Having the Wrong Fantasy Again

Slate demands to know why female superheroes take men down with their legs, instead of punching and kicking like male superheroes. "Is this even practical?"

There are two answers to that question, speaking as someone who has trained in and taught several martial arts. The harsh answer is that the impractical thing is the idea that a 120 pound woman is capable of beating the three or four men arrayed against her in hand-to-hand combat under any circumstances. She's going to need a weapon for the scene to be "practical" in any strict sense.

However, we're doing fantasy, aren't we? So if we're fantasizing, why not fantasize that she can do it? She's got 'spider-senses' or whatever.

The less harsh answer is that grappling arts -- which frequently use the lower body -- are much more female-friendly than "hard" striking arts. There are a lot of mechanical reasons for this. One is that female limbs are shorter, and the limb functions as a kind of lever in striking ('the longer the lever, the greater the force'). Another is that female limbs are lighter-weight on average, and with less muscle-to-bone, and force is a function of mass times acceleration. They both have less mass, and less muscle to accelerate it. Females also tend to have smaller bones in the striking surfaces, making them more prone to shattering or cracking on impact.

The leg grapples thus use the strongest part of their body to its greatest effect. Although the silly acrobatics that appear in these movies are not terribly practical -- nor, again, are they meant to be -- showing women fighting with a focus on leg-grappling is the most plausible non-weapon form.

But, I suppose, if you're going to fantasize, why not fantasize they can punch like Rocky? Why would you want the more-plausible still-implausible fantasy?

This policing of the fantastic is becoming tiresome.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sexier drawings.

E Hines said...

There's another small matter of physics, too: suppose a 120lb woman strikes with a cross a 220lb man, and that both are equally well braced on their feet and in their stance. Which one will be moved more--by the blow to the man or by the equal and opposite reaction from the blow to the woman?

Related question: which will be better able to absorb the force of the blow and its equal and opposite reaction?

Like Indiana Jones contemplating, in another fantasy, a whip against a much larger person wielding a sword, the lady needs a projectile weapon.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I sometimes make this point in lessons by simply asking the woman to punch me as hard as she can, and not doing anything to resist it. I have her punch me in the chest so the muscle will absorb part of the shock to her hand -- if she hit me on a bone, she might crack her own smaller bones in the wrist or hand.

All the same, the point is made: her punching me is more of a danger to her than it is to me, even if I don't fight back at all.

Obviously, of course, a trained female martial artist -- to say nothing of a 'superhero' -- would have worked around that issue to a greater or lesser degree by training supporting muscles and learning to strike with elbows or other less-breakable surfaces. But your point about the equal and opposite reaction stands. (See? Equality!)

J Melcher said...

" I have her punch me in the chest so the muscle will absorb part of the shock to her hand"

That's a good reason. Another good reason for not allowing her a choice of targets to punch at is that she might pick your nose.

So to speak.

Grim said...

Once in a while you get one who thinks it'd be fun to try to pull a fast one. It's not a big deal, though -- I can easily tell if you're actually aiming for my nose, or jaw, after all these years of practice.