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OH NO! HE'S MILDLY GRIPPED ME BY THE ARM!
—Film Brain, Street Fighter the Legend of Chun Li Review.
So, the Action Girl is busy slinging around multiple opponents with her 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 for dinner.
But suddenly, something unexpected happens - she gets grabbed by the arm! Shock horror, now she has suddenly become the Distressed Damsel 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 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 quite 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.
Note this never happens to a Dark Action Girl. 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 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 armbar or a hammerlock. 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. (This depends on the girl, however; often in many cultures, women are conditioned to submit reflexively to being physically apprehended by a man or matron-- which is probably the history behind the trope).
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.
This can also be used in a non-sexist way if the girl in question is a magic user who needs both her hands and arms free to cast spells.
Anime & Manga
- Subverted in the Virtua Fighter anime: A thug wants to use a young ballerina who had befriended Akira, Jacky and Pai as a hostage and grabs her by the arms, but she actually wriggles her way out of his hold and manages to kick him away. She even says it's thanks to her dance training, which gave her extra flexibility.
- One scene in Detective Conan has Mouri Ran, a Karate expert being held by a criminal. Suffice to say, the mook didn't stand a chance, despite him actually holding a gun. Arguably a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Ran.
- Another episode lampshades the probable cultural origin of the trope in showing Ran, after reading a fortune telling card that says "You must be more feminine to reach the heart of your lover", practically incapacitated. Luckily, the killer of the week later reads the real card for her - "no way you can deceive your lover, just be yourself and he will get your sentiments anyway" - and she merrily trashes the unfortunate guy and his knife.
- In Sailor Moon, Neptune uses it on the main heroine when they fight. After a few seconds, though, Moon powers up, and her Battle Aura sends Neptune flying.
- In a dark, personal scene in Rose of Versailles, Oscar and André are arguing, when André becomes very upset at her decision to live her entire life as a man. He has always seen her as a woman as well, and their fight takes them near Oscar's bed. As he becomes physical, Oscar (being the main character) keeps fighting him off until he grabs her and the shoulder of her shirt rips. Then she's just at his mercy, asking "what will you do?" very pitifully - but this of course frightens André, who stops and apologizes repeatedly.
- It must be noted, though, that said scene is the tip of the iceberg concerning years of things untold and repressed feelings between Oscar and André (who was in the verge of an Heroic BSOD or maybe even the Despair Event Horizon, considering how he thinks that her beloved Oscar is completely throwing her life away), so it's not much about Oscar suddenly becoming failtastic at fighting, but about her breaking down when facing a truth she doesn't want to see.
- Tora actually tries this with Maylu in the Mega Man NT Warrior Manga grabbing her by the wrist, guess what happens to him next.
- In Ranma ½, a shadowy assailant surprised Akane from behind, and pulled her back while cupping his hand over her mouth. She paused just long enough to gather her thoughts before elbowing him hard in the gut and slapping him senseless. (Turned out it was just the Jusenkyo Guide, who wanted her to be quiet due to all the Phoenix Soldiers flying around, but he really could've picked a better approach.)
- In the anime, Akane tries to defeat Ranma's Living Shadow. Due to his crush on her, the shadow simply grabs her wrists and keeps her in place. It isn't until Nabiki says that Akane will hate him if he doesn't stop holding her that he impulsively lets his grip go slack.
- Miu of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple subverts this trope. She's trained herself to automatically flip anyone who approaches her from behind.
- This happens to Cowboy Bebop's Faye Valentine in the first Jupiter Jazz episode. She's in a bad mood and about to take it out on some thugs who surround her in an alley when Gren appears, grabs her by the forearm and drags her away to the relative safety of his apartment.
- Subverted in Yankee-kun to Megane-chan; Shinagawa grabs Adachi's arm to stop her from running away, so she grabs him and throws him to the ground.
- Fairy Musketeers has this applied to the male main character (who, for what it's worth, knows little about combat.)
- Actually sorta justified in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, since being restrained in any way is among the limitations of Homura Akemi's otherwise very versatile Time Travel. The trope is then completely subverted when the 'victim' drops a live stun grenade on the floor and easily escapes in the panic.
- Which doesn't only happen when Kyouko grabs her by the arm, but when Mami uses her binds to keep her in place and try shooting her dead after crossing the Despair Event Horizon in Timeline 3.
- Subverted in Kamichama Karin: Kirio tries this on Karin once and gets punched in the face for his trouble.
- Episode twelve of They Are My Noble Masters, has Ren's father use this on a couple of the servants...and it's played completely straight, despite all the female servants being proven asskickers. Apparently getting grabbed on the arm by a drunk, was their only weakness...
- A canine version of this appears in the Grand Finale of Ginga Densetsu Weed, where Hougen kills one of Jerome's Alaskan Malamute followers and hold the female follower hostage by grabbing her throat. He only drops her when Weed arrives in time for the final battle.
- Used in Rosario to Vampire against Kurumu by Hokuto.
Hokuto: Although your attacks are sharp, it becomes weak once you're caught.
- In Code Geass, Suzaku does this to Kallen, but this is also a subversion due to the fact that he suckerpunched her in the stomach first.
- Subverted in Berserk, Guts gets Casca to stop yelling on two occasions - by slapping her ass then grabbing her breast the second time.
- Saionji Kyouichi is seen doing the wrist-grab variant to Anthy Himemiya a few times throughout Revolutionary Girl Utena. After he's slapped her for no reason other than he feels like it.
- 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 grab's 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.
- Man of the Year: Eleanor is walking out of a mall when suddenly the Big Bad's mook comes and grabs her under the armpit. She squeals and is dragged forcefully to his van. The moment she retaliates and manages to escape is the exact moment he lets go of her.
- Subverted in Serenity, where Jayne grabs River by the arm in the middle of her rampage through the bar. That fails, so he pins both her arms to her body with a bear hug, and leans on her to hold her down. It looks like she's been handily contained by Jayne's intervention... but then she attacks his weakpoint for massive damage and the ninety-pound girl kicks the everliving crap out of him.
- The Mortal Kombat film has the previously shown Action Girl Sonya Blade being held by the Big Bad Shang Tsung with her arm behind her back and gripped by her ponytail. While to be fair this is likely painful as hell, it has very much the same effect as this trope because Sonya is supposed to be a trained FBI agent and he is yanking her around like a rag doll while she makes absolutely no attempt to fight back. While the movie takes time to remind the viewer that he's a near omnipotent sorcerer and Shang Tsung outclasses pretty much everybody there but Liu Kang, the movie still doesn't show him using any special powers beyond grabbing her arm.
- There's a bit of Real Life Writes the Plot here, though. The actress playing Sonya was a last-minute replacement for the original one (none other than Cameron Díaz, who was injured right before filming) and several of Sonya's scenes had to be rewritten to include less fighting.
- While Lyra of The Golden Compass can be forgiven for suffering from this weakness because she is so young, it's still almost hilariously obvious several times in The Film of the Book, especially in the Final Battle.
- Played with in Get Smart; although Agent 99 is subdued like this a couple of times, the first time she manages to get herself out of it by kicking her captors; the second time, she is subdued and tied to a car, but still manages to get a few good kicks in during the fight scene.
- She's excused in both situations as both times, the men who grabbed her arm also had guns pointed at her kidneys.
- The Wild World of Batwoman has this used successfully on several girls in a row.
- Played annoyingly straight in Appleseed Ex Machina. After Briarios gets knocked out saving Deunan from a huge explosion, she tries to help him, but is held back by this trope, of all things.
- Partially averted--Deunan's larger male comrade also has to grab her by the waist, and visibly struggles with it (you can see him shifting his feet a few times).
- It also helps that she keeps her wits enough to not actively fight her comrade, simply pushing forward rather than attacking him - this would be a bad idea if he was an enemy, but she knows he's not.
- Played straight at the end of Shrek. After showing impeccable fighting skills early in the movie, Fiona can only call helplessly for Shrek when grabbed this way at her wedding. 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.
- Played hilariously straight in Secret Window, where the antagonist drags the conscious and struggling female lead along the ground, face-down, by one wrist. No, the villain is not particularly strong; she was just Too Dumb to Live.
- In Mulan II, one of the Mongolian emperor's guards successfully uses this on Mulan.
- Miss Congeniality absolutely destroys this trope by having Sandra Bullock's character demonstrate self-defense techniques against just such a grapple for the talent portion of the beauty contest.
- Subverted in Live Free or Die Hard. Near the end of the flick, a henchman has Lucy firmly subdued via the Standard Female Grab Area while the Big Bad, Gabriel, threatens McClane... but the second the Big Bad's back is turned, Lucy smacks the henchman in the face, shoots him in the foot with his own gun and basically almost manages to finish out the whole flick by herself. When the henchman get her back under control, he grabs her by the throat and shoves a gun in her face.
- A justified example comes in the Percy Jackson film. A terrified woman grabs onto Annabeth's hand and renders her unable to fight Medusa - because Medusa turns the woman to stone while she's still holding onto Annabeth's wrist.
- 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.
- Subverted in Last Action Hero. Slater's daughter gets grabbed by one of the Mooks and becomes little more than a screaming nuisance, but as soon as the mook takes her to another room she uses her screams to cover the sound of her dealing with him.
- In Tron: Legacy, Quorra ends up on the receiving end of one. Possibly justified as the grab is more like a joint lock, she was punched in the face seconds prior, and one of her opponents chops off her arm almost immediately.
- 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.
- In Lioness Rampant, where the slender 5'4" Alanna is skilled and fast, and rendered helpless once her arms are pinned by a larger man. On the other hand, once she gets free, beware. She will mess you up.
- On the other hand, in Squire, Keladry just flexes her bicep, forcing the man to loosen his grip.
- Averted in Discworld book Feet of Clay when 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.
- If you grab Lieutenant later Sergeant 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 by Asha Greyjoy. A childhood friend who was enamored with her attempted to stop her from leaving him by using this method. She promptly puts a knife to his throat and drives him off.
- Pick a Lifetime Movie, any Lifetime movie. The most common version found here involved them getting in a screaming match(usually his fault), she'll draw back to slap him, he'll grab her wrist, and she'll hit the ground like a dying swan. It also has the amazing ability to be sexist to both men and women at the same time.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- Averted in Power Rangers Wild Force. Toxica tried using this on Princess Shayla. Cue counter-ass-kicking.
- Averted a couple of times with Kira in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Played straight, however, in the flashback episode "Necessary Evil", when she is grabbed by Dukat and submits to it silently.
- 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. Observe after about 4:30.
- 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.
- Awesomely 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, Samara and her crazed daughter, Morinth 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 Grace blast from the other biotic. Then again, Shepard is Shepard and because of his/her cybernetic implants and enhancements is far stronger than a normal human. Maybe their concentration isn't broken by just a simple grab, but by Shepard twisting and gripping their arm so hard s/he is just short of snapping the bones of their arm with a single hand.
- Averted in Dragon Age 2, 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. To be fair, Flora is a sweet little girl and can't do much to defend herself anyway.
- 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 princesses, it'll be by the arm. Of course, grabbing by the chest would lead to some Unfortunate Implications.
- This privilege (depending how you look at it) has been extended to pretty much all girls in the roster aside from the ones who share a male skin swap. Goddesses, bounty hunters, witches, cosmic travelers all included.
- Due to reusing the grab animation items such as the Beetle and Arcade Bunny's crane grab the ladies by their hands and take them away by that area.
- Played straight in Ratchet and Clank: 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 Dynasty Warriors 4 mission "The Two Qiaos" if any officer dies during the mission the mission is over. If any of the Qiao sisters are the ones who die the player sees a Non-Standard Game Over where Dong Zhuo holds the defeated Qiao by her arm, both Qiao sisters will initially struggle while in his grasp but will then cease all resistance once he starts talking. With some set up it is possible to see this cutscene with the defeated Qiao sister in her max equipment and level 10 weapon and still be treated like this.
- Lampshaded in Casey & 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.
- 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).
- Gender-flipped in the Ciem Webcomic Series. Candi only defeats Musaran because she musters her strength after a punishing blow to punch him in the face. She was otherwise already paralyzed because Exploding Computer Monitors Can Do Anything, and because Musaran was using the story's own standard male grab area (ankles) in the hopes that what works for the gander works for the goose.
- Denny was completely helpless once grabbed by his ankles. Makes sense when you consider the animations that were being rigged to create the scene.
- 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!"
- Oddly enough this works on Bangladesh DuPree of all people.
- Well, it is a massive clank, and it does have her by both arms.
- Oddly enough this works on Bangladesh DuPree of all people.
- 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 wickedly 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.
- Used heavily in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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 episode "The Cat and the Canary" has Black Canary being forced to watch Green Arrow fight her mentor Wild Cat in a cage match while being held this way. Different from most examples is that 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.
- Not even Goldie Gold's limitless wealth buys 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.
- To be fair, She may have meant more emotionally then physically.
- 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.
- In 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.
- This is how Jade is often initially grabbed in Jackie Chan Adventures, usually leads to her being picked up in some way shortly thereafter.
- This type of grab is called "hiji dori", elbow grab. It isn't the most effective, as your opponent can hit you with his/her free arm.
- It's a common "attack" used while practicing aikido, a martial art popular with women. Needless to say, attempting it on an aikidoka is ill-advised.
- According to a Japanese variety show, this works on guys too. A man was sensually touched in three places one at a time, including one very obvious erogenous area. The man stated being touched at his arm stimulated him the most.
- Used in Ancient Greek iconography: women get held by the wrist when kidnapped, or sometimes by her husband.