. Smiff. Whether it’s Smiff or someone else, whoever handles Brienne’s fight scenes keeps her in good form. She actually looks dangerous and competent both onscreen and in these promotional stills. And she’s highly watchable when she’s fighting. Great stuff. Notice that, unlike the women in my previous post, she keeps the sword tip forward and away from her face.

They do a terrific job with Arya and her Needle, too (although some of Maisie’s out-of-character publicity stills are a bit unfortunate).

While Xena’s armor is sometimes ridiculous and her grip in this photo isn’t perfect, I like this picture because, unlike that still of Michonne in my previous post, she’s actually protecting her head with this katana.

It’s no surprise that some of the better photos and artwork are Asian. My friend Keith in the link I gave above posts some stunning stills from Asian action films and artwork that take women with weapons seriously. On my own without Keith’s expertise, I couldn’t find much, but I do like this one:

And although her saya should be secured in her hakama belts rather than detached, this is still beautiful:

I pick on the saya issue because it’s a critical piece of equipment that protects your sword. If it’s not hitched to your hakama or whatever, you’ll drop it and lose it in battle. Therefore, if you keep it handy, you’ll be able to protect your sword after the fight. Ergo, you’ll continue to protect yourself and probably shorten the life of your next enemy.

Turning to comics, the preliminary artwork for Ann Nocenti’s “Katana” by Alex Sanchez looks really promising:

For the record, while I appreciate the strength they are trying to imbue this character and others by having them hold a katana one-handed, the sword just doesn’t work that way. It’s a two-handed weapon. Now, if you’re practicing nito-ken, that’s different because the two swords are working together in a scissoring technique. But a one-handed katana doesn’t really work as well. The power behind your cuts comes from your core. Really muscular folk can kind of blast their way through anything and make it work to a degree, but proper handling is what gives the katana its best edge, so to speak, for the deepest and most deadly cuts.

Some people complained that I was just being an authenticity Nazi in my last post. They entirely missed the point. Compare the women in these images to those in the other post and you’ll see what I mean. A change in grip and stance can mean the difference between wet dream that couldn’t hurt a fly if she tried to a gorgeous bad ass who’s going to thread her “needle” with your intestines. You could argue that it’s “just eye candy” and “art.” But why does art have to debilitate women? Why can’t it make them look strong, dangerous and sexy at the same time? If you want to draw naked chicks, fine. I’ve got nothing against naked chicks, porn and erotica. In fact, I love it all. But this disingenuous “arming” of the arm candy is just infantilizing bullshit.

I’ll end with two more brilliant shots of Alex Kingston as Boudica.

and

Because…Boudica!

*MODERATION POLICY: I’ll approve only courteous comments that contribute. I didn’t publish all of the comments I received for the last post because almost no one was interested in a constructive conversation. Most people were either bitterly offended that I had hard words for Michonne’s sword stance or didn’t get the issue at all (they didn’t sound as if they’d read the whole article). So, please be polite, even if you disagree.

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.

Snowed

Krampus is coming. Are you ready?

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

Swordwoman1

Or Cutting My Shoulder

Swordwoman2

Or Cutting My Own Throat While Shooting Myself in the Head

Wallpaper-girl-brunette-woman-gun-sword

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

ba7b1-last_legion_rai_and_firth

Trying to Decapitate Myself from Behind

Backdecap

It’s Like Doing Pilates!

pilates

Oopsie. I’m About to Drop Them!

Oopsie

Is This Sharp?

Isthissharp

Check It! My DIY Stigmata!

DIY

“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…”

Wayuphere

Breast Sex

breastsex

Or Just…Sex (Ahem)

sexwithsword

(I don’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.

chimp

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

crotchpress

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:

ninja_chick

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.

michonneUPDATE #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.

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