The Writer’s Guide to Women on the Battlefield
When you find historical mentions of women on the battlefield, it is usually in the role of nurse or support staff or as a grieving widow. On the rare occasion you find a female soldier, she is disguising her gender or relegated to a non-combat role, such as morale-booster or tactician.
As writers, especially those of us in the fantasy genre, we do not have to be confined by history. It does, however, help to make our writing realistic. So, could women fight effectively on the battlefield? Definitely.
As always, magic is the exception to the rule. Because magic.
Strength in Numbers
The biggest advantage that women have as part of an army is the strength of numbers. A smaller, weaker woman (or man, for that matter) is at less of a disadvantage when surrounded by the other members of her unit. This is especially true if there is strong unit cohesion, and the members work to protect each other.
The best situation would be units with a mix of men and women, as well as soldiers of varying strength, height, weight, reach, and skill. This way, the weakness of each soldier is balanced out by the strengths of their fellow soldiers.
However, even in an entirely female unit, the strength of numbers is still an advantage. Again, this is amplified by strong unit cohesion.
If your army is using weapons of any sophistication, the challenges facing your woman warrior are diminished even further. This is especially true if she has modern firearms, advanced futuristic weapons or powerful magic.
Collaborative vs. Competitive
One of the big differences between the sexes is how they react to their teammates. Men are competitive and will push themselves to be better than the other soldiers in their unit. Women, however, are collaborative and will cheer on their teammates. It’s possible that this tendency could lead to stronger unit cohesion in an entirely female unit than an entirely male unit.
Advantages to Having Women in Your Army
There are some advantages to having women in your army. If your soldiers are interacting with the locals, especially women, your female fighters will be more successful at building relationships. This could result in alliances, intelligence, and recruitment. An example is the US Marines’ use of female Marines to search local women at checkpoints.  This prevented culture tension but still got the job done.
Women can also be extremely passionate when fighting for a cause, especially if it taps into their nurturing instincts. One of my favorite examples is Akashinga, an all-female unit of park rangers that protect the wildlife in Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Park from poachers. These women are armed and trained in combat. Since October 2017, they have been involved in 72 arrests.  The name they picked for their unit means “the Brave Ones” in Shona.
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Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.
 Dr. Regina T. Akers (2009-03-19). "Women in the military: In and Out of Harm's Way". Dcmilitary.com. Retrieved 2012-02-09.  https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180926-akashinga-all-women-rangers-in-africa-fighting-poaching