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Broad with a Sword Strikes Back

(Crossposted) Published November 4, 2013 | By KT Davies

Yes folks that’s me; a woman who owns swords. Heck, I even use them from time to time*.

“Write about what you know” they say, so upon occasion I write about women who use swords, like in my debut novel The Red Knight.

But that isn’t all. Oh my no. I also write about women who don’t use swords, likewise men, and the odd half human half-lizard type individuals. In fact I write about all manner of beasties who do and don’t get their shiv on from time to time.

I’m all about equality me. So when ‘broads with swords’ is even mooted as a ‘thing’, I get a little…Ohmyfuckingodswhat?! about it.

I mean seriously? How othering is that for Grud’s sake? Would Guys with Swords be an issue for debate? Noperoonie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that question posed any where or when. So why, in the 21st century, is Broads with Swords even a topic, other than to make it seem weird and wrong and other?

It forces the point that there are men things and there are women things, and broads with swords is just plain wrong, EVEN IN GENRE LITERATURE. Dragons? Fine. Magic? Go for your life. Rape and pillage? Oh, yeah we love the grimdark. Women with swords? OH MY GOD! HOW MAD IS THAT!?

That this was even up for debate I find disappointing. That women writers engaged with it, likewise. NB: I strongly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion.

That one panellist said that female characters who use swords was a cliché was…odd.

I’m (clearly;) not the grand high Wizard of Words, so I thought I’d check that cliché meant what I thought it meant, which it did:


1. a trite, stereotyped expression, sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox.

2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of colour, musical expression, etc.

3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

Now, I certainly haven’t read ALL THE BOOKS, but I’m pretty sure a handful of sword wielding female characters do not a cliché make.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that people saying women with swords is a cliché is in fact the cliche because I’ve heard it a fair bit of late. And surely, since we’re slinging cliché grenades around, aren’t there more male characters wielding swords than female? Which brings us back to the 1950’s ideology that there are men things and there are women things. That people advocate this viewpoint (or seem to) is pretty sad given that it’s 2013 not 1320.

And in the real world, I don’t think of myself as a cliché, or those women I know who engage in pointy shenanigins. But this isn’t the real issue that I have with this…thing.

It is primarily that it is regarded as a thing at all, and thereby worthy of serious debate that I have trouble with.

I, as well as everyone with eyes and ears and a brain in between, know that women in the real world do pretty much the same stuff as men. Y’all know that, right? In fantasy and SF we accept a whole boatload of weird and wonderful shit that simply doesn’t happen in the real world. So why single-out women who get stabby as something other and unnatural?

If you want your women characters to save the world with the power of tea, great, go for your life, enjoy! If your protag is an arch diplomancer, I’m happy for you; go in peace. If your heroine heals the universe with the power of love and cupcakes, fine. It’s all good in my book. The more variety, the merrier.

And that’s the thing. It’s all good… isn’t it? Or perhaps I missed the memo where it said only certain character and gender roles are acceptable for men and women in genre literature. If so, could someone please point me at the Proscribed list? That would be doubleplus good.

Not only are women with swords not a cliché, but like onions and Shrek, good, stabby fem-chars have layers. Whatever. At the very least, they should be no more worthy of note for merely existing than men with swords. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

I would therefore ask that, rather than engage with othering perfectly valid characters (and real, living people;) That folks of all flavours channel their energies into the quest for equality rather than alienation.

*My swordy CV

I practiced Kendo for about eight years off and on. I’ve done oodles of re-enactment, sometimes with a musket, occasionally with cannon, sometimes with a bow, and much to the detriment of music, a drum. I also study European martial arts and have even dabbled in mounted combat which I suppose makes me a broad with a horse and spear as well.

I also do other things, ‘cos like all good characters, I like to think of myself as well rounded ;)


Nov. 14th, 2013 09:37 am (UTC)
I'm surprised you're surprised that people are shocked by things ;) I feel that inequality must be challenged, if for nothing more than my children's sake.
Nov. 15th, 2013 10:40 am (UTC)
It wasn't you I was criticising. It was people who take up the idea of women in a specific role as a topic for discussion or debate. I don't understand what's to debate in raising the topic in the first place. I can completely understand people speaking up to resist the idea of it as 'other'. It's the defining of anything as 'other' anymore that I find curious.

It's the same in many fields. Take fashion. At the start of the 50s, everyone wore similar clothing. Following that came a stream of quite distinct looks. There was what was 'in fashion' and what was 'out'. Bring on punk, mods, bikers etc and you have little sects appearing which are neither in nor out. They just exist. Nevertheless, the majority still look for a specific skirt length or trouser cut. Over time the separation has faded. These days you can shop mainstream for any length of skirt, any kind of top. It's reflected in the media - tv programmes style presenters and actors to suit every taste. There is no rebellion, except perhaps in nudity. 'Other' is becoming obsolete.

In his Reith lectures this year, Grayson Perry put it perfectly in the context of the art world. I paraphrase, 'underarm hair is the last bastion of the bohemian.' His point was that nothing is shocking, nothing is unacceptable. A recent Chinese artist photographed himself (or had himself photographed) eating a stillborn child in an effort to use art to shock. When does art stop being art? The point is the underarm hair being the only shocking thing we have left in society - for women anyway.

I believe the same is true of literature. When 50sog became a best seller, it became news. Soft porn had made the mainstream for the first time. Some people were shocked, most titillated. Next time soft porn is bought widely it won't be news. It will be one more normal thing.

Nov. 17th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
The genre lit world is very small from what I've seen and some elements therein have pretty old fashioned ideas, mindbogglingly so, depending on the kind of world you live in. Sexism is hard to prove and therefore a favourite target for bigots who can't call black people darkies any more or gay people fags.

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