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Nine (mostly) Distinct (almost) Positive Traits of Chainmail Bikinis

Friday, December 12th, 2014 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Red Sonja-smallWe’ve all heard about the downsides of the chainmail bikini.

Sure, sure, it’ll get you pierced a thousand times over and you have to wax about every hour, but could it be that the chainmail bikini suffers from a bad rap? Could our prejudices be standing in the way of one of fantasy’s greatest female armors? Should we just silence all the naysayers out there?

I think we should at least try, because I’ve yet to see a picture of Hawkeye in a chainmail bikini. (Internet, you’ve failed us all. And it’s okay. Really.)

Here’s a list of oft-overlooked awesome chainmail bikini traits, to help redirect the conversation in a more positive way.

  1. Show off your abs – Female warriors work hard, too!  After all, even Conan had leather thongs to show off his almost-but-thankfully-not-everything everything.  (Wait, is that a good pro argument? Hang on. I can do better.)
  2. No great maintenance costs – Paladins curse this one. While they have to get their armor to the smithy after every single random encounter (well, maybe every third or fifth, depending on skill level), the female bikini-clad woman can simply strut to the beach, confident that her armor was not damaged. Because if she’d taken a hit that could damage her armor, she’d be dead.

     

  3. Quick movements – I think this is a thing.  Try it – avoid enemy blows in your underpants, and then re-enter the battle wearing regular clothing. Do you feel faster when you’re mostly naked?  Or just chillier? Couldn’t you just wear regular clothes in battle and be more comfortable? Will the People of Yoga release a combat gear line?  BUT, let’s keep this positive. Of course it makes for faster movements.
  4. Distracting the enemy – Especially when experiencing a chain mail malfunction.
  5. Skin hue – Chainmail bikini-smallNo need to work on tan outside of questing hours.
  6. Price point – Fairly inexpensive to replace, so every quest can have its own special chainmail bikini. Kind of like a new dress for every wedding.
  7. Luggage space – Easy to pack several for long quests. While your party is trudging along in their same old tired armor, day in and day out, smelling of B.O. and what-the-heck-O, you’ll be fresh as a daisy. Plus, you’ll have a new item to discuss every day aside from the upcoming final battle. For example: “Why yes, I know the dragon can spit fire from its eyeballs, but have you not noticed how darling this pink-hued chainmail bikini looks on me?”
  8. Availability – Generally available at most local smithy, general store, and kinky shop.
  9. Fashion! – Easy to accessorize for maximum fashion benefit.

That’s all I could come up with. But believe me, it was easy.  All I had to do was ignore practicality, comfort, decency, and reality.

No problem.


Marie Bilodeau is an award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author, as well as a professional performing storyteller. Check out her writings and find out what the heck a storyteller is at www.mariebilodeau.com.

37 Comments »

  1. Actually, I think the woman in the lower picture would have a very interesting set of tan lines after spending some time in the sun.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 12, 2014 12:06 pm

  2. I know this post is something of a joke but as someone one the outside of the SF&F community looking in, I seem to get mixed signals about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

    Isn’t the SF&F community trying to be more inclusive and accepting? This seems like the sort of thing that would’ve been cool back in the days of the “old boys club” of fandom. Are women in the SF&F community down with this sort of thing?

    I’m not complaining or recommending anything here. It just seems that the community is somewhat schizophrenic.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 12, 2014 1:08 pm

  3. BEST RED SONJA COSPLAY EVER!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - December 12, 2014 2:52 pm

  4. Joe – Agreed! That’s why she’d need to switch outfits on the journey, so she could get the lines just right.

    James – We can’t deny our origins, nor the conversations that go on within the community. I like to think most readers would see this as satire, but certainly there’s always a chance for misunderstanding. Everyone’s perceptions is different, of course, which makes life much more interesting. I personally believe that humor is a great way to continue or enhance a conversation, and the ones surrounding inclusivity are extremely important. As a woman in my mid-thirties, I grew up making fun of bikini chainmail, and appreciate that it’s mostly been dropped. But I’m a sucker for pulp, so I still read up the stories (they’ve got wicked heroines, regardless of the chainmail bikini). That being said, I hope the chainmail bikini doesn’t venture out of pulp more than it already has.

    Comment by mariebilodeau - December 12, 2014 6:06 pm

  5. Okay, the “new dress for every wedding” line had me cracking up.

    Maybe I’m “different” somehow, but as a male who has been reading fantasy literature for 40 years, I’ve never really understood the appeal to the chain mail bikini and scantily-clad heroines. Oh, I mean, I get the attraction that some will have, but when I see a chain mail bikini, I don’t think, “Wow, she’s hot.” Instead, I think, “Wow, that’s really going to pinch.”

    Comment by Ty Johnston - December 12, 2014 6:44 pm

  6. Ty – A pagan friend informs me that some of her friends discovered that wearing chainmail around a bonfire without anything underneath is also a very painful and possibly scarring experience. … So, there you go. Pinching AND burning. Good practical mindset not to use it. Well, that, and the exposed flesh and increased chances of death. Also not great.

    Comment by mariebilodeau - December 12, 2014 6:50 pm

  7. This piece made me laugh. Does anybody take the chain mail bikini seriously these days? I associate it with the era of Barbarella and Vampirella, when the target audience was rather different. Even as a teenager back in the Eighties, I remember it primarily as a visual trope. For example, Barbara Hambley’s women warriors were nothing like Sonja.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 12, 2014 7:55 pm

  8. Aonghus – I love Barbara Hambly’s stuff. She wrote an episode of She-Ra and I love her even more for it. I *hope* no one takes the chainmai bikini seriously. I don’t think they do. It’s a visual trope, like you say. And most people understand now that women are also a great geek target audience (yay!) Target us, you wonderful creative folk, you.

    Comment by mariebilodeau - December 12, 2014 9:16 pm

  9. Funny article, but IMO it gives the impression the “Chain Mail Bikini” is an integral “Trope” of Sword and Sorcery, along with the comments.

    The analogy is kind of like blaming the “Hippie” movement for “Political Correctness”.

    The Chain Mail Bikini was the product of P.C. forced agendas meets marketing tactics. An unholy union, like when N.O.W. teamed up with the Religious Right to protest Aurora Monster Models. The P.C. agenda just magically rammed Red Sonja on Conan, magically giving her similar strength to him, but also making it so she can’t be his girlfriend. (or she’d lose her powers) It degraded sword and sorcery by making it ridiculous in that excess but sold well using it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the other excessive tropes, women as wenches, slave girls, princesses, dark sorceresses, dragon bait… But, well imagine a big Genghis Khan style barbarian with a ‘what the-‘ look on his face “The WOMAN Fought!?”

    Comment by GreenGestalt - December 13, 2014 12:24 am

  10. A funny satire, loved it. And yes I am sure one could brainstorm plenty more. Just off the top of my head – much easier to do a roundhouse kick, or any martial art than if one were wearing full armour of any type.

    One thing I always found amusing about Red Sonja is her bikini is often not chainmail, rather a type of bezainted (sp) mail.

    Comment by Tiberius - December 13, 2014 3:57 am

  11. GreenGestalt – I like a good “what the” look. I think the mostly naked woman warrior came out as a trope (even though I agree it’s less used than female wenches), because on the female side, they encompass most of the only women who stood out in S&S. They’re certainly some of the most memorable and the ones still talked about, anyway. Everyone else just faded into the background, all wench-y and sacrifice-y like.

    Tiberius – Yes! That’s true. She’s shifty, that one. Still, the same benefits can be applied to bezainted mail. And, with the leather added on, you don’t run into some of the dangers identified in the comments, which is great! Red Sonja knew her stuff.

    Comment by mariebilodeau - December 13, 2014 9:16 am

  12. mariebilodeau: “We can’t deny our origins”

    But isn’t this what is going on with the move to get rid of the Lovecraft bust for the world fantasy awards?

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 13, 2014 2:16 pm

  13. James, I thought about your question, and imagined what my response would have been to the same post if it had been written by a man. And I think I would still have read it as satire. Partly, it’s successful as satire because looking for an upside to the chainmail bikini is something I’ve never seen done before. Partly it works because you hsve to stretch so far to find an upside. Because the post goes for absurdity, rather than prurient interest, I think most women would be okay with with it. The photos of the cosplayers don’t trouble me, because the women in those photos created those costumes freely and for fun. If they were movie stills, the upper one might give some people misgivings.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - December 13, 2014 10:49 pm

  14. Sarah Avery: “The photos of the cosplayers don’t trouble me, because the women in those photos created those costumes freely and for fun. If they were movie stills, the upper one might give some people misgivings.”

    Please don’t misunderstand me, but that strikes me as hypocritical, or, at best, schizophrenic. You’ll have to explain to me how one is acceptable and the other is not. Why is it OK for cosplayers to dress this way and wrong for a movie to have women dressed this way? I’m not seeing the difference, at least one that matters.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 13, 2014 11:40 pm

  15. Sounds like you might be suffering a bit of humour deficit to me, James. Nor am I sure you’re comparing like with like re the Lovecraft award. This article puts the chainmail bikini in its appropriate context – ie, a funny, if slightly embarassing reminder of what used to be acceptable in certain types of fantasy. We could only say the same about the Lovecraft bust if it had been replaced by something else.*

    Are such costumes intrinsically sexist? I remember some comedian once complaining to a fellow comedian (who happened to be jewish) that he couldn’t tell the same joke without being called an anti-semite. ‘Ah,’ his friend replied. ‘But when you tell it, it is, when I tell it is, it isn’t.’ – in other words, context is everything.

    *My biggest beef with this bust is that Lovecraft’s contribution to fantasy was minimal in comparison to other writers. If you want a bust of some former fantasy great, why not Tolkien or Robert E. Howard?

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 14, 2014 9:36 am

  16. This is hilarious, Marie, thanks. Almost makes me wish I’d bought that chain mail bikini I saw in the boutique back in the day. Almost.

    Comment by Violette Malan - December 14, 2014 12:57 pm

  17. @Aonghus Fallon

    My beef with these sorts of things is when someone says “context is everything,” this phrase, and similar, are rarely explained and left seemingly purposely vague so that if the subject at hand is something the group doesn’t like, then it’s racist, sexist, ethnocentrist, or whatever, but if it’s something the group does like, then it’s satirical, joking, etc.

    Again, I’m not a part of this SF&F community–so I’m someone on the outside looking in; but it’s never clear to me what counts as acceptable and what doesn’t. It seems highly arbitrary; or, I just don’t get what the rules of the game are.

    Obviously context almost always makes a difference. But what are the rules of when one context applies but not another?

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 14, 2014 8:00 pm

  18. Remember that painting of the skimpily clad warrioress posing with a sword on some snowy mountainside? The one on the cover of the SFWA bulletin? There were a couple of problems with that painting. It was unrealistic, and as a result people assumed its primary intention was to objectify the female body. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it were on the cover of magazine specifically aimed at men with a chain-mail fetish. On a mainstream magazine with both male and female readers, it was inevitable that some readers were going to find it offensive. That’s what I mean by context.

    A satiric approach would have counteracted the painting’s negative connotations to some degree. For example, if there’d been a voice bubble coming out of the warrioress’s mouth saying something like – ‘Gee, I’m freezing!’ ‘or ‘I hope I’m out of range – those archers look like they mean business!’ That said, I think some people would have still reckoned that the publishers were trying to have their cake and eat it. Why? Because the publishers were male.

    Again, that’s what I mean by context.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 14, 2014 8:39 pm

  19. Women in chainmail bikinis can be deadly. My neighbor stopped by and passed by my computer screen and saw the pictures. He is wearing his oxygen mask now.

    @Scott—ditto. She nailed Red Sonja, pulled it off and added to the legend.

    Comment by Wild Ape - December 14, 2014 8:55 pm

  20. @Aonghus Fallon

    So it’s OK to objectify women in some contexts but not others? Women are OK with this as long as it’s in the right context?

    Really?!?!

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 14, 2014 10:57 pm

  21. James,

    I think you’re overreacting here.

    The issue with the SFWA Bulletin, which we covered here:

    http://www.blackgate.com/2013/06/07/jean-rabe-resigns-as-sfwa-bulletin-editor-amidst-controversy-over-sexist-articles/

    was multi-facted, but one of the major complaints was that a large number of SFWA subscribers felt that the masthead magazine of their professional organization should be making more of an effort to be forward thinking, not put something on the cover they’d be embarrassed to leave lying around at home.

    Does this mean those same people are calling for the chainmail bikini to be banned on paperback and comic covers? Absolutely not. But the cover of the SFWA Bulletin? The editors should have known better. This is what Aonghus means about context.

    Similarly with the image of Lovecraft on the World Fantasy Award. A number of writers of color have said they have been acutely uncomfortable receiving a statue with Lovecraft’s likeness, given his very public racist views. This is a very real issue, and the Awards committee is grappling with it now.

    Does this mean we should stop talking about Lovecraft, or celebrating his work here? Of course not. But remaining consciously blind to the pain we’re causing the very writers we’re trying to honor with an award is a very different thing from talking about Lovecraft in a blog post.

    Marie’s article looks at the whole chainmail bikini issue through a humorous lens, and I found it both funny and a fine way to diffuse some of the tension that’s built up around this topic. Does this mean we’re implicitly endorsing the objectification of women, or implying it’s okay in some case but not others? Of course not.

    Aonghus is absolutely right… context is key.

    Comment by John ONeill - December 15, 2014 2:29 am

  22. Marie, nice article. I wrote a few articles about Red Sonja a couple years back and actually delved into the origin of the chain mail bikini in one of them. http://www.blackgate.com/2012/10/09/in-defense-of-red-sonja-the-chain-mail-bikini/

    Context can be tricky when discussing sexism (or racism or any other -ism). The basic test is whether you’re laughing “with” a group of people or “at” a group of people. And that judgment is going to fall to the group that’s being laughed with or at. And, yeah, that’s going to result in some folks feeling they’ve been unfairly categorized as bigots. And that’s going to open the argument of who decides who is a bigot and who is not.

    When SFWA Bulletin came out, I’d just finished a series of Red Sonja articles where I’d posted a picture of a woman in a chain mail bikini on this site once a week for something like six months. No one ever complained and I hope no one thought I was trying to make female readers feel unwelcome on this site. If there had been a lot of complaints, I’m not sure how I would have reacted, but I like to think I would have been open to criticism.

    If someone wants to wear a chain mail bikini, draw a picture of someone in a chain mail bikini, or say that they think chain mail bikinis are stupid/sexist, they’re all free to do so.

    And as for the controversy concerning the SFWA Bulletin, I was always under the impression that it was the articles in the issue that drew the bulk of negative feedback, not the cover.

    Comment by MichaelPenkas - December 15, 2014 12:32 pm

  23. Michael, your Red Sonja posts were laugh-out-loud funny every time. Unlike the cover of that SFWA Bulletin issue, you weren’t presenting a picture of a chainmail-bikini-clad woman without comment. It was clear that you were fascinated by the comic series as a weird historical artifact. The funniest thing anyone could do with the story and worldbuilding that the writers, artists, and publishers came up with to surround that iconic image was to try to take them seriously. By trying to recount those plots with a straight face, you made your series of posts an examination of the minds of the people who created the comics, and their cultural moment, as refracted through the lens of Red Sonja.

    By contrast, the SFWA Bulletin cover packaged an issue that included a couple of guys who could have chosen to be elder statesmen of the genre, but instead chose to spend their column talking about the bodily proportions and swimsuitworthiness of women editors they had worked with. It was hard not to see that as the comment meant to illuminate the cover image.

    If a woman who is a fan goes to a fan convention for the purpose of cosplaying and dresses like Red Sonja to the impressive effect of that photo above, she is probably prepared for the possibility that people will comment on her bodily proportions. If a woman who is an editor goes to a fan convention related to genre she edits, and she happens to use the hotel pool, she might be dismayed to find that, forty years later, authors she edited are more interested in talking about how she looked in a swimsuit than in talking about how she conducted herself professionally. And women writing and editing in the field now have reason to be dismayed about that, too.

    James, I think there’s a difference between, on the one hand, the experience of inviting an objectifying gaze for a few hours in a costume of one’s own devising, and, on the other hand, being required as a condition of one’s job to invite an objectifying gaze in a costume designed by others.

    I have some confidence that the woman above chose her self-presentation freely. Nobody threatened to destroy her career if she balked at exposing that much skin. Nobody told her she couldn’t play that role unless she lost fifteen pounds in the next seven days. Nobody told her what to say while she was wearing that costume. If she wanted to deploy her considerable attractiveness to comic or satiric effect, or to turn an audience’s attention to the wacky thought processes of the character’s various creators (as Michael’s posts about the comic series did), she wasn’t going to suffer professional consequences. And if she just wanted to vamp it up, that would be her choice, too.

    Context may not be everything, but it does matter.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - December 15, 2014 2:47 pm

  24. MIchael – I loved your post! Thanks for linking to it!

    The archaeologist in me is loving all these wonderful definitions on context. Thank you all for such thoughtful responses!

    Comment by mariebilodeau - December 15, 2014 5:25 pm

  25. @John

    I don’t see how asking questions is overreacting. I was not referencing some incidence or had anything particularly in mind (I take it that’s why you talk for a bit about the SWFA issue). I’m just wanting clarification on what the rules of the game are, which is still fairly fuzzy to me.

    I understand what the word “context” means, but it’s entirely unclear to me how some subject is dubbed good or bad merely by saying the magical phrase “context is everything.”

    Also, bringing up the Lovecraft world fantasy award issue (again, something that I don’t have strong feelings about either way) was merely a comment on mariebilodeau’s comment that seemed to suggest that we should keep chainmail bikinis in the conversation because “we can’t deny our origins.”

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 15, 2014 8:03 pm

  26. @Sarah

    I see the distinction you’re making. The one seems to be justified because it was her free choice, while the other is not.

    However, I deny that an action can be justified purely because it was a free choice, there has to be some other factor contributing to its goodness. Moreover, I think it’s fairly naive to suggest that the cosplayer in question was using her attractiveness to “comic or satiric effect, or to turn an audience’s attention to . . . the character’s various creators.”

    I don’t know what “vamping it up” is or what makes it a good thing to do.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 15, 2014 8:10 pm

  27. I think it’s an inexact science, James. One simple rule of thumb is to ask – how likely is this to give offence? And if the consensus is that something is offensive, then it is. Defining who or what constitutes the consensus is nearly as tricky as defining the context!

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 16, 2014 6:08 am

  28. @Aonghus

    Thank you, that’s very helpful, and what I suspected. It also helpfully explains the phrase “context is everything.”

    It’s also somewhat frustrating because what offends people is extremely person and culture relative. It would be better, in my opinion, to try to base such things are more objective, or at least more intersubjective grounds.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 16, 2014 10:01 am

  29. @James,

    I agree that the current boundaries are fuzzy and confusing. Even the people who think there are clear bright lines don’t necessarily agree about what or where they are. I’m glad you started by asking. I wonder the same things about the current climate, because I can only answer for myself.

    I didn’t say the cosplayer in the photo was presenting herself satirically, just that she was free to. I also didn’t say presenting herself as a vamp would be a good thing, just that even if that was her sole intent, it was her sole intent.

    Because I have known women who were exploited, some of them in very perilous situations, when I look at an image like that, my first question is, “Is she okay?” I think that’s probably not the first question most people ask themselves.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - December 17, 2014 12:00 am

  30. @Sarah

    Well-stated. I have similar concerns.

    Also, in retrospect, I think the photographs in the post are what I find more confusing than the actual post. I agree that the post is actually fairly humorous.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 17, 2014 12:09 am

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