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Let’s illuminate Invisible Women

I’m reading Invisible Women: Exposing Gender Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez, and it’s one of those books that simply everybody on the planet ought to read. The raging unfairness she exposes has made me rethink a lot of things. It’s not like I was unaware of what was going on, exactly, but as Perez points out the bias is so pervasive, and of such long standing, that one tends not to notice it. As she writes on page xi, “the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the lives of the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence.”
And this silence is literally fatal. To take some incontrovertible examples out of the dozens and dozens and dozens in the book:

  • From Chapter 9: A Sea of Dudes: “When a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seat-belt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die.” (p.186) Car safety tests are routinely carried out with crash test dummies based on the ‘average male’. When cars are tested with dummies designed to represent female physiques, they will often get a much lower safety rating than the one the makers publish. Leaving women out of car safety testing is literally killing women.
  • From Chapter 10: The Drugs Don’t Work: “Women are dying. And the medical world is complicit. It needs to wake up.” (p. 216) It turns out that most medical research is conducted on male subjects (animal and human), because women have more complex biology (all those pesky hormonal cycles interfering with nice clean data). Which means that nobody actually knows how drugs will affect women, and even drugs intended solely for female medical issues are often only tested on male subjects!
  • In Chapter 11: The Yentl Syndrome, Perez tells us that women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men, because they present differently in women. Women are 50% more likely to have their heart attack misdiagnosed, which can obviously be fatal (p. 218).

And so women are dying. Yes, it’s more difficult to develop drugs using female subjects, but it was also very difficult to fly to the moon, and we managed that 50 years ago. Leaving women out of car design and medical research is literally killing women.

This holds true in practically every domain, from public transport, public services, aid work, architecture, politics, town planning, the list goes on and on. Did you know that after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake disaster, which killed thousands, and destroyed 400,000 homes, there was a massive rebuilding effort. And they built replacement homes without kitchens. Because cooking is women’s work, and nobody asked the women what they wanted in their new houses. Then the same thing happened again after the 2004 tsunami. Massive rebuilding effort, no kitchens. Seriously. It’s fucking insane.

Invisible Women is 300+ pages of well-researched, entirely data-supported examples of the way women are systematically overlooked, under-represented, and disadvantaged. Buy it. You can find it here (that's an affiliate link, as are all book links on my blog btw. Use google instead if that makes you uncomfortable)

As a father of daughters, this incites an existential rage in me that I will not contain. But how to direct it? “One of the most important things to say about the gender data gap is that it is not generally malicious, or even deliberate.” (p. xii). Who is this enemy attacking my children? Based on reading Perez’s work, I think it’s an emergent property of the assumptions and practices of our culture.

I was talking about this book with some friends on my recent trip to New Zealand. I was about 150 pages in at that point, and Agate Ponder-Sutton who was sitting next to me is a) a data scientist and b) had read the whole book. But when she started talking about it, one of the other people present, without malice or bad intent, effectively told her to stop talking so I could explain the book. The one that I hadn’t finished yet and don’t have the technical background to assess with anything like the same authority.
That’s the problem, right there.

So what to do?
Perez suggests (on p. 316) that “we must increase female representation in all spheres of life”, and (on p. 318) “The solution to the sex and gender data gap is clear: we have to close the female representation gap. When women are involved in decision-making, in research, in knowledge production, women do not get forgotten.” I think she’s right.

The historical martial arts community has come a long way since the early nineties, but women remain severely under-represented. By far the most inclusive event I know, Swordsquatch, held in Seattle every September, had a total of forty instructors. 12 were women, so about 30%. And that’s outstandingly good in comparison to last year’s VISS, which had two out of 15, about 12%. This year’s WMAW had one woman out of 26. That’s about 4%. No disrespect to any of these events intended- many events have no female instructors at all.
I’ll consider this topic done when the norm for events worldwide is 50:50.

The usual objection to this idea is “but there aren’t enough female instructors of the necessary standard”. The historical martial arts movement was overwhelmingly male 25 years ago. The female instructors we do have can pretty much all point to one or more male instructors who trained them (most famously perhaps Jessica Finley started out as Christian Tobler’s student. Hats off to Christian for doing an excellent job there). But the fact that after 25 years at this we don’t have approximately equal numbers of male and female international level instructors is a shameful failure on the part of us old guard male instructors, who could and should have done better to train up the women in our schools. And, we all got our breaks when the standards were pretty low. Guy of 2001 would never get invited to teach at an event in 2019. But because the bar was lower then I got fantastically valuable experience, and very useful exposure. Teaching at prestigious events is a massively effective learning opportunity for the instructors, and having more women teaching will encourage more women to teach. Yes, we do have a few female instructors on the international circuit that are every bit the equals and peers of us well-established men. But we need more, and we’ll only get them by giving teaching opportunities to women who are currently less well qualified than the superstars. We have to accept a short-term disadvantage (classes from less experienced, less well-known instructors) for a long-term advantage: doubling the size of the pool from which instructors can be drawn. And we may very well find that that ‘disadvantage' is no such thing- I pale to think at how much we may be missing by overlooking the women we already have in the field.

In the tiny sphere of life in which I have some influence, there are already many people working hard to address our inherent bias. Kaja Sadowski’s book Fear is the Mind-Killer is a great place to start looking at making training better adapted to individual students. Kaja also kindly read and commented on my first rage-fuelled rant draft of this post. This one is much better.

The Esfinges group exists to support women training in historical martial arts.

This post by Jennifer Landels on how to adapt your curriculum for gender differences is very useful: http://jmlandels.stiffbunnies.com/2019/05/teaching-every-body-adapting-your-curriculum-for-gender-differences/

Fran Terminiello runs events with women-only instructors in the UK. There are two coming up in 2020: By The Sword 2020, March 28th and 29th, and Swords of Spring, on May 2nd. I'm sure some numbnuts will yell “that's discrimination!”, and I'll yell back “positive discrimination can be helpful!” (see here for my view on women-only events).

Most recently, The Ravenswood Academy have produced a very beautiful deck of cards featuring women warriors from across the globe. (They've sold out, or I'd link to the shop.)

On the subject of cards, my game Audatia has a female character deck based on a historical person (Lady Agnes Hotot).


In my other work I’ve always made sure that my books have female as well as male models in the photos. In my online courses I’ve done the same with my demo partners. A lot of them are about solo training, but of the three that require a training partner, two have a woman throughout: the Rapier Course has Maaret Sirkkala, and the Longsword Course had Zoë Chandler. I wasn’t aware at the time that Zoë was trans, and he is now Zach Chamberlaine, but the point stands. And I know for a sure and certain fact that it has made a difference to women taking up the art, because some of those women have told me so to my face. That’s also why my Facebook profile ‘cover photo’ is me in the middle of mostly not-white, many not male students, and standing right next to me is a woman in a hijab holding a sword (Riri Nitihardjo, from Indonesia).


Some years ago I was reading Katy Bowman’s book on biomechanics, Alignment Matters, and noticed with something of a start that it assumed a female reader. Fair enough, I thought. She’s a woman, and many of her clients are women, so why not? It didn’t bother me. Likewise, Seth Godin is well known for always using ‘she’ as the generic term. He said when asked about it on his podcast that it was in honour of his mother. Also fair enough, and it certainly causes me no pain.

So as I was reading Invisible Women I had a sudden thought. Why don’t I take my most popular book, The Medieval Longsword, and edit it such that it would assume a female reader? I had a look, and it currently addresses the reader as ‘you’, and describes the opponent as ‘opponent’, or ‘partner’, or ‘attacker’, such as here:
1. “Attacker ready in right side posta di donna; you wait in tutta porta di ferro
2. Attacker strikes with mandritto fendente, aiming at your head
3. Parry with frontale, meeting the middle of the attacker’s sword with the middle of your own, edge to flat
4. The attacker’s sword is beaten wide to your left, so pass away from it (to your right), striking with a mandritto fendente to the attacker’s left arm, and thrusting to the chest.”
There really isn’t any room for editing without making it less clear.

But I can and jolly goddesses damn well will put a woman on the cover. Currently there is me crossing swords with one of Fiore’s illustrated masters:

The Medieval Longsword

I could replace me with a woman.
Or, we could go with something a bit more dramatic and do a whole cover re-design, with something like this:


(That's Jessica Finley, in case you've been living under a rock this last ten years).
Or perhaps this image of Kimberleigh Smithbower Roseblade might hit the spot (I’m in discussions with the photographer at the moment- this is my front-runner favourite).

Kimberleigh Roseblade photograph ©Kristin Reimer/Photomuse

What do you think?

The book I’m currently working on (the finished draft of which went to the editor yesterday, huzzah!!) is the compilation of the Fiore Translation Project, so it hasn’t much room in it for changing the assumed sex of people. I pretty much only refer to Fiore (a man) and other real people (by their gender, or at least the gender they present as), or myself (also a man). I suppose I could refer to the player or companion (the one getting bashed up in the images) as ‘she’, but it would be weird because the illustration seems to show a man and every instance where Fiore uses a pronoun to describe them, it’s male. So it would be simply wrong to start calling them ‘she’, or translating it any way other than the way it was written. What do I do to make it more likely to draw women into the Art? Would this do?

Or this?

Zoe Chandler kicks Miika in the nuts: for The Swordsman's Companion.

In case it isn’t clear: if you are philosophically or politically opposed to women entering the art, you can fuck off my blog, don’t buy my books, I want nothing to do with you. If you think representation doesn’t matter, then go away more gently and get an education, then you’ll be welcome back.

If you have any good ideas about how to adapt one of my books in this way, or a book I could write from scratch with this agenda, then please let me know in the comments!

In truth, I don’t expect this to make a great deal of difference to the world at large, but I have to do something, and this might make some difference to some people. Which is much, much, better than making no difference at all.

Whenever I post on topics like this there is alway a slew of wankers who feel entitled to comment despite being entirely ignorant. Yes, it’s always men. Funny that. But to be clear: I won’t discuss this on any forum other than the comments on this blog, and, if you haven’t read Invisible Women, you are not qualified to have an opinion on it.

Radical thought, I know.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

28 Responses

  1. “When a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man” — Women are MUCH more fragile.Men bad because of this.

    “Most medical research is conducted on male subjects BECAUSE WOMEN HAVE MORE COMPLEX BIOLOGY” — Men bad. We should conduct research on women, because it will cost much more resources and be much less effective because of the variations. Hell, I’m sure every Internet user who can’t tie their shoes can tell all the scientists how to conduct researches properly.

    “Women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men” — and I’m sure that’s men’s fault somehow. Men bad.

    But women good, men bad. Oh, Western Society is sooooo terrible. It just created the wealthiest, more safe for men and women society the universe has ever seen. We have to destroy it. Did I already say “men bad”? Also heteros and whites are bad. Everyone else is great.

      1. Yes, I haven’t read THIS book… I have JUST read more than one thousand books on the genocidal ideology that ended up leading to this “destroy the West” mindset.
        And a dozen of books *like* this one, to top it off.
        As It happens my area is Political Philosophy. And sorry, you are just being used as a tool. This “opinions” have been squeezed into your head since birth by the mainstream media (“chattering elites”, as Gramsci called the journalists, the artists and the Academy). These ideas didn’t get into your brain by via of reason as you may think, but via psychological tricks, day by day.
        But don’t worry. Soon enough all of this terrible society in which women-gays-blacks are so oppressed will disappear and in it’s place we will have Islam. The “religion of Peace”. You all will manage to get what you really want. And it will serve you right.

        1. You need to read this one. A) it’s not focussed exclusively on Western society. B) it’s entirely data driven. C) there is absolutely nothing in it that can reasonably be read as “destroy the West”.
          I assume you’re entirely immune to ‘psychological tricks’ so we should all just take your word for it? No need to check the actual data?

    1. Because women are different, men are bad, women don’t count because it costs more to do? Why exactly are you on Guy’s blog anyway?

  2. Change comes gradually. It is often obvious in hindsight and we are oblivious in advance. That is why change can be so slow to start. People are simply blind to the issue.

    Things are as they are for many reasons … we’ve always done it that way … it’s easier … we never thought of THAT! …

    Change is often started as a plea or observation from a disadvantaged group, and progresses through public awareness as those outside the disadvantaged group come to first become aware of the issue, then agree that life would be better for most people with a change. Many who are not disadvantaged reject that the issue even exists, or that it could possibly matter. Some who are not disadvantaged feel threatened by the issue, or those raising the issue.

    Large change takes generations to complete. A hundred years ago women were fighting for the vote. Today they are still asking to be paid the same compensation for the same work in too many cases. The vote and pay are visible and easily understood yardsticks. Inherent design is much more subtle.

    For the person above thinking that women are more fragile, umm no. Just, no. The biological differences are hormonal and structural. Neither sex is inherently “fragile”. Car seat belts assume a median sized male. Seat belts with shoulder straps do not necessarily sit well over breasts, and function differently under compression when sitting flush against a flat male chest versus a female chest. For what it is worth, current seatbelts do not work well for obese males with man boobs either (never mind how the lap belt around a large belly can be a hazard for either sex). Not trying to diminish the male/female design bias issue, just pointing out that designing to some norm that only represents a minute fraction of the population (non-obese males in a certain height and weight range) is a very broad issue in safety system design.

    I was talking about a different aspect of unseen structural bias with a friend the other day. I will be forwarding this article to that person.

    Any societal change requires discussion, time and publicity to engender awareness, agreement and then acceptance.

  3. Thanks for pointing out this resource. I also worry but lack of representation, not only on the martial field, but in my professional field as well.
    I think changing language and illustrations to be more inclusive is a good step. I think adding an inclusive co-writer to your next translation would also be a good step.

  4. One thing to think of: size. OK, I’m short for a woman but oddly enough so are a lot of the women I fence. Height differences and therefore reach differences amongst men tend to the odd inch with even less of a difference in reach, but a woman can find herself regularly facing men 8 to 10 inches taller with correspondingly longer arms.

    Like a large percentage of high ranked modern fencers are lefties a large percentage of successful women in HEMA are tall. Because the short ones fall by the wayside. It gets too hard.

    So consider how you can add into your books how to deal with height difference. How to fence people with more reach and how to teach people where there’s a height difference. And how to partner someone with a height difference. For each technique how will it work if the fencers are very different in height and reach.

    1. The best fencer I know is short. As a taller person, when I spar with a shorter person, I tend to adjust my stance lower. The reason is that if I stand tall, most of the fight is low. That makes plays from higher guards have long tempos, and it reduces perspective on plays from lower guards. In contrast the shorter person has the entire range of plays at hand, and can more easily get inside. Of course the disadvantage for the sorter person is blows raining down from above, but the skilled shorter fencers I know learn how to deal with that and take advantage.

      Another very skilled fencer, from whom I have learned a lot always sinks into a lower stance than I would have originally expected. In observing him at play, I noticed that if in a middle guard, like longa, his hands were always near the opponent’s centre of mass when fighting shorter opponents.

      As an extreme, it was a revelation to watch Devon Boorman sparring. He is tall, perhaps over 6’4″. He plays with his height, ranging from sinking to the height of his opponent to looming over him or her.

      Weapons tend to change the geometric and strength advantage that a taller or stronger opponent might have.

      … just my opinion though … it works for me, and may not for you.

      1. In addition to the women/men workshop that Guy shared the link to, I also do one exclusively on height differences in fencing. I do believe you when you say the best fencer you know is short. Because they HAVE to be. Like Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels, short fencers have to use every bit of skill they have all the time.

        Tall fencers can get low, like Devon does, or they can stand tall like a Spaniard and whack you on the head in primo tempo. But they have that choice. My significant other is 6″ taller than I am, and we’ve been on the same HMA path since we started. I became a free scholar a year or two before he did. Part of that is because I was hungrier for it, and part of it was being shorter made me a better fencer. (He’s probably a better rapierist now because he still goes to class twice a week, whereas I haven’t picked up a rapier in over a year).

        When I used to teach beginner rapier classes I’d often see this pattern with couples: the woman would have better form, be more attentive in class, and get the drills faster. But by the time they got to sparring, she’d get hit more frequently because she was working 20% harder just to get into striking measure without being struck. If you teach from a purely Capo Ferro-esque, true fight perspective, there is no remedy for this. If you don’t at least acknowledge the disadvantage shorter fighters are at, they will become discouraged, think they’re no good, and quit.

        This is the height bias that is encoded in the art we practise and the manuals we teach from. But since most women are shorter than most men, it becomes a gender bias as well. Unless we adapt our teaching to work around the bias, we will never have as many women as men practising the art.

    2. Nicely articulated. I find it interesting to study weaknesses. I may be 6′, but I’m skinny. I’m nearly 60. I have lots of nerve damage in one arm. I approach every drill and technique thinking about how apply it with a compromised arm. There are things I will never be able to do, like shuffle cards, but I have learned to be efficient with what I have, and compensate for structural weakness. As you suggest, that may have made me “better” in certain ways.

      Great conversation, and I think it should open thoughts not just about inherent gender bias, but also about how do we draw more effective performance out of the entire panoply of people.

      Something I enjoy about training with weapons is that they are equalizers.

  5. Great post, Guy, and thanks for linking to my blog. Women instructors are out there, but we’re not being made use of. I find that even though I’ve been practising and teaching HEMA since 2007, and am one of the few Free Scholars at Academie Duello (there have been about 20 people out of 2000 students to achieve this rank), I am only ever invited to teach Mounted Combat related topics at conferences. Which is pretty frustrating, because there’s not a lot of Rossfechten you can teach in a hotel.

    If an organization is paying to bring me to a conference, and then only having me teach Rossfechten topics to a handful of people (because within the niche that is HEMA, the niche that’s horsey is smaller still), a) they’re not getting their money’s worth, and b) they’re not exposing the general population of their group to a female instructor with more than 20 years of martial arts experience.

    If people are saying there just aren’t experienced women teachers out there, and yet I’m only ever asked to teach for the novelty factor of Mounted Combat, then yeah, there’s probably sexism — conscious or unconscious — at work.

  6. What’s the old line about lies and statistics?

    The issue here is not as simple as this author would like to make it. The issue is not with testing on men and not women, the issue is really testing to averages and ease. The “women good, men bad” comment is trying (and failing) to point out that making this JUST a gender issue (as the author does) is being done to sell books. Not to actually solve the problem. The reason is because the problem can’t be solved.

    What? of course it can, just include women.

    No it can’t.

    The problem is that people are individually different from each other (and at different points in their lives). To paraphrase: “A (person) cannot step into the same river twice, for it is not the same (person) or the same river”.

    A simple show of the problem. I can tell you the average score on a specific test taken at age 15 of any classroom, school, school district, state, country etc. and I will give you all that information parsed however you like it. I now give you a just born baby and ask you to predict their score in 15 years. You will almost certainly get it wrong (no better than pure chance you get it right).

    Now what if I said predict the average of 30 babies I select, 100, 1000, more? Think you’ll have better luck? Actually you are still no better than chance. Same as if I tell you the past 10 flips of a coin, you can’t (with certainty) tell me the 11th.

    The error causes a problem because we expect the past to predict the future but it does not and cannot. A key thing to keep in mind about average (and all data). Average is of a known, EXISTING group and is used to explain things about the EXISTING group. An average cannot predict any individual future outcome. It does not predict anything, it simply tells you what occurred previously.

    Yes, the book includes data. It’s important to show there is a discrepancy (the only thing data can show) becuase without knowing there is a discrepancy, there is no way to determine how fix it and more importantly should it be fixed?

    OK, put down the pitchforks and torches. I already hear you yelling that of course we HAVE to fix it.

    No we don’t, and the real question is should we.

    How do you make a car or drug “safe” for everyone?

    The answer is simple, don’t use it. I fixed the problem. Oh wait, maybe that “shouldn’t” be the fix – get the point.

    OK if that’s not an option, how do I make it “safer” for everyone?

    Wait, we already did that, cars today are vastly safer than they were 50 or 100 years ago, even with the discrepancy between people and a crash test dummy that was just based on the average male in the 1970s. Of course, cars also weigh almost twice as much (on average) resulting on more greenhouse gas emissions which are killing… oh wait, let’s not talk about the fact that making one thing safer may make something else more dangerous.

    OK, but we can do better right. Now that we know there is a discrepancy, we can at least fix THAT right?

    We could, we could just make them more dangerous for men.

    Wait…what.

    In some quick research, the typical crash test dummy in 2014 weighed 167 pounds and was 5’9″. The current average American male weighs just under 200 pounds and is 5’9″, the average American female 170 pounds and 5’4″. This dummy is clearly not average of anything by gender (or even across gender) and its actually closer to an average woman than a man by weight and the opposite by height. Yet with this not representative dummy, the car in 2014 is clearly safer than when dummies were introduced in the 1970s for everyone.

    No, not everyone, more people than the past, but not everyone. It became disproportionaly safer for men than women.

    The car in 1950 killed more drivers and passengers (male and female) controlling for as many variables as we can than today. It now disproportionately kills women vs. men (or does it, haven’t seen the data from 1950’s controlling for the same variables – what I have seen says men died MUCH more often in car wrecks pre 1970s (because they drove them much more often and the most likely way to die in an automobile is to drive it)).

    Not overall more, relative more. It actually kills less of both groups (actually not really many many more are killed because of other factors the most well known of which are average speed and amount of use, but let’s leave that whole additional can of factors out).

    Why? no one dummy can never take into account enough variables. Thus, we need more dummies, one male and one female. But that will that actually make the car safer overall? Unclear,but possible, since one more variable is controlled (or at least accounted for). But then,

    How many dummies do we need?

    Gender isn’t all the variables. “even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seat-belt usage, and crash intensity” Is this all the variables? First off, did they control for car type (SUV vs. 2 seater)? Did they control for age (bone strength changes with age)? How about BMI (muscle to fat ratio)? What about point of impact and type of impact (something I’m sure anyone who fights with swords understands can dramatically effect the leathality of a blow)? Other health conditions? Etc. etc.

    No, they didn’t because if you controlled for every variable, every crash is unique. That’s the problem with these statements. Grouped data show lots of things. What matters are trends over time and interpretation, and that is… open to interpretation. We can make cars relatively safer for women, that makes them relatively more dangerous to men than they are right now. That’s the way you have to do it.

    This is the “should we.”

    By all means Guy edit your book for your readers. That’s what sells books and selling books is what you do. You are catering to the widest audience you can. It’s great to change the pronouns and genders in the pictures to include one group not typically shown. I’ll read it regardless (if the subject matter is interesting) It will make your book appeal to a different audience (and that sells more books). But don’t think that will somehow make the world right or that it “should be” done as a universal good.

    While you’re at it, maybe you “should” change the race of the people in the pictures too. I notice all the pictures above for the cover options (not necessarily in the book) are of people who happen to be pretty pale.

    1. Let me guess- not read the book?
      Go read it.
      You’re absolutely right about the race thing though. HMA is way too white. I’ll give that some thought…

      1. Correct, I have not read the book and don’t plan to. Read repeated summaries of it and listened to multiple interviews with the author. She’s pretty good at stating her position which has been very consistent from all that I’ve heard. If I’m missing an important aspect of what it says, please point it out for purposes of discussion.

        Further, in many respects, I’m not talking about her book, I’m talking about your reaction to it, and that’s all laid out on this blog.

        My comment is simply that saying these are ONLY gender issues is a substantial (and potentially dangerous) oversimplification.

        I find the discussion about height differences to be much more interesting and potentially fruitful for teaching and learning. That clearly involves gender difference, but acknowledges its bigger than that. Height advantage is likely hard coded into the technique (and arguably into the weapon) making it easier to be tall. Gender difference isn’t hard coded, height difference is. These happen to correlate, but correlation is a worthless statistical analysis. Could there be causation – of course. Who was learning sword fighting in the 14th century? Does that influence who has an easier time of it? Does the design of a traditional Europian longsword take into account some expectations about who wielded it?

        With that, what “should” be done about it. Is it better to put a woman on the cover of a book about European longsword, or write a book about fighting with a taller opponent, maybe with a different weapon?

    2. Just a thought on seatbelts. The anthropomorphic male dummy is fairly straightforward. Assume non-obese, pick height, indicates weight and other dimensions. The shoulder harness can be assumed to lie flat across the chest and distribute force in a reasonably predictable manner.

      Female dummies are much harder. Breasts are the bane of any model. I am not convinced that there is a one size fits all harness for a heights and body types. 5 points would be a move towards a more universal solution.

      BTW, I agree with you comment on stats not being able to predict individual outcomes.

      I think the key point in this thread is about how to broaden teaching … and attitudes in general.

  7. Whatever the present socio-political trend in Europe/World is, and no matter how important we feel it is, historical manuscripts should be immune to it. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. Reinterpreting history to fit fascist, communist, feminist or any other -ist is a crime against history, disingenuous and ultimately counterproductive misuse of historical evidence.

    When it comes to sport, on the other hand, I fully support any kind of effort that will make it as easy for women to enter it as it is for men. Same goes for people with disabilities for example. Equipment or rule wise. Seeing women quit fencing because their bodies aren’t adequately protected, for example, would be devastating. That is the ”substance” part.

    Now the ”form” part. Whether women are going to be featured on the cover, video game art etc. is a marketing decision. Many opt for it nowadays because they’d rather face the eye roll of fans (in case when the political statement is way too obvious) than public backlash of angry (and powerful) activists. In case when it fits it goes unnoticeable. In case when it really doesn’t fit (there was a case of [African-]American soldier featured on the cover of popular WWI video game, or African-American Waffen SS soldier (sic!)) the fan backlash can be equally punishing and struggle for human rights turned into a parody of itself.

    ”Invisible women” is way too easily converted to ”women only” nowadays in an ultimate display of human hypocrisy and tendency for extremism.

    In case of fencing manual, it shouldn’t really matter. Seeing the recognisable face of Guy Windsor, the author, does help, much more than seeing some random guy or girl, but it doesn’t or shouldn’t really matter. There’s always a title and author’s name on it. It matters even less when it comes to illustrations inside the book. At least for those who buy books for its fencing, not (contemporary) politics.

    Are individuals going to be bothered by the fact their sex or gender (which nowadays apparently isn’t as simple as it used to be) isn’t illustrated in a translation of a 14-15th c manuscript that deals with armed combat? Perhaps. Should that be important? I don’t think so. Trying to include everyone in everything is opening a Pandora’s box of possible ”victims of discrimination”, whether real or imaginary.

    The very idea of representation of my gender (or genders, or lack thereof or what not…), race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, body size or dietary choices or virtually anything – the labels are innumerable, being required(!) for me to be able to enjoy the content or learn from it, and not feel threatened or discriminated against, seem to imply people nowadays are emotionally impaired or juvenile. Not the message I would send anyway. Not the way I, as a woman, would like to be treated.

    The manuscript describes killing people with bladed weapons in a duel, which by definition disagrees with values of modern society. Trying to ‘enrich it’ with modern values is, ironic, at best. I’d much rather see some concrete actions, if and when needed, so various groups of people can enjoy the art (which I know Guy does) than pampering the ideologues.

    1. Nobody is suggesting re-interpreting Fiore as a feminist icon. Getting women into the Art does depend in large measure on representation. Putting a woman on the cover of a book does make it more likely that women will read it. There’s no doubt about that. And my books are intended to be gateway drugs to the Art.

  8. I would rather see photos of women illustrating moves than changing the illustrations to be female. Changing the illustrations is an overt design choice. It’s distracting. To me, using a female model in a photo to illustrate the move is less distracting; that is simply the person you used. Same for race. It’s not an obvious, deliberate commentary, in the way that a graphic can be.

    BTW, by “distracting” I mean just that, and only that. If I’m focusing on learning a move, I want to see the person’s stance, and imagine the movement, as if I were in the bout. I don’t necessarily want to be distracted by the thought “oh, Guy’s being inclusive here! How nice!” (or “how awful”, depending on your philosophy).

    However, I think having a discussion of gender differences and how they affect swordplay would be very interesting. Height is one potential difference, as people have already mentioned, but that’s not the only one. The book “The Armored Rose” by Tobi Beck (aimed at SCA fighting) goes into great detail about some of the differences, though sometimes that book over-uses gender stereotypes. (No, not all women have a longer leg to torso ratio than men. Not all women have wider hips and narrower shoulders. And so on). PEOPLE are different, and come in all sizes and shapes.

  9. Thank you. I will be finding the book. I remember reading ages ago that test crash dummies built on male standards had caused a rise in women’s injuries and deaths. It didn’t surprise me, as I’m a short 5’3.5 woman. There have been numerous vehicles that I have rejected because I don’t fit. German cars have been some of the worst. sigh… As for the rest, I appreciate people who try to look past the average/standard whether it has to do with medicine, cars, safety, combat, etc.

  10. I have not read this book, but I plan to. You said in your post that “In truth, I don’t expect this to make a great deal of difference to the world at large, but I have to do something, and this might make some difference to some people. Which is much, much, better than making no difference at all.”

    By writing this post you made a big difference for me, and I appreciate it! 🙂

    I do not study your art, but I am in the martial arts. Our dojo is very inclusive, and full of great people, but even it has only one senior female student, who of course happens to be the only female instructor. Sigh. Only ONE. There are many beginner/lower ranked women, but they never seem to last until the higher ranks. Of course, there are plenty of men at all levels. I have asked why, and there are always ‘good’ reasons why they left: This one left because she is ‘too busy’, this one left because her job got too demanding, this one because she does all the childcare, this one moved away, this one got injured and lost interest. Yes, all reasons that make sense. This reflects what happens in the work place as well. Plenty of young ambitious women, but very few who make it to the senior positions.

    However, many men face the same problems, yet most come back, eventually. I wish more thought would go into why women leave. Just to see if there would be a way to get the women who are on the fence to stay. If there are no other women at their level, it gets old, and any excuse that comes up becomes an excuse to leave. Unconscious Bias exists, and we are ALL guilty of it. I think we can subconsciously send the message out that woman have no future in our art, or if they do, they have to ‘work much harder’. (I personally am so SICK of that one, being one of the hardest workers in my dojo.) Well, like I said, after a while, any excuse sounds good when you don’t think you will get there anyway. And when there are few women, the accusations of getting an easier time of it are more common. It is a vicious cycle and the only way out is by getting MORE women involved.

    Keep in mind that there so are few woman to begin with, which does not help. :). I love my dojo and all the people there, but I would love some more advanced, serious women there as well. I would love to hear their stories and ask them questions. I would love to have a female visiting instructor come in as an expert. Sigh.

    For those you do not think Unconscious Bias is real, consider this study:
    https://gap.hks.harvard.edu/orchestrating-impartiality-impact-“blind”-auditions-female-musicians

    Sadly, we cannot do blind auditions in martial arts, but it is worth considering that we all have bias and it can be almost impossible to be impartial.

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