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Are women more associated with archery?


"Can I ask you an archery question for research/my thesis?

Okay so I’m writing a thesis about gender and gender presentations in warrior women. I argue that gender is a construct and that objects should not be gendered when they are tools in one’s art of being a warrior, but my professor countered that bows and archery are more associated with women than men (not meant to offend anyone just looking for answers) is that true? Where does that come from? 

To me, when I think of archers I think of famous ones like Green Arrow, Robin Hood, and Legolas...Are there other archers in literature that you can think of that identify as a woman besides Susan Pevensie that would dominate the symbol of archers?"

- J. E. T.


Gender is indeed a construct, much in the same way that identity is a social construct. Or Zodiac signs is a superstitious construct.

With respect to archery it is predominantly a male sport. For example, with respect to my local archery range, men make up over 80% of the archery range's users, and that the "regulars" are even more male dominated, making up at least 90% of the frequent users.

Archery is a sport requiring strength and endurance. Far too often non-archers are expecting the sport to be easy, and they are not at all prepared for how difficult or strength intensive this sport is.

Part of this misconception is the fault of mass media, Hollywood, and the types of body types depicted in films, television and literature. People see these depictions in a variety of media and then perpetuate the false idea that archers are a specific body type. Eg. Skinny Legolas.

There are a variety of films during the past 30 years wherein skinny female characters are depicted as archers. This depiction is a double edged sword: It creates the stereotype that skinny women are ideally suited for archery, promotes archery to women, but also pushes the idea that women are unsuited to hand-to-hand melee.

While I appreciate and applaud that Hollywood is pushing the idea of more women in archery, it is coming at the expense of saying women are unsuitable for using axes, lances, swords or a variety of other medieval era weaponry, while simultaneously pushing the idea that archery is not a sport of strength and endurance.

This all comes back to depictions of body types in my opinion. Eg. Try to think of a film that depicts a female archer as not being skinny. I cannot name one. Hollywood depicts female archers as being ballerina skinny (and usually Caucasian, Asian, or giant blue alien, but that is another topic entirely).

In reality archers are all kinds of body types, but there is one commonality with respect to experienced archers - They are all strong and have built up their back muscles so that they can pull higher poundage bows. Some archers started being reasonably strong, and then became stronger as they built up their rhomboids, deltoids and other muscles used for archery. Some were weaker, but built up the muscle groups over time. Even older archers are often surprisingly robust and strong for their age.

Thus even if an archer started as being skinny or overweight, after 20 years of doing the sport regularly they're going to have a more robust stature because they've built up the muscle groups.

This strength factor doesn't mean that women cannot excel at archery however. While women are certainly a minority, I have met plenty of women who excel at archery.

Eg. Back in March (a week before COVID shut everything down) I had the pleasure of teaching a dancer in her 40s who has what I would describe as having an Amazonian body type. Certainly more in the direction of an athlete, which was an asset and she did very well during her first lesson. You can see a video of her on my Cardio Trek YouTube channel. Her lessons are supposed to resume this Autumn.

So does having more of a Tom Boy / Amazonian / athletic physique help when doing archery? Absolutely it helps. It is a sport of strength and endurance after all. However that doesn't mean it is only body type that can excel at archery. An archer who is overweight can excel just as easily if they build up the needed muscle groups, and likewise a skinny will become stronger over time.

With respect to archers of literature like Green Arrow, Robin Hood and Legolas there is definitely one missing:


Now you might think "Wait, Hercules did archery?"

Indeed he did. He was supposedly extremely good at archery, owing to his demigod strength.

Here's another: Odysseus / Ulysses.

Ulysses returned after 20 years of fighting Trojans & being lost at sea to find his kingdom in turmoil and suitors trying to marry his wife and take his kingdom. But his wife was very smart. She said she would only marry a man who could string her husband's bow. All the suitors tried and failed. They weren't strong enough. Then Ulysses, now an old man in disguise, asked to try. He strung his bow easily and killed all the suitors. There is a lovely clip of this scene on YouTube wherein actor Kirk Douglas plays Ulysses in the scene from the 1954 film.

So what is Greek female equivalent of Hercules or Ulysses?

Atalanta, and to some extent the Amazons.

Atalanta was abandoned on a mountain and raised by bears. Away from the social constructs of her fellow Greeks. The Greek myth makers clearly understood that femininity is a social construct and apparently believed that the only way a woman could grow to maturity without such constructs was to be raised in the wild by animals.

The Amazons it is now believed was one part myth and one part based on the Scythians (or the forebears of the Scythians), who were a nomadic group of hunters from Asia Minor wherein men and women both hunted, often from horseback, and they perfected the Scythian bow, which is a very complex recurve-decurve-recurve shape. As such they were phenomenal archers. It is small surprise that the Greeks mythologized such encounters with any warrior-women they encountered from Scythia as they were doubtlessly deadly with the bow.

Obviously I could keep going. I could probably write a nonfiction book on this subject.

So yes, in conclusion the idea that archery is strongly associated with women (and a skinny body type) is a stereotype perpetuated by the media. Largely due to Hollywood and anyone influenced by that false narrative. Archery is still very much a male dominated sport, it is a sport requiring strength and not agility (despite what Dungeons and Dragons would have people believe).

I would also assert that gender identity is not a factor in archery. People can identify as whatever gender they want to, it will make zero difference when you hand them a high poundage bow and ask them to pull it.

Anyone wishing to disagree can come to my local archery range and I will hand them a 50 lb Browning Wasp recurve bow, at which point we shall see if their perceptions of archery being "easy" or not requiring strength is remotely accurate. If they can't pull it I will give them a "much easier" 24 lb Ragim Matrix recurve bow. And if they still cannot pull that I will swap out the limbs for 18 lbs.

I have been teaching archery for almost 12 years now. Beginners are continually surprised at how physically exhausting the sport is. It is the reason why my lessons are 90 minutes long. Two hours is too long. People get tired and start making more mistakes close to the 90 minute mark.

There is a reason why I have blog posts on my website pertaining to weight training exercises specifically aimed at archers, so they can build more muscle in the needed areas of their body faster.

It truly is a sport of strength and endurance. Anyone who has fallen for the Hollywood fantasy that it is not... They're just perpetuating the false narrative.

My apologies if this is a bit of a rant. Archery is a lifestyle for me. I have been practicing the sport for over 31 years. Teaching for almost 12 years. My wife shoots. My 3-year-old son shoots. I write both fiction and nonfiction about archery. I am very passionate about promoting the virtues of the sport and it annoys me that there are so many false perceptions of it.

I recommend including my entire email in your appendices for your professor to peruse. If they have any questions or follow up they can address it to

Have a good weekend!

Charles Moffat
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