Back in my karate days, we used to do an exercise to “toughen” our arms: we’d hold them out and our partners would strike them with the knife edge of their hands. At first, this leaves bruises. When I went to work with those bruises showing, it really freaked out my male co-workers, though most of the women shared my opinion that it was kind of cool.
In the Aikido dressing room after class, we’re always noticing bruises, either on our own bodies — “I don’t remember getting hit there” — or on someone else’s — “Oh, yeah, that’s from when we were doing yonkyo.”
You don’t train in martial arts without getting injured. Martial arts schools keep ice packs and other first aid supplies on hand, and most every experienced martial artist I know owns at least one knee, ankle, elbow, or wrist brace (I have a complete collection).
And the truth is, most martial artists, both female and male, tend to be proud of their injuries. Even those of us who’d like to think we’re striving for enlightenment in our training want to be seen as tough. If you’re interested, I can show you my finger that is still crooked from being dislocated years ago, or tell you about the time I hit one of the poles that hold up the dojo roof with my face and shoulder.
The only time I get upset about bruises is when I accidentally give them to other people.
But outside of the dojo, bruises on women make people uncomfortable, partly because of the very real problem of domestic violence, and partly because some people are disturbed by the idea that a woman might fight or otherwise do things that put her at risk of injury.
Which brings us to the current Internet debate over the bruised “skins” that someone named Gala Phoenix has designed for female avatars in Second Life. Apparently they are intended to show bruises as if these women have been fighting. Now caveat here: I’m not on Second Life — the last thing my life needs is something else to do online — so the only place I’ve seen these avatars is on blog posts about them. The bruised skins in use may vary from the ones I’ve seen.
But even though I’ve got no problem with actual bruises on actual fighting women, I took one look at these pictures and thought “victim.” Here are the ones posted by Iris Ophelia on New World Notes:
And here are a couple from the JuicyBomb blog on Second Life fashion:
I’m willing to give the designer the benefit of the doubt; I assume she intended for these pictures to convey a woman who’d been out fighting, not a victim of abuse. But she didn’t succeed. None of these avatars look like women who could fight their way out of the proverbial paper bag. Near as I can tell, instead of trying to create an avatar who looked like an artistic version of a woman who’d been out fighting, she simply put bruises on standard over-sexy female caricatures.
The result says victim, not tough woman.
The problem with these pictures is the same thing that’s wrong with the classic fantasy book cover of a skinny woman with large breasts wearing a chain mail bikini and swinging a sword: It makes the idea that a woman could actually fight laughable.
I’m not going to get into the debate over whether some Second Life participants might choose these skins to look abused rather than to look like they’ve been fighting, though it just creeps me out that someone would want to put on the persona of being abused.
I’ll confine myself to observing that the artist has completely failed to convey an image of a fighting woman. Perhaps she should take up martial arts. Or at least meet some women who’ve actually been in fights and been injured. Trust me: women who’ve been in an actual fight don’t have on perfect eye make up. They’re not likely to be giving out that pouty come-hither look, either.
Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week — the next to last one in the series — is “Emergency.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.
Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.