The all conquering warrior woman is an ubiquitous trope in fiction now. She is not even confined only to nakedly fantasy fiction but also abounds in apparently reality based fiction too.
For contrast, in real life there is an all-but-universal and ancient taboo against men fighting women. Alongside this, women have also enjoyed a long standing exemption from military duties.
Could the proliferation of female warriors in fiction erode this taboo? To put it more strongly, are these works inadvertently promoting, or at least normalising, violence against women?
It probably started innocently enough. Fiction is very often about the strange and the unusual because the ordinary is boring. The first long format written works of fiction were, and still are, called novels from the same word for strange and unusual. Invariably the subject matters of novels, and other fiction, are the strange, the extraordinary and the impossible: vampires, great white whales and demi-god heroes. A warrior woman too is a novelty and even more so a warrior woman that triumphs. Her place in fiction is thus assured.
The novelty factor comes to us from history too. One of the most famous wars in western history was the Hundred Years’ War. Around seven centuries later only two names from that long conflict survive in the general knowledge of the average person: King Henry V and Joan D’Arc.
Who knows how many tens of thousands of men fought and perished in that war unremembered but yet the sole female combatant is immortalised into legend. She earned this fame not for being ordinary but for being extraordinary.
The trope of the female warrior was becoming a common thing in my youth back in the 1990s. Now in the 2020s it is almost mandatory in any fiction that features combat as a story point. Every fiction must have at least one female warrior who fights as well, or better, than the best male fighter. I hardly need to cite examples as every fiction has them now and I am sure you all have your favourites.
In fairness, the female warrior trope is not always poorly done. Brienne of Tarth in the Song of Fire and Ice is one that leaps out to me as being an artfully portrayed female warrior. She is presented as being freakishly big for a woman and by no means pretty. The bell curve exists and so even though the gap is large it is not impossible for rare outliers to reach across.
It strains credibility though when the all conquering female warrior is a pretty and petite five footer with perfect makeup. And this type is by far the most common in fiction.
Somewhere along the way this trope that was meant to astonish seems to have been picked up by egalitarians as an ideal, an ideal that they want to be a norm. What had started as a gimmick has become more than just common. It has become, in some sense, ideologically mandatory.
It even makes a certain sense, if one has put the concept of equality up as the highest ideal. If you want everything to be equal then there is no escaping that the differences between men and women must also be erased. If male privileges must go then so also must go female privileges.
How can new norms like these be promulgated by the few ideologists over the multitudes? Religions like Christianity achieved this feat using stories, parables and testimony, to reorder people’s values. Perhaps the Egalitarians have fastened on the idea that fantasy fiction can be a vehicle for a change to a new normal in a similar way.
Human norms and conventions are endlessly and easily variable. Changing that much is absolutely achievable for the egalitarians. Unfortunately biological reality is not so easily persuaded. You can tell men to treat women as equally available for exercises in personal combat but that will not make the outcome of the fight any more equal.
We are already seeing this manifest in the real world. The egalitarians have begun to push for the desegregation of sports, including combat sports like boxing and wrestling. So now all a man has to do to compete in women’s sports is claim to identify as female. In 2014 a male “trans” MMA fighter called Fallon Fox smashed in the skull of a female opponent, Tamikka Brents, in a Women’s MMA match. Tamikka’s comment on the match:
“I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right. Her grip was different, I could usually move around in the clinch against other females but couldn’t move at all in Fox’s clinch,“
It gets worse, Fallon Fox was an old and over-the-hill 45 years old while Tamikka was in her athletic prime in her mid-twenties.
This is where the egalitarians are taking us. A world were old men can squeeze a cheap victory by smashing up young women, and all to the sound of thunderous applause, “for equality”.
Some might prefer to cast this controversy as Chauvinism vs Equality rather than Chivalry vs Equality. I believe this would be a deceptive framing of the contention though. Before I get into why that would be deceptive, I feel I should clarify how I am using the word chivalry here.
Chivalry is an old word and has in its thousand year life attracted a number of meanings. Its oldest and original meaning is “horse mounted warrior”. In the early medieval period of western Europe heavy cavalry emerged as the battle winning troop type. The combination of trained warhorse, stirrup, armoured professional soldier and braced lance produced the most devastating shock attacks in all history until that time.
These chevaliers, or knights, consequently became the best rewarded and most honoured of soldiers, attracting to themselves land wealth and other privileges. As a personal example, I have an ancestor who was awarded ownership of a village in northern England by William the Conqueror for his participation in the Battle of Hastings.
With power comes great responsibility and so those that interacted with these terrifying warriors as employers or even bystanders sought to constrain them with rules of conduct. Thus was born The Code(s) of Chivalry, combat ethics for the mounted warrior, the knight. In the Song of Roland written in the late 11th century we have the Code of Chivalry summarised as this:
The Code of Chivalry from The Song of Roland
The modern use of the word chivalry is a short hand for some sense of these codes of conduct rather than the specific type of soldier at whom these combat ethics were originally aimed.
Now we tend to emphasise in the concept of chivalry the desirable conduct around women and children rather than some of the other older concerns regarding church, employers and battlefield behaviour.
Moreover we tend to think that these codes of conduct should be followed by all men, even those who are not elite warriors or even warriors of any kind.
A relatively modern example of chivalrous thinking would be the policy of “women and children first” that famously saw practical use on the night the Titanic sank. It is the same kind of thinking that underlies the exemption of women from conscription into a nation’s armed forces.
It is this modern use of the word chivalry that I am using here to represent the counter proposition to that of the egalitarian’s position.
So why not chauvinism? Chauvinism is a much newer word, first finding use in the 19th century to refer to the behaviour of a character called Chauvin who was notorious for worshiping Napoleon Bonaparte to an absurd extent. Subsequently communists have appropriated the word and changed the meaning to that of a belief in racial or national supremacy and then again with “male chauvinism” to mean a belief in male supremacy.
This is now the persistent sense in the word chauvinism, an (irrational) belief in the supremacy of one’s own group. This meaning however is not representative of the feeling behind the desire to exempt women from the trials of violence, such as warfare and personal combat. This feeling finds a far closer correspondence in the feeling found in the Code of Chivalry seen above. The chivalrous one is aiming to be kind rather than cruel.
Thus I will name it “chivalry” rather than “chauvinism”.
If we can agree that it is undesirable for women to lose the privilege of exemption from violence that is found in the chivalrous taboos then should we not have fiction that reinforces rather than erodes this chivalry?