I’ve written my share of fights between female characters. The most celebrated (or infamous) is perhaps the scrap between Commodore Karen McMaster and Josie, the leader of the Pions, back in The Canary Wars.
There are no excerpts online from that particular encounter, but here’s a quick overview: Karen was one of the heroes of Defense Command –– the best combat officer in the DCN, as far as the author is concerned –– and Josie was the matriarch of a society of feral humans that evolved in the remnants of an abandoned mining colony. The Pions and the Canaries –– two ‘tribes’ of colony survivors –– are vicious fighters accustomed to close-quarters combat with brutal melee weapons. They’re the stuff of horror movies and nightmares.
When Wolf headed to Pion Rock in 2233 on a rescue mission, a clash between Karen and Josie became inevitable… and when it happened, it wasn’t pretty. Though Rear Admiral Barron is convinced that Karen is perfect in every way (the series is a love story, after all), even he acknowledges that she can get a bit… angry. We learn a lot about her through that battle with Josie –– it sheds light on Karen’s character, her past, and her future.
One thing that sticks out for me about those rare occasions when Karen used her fists, was how inelegant they would be. Though she is often well-regarded for being a graceful character, Karen really knew how to throw a punch, and take one. No matter who she was up against, she’d find a way to win, though more often than not, she’d be swelling up and bleeding by the time she was finished.
I like this about her –– like it about all the female combatants I’ve had occasion to write about over the years. Some were (and are) immune to showing off battle scars, but the human ones like Karen, or Lia Hawke, or Andrea Kiley could suspend any concern about aesthetics, and do what was necessary to get the job done. That’s something I don’t think we see very often –– at least not on screen.
Over the holidays, I happened to see two very different depictions of female fighters, which cast this particular question into start relief. Here’s the first:
I’m sure the Victoria’s Secrets models are in fine cardiovascular condition –– it’s their job to maintain a physicality that suit the tastes of their industry (for better or worse), and they’re probably offered the most advanced trainers and diets. I doubt I could keep up with any of them in a spin class, or an aerobics class, or a yoga class… but I do hope no one watching that clip took it literally when she said she was being trained ‘like a fighter’.
Perhaps I’m close-minded, but I wouldn’t expect anyone relying on that regime (or those objectives) to be ready to fistfight a Pion. Or a pigeon. Such training may prepare a model to walk on a runway, but I seriously doubt it would help with close-quarters grappling.
Unfortunately, I think some people –– particularly in Hollywood –– might disagree. There are more than a few movies around featuring females in hand-to-hand combat, and more often than not, the focus on aesthetics and fashion seems paramount:
Let me just put this out there: Karen would win all of those fights (and she wouldn’t care how she looked when they were all done). Indeed, until recently there weren’t many on-screen female fights that wouldn’t be absolutely dominated by an average Defense Command officer. But then, a holiday surprise: Fast and Furious 6.
The Fast films seem to be a supportive work environment for female extras who rush to work from the beach, but forget their street clothes (and thus must wear bikinis all day). I’m sure there have been exceptions over the years, but I’m not familiar enough to be able to name one. Suffice to say that my overall impression of the franchise suggested to me that any women present would be just that: present. Not really participating.
I therefore wasn’t expecting this tube station fight between MMA veteran Gina Carano and the always-scrappy Michelle Rodriguez, in which being fashionable played no part:
Granted, no one walked away from that fight with a swollen-up eye or bloody knuckles, but you can only ask for so much realism in an action blockbuster –– even Jason Bourne comes out of his fights relatively intact (at least compared to the damage he would suffer in the real world). I nevertheless appreciated the kinetic nature of the Fast 6 bout –– a female fight on film that wouldn’t automatically be won by a Defense Command officer, and that wasn’t sidetracked by aesthetics. This is as it should be.
Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think fisticuffs is supposed to be fashionable, regardless of the gender of those involved. When well-developed characters are trying to bludgeon each other with their fists, they’re probably in the midst of a serious situation with significant consequences. The action therefore needs to reflect the skill, determination, and intent of those involved… not how attractive they might be.
That’s how I’ll keep writing fights, anyway… though to be fair, fisticuffs happens less in Champions. I’m know Stephanie wouldn’t be against trying to punch someone out, but she’s much more effective with a gun. Meanwhile, Champions like Alex don’t practice any martial arts; they can shoot, but beyond that, they just rely on leaping around and being faster than their opponents.
Maybe they should reconsider that training deficit… though if Champions do take up martial arts, I doubt it would be in Defense Command’s direct (and brutal) style. They also probably wouldn’t adopt a program designed to help them walk in a straight line while wearing only their underpants (such training might be too harsh, even for their genetically-enhanced abilities). Instead, I suspect they’d opt for something like this: