Standard Female Grab Area
Oh no! He's got my arm! ...Sort of.
Your average female RPG character carries a variety of deadly weapons and can effortlessly hack or magic her way through armies of monsters, killer cyborgs, and mutated boss creatures without breaking a sweat. She may be an accomplished ninja, a super-powered secret agent, or the world's greatest adventurer. However, if one of the game's villains manages to sneak up and grab her by the Standard Female Character Grab Area (her upper arm) she will be rendered utterly helpless until rescued by the hero.
— The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches #148
So, the Faux Action Girl
is busy slinging around multiple opponents with her seemingly competent style of Waif-Fu
. In fact, she is doing so well that one has to wonder what the Big Damn Heroes
are doing at all when they could leave the entire mission to her and she'd get it done and be back home in time to make dinner.
But suddenly, something unexpected happens - she gets grabbed by the arm! Shock horror, now she has suddenly become the Damsel in Distress
that needs to be saved.
No one is quite sure why, but it appears that any female lead's weak point in any given show happens to be on or around her upper arm (or alternatively the wrist). She could be absolutely dominating a fight, but the moment any old mook sneaks up behind her and say, grabs her shoulder, she suddenly loses all competency and is reduced to begging the hero to save her, or tries once and again to fight back but is completely useless
. This trope would make more sense if the Mook
also had, say, a gun to her back or something, but too frequently he runs at her unarmed and manages to reduce her to complete harmlessness. Maybe Faux Action Girls
come factory-equipped with an on/off switch in their upper arms.
Giving the benefit of the doubt, this trope exists to keep fights interesting. But since it doesn't happen near as often to guys, it's more likely that gender stereotypes haven't changed as much as we're led to believe
. Alternatively, when someone tries to calm or incapacitate a guy it's much more socially acceptable to use a believable amount of force—such as punching him, knocking him out with a weapon
, or beating him senseless. Until the audience gets over its distaste for seeing female characters hurt—and immediately seeing any man who uses force against a woman as a villain—there will be a double standard. A third possibility is that of simple pragmatism: while animators these days have no problems lampshading how ridiculously sexist "chivalry" is, many real life holds on women can come off as perversely sexual (e.g. a full nelson from a strong opponent, while capable of incapacitating the character, also involves her assailant pressing himself behind her, forcing her head down, and spreading her arms from her chest). It doesn't excuse how ridiculous it is for an otherwise strong female to fold this easily, however. Another take from the Media Watchdogs
is that males have a lot less real estate
that would be offensive to grab, leaving few positions for women that would not be reminiscent of sexual harassment.
Therefore, a writer might use this as a less graphic shortcut to incur a plot development.
Note this never
happens to a Dark Action Girl
or a true Action Girl
, who can use it before a surprise attack. If a Mook were to attempt such a thing, well, expect someone to be on the business end of a nasty kick to the crotch
, aka: the standard male
instant-incapacitation area (and this
one is Truth in Television
). And that's if he's lucky - modern Dark Action Girls are rather likely to opt for breaking his arm in three places instead of "lowering themselves" to a groin attack.
The arm is also the ideal location to grab a female character who's panicking or in the middle of a screaming freakout. No amount of verbal entreaties will get her to mellow out on her own, but punctuate a terse "calm down!" with both hands on her upper arms, and voila
, she's back on steady ground again.
Note that this trope does not apply if the female character is subjected to an actual combat move such as an armlock definition
or a hammerlock definition
. Note also that not every instance of a man grabbing a woman by the arm counts as a use of the Standard Female Grab Area, as there really aren't a whole lot of other places that a man can grab a woman that don't carry Unfortunate Implications
, especially on a family-oriented show. This trope only comes into play when use of the Standard Female Grab Area makes the woman unaccountably helpless or ineffective.
It should go without saying
that in Real Life
, it will take more than just grabbing your opponent's upper arms or wrists and standing there to stop them, regardless of gender.
Note that this could often be justified if the one using the grab is more skilled, or more sufficiently armed. For example, Alice has a knife and is fighting Bob, who also has a knife. Charlie has a club, sword, electric spear and metal armor. He grabs Alice to make his presence known, and Alice knows not to resist or she'll get run through with something. Another common example is Charlie putting a gun to Alice's head to dissuade any attempts at breaking loose.
See also Neck Lift
and By the Hair
, which are far more plausible even though they may be just as unrealistically depicted.
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Anime & Manga
- In Fantastic Four #119 (Published in 1972) a planejacker takes a stewardess hostage by just lightly gripping her shoulder so that both her arms are still free!
- Subverted in Mass Effect: Redemption. A sleazy batarian grabs Liara by the arm, thinking that she's for sale. Liara subdues him and his volus companion with a single biotic blast, while Feron, her drell companion, facepalms.
- Sin City: Manute does this to resident Action Girl Gail. Considering he's Made of Iron, it makes sense she's unable to do much against him.
- Becomes plain ridiculous in issue #14 of the original black-and-white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic — the villain grabs April by the upper arm and then lets go for long enough to tie a cloth gag around her mouth, and then shoves her over to the mooks to take her away. Though one of her arms and both her legs are free, and nobody seems to have any weapons to threaten her with, that brief upper-arm grab seems to have made her so helpless that she doesn't even try to struggle or escape.
- Justified example in Hunting Monsters when Dominic restrains a woman by grabbing her wrist. She digs her heels in and hits him with her other hand, but he's so much stronger than her it doesn't make a difference.
Films - Animated
- In Mulan II, one of the Mongolian emperor's guards successfully uses this on Mulan.
- Shrek: After showing impeccable fighting skills early in the movie, at the end, Fiona can only call helplessly for Shrek when grabbed this way. Granted Farquaad does eventually put a knife to her throat but only after 20 seconds or so of her doing nothing while Shrek, who is also grabbed, actually fights back.
- And again at the climax of the third movie.
- A rare male example in Disney's Tarzan. Earlier in the film, he successfully incapacitates a full grown silver back gorilla, but when he's grabbed by the upper arm by a man of average build, he can't break free.
- Justified in Despicable Me 2 when agent Lucy Wilde is grabbed in this way due to her being in the middle of a party, with several civilians (mostly children) around, so Lucy, being a trained secret agent, probably wanted to avoid collateral damage from fighting back.
Films - Live Action
- This happens in Wheel of Time when a girl is grabbed by a Warder in a Crown of Swords.
- In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Deckard uses this on Luba Luft. When previously cornered by the bounty hunter, she outsmarted him and managed to hold him at laser point. However, once he puts his hand "laxly onto her upper arm" she ceases all struggle.
- Tortall Universe
- In Song of the Lioness, where the slender 5'4" Alanna is skilled and fast, and rendered helpless once her arms are pinned by a larger man. When she realizes this weakness, she decides to learn hand-to-hand combat from the local Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy so she doesn't get trapped again.
- But it's defied with a vengeance in the third Protector of the Small book when Raoul's standard-bearer tries to intimidate Squire Keladry this way—by this point, she's so built that all she has to do is flex her bicep and his hand pops off.
- Feet of Clay: Angua, a female cop, is grabbed in this method and does nothing while she is inside the bar her fellow coppers are in. The reason why is she's a werewolf and more than capable of taking care of the fools taking her hostage. She just didn't want to damage the place or her co-workers.
- In The Dresden Files, if you grab Lieutenant Murphy, prepare to have the crap beaten out of you. Unless she's pretending and you are stupid enough to believe it.
- Averted in A Song of Ice and Fire. A smitten suitor grabs Asha Greyjoy this way; she draws a dagger and makes it clear he's never to touch her without permission. During a Bar Brawl a squire does the same to Arya Stark; he's also holding a sword, so with both hands occupied there's nothing to stop Arya grabbing the dagger on the squire's belt and burying it in his belly. It is however played straight, but in a Gender-Inverted Trope, when Royal Brat Puppet King Joffrey is hauled off to bed this way after annoying his Dragon-in-Chief Lord Tywin Lannister.
- In Bones, Booth pulls Brennan out of a room by her upper arm on the first case they work. Despite being trained in multiple forms of self defense, she allows herself to be pulled, only smacking Booth across the face once he let go of her arm.
- Subverted (unsurprisingly) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy gets grabbed like this almost once a fight. Her response is usually to use her attacker as leverage to bicycle kick some other guy in the face.
- However in "Into the Woods" her boyfriend Riley (whom she's discovered is cheating with vampire prostitutes) grabs Buffy this way three times during the course of their subsequent argument. Contrary to all expectations (including Riley's own) she doesn't pummel him, eventually just walking out in disgust.
- Subverted in Robin Hood with Djaq. A Mook twists her arm behind her back and triumphantly shouts: "I've got the girl!" She head butts him, retrieves her sword and mutters: "A woman, you'll find."
- Played straight with Djaq's replacement Kate, who in her first episode is magically capable of overpowering grown, horse-backed, armoured men by poking them with her bare hands, and is then rendered utterly helpless in every other fight she participates in. Except the Cat Fight, of course.
- Reference in Shooting Stars in a segment parodying The A-Team - "Look, it's a woman being pushed and pulled about a bit by some communists!" (Two Fidel Castro lookalikes each holding on to the Standard Female Grab Area and pointlessly pushing her back and forth)
- Inverted in an episode of iCarly, where Sam incapacitates a girl-hating model train club member by squeezing his wrist.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Kira, in the flashback episode "Necessary Evil", when she is grabbed by Dukat and submits to it silently.
- Justified though as that episode takes place during the Occupation — laying hands on a Cardassian officer would be a death sentence. Kira was a member of La Résistance working undercover on Empok Nor, so couldn't afford to draw attention to herself.
- And in "Dax", where a mook calmly walks up to Dax from a distance of a few meters and grabs her by the arm, forcing her to submit immediately, rather than double axe-handle him.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Averted in "Year of Hell" when the Doctor tries to restrict Janeway to Sickbay by grabbing her arm. She responds with a Death Glare and threatens to shut down his program.
- Justified in "The Q and the Grey" when Chakotay grabs a female member of the Q Continuum. When you can change the gravitational constant of the universe with a Badass Finger Snap, it's difficult to get your head around physical violence after you've been Brought Down to Normal.
Let me go before I hurl this ship and everyone on it into the Therinian Ice Age. Chakotay:
I don't think you can. Female Q:
Don't be ridiculous. (Badass Finger Snap = No Sell) Chakotay:
I don't know how or why, but something's affected your powers. Otherwise, you wouldn't still be here and you wouldn't have a bruise on your forehead. Now start talking before I hurl you into the brig.
- In "Someone to Watch Over Me", Seven of Nine shows the correct way to respond when a drunken alien ambassador grabs you like this.
- In the season one finale of Teen Wolf, Peter does this to Kate, rendering her pretty much helpless in seconds.
- In Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith, the Series 4 finale of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Ruby first grabs Clyde's upper arm, and later Rani's. Their inability to react is justified by her Super Strength.
- Rufus does this to Patricia in House of Anubis. She does keep fighting in his grip, though, so it's possibly a subversion, and seemed like it was more of a matter of her just giving up than being subdued.
- Averted in the Torchwood episode Cyberwoman. Owen has to grab Gwen around the waist in order to prevent her from trying to help Jack, and even then she still tries to pull away.
- Though not a physical example, the spirit of the trope is still present in The Walking Dead when the Governor threatens to rape Maggie and she makes no real attempt to resist, even though he put his gun belt down on the other side of the table. She goes from zombie-killing Action Girl doing risky supply runs to giving into torture relatively quickly.
- Subverted in that they have Glen hostage in the other room and have made sure that Maggie knows this. Glen is also subdued from the knowledge that they have Maggie and only really fights back when they lock a walker in with him while he's still tied to a chair.
- Male example in Once Upon a Time: Henry gets kidnapped, and even when his mother is running toward him, he doesn't bother to resist being taken through a portal to another world. It might have been understandable up until then, but Emma just needed a little time to reach them.
- Sloan Sabbith on The Newsroom has a truly spectacular response to being treated this way by a male coworker:
- Before inducting her into the TNA gathering, Raven dragged Alexis Laree into the Sports Entertainment Xtreme office by her wrist. She was on the losing end of a lengthy match with Trinity, who a fresh Raven then attacked and gave the even flow DDT to, so she probably wasn't in any shape to fight him off and seemed more confused about the whole thing than distressed. It only looks like a straight example if you know ahead of time the mess Raven's Gathering turns out to be.
- The Giant Killer Mike Mondo does incapacitated Maria Kanellis this way on OVW television. However, it did him no good against Alexis Laree (yes, the same one). He did know his fair share of actual debilitating holds but subduing Laree was no trivial effort.
- After winning TNA's X Division Championship from Suicide, Homicide celebrates by kidnapping the locker room interviewer Lauren in this manner.
- Both subverted and played straight in Kingdom Hearts II. In the subversion, villain Xaldin attempts to force the Beast to choose between his magical rose and Belle, by holding both (with Belle held by the arm). While he's busy gloating, Belle elbows him, grabs the rose from him, and runs back over to the heroes. Played straight when Kairi is kidnapped by Axel when he simply grabs her wrist and drags her around like kleenex. Kairi just goes and follows her kidnapper while slightly squirming and only dragging her feet once; never does she consider using her free hand or kicking her abductor. One could chalk it up to an uncaring animator, though, or maybe her being a kid being dragged off by a Humanoid Abomination who's NOT busy gloating.
- The Bouncer features a kidnapping in the opening cutscene where the kidnapped girl, while trying to escape, is stunned so much by being grabbed on the upper arm that he can put her in a headlock easily.
- Subverted in Last Scenario when Lorenza is introduced. A group of soldiers is trying to capture her, and one of them grabs her arm... so she vaporizes him with a lightning bolt.
- Mass Effect 2 involves Shepard intervening in a Beam-O-War between two exceptionally powerful Asari biotics, by wading into the conflict and twisting the arm of his/her desired target. Alone, Shepard most likely would have been smushed into paste after this, but here it serves to break their concentration and opens them up for a Coup de Grâce blast from the other biotic.
- Shepard does it again in Mass Effect 3 to Samara in the Ardat Yakshi monastery. Of course, it's mentioned that biotics need precise and exact muscle movements, and Shepard is a super-powered cyborg at both points, so this means that the SFGA is a perfect way to incapacitate biotics as long as they haven't learned how to channel their abilities through their legs. Of course, the only biotic we know of with that ability is male.
- Averted in Dragon Age II, whenever anyone wants to grab Isabela they grab her by both arms at once from behind, and she always manages to escape anyway if she wants to.
- Used in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, when the Big Bad kidnaps Flora, Layton's ward, by dragging her out of a restaurant by one arm. Flora is a sweet little girl and can't do much to defend herself anyway.
- In Tales of Graces, Raymond Oswald manages to subdue Action Girl Cheria using this technique. Granted, she probably would have kicked his ass into next week had ol' Raymond not been backed up by a bunch of his soldiers.
- In Dragon Quest VIII, Angelo grabs Jessica by the arm and drags her off to sneak away from a bar brawl over his cheating at cards.
- An interesting version of this happens in the Super Smash Bros. series. Characters can grab each other, and, if someone grabs a male fighter, it'll be by the chest's clothes, or in the case of fighters that don't wear clothes... by grabbing their skin directly, supposedly. However, if one grabs one of the female characters (excluding Jigglypuff), it'll be by the arm. Of course, grabbing by the chest would lead to some Unfortunate Implications.
- Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty. Talwyn can shoot guns and jetpack around all she wants during gameplay, but once she's grabbed by the arm in a cutscene, she doesn't even struggle.
- In the opening cinematic for Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. Justified as mages have low strength stats and the mage in question is descended from a race of very fragile pacifists.
- The vampires dragging Willow around early in Buffy the Vampire Slayer hold her this way.
- Though at this point Willow is a shy and (more importantly) normal high school girl who is being held by what is essentially a demon in a human body
- Double Subverted in the remake of Splatterhouse. Dr. West, the main villain, grabs Jennifer by the arm and drags her through the mansion and across time to complete the ceremony. While Jennifer is no fighter, Dr. West looks to be a fairly frail old man, and Jennifer takes the initiative and stabs West through the temple with a jagged dagger. This turns out to be little more than a mild irritant for West, and as it dawns on Jennifer that he's more than human he easily drags her into the shadows by himself.
- Lampshaded in Casey and Andy, the antagonistic Lord Milligan is a Card-Carrying Villain who follows basically every trope in the book, right down to having a lair inside a hollowed-out volcano, and insisting on explaining the villainous plot to the heroes before killing them. When one of the eponymous characters asks him if there's any advantage in following all those rules, Milligan demonstrates that there is by employing the "Female Incapacitation Attack" on Mary, an Action Girl with implanted, Wolverine-style claws.
- A blink and you'll miss it example in Tower of God during the fight between Androssi and Quant: in one panel, Quant manages to catch Androssi's arm, and tries to hit her. It takes Baam and his newly acquired freezing technique to intervene and get Androssi out of this situation. Why Androssi didn't just swing her Cool Sword that she held in her free hand at Quants neck is unclear, but the surprise effect or the fact that you need to land really strong attacks on Quant to even scratch him (even the Sword Beam wasn't enough to do that) might have played into that.
- Subverted in Darken. Sure, Elia is mildly inconvenienced when Shard grabs her, but it doesn't last long.
- Girly, most likely will be Lampshaded later (it's not the first time Girly lampshaded something while playing it straight).
- In Underling, this happens to Eshi on this page.
- Girl Genius had this (briefly) when "Snapper" Boikov tried taking Sanaa hostage. After discovering she's a sister of the hero who did personally break half of the prisoners' or their bosses' operations and probably already knowing she was imprisoned for piracy. "Dibs on his boots!"
- Also happens with Agatha. Even sparks are not immune.
- Subverted in Leftover Soup, Ellen's self-defense class was devoted solely to techniques to stop rapists grabbing one's wrist. When she asks Jamie to "give her his best shot" he kicks her in the kneecap.
- Subverted in the Whateley Universe. In the second Boston Brawl, Generator (who looks like a ten year old girl) is grabbed as a hostage by Ironhawk (mutant in power armor). She slaps something on his armor, takes over his control system, and uses him as a missile for the rest of the battle.
- Subverted in RWBY. Ruby gets grabbed like this, but shrugs it off. She still gets captured, mind you...but she at least puts up a fight. It's not her fault that she's only 15 and the guard is therefore able to No Sell her punch before Pistol-Whipping her into submission.
- Used heavily in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 to April O'Neil. Even to the point that Leonardo even uses it in the episode, "It Came from Beneath the Sewers".
- The Justice League Unlimited generally subverted:
- In the episode "The Cat and the Canary" Black Canary is forced to watch Green Arrow fight her mentor Wild Cat in a cage match while being held this way. She more or less allows Roulette's goons to grab her, but as soon as she decides to get involved, she essentially shrugs them off with no problem.
- Subverted earlier when she was flirting with Arrow while sparring with him, allowing him to grab and pin her this way. She then bets that if she can get out of that hold, he'll go with her on an off-the-books mission (that leads to the cage fight). Gilligan Cut to Arrow hitting the wall.
- If you grab Hawkgirl or Wonder Woman there, all you're doing is giving them leverage. Except sometimes when the enemy is also powerful enough to take out the male heroes in the same way.
- Not even Goldie Gold, of Goldie Gold and Action Jack, has enough limitless wealth to buy her way out of this trope◊.
- In the Teen Titans episode "Haunted," when Robin is hallucinating visions of Slade, he grabs Starfire here angrily, and she exclaims that he's hurting her, despite the fact she seems to possess at least a degree of Nigh-Invulnerability, and he has no superstrength to speak of. Fan consensus is that she was more emotionally hurt by her good friend grabbing her then any actual physical force. This makes sense when you consider that Starfire's powers are based on her emotions; thus her emotional distress can cause her invulnerability to weaken, allowing Robin (a Charles Atlas Superpower level martial artist) to physically harm her.
- Used in the classic The Shooting of Dan McGoo Tex Avery short, featuring Droopy. Upon finishing her performance, Red is accosted by the Wolf, who proceeds to drag her across the room by the wrist, before switching to carrying her underarm.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
- After Katriana Moldoff pulls a "Freaky Friday" Flip on Batman, she is able to grab the now-female Batman by the arm and leave him helpless.
- Subverted later when Superman tries this on Cheetah. He grabs her arm and twists, she slashes his face with her Kryptonite-coated nails.
- Inverted in Wing Commander Academy: Archer performs this hold on Maniac, before tossing him halfway across the room. Worth noting, Maniac appears to be about twice her mass.
- Used in Ancient Greek iconography: women get held by the wrist when kidnapped, or sometimes by her husband.