Women Fighting Men- a Realistic Perspective for Writers

There is a simple fact of hand-to-hand combat that is widely known even if it is seldom discussed.  All things being otherwise equal if a big person fights a small person the big person wins.  We love to see the small person win; we’re geared to root for the underdog.  But the simple fact of the matter is that the small person needs to be hugely better at fighting than the big person if they are going to prevail.  Most woman are smaller, generally speaking, than men.  Ergo in a ‘fair fight’ they are going to lose.  The ‘all things being equal’ part and the ‘fair fight’ part is where we, as writers, get to work our magic.

Another thing to consider is that most fighting systems are designed by men, for men.  They are geared to make the most of a man’s upper-body and core strength.  A 150 lb. skilled male fighter can hit someone harder than a 150 lb. fit woman using traditional techniques.  This is not to say that the 150 lb woman can’t hit someone hard enough, just that a man with the same training will hit harder.  Men simply on average are built to have more upper-body strength than women.  Women have their strengths too, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that most modern combative systems aren’t geared to capitalize on a woman’s greater lower-body strength.

So is the case for women fighting men hopeless?  History would suggest otherwise.  Norse cultures had laws for female warriors.  Modern combative sports like SCA Heavy Fighting have many competitive female combatants.  A woman can fight a man on equal terms.  There are a few paths we can have our female character take to achieve this.  Let’s have a look at these-

#1  Have her be built like a man, either naturally or by training. That way she can fight like a man. This is tough- if the character is just a ‘guy with breasts’ it’s not going to be interesting or ring true to readers.  If you go this route character development is excruciatingly important to make the character female despite her atypical build..

#2- Give her ‘superpowers.’  This has been done a lot and done well it can work.  Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a good example.  The trick here is that if a superpower is all they’ve got it’s going to be boring. Best in my opinion to make the superpower secondary to brains, problem solving etc.

#3- make her really, really good at fighting.  This works right up to the point where she encounters someone nearly as good and much larger.  Then she gets her butt kicked.  Unless you elevate her skill to the level of a superpower- see above.

#4- Have her use a combative system that capitalizes on her lower-body and core strength. A female medieval warrior might use a spear or bladed staff instead of a sword and shield- a weapon that capitalizes on her core strength rather than upper-body strength.  A modern heroine might have trained with a really good instructor that knew how to take advantage of a woman’s strengths, or trained in ‘Model Mugging’ or any of a number of similar programs specifically designed for women.

#5- Cheat.  In some ways this is the easiest.  Give her an ASP baton, a knife, a gun, make her really good at employing environmental weapons. I always ask my students, ‘What kind of idiot wants to be in a fair fight?’  If a woman character can’t fight her opponent on equal terms have her change the terms by using a weapon, whether one she carries or one that she encounters and makes good use of.

#6- Last and probably best combine two or more of the elements above.

Unequal fights are great tension and suspense builders.  When your heroine winds up in a fight with a larger opponent use that for all it’s worth.  Have her get tossed around a bit before she prevails, but most importantly have her prevail in a way that is plausible and believable.  It can work and properly used overcoming the challenges of having it work in a way that rings true to the readers makes for a better story.