Hello ladies and gentlemen artists and designers and writers and anyone else who may want a rundown on my take on Women and Armor.
Beware: Here be cussin'!
I’m writing this because there is this gigantic upheaval in the comics, video game, Hollywood machine, etc. over how women are portrayed in popular media and I think these themes, themes of women in combat and having to use any sort of armor (or even simply getting dressed for combat) is a subject of major contention. I, for one, and kind of tired of seeing the Panty-plate or exposed important bits and then some dude (or publisher/company) telling me this female character is some sort of fighter.
Now, a little disclaimer before we get started:
While I may pull from sources about this issues and use examples to further my point, I am in NO way bashing someone’s art. Some of these people (mainly dudes) who draw these characters fucking rock. I mean:
Look at that thing. She’s a total badass and I often really dig the ideas but it doesn’t defeat the fact that Witchblade (and other female characters, especially in comics and video games) are often no more than a ginormous TnA fest. I understand that most of this media is marketed towards men and boys, I do, but what are you also trying to say? Men who draw this stuff don’t understand human anatomy under the skin or don’t care because it sells?
We all know or, at least have heard of, instances where the stories may greatly interest female demographics but the TnA is fucking alienating. And I, along with probably tons of other women in this industry, can’t take these designs seriously.
You can’t tell me she’s a fighter. No way. Wanna know why? I’ll slash her torso and OOPS, guts on the floor. (no amount of magic can save you.)
Another good example, and what turned out to be a prompt, was that post floating around earlier in the summer of 2013 of a “female avenger” team. I was a little more than irritated with that post because, for instance, Captain America’s “revision” was some chick with a bare midriff and her hair all over the damn place. My first thought was “CA is a fucking soldier. Whoever made this obviously knows dick about military women.” and it was particularly sour for me considering I, myself, was in the Navy for 4 years. I can tell you there is no way I would go to Iraq with my fucking stomach hanging out or my hair in my face. NO. Fucking. Way.
Ultimately, I hope this guide is also useful for male characters as well because I’ll be going over things that also apply to men even though the main focus will be on women. My other goal is to show that you can make an attractive female character whilst also portraying her as a competent combatant.
Now, I know what a lot of you are going to say: Well, DJ, this is fantasy. It doesn’t have to be based in reality.
Whatever, dudes. Fantasy is still based in reality or some sort of tangible reference.
Also, you need to read this great book called “Invisible Ink” by Brian Macdonald.
One of the concepts he stresses is: Don’t lie to your audience.
Putting a woman in bikini armor is a lie.
Don’t lie to your audience.
So, let’s begin, shall we?
First, some basics:
So, why did I post the Aortic system? Because, if you work on action scenes of any kind or design any character that will go into ANY sort of combat, you should probably have a general idea of where the major arteries are as well as major organs that can incapacitate your characters.
Arteries to watch out for:
Jugular (or Subclavian)
The reason I call out these ones was because of my personal time in the military. One of the things that can kill or severely wound any combatant is shrapnel.
If you’re working on a Fantasy, or a story that revolves around historical portrayal, shrapnel was still an issue:
Swords or other melee weapons splintering or breaking
Shields breaking from impact
Rocks and other natural debris
If any of these things hit in just the right spot, the Femoral for instance, game over. Hitting any artery is THE worst case scenarios I can think of. At least, when you are fighting another human you had some chance, but getting killed by a fucking rogue rock. Fuck that shit.
As many of you know, veins and arteries work differently in the body. The arteries are the road TO the body FROM the heart, so the pressure is immense. It’s gonna spurt like a water hose with every heart beat. Veins ooze as the bloods makes its way back to the heart. ( or, it’s like a continuous run as opposed to a burst of blood spitting all over the place)
This is why it’s very important to protect these points with something: Leather, padding, scale, chain mail, kevlar, etc. It doesn’t have to be heavy material, just enough to ensure penetration of debris does not occur.
It is also important in combat to protect vital organs
The entire breadth of your mid-torso
The sides of your head (temples)
The back of your head
Now, I say the back of the head and the sides of your head, but there’s room for debate on that. I know that, if you get hit hard enough in the head, it can cause serious injury or death and/or loss of motor control, inhibition, etc. Head gear is also often going to depend greatly on the type of fighter your character is and the type of combat they are going to engage in.
Soldier in the military fighting with guns? Wear a fuckin’ helmet. (unless you’re me and can’t properly see/shoulder your rifle with it on. Dummmmm)
Forest ranger stalking the enemy in the woods? Maybe not so much since the idea is stealth.
Martial fighter? Unlikely since it can be cumbersome to your ability to block properly and hinder agility based attacks.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already thinking: Well, shit. There goes that hot bikini-mail I was going to design. GREAT. Mission complete, son. Put yourself in this woman’s shoes for a second. DO YOU want to run into battle in a bikini? Maybe not.
But that also brings me to:
If you’re basing your entire military and combat research solely on the US Military, Rome or other patriarchal ideas. You. Are. Wrong, shipmate.
There are literally hundreds of cultures, both Tribal and “civilized” to research and there are literally hundreds of schools of thoughts and design ideas to choose from.
Granted, I am in no way supportive of appropriation, on the other hand, if I am going to portray battle as it once was (full on bloodfest in a field somewhere) I’ve gotta understand it and do it as correctly as possible.
The US Army suffered the single most humiliating defeat in all of US Military history at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The way I understand it, General George Armstrong Custer led close to 300 men down the maw of 2000 pissed off Lakota and Cheyenne.
The ultimate circle-fuck-your-face the tribes would utilize was a tactic, yes, but it’s an idea for combat scenarios.
Also, many tribes around the world would commonly practice guerrilla warfare: Using their natural environment to jump out at an enemy, skull fuck their face, and then run off with the heads on pikes. My ancestors, the Teuton and Goths/Celts/Picts, would paint themselves black, red or blue, and grab Roman patrols or descend out of the woods and angry white-man their asses. The women in those cultures also fought: Either completely nude or in something minimal, come screaming out from behind rocks and tackle a dude, dragging him down to his death.
As stated, there are multiple schools of thought on warfare and how to handle the enemy and about women in combat. As many of you are aware, the US Military just allowed women in official combat positions. This is still a raging debate.
Personally, and the thought process I use for my stories: If you can die by the sword, you damn well better be able to pick one up and use it.
Or, at the very least, do SOMETHING to defend yourself.
Let’s look at Little Big Horn again.
The story goes, once the tribes were nearly finished face-humping the shit out of Custer and the rest of his noobs, there was one young man still standing. The Bugler. He was probably about 16 or 17 years old, didn’t have a rifle or pistol, so he elected to fight his ass off with that bugle. The tribes were so impressed with this young man they honored his body. As opposed to the other men, who by some accounts, were trying to run scared having realized the severity of their mistake.
This is philosophy. Really get inside your character’s head. Their motivation. Their cultural background. How to they even feel about having a woman stand next to them in battle?
Armor was never made for women:
It’s a fact that armor through the ages was never made for woman, except, for Roman gladiatorial females who were forced to fight for show. Other than that and tribal societies, I have never seen or heard of other patriarchal cultures even considering creating armor for their women. Why? Women didn’t fight.
They could die.
Women can be raped and stolen and traded into slavery, sold, tortured, run over, degraded.
They couldn’t fight.
We couldn’t fight.
Having said that, I think this is where, inadvertently in the back of the designer’s mind, they don’t really understand how to design compelling and believable armor for the female combatant.
Things to consider while designing:
Fundamental differences between the male and female figures:
center of gravity
upper body strength
It is true in…probably 70% of cases that women have less strength in our upper bodies but what we lack in strength, we can easily make up for in speed, skill and agility.
It is also a fact that women sometimes make better marksman with rifles. We can better control our center of gravity as it is on our hips, so it makes lifting the upper torso at a more advantageous angle, especially in the prone position. I don’t know about other women, but in my case, I was a damn near perfect shot every time with my rifle UNTIL I put on my battle-rattle. I was pissed because I couldn’t shoulder my weapon correctly because of my flak vest and it hurt my score. Going back to my point: Armor is not made for women.
(it wasn’t made for Seabees either. Fucking Vietnam hand-me-downs)
It’s also generally accepted physical fact that women tend to be shorter. This can work to our advantage, especially in melee combat. If a male combatant is so used to practicing against another man or training dummy and used to hitting or blocking a certain height, he can be dodged for hitting high. His weight can also be used against him if he attempts to lunge for someone shorter than him. I threw a 280 pound dude clear across a drive way while training in Kung Fu so, keeping that in mind could also give you plenty of ideas.
Okay, so I’m going to stop here for now. It’s almost 0500 and…this fucking snow storm is blowing INSIDE my apartment. UGH.
So, read this, enjoy it. I’m going to be posting some modified designs very soon so be on the look out for part 2!