One of the things I love most about LARP is boffer fighting. There’s a thrill in using tactics, pushing a line, and the sheer physicality of it all. But while I love boffer fighting, there’s one trend I’ve noticed that I actively dislike: the gender disparity.
Before anyone begins telling me that tons of women boffer fight and that I’m wrong (hold your comments until the end, please), I’m going to tell you a bit about my experience with this. I’m largely going to be talking about boffer LARPs as opposed to any other types of LARPs where combat occurs. In particular, I’m going to be focusing on Dystopia Rising since that’s where most of my experience lies. I’ve seen a similar trend in other boffer LARPs I’ve attended; however, those attendances have largely not been on a monthly basis, so I won’t be going into them in depth.
When I first began attending Dystopia Rising, I chose a completely non-combat character. I had no weapon and no combat skills whatsoever, intending largely to observe rather than participate. But that all changed when two women, Laura Wallace and Heather Mead, allowed me to swing a boffer weapon for the very first time. It was love at first swing.
After that, I began training not just in character, but also in between games. I didn’t want to be halfway good at stick tag (another phrase for “boffer fighting”). I wanted to excel at it. I wanted to be able to trump other boffer fighters and beat them into the ground. Both Laura and Heather encouraged me, along with Joshua Demers and Matt Wallace (who first introduced me to fighting with two weapons. Bless that man). And I was well on my way.
Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve gotten VERY good at boffer fighting (I practice in between games. I find it fun and exhilarating). In fact, it’s rare that I meet with an individual who gets more hits on me than I do on them these days. But there’s one thing I’ve noticed in this hobby as I’ve gotten better. I’ve looked around and have found that only a select few women are up to speed with boffer fighting. And of those women, there are VERY few that are good at being battlefield commanders in a war scenario.
Why does this bother me so much? The problem is that I know very well women are given similar (I won't say the same, because I did have to prove myself) opportunities as men in Dystopia Rising—because I’m proof of that. I run out into combat all of the time as a player, rally forces around me as a battlefield commander, and throw down. I’ve seen Heather Mead and Laura Wallace do this as battlefield commanders. I’ve also seen a couple of other women do the same from time to time (although more rarely). But that’s THREE TO FIVE WOMEN out of a game that averages 300-plus during summer months.
So why does this happen? How can it be stopped? Honestly, I could go into how women are taught to be quiet rather than loud. I could go into how women are taught to give way when it comes to a contentious issue rather than putting their foot down. I could go into all of the society issues that may or may not affect this issue. But that’s not something that I can fix in the scope of boffer fighting at a game.
What I can do is make a request of women at LARP: If boffer fighting appeals to you at all, don’t be afraid to try it out. Pick up a sword. Pick up TWO swords. Pick up a shield. And practice. Practice at game, practice between games, practice with your friends and with those who are better at fighting, and have FUN with it. Ask boffer fighters who are GOOD at it to teach you. Spar different people. Create a character who leads in battle rather than follows. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be loud. Don’t be afraid to tell others to follow you into battle. You have the ability to be just as competent as that guy standing next to you in the shield line. And if you're a man? Encourage your female fighters.