Dear Female Warriors (and eavesdropping authors),
Occasionally, there comes a time where women must become warriors. Those times are few and far between (and usually come up because your author is borderline feminist), but without a doubt, they do occur. As you sit in your armor (which has been properly constructed to guard your internal organs, not to look cool—right?), in the midst of your war camp reading this letter, you have apparently come upon such a time: you, a woman, must become a warrior. Possibly no one else stepped up and became a warrior at this time; perhaps you are the Chosen One who is destined to save the world; perhaps you are in a unique political situation which forces you to be the one to take the reins and lead your country to victory. Perhaps you live in a world where female soldiers are the norm (in which case, you’re likely not in the midst of your war camp wearing medieval-style armor), or you’ve been drafted into the military; perhaps you’re simply a young lady who ran away from home and joined the army.
Whatever your reasons, you’re the heroine, so you’ve probably made the right choice for your situation. If you haven’t made the right choice, you’ll surely figure it out later. I won’t ask for your reasons; the point of this letter is to slightly increase your chance of survival until you either have won the war, or regretted your choice and returned home to be reunited with your estranged parents.
First off—your clothing choices. We covered most of the problems in another post a few years ago, so this will be brief.
Remember that you are a female: you’re most likely smaller and weaker than most men. Consider carefully what kind of armor you’ll wear, and remember that on the battlefield, sometimes lighter is more practical for you. Remember (and remind your authors) that research is vital when picking what armor you will wear. What you know about the weight or flexibility of medieval armor may be incorrect.
If you do decide to wear armor, remember: your armor is meant to protect your vital organs, not make you look nice. I promise, no one is going to be admiring you in battle; to quote Father Christmas, “battles are ugly affairs”. Everyone is fighting for their lives, attacking, counterattacking, being thrown from place to place and focused only on the person they happen to be fighting right at that moment. People just don’t have time to be admiring your fancy armor. What the do have time for is noticing that you’re not wearing vital protection over your important internal organs. If you have the funding, by all means, get your armor custom-made so that it fits you better; but get it made well.
Your long hair is an accident waiting to happen. You are not an indestructible Warrior Elven Princess*, and your hair will not fly out majestically behind you. Instead, it will get tangled; it will get caught; it will be grabbed by your opponent. As a woman soldier, you need to consider this, even when you aren’t on the battlefield. If you are the one leading the battle, expect assassins; if you have no political power—did I mention you’re the heroine?—expect assassins anyway. Either keep your hair tightly put up, or cut it off.
Skirts are most likely not the best choice for battle gear. That said, as a female soldier in what is most likely a Young Adult novel, you might be under the misconception that skirts get in the way, or that you can’t move in them. Madame, you are wrong. For ages, people—men, even— have worn robes, skirts, or kilts, even into battle. In formal clothing, you may have trouble with overly large or overly tight skirts, but simple skirts are unlikely to restrict your mobility too much as you go about day-to-day life.
If you’ve decided to become a warrior, you’ve surely trained. You’ve spent hours learning to fight, strengthening yourself, forcing your body to become a weapon. Now, you’re probably ready to fight. But you’re still female.
Where I come from, typical males are not only taller than typical females; they also naturally stronger and weigh more. This may be different depending on your race and location, but it will be the case for most humanoids. You may have trained hard. You may be strong. You may have even trained hard enough to be the best fighter anyone has seen this side of Pluto.
But the moment you meet a male foe who has the same amount of training and dedication as you, you have met someone who is not your equal—you’ve met a fighter greater than you. Always look for unconventional ways of fighting that will turn the fight to your advantage; don’t allow yourself to get locked into a combat that depends on your size and strength. If you’re a high-profile political lady who is leading your armies into battle, consider investing in a bodyguard to help you with the aforementioned assassins. There is no shame in recognizing your limits and finding ways to compensate for them (so you can stop giving me your typical warrior-female glare and snappish, “Thank you, I think I can manage”).
Another undeniable limit that you’ll need to be aware of is your emotional state. Whether or not females feel emotions more strongly than males is a question that can be disagreed on and debated for ages; what is not in question is that females feel emotions differently than males. And in many females, that makes it very difficult to fight in a war (not to say that men are wired to go around violently ending each other, either; no human (and therefore, I assume no other sentient creatures, since I have seen no data suggesting otherwise) was intended to fight in a war, and it deeply effects and changes any person who must do it).
Female warrior, you are about to go through the most grueling, emotionally and physically challenging thing you have ever gone through. You will be tested on every level. You will break and break again in the dead of the night when the trauma of what you’re going through is going to come back to you, keeping you awake though every exhausted bone in your body begs for rest. You will see comrades and friends slain before you; you will slay your opponents. Your body will be unbalanced, allowing your emotions to run through you more fiercely. You will forget what it means to be okay.
It’s true that some people handle stress and trauma better than others. You’re probably one of those people (congratulations! There are some benefits to having an author who doesn’t want to write hard PTSD). But you were not designed for war, and on top of everything else, your emotions are going to try to kill you, too. Isn’t being a woman fun? (Sorry, males—I can’t write from experience for you, but I’m sure you have a great time with your emotions, too.)
You’re going to need to learn to balance your emotions, especially if you are one of the leaders of the army. You need to think rationally. You’ll need to learn how to recognize when your emotions are beginning to get out of control, and learn how to rein them back in. Learn to put off the emotional breakdown until after the immediate crisis is over. Recognize that your emotions are far out of control, insist on your author telling this unwanted part of your story, and then do your best to get them under control. When it comes down to it, you either must learn to recognize and control your emotions, or you will break.
Warriors, have you ever wondered why so many people seem to have romantic subplots in the midst of their end-of-the-world scenarios? It’s because emotions run high in times of deep stress, and people forget to be concerned about how awkward it is. Therefore, I stress to you here my last and most important point: Say no to mixed-gender divisions.
On top of everything else, the very last thing that you need is a romantic subplot. Your emotions are out of control; so are the emotions of everyone else in your division. If you managed to be placed in a division with honorable men and an honorable system set up, that helps—but only with about half of the problem. Men and women like each other. They really like to impress each other. With a war going on and everything going wrong, you dearly need your people to not be attempting to impress one another with feats of bravery. You dearly need your people to not be competing for anyone’s affections. Because emotions are at peak strength, if you place men and women together under harsh circumstances, fighting side-by-side, living in close proximity to one another when they’re not on the field, couples will form; competitions will follow. Your units will cease to work together.
Aside from the potential disastrous romances that form in a mixed-gender unit, there are other problems. Notably, the difference in the physical capabilities of men and women will endanger the unit; part of training is to teach your groups to work together, at the same pace. Having both men and women in your group will cause men to be faster at some tasks, and women faster at others, putting the whole group in danger.
Another issue is that honorable men do not allow women to die. Several days ago, while conversing with a friend of mine, the subject of men and women fighting together came up. My friend said that part of the reason that’s a bad idea is because honorable men do not allow women to die; he stated that, if two men are fighting together, one can allow the other to die if they both see it’s the best thing for the cause for which they fight. However, an honorable man can’t allow a woman comrade to die. If you set up a group with men and women fighting side by side, when it comes down to actual combat, the men will be more focused on the women around them: their focus will be on keeping the women safe rather than advancing the cause for which you fight.
Distracted soldiers are dead soldiers.
Warrior female, if you must go to war, do everything in your power to be assigned to a female-only division. If you are in leadership position, set up your military so that men and women are separated into different divisions; not only will you bypass the problem of incidents from dishonorable men in your military (because there are always dishonorable men in every military), you’ll most likely increase the success rate of your army. If you are only a common soldier with no rank, insist that your commanders look at this situation. However, in spite of the fact that your commanders probably want to win the war, they’ll almost certainly ignore your request, because they’re military commanders (in their defense, completely rearranging an entire army is quite a hassle right as you’re going into a war).
Though a good deal of these suggestions won’t apply to those of you who have made the decision to go into battle disguised as a man, I hope that this letter will be of some assistance to the rest of you. Be safe. Win your war. Make it home to your estranged parents.
(Writer and President of the AfPoCR)
*If you are an indestructible Warrior Elven Princess, why did you just spend time to read this article when you can ignore all the advice herein, and not only succeed in all of your battles, but look fabulous whilst doing so?
(For my little sister who came over while I was writing and wanted me to put a smiley face in: 🙂 )