Monday, January 23, 2017

Fighting Women

I don't ordinarily publish posts like this, but as I've been looking at hundreds of pictures of armor lately, trying to find good representations for the armor I use in my world ~ near impossible ~ I have been also been looking at an assortment of other pictures.

Basically, women fighters.  I have a couple of these in the online campaign of late and I was asked lately what a 18 strength woman fighter would look like (see the comments section).  I felt I could put up a sequence of pictures, as most everyone does who isn't interested in writing a lot of words, to engage the discussion on women in armor.

I've sought a collection where the armor worn is legitimate, and where the women look like they actually could put up a fight.  I've emphasized real over a staged, presented depiction, to get a sense of what this might look like on the battlefield, since D&D is not necessarily a sexist representation of a medieval/renaissance battleground.

I'm not necessarily concerned with authenticity here. I have been on the wiki, but here I just want a vague representation of what the battle maiden might look like. Basically, for the most part indistinguishable from a man.

This woman, for instance, could easily be mistaken for a man at a distance, until coming face to face with her.  The loose clothing around the legs is the same, the stance is the same, the helmet conceals most of the features and if she's a long time fighter, she has the bulk to carry it through.

There are women who are fighting, exactly like this, all over the world, enjoying the opportunity to grunt and dish it out with the men, as hard as they can, with all the subsequent bruising and soreness that follows the next day.

Now one thing that has to be noted, there's no particular reason why she can't show some skin.  Men do.  It is a question of heat release, after all.  Fighting, as I've been arguing lately, is a heat-generating process, and carrying all that extra padding and covering will only serve to produce first a tremendous discomfort and then afterwards a possible hypothermia.  I'm not sure, but I wonder if there isn't a common concern for hypothermia at events where in the evening it grows a lot cooler than it has been during the day, where people who are walking around in sweat-soaked wet armor have a tendency to pass out.  I hardly know anything about it, but it seems probable.

This next is the kind of thing I was definitely looking for.  Here the woman is exhausted, showing the fight she was just in.  Or at least I like to think so.  She gives all the look of someone who could have lost her match, her face is showing a sense of discontinuity, as though her mind is thinking over the match and not in the present.  It's easy to imagine her moving over the grass, helmet and shield hanging loosely from her grip, but a natural, comfortable rhythm in the greaves and heavy dress.

I was looking for women who weren't necessarily the most charismatic.  I don't think that matters.  Part of the issue of dressing every woman up in partial armor is that it emphasizes the need for a hot body, pert breasts, pretty limbs and so on.  Here the issue isn't how good she looks, but how good she fights.  Can she beat the hell out of the other person.  In a stand-up battle, that's key.

There's some of that with the woman on the left, here.  She's either been in a fight or she's gearing herself up for one.  She's relaxed, ready to go (possibly again), eyes watching the battle going on with a comfortable, confident air.  I especially like this picture, I like her apparent willfulness, the easy way her hand rests on her knee.  The ring, however, would be a bad idea in a real fight.

With my turns around comic and fan conventions the last couple of years, I can't help being impressed with the quality of armor being made.  Yes, it is made of modern materials, certainly anachronistic with the period, but when it comes to smashing each other in open fields, like so many are doing, the source of the materials or their museum-legitimacy don't matter much, do they?

I do like it when the armor looks thoroughly abused.  Yes, it's suggestive of the authentic, but it speaks to the character of the person as well.  We know that the actual armor of the actual person in the picture is likely fashioned to look broken, bent, banged up and burnished right from the start ~ but what does it look like when we think of it inside the narrative, when the character is told that the woman coming towards the party right now looks like she's fought a war single-handed.  I think it says something more than just the combatant can't afford new armor.  Armor, like any other clothing, becomes comfortable with wear, it becomes like a second skin.  That's not something you get from a new suit.  Sometimes, you'd rather trust to the old standby if it means that in the middle of a battle you're not worried about the many parts of your body that are threatening to chafe on you.

Here's another example of banged up armor.  I had my doubts if I ought to have included this picture, as the woman here might look a little made-up and staged for the picture.  Still, I wanted to include it just for the armor.  I like a suit with some dents in it.

Note, for instance, the apparent state of the padded cloth on the inside of her elbows ~ torn and frayed, filthy, certainly not the standard trope where depicting fantasy characters in pictures.

There isn't near enough dirt where it comes to actual characters in the actual world.  Baths were rare and, where no central heating existed, potentially life threatening.  That old phrase about "catching a chill" used to mean something serious.  William T. Sherman died of pneumonia brought on from exposure to the rain while carrying the coffin of Joseph E. Johnston, and that was 1891.  Colds and catching pneumonia used to be a very serious thing.  People avoided baths like the plague, they wore the same clothes on the road for weeks, even months at a time without washing them.  For the most part, travellers ~ adventurers ~ were filthy.

I'll finish with this one, because I am getting tired.  I don't know what special point I can make about it.  The money purse is a nice touch.  The quarterstaff is a bit too much of a prop, I think ~ a real one would be a lot smoother, less painted.  Some of the documentaries I've seen would argue it should be a lot thicker, too, but I don't really know about that.  Dimension is one of the hardest things to be historically certain about.

So here I'll part with the subject.  I couldn't just post pictures, it wouldn't be like me.  Chances are I'll have to mess around with blogger for half an hour after I post this, trying to get the words to appear in the right places next to the pictures, as the blog program is anything but design-friendly.

I'll try not to do this sort of thing often.  It's not the highest class of intellectual character.  Not really.


Scarbrow said...

I suppose you already know this, but I've always found Female fighters in reasonable armor a good source for images (though not real-life pictures, I'm afraid). This is, of course, in direct (and stark) contraposition to Female Fighters in unreasonable armor (warning: often verges on NSFW)

As for the direct experience, as a HEMA fighter myself, I've found that women (though much less in number than men) fight just as hard (and I have the bruises to attest it). Of course, when they are starting they tend to be more fragile, have less stamina and be less aggressive, but this evens out after a few months' practice with the sword, and then they are just as dangerous. There's the matter of the different protections used for, the chest which in the modern version are shaped and thus often allow to know what you're fighting just from how your blade glides through the torso on a successful stabbing. But even with that, if the fighter is wearing even a little padding over the rigid piece, it's often surprisingly difficult to tell.

LTW said...

I appreciate the insight into the look and style of female armor. I will have to remind my female fighter (with high charisma) that the next victim she tries to distract with her feminine wiles will assume she is a man behind her armor, atleast until she gets close.

I have always wondered from what distance a perceptive NPC could smell my party? With them never bathing or cleaning their clothes. Wouldn't a person be able to smell them from 10-30 feet away? Sorry thief, you rolled a 19 stealth, but you haven't bathed in 3 months so the ranger smelled you coming from 30 feet away. Think about when a smoker walks into the room, it is pretty obvious from a distance. What about an animal with their sent glands?

In my research, I have seen that undergarments may have been cleaned more regularly, while outer garments laundered irregularly. The idea is that the undergarments would absorb most of the smells and odors, saving the outer garments from too much exposure. At what intervals would these be cleaned, its unclear. It would probably depend upon the persons circumstance and the weather, among other things. I would guess undergarments would be cleaned when they became smelly and soiled. Outer garments would probably have been beaten of mud and debris regularly, but laundered only when necessary.

Another bit of research that I thought was interesting is that outer garments were likely exposed to smoke, either intentionally or unintentionally due to living standards. This smoking would act as an odor barrier, keeping ones odors to oneself. I imagine my adventurers and other NPC's smelling deeply of smoke.

JB said...

Some great images here.

I don't think there's an issue with hypothermia. I mean...back in the Boy Scouts we were always taught that you DON'T remove wet socks (assuming they're wool) because they will continue to keep you warm, even in cold weather (your natural body heat prevents them from freezing up, and they provide much more insulation and warmth than you'd get from removing them). Considering the padding of medieval armor (heavier than what one would call "comfortable clothes"), I'd assume the same concept applied.

Not sure the blonde in the 6th pic is "made up" or staged anymore than a normal woman of the 21st century. My wife would look similar after one of her 5k "fun runs" (hair and makeup wise). Though she'd go with a simple ponytail rather than a braid.
; )