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This is when men are physically strong and quite capable of violence, but females are characterized as having a hidden, but apparently bottomless capacity for lethal mayhem.
Remember, this does not describe a situation where men are weak and women are strong. This is when females are depicted as far more ruthless, more cunning and ultimately more bloodthirsty than their Spear Counterparts, despite--or because of--being smaller and weaker. While males are visibly larger and more aggressive, they tend more toward forms, codes and displays of power; meanwhile, the wily female bothers not with such things.
To help this trope along, expect the bad guys to totally ignore the female, dismissing her as a threat. She may even appear to capitulate or collude with the enemy, suffering indignities no one would expect her to tolerate, all in order to get a better shot at revenge.
This is the precursor to the modern Action Girl. If every woman is like this, it may be a World of Action Girls. She may seem smaller and meeker, but should she attack, she will show no mercy. Should you be foolish enough to want to trigger such behavior in a female, try threatening her offspring, crossing her in love, or crossing her love. This is the polar opposite of The Chick. Bread and butter to its sister trope Silk Hiding Steel.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ikari Gendo is a Magnificent Bastard and the Trope Namer for Clasp Your Hands If You Deceive who commands a force of Humongous Mecha. His son Shinji pilots one of these mecha. Gendo's wife and Shinji's mom, the Yamato Nadeshiko Yui? She is the soul of said mecha that Shinji pilots, prone to Unstoppable Rage in order to protect her son and RIPPING HER OPPONENTS LIMB FROM LIMB BEFORE DEVOURING THEIR ORGANS! It's also quite likely that she is the actual mastermind behind the whole Instrumentality project and the Evas. Gendo really only takes over command because she is no longer able to. By the way, Ikari is her birth name, not Gendo's.
- In a flashback in the first episode of Moshidora, Minami, at bat in the bottom of the ninth with the scores tied in a junior baseball game, makes a wild swing at the first pitch that convinces everyone she is a hopeless batter. It turns out that her wild swing was done intentionally to lull the pitcher into a false sense of security, and on his next pitch she is able to get a hit and score the winning run.
- In Kekkaishi, the main character Yoshimori is explicitly Unskilled but Strong to contrast with his childhood friend and crush Tokine, who's Weak but Skilled. Where he gets bogged down by his soft heart, she's competent and ruthless and willing to get her hands dirty.
- In DC Comics, Batman and Superman both have codes against killing. Wonder Woman, however, explicitly doesn't, which has led to conflict between them on a few occasions. For Batman, this tends to end badly.
- Also, out of all of Batman's associates, the ones he has the least control over have been his female ones: Oracle (the original Batgirl, who was completely independent of him and considers herself his equal), Catwoman (who skirts the line between vigilante and criminal, and has no code against killing), Spoiler (who became a superhero largely to apprehend her criminal father and then became Batman's student), and Huntress (who also doesn't bother with Thou Shall Not Kill sensibilities). These ladies, while wanting to prove themselves as Gotham Heroines, don't have any of the "mentor/daddy issues" that the boys have and largely disobey Batman whenever they damn well please.
- For that matter, the Bronze Age Teen Titans. Starfire was a hardened ex-slave from a Proud Warrior Race. Donna Troy? A literal Amazon operating under the same code as her older sister, Wonder Woman. Raven? Half-Demon with daddy issues, and some seriously scary powers when pushed. Robin (Dick Grayson) had his mentor's "do not kill" code. Cyborg was strong, but not an experienced fighter, and Changeling (Gar Logan) was only dangerous if you backed him into a corner.
- In Species, the decision was made to make the alien hybrid female "so she'd be more docile and controllable". A female scientist observes that "You don't get out much, do you?"
- The sequel subverts this, however; it turns out that a male hybrid is much more dangerous (and can turn tame female hybrids to its side pretty much just by existing).
- Rudyard Kipling's poem, The Female of the Species sums this trope up poetically, and attributes it to the hardships of motherhood.
- In Judges 4, an Israelite woman named Jael invites Canaanite captain Sisera to take shelter in her tent. She gives him milk to drink, and then while he sleeps, she drives a nail through his temples. With his death, Israel is freed from Canaanite captivity.
- Judith does much the same thing to an invading general, going into his tent, then giving him strong drink and, once he's gone to sleep, beheading him.
- Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold:
- Princess Kareen realizes her son is alive and that she's been lied to. Without hesitation, she draws a nerve disrupter in a room full of soldiers and fires at the usurper who told her that her son was dead, the self-proclaimed Emperor.
- Despite Aral being a remarkably capable warrior, ultimately Cordelia leads the team that ends the coup attempt and changes the fate of the world...on the way to rescuing her son, her real mission.
- Lady Macbeth. In the beginning of the play, she manipulates her husband into murdering their king and guest, something he would not have done without her prompting. Then either deconstructed or unbuilt, she descends into madness, because this was her only way to get power but she still wasn't prepared for her husband to be quite so on-board with it.
- Discworld: Sybil has hints of this. She was raised properly, but that basically means that she almost never has a chance to let off steam, and is occasionally very interested in violence...
- Also, compare the male wizards and the female witches (ESPECIALLY Granny Weatherwax).
- In particular amongst the witches we have Magrat Garlick, who is compared to a small furry animal in overall demeanor, and she isn't easily angered--but as Witches Abroad and Lords and Ladies prove, sometimes a cornered small furry animal turns out to be a mongoose
- Blood and Chocolate: The male fights for alpha are planned meticulously and widely announced. The fights for the alpha's mate, on the other hand, begin with no ceremony and are expected to be lethal.
- Madame DeFarge and Miss Pross in A Tale of Two Cities.
- Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica, Hot Consort to Duke Leto Atreides in Dune. As both Thufir Hawat and Fremen naib Stilgar find out the hard way.
- Briefly mentioned in the first Dresden Files book, Storm Front. Harry says that women are simply able to feel a stronger hatred toward someone than men are.
- Ellana in Pierre Bottero's Ellana, in the second part, where Rhous Ingan says that little girls (Ellana is 15) can't fight (or use bows). Later that day she shoots to death 10 Rais.
- If you saw Rachel of Animorphs you would never guess that Ms. Fashion, the graceful girl who looks like a model and loves shopping is Xena, Warrior Princess, a blood-thirsty killer.
- This is pretty explicitly part of the worldbuilding in the Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop: the culture is matriarchal, with males serving females as guardians and protectors; but females generally have more powerful (or at least more deadly) magic, and one character even says outright, albeit half joking, that the reason males serve is because "you're deadlier when you're angry" and at least if they go down first the males won't have to deal with them when their tempers are roused.
- In Time Scout, Malcolm is frequently surprised and impressed by Margo's ferocity.
- One of the Marines in Generation Kill unconsciously echos Kipling when the women of an Afghan town emerge from their huts, unarmed, to verbally berate the heavily armed Marines, while the men stayed hidden.
"If we had to fight the women, dawg, we wouldn't stand a fuckin' chance."
- In The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, women are forbidden from joing the Torturer's Guild because they are considered too viscious.
- In Death series: Rapture In Death has Reanna brag about this trope to Eve. Eve refutes it, however, saying that she thinks ruthlessness and viciousness have no gender.
- The Rudyard Kipling line is referenced quite a few times in the works of PG Wodehouse.
- The works of James H. Schmitz--to whom the Dark Action Girl heroine was a signature trope--feature this quite a lot. The most notable one may be Telzey Amberdon, a telepathic teenage genius who unrelated adults find frankly terrifying.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Owlsight, the local lord and his son head out into the field to assist in commanding the defense against a possible barbarian invasion, leaving the lady of the keep behind to oversee the village evacuees. This is for two reasons: she can keep the refugees busy helping plan her son's wedding, and she's as good or better at castle defense than her husband, "and that's why I married her." Their son is rather surprised to hear that one.
- Ruth from Someone Elses War, full stop.
- The first two adult companions of the Doctor were Ian Chesterton and Barbra Wright. That said, while Ian had his awesome moments, Barbra was such a Badass it's a common fan joke that the show could have been renamed "Why Barbra is Awesome", and no one would have noticed.
- That 70s Show: The guys taunt Donna and Jackie with claims that while men can entertain themselves with play-fighting, girls get too angry and begin to fight for real. Cue the girls beginning a nice, playful fight that quickly descends to barbed words and legitimate violence.
- In iMake Sam Girlier Sam's new crush says "And even though I haven't known sam for too long, I know that if I ever get in a fight and I can have either the football team or sam back me up, I'm going with sam."
- In Buffy and Angel, women usually end up more vicious in similar roles than men, particularly vampires Darla and Drusilla. Note also that Angelus originally got in touch with his sadistic side just to impress Darla.
- A running theme in Chinese Paladin 3 is women being willing to strike first, fight dirty, and take no prisoners if they or their loved ones are threatened. A prime example is Zixuan's setting a monastery on fire as a distraction when her lover is arrested.
- One of the Marines in Generation Kill says this when he observes the women of a town doing backbreaking labor to clear the streets and their yards of debris, while the men lounged on the lawns smoking.
"If we had to fight the women, dawg, we wouldn't stand a fuckin' chance."
- The small, frail female Skrall in Bionicle are said to be far more dangerous than their larger, brutish male counterparts, in part due to their Psionic powers which can potentially destroy one's mind.
- A mild subversion: While the above is true, those powers aren't natural, and the Cosmic Horror that gifted them with said capabilities uses them as his relatively weak-minded pawns.
- However this is actually a commonly used trope in the series. Female Vortixx and Skakdi are also a lot more dangerous than the males, a stark contrast to the "girls are peaceful" stereotype applied in previous years. This has of course lead a couple of fans to believe that there are barely any normal females in the Bionicle universe.
- In Gears of War, females of the Locust Horde are referred to as "Berserkers." They're blind but have heightened senses of smell and sound to track their prey... and they are much more powerful and deadly than the more typical Locust drones. COG soldiers absolutely dread them.
- Oddly enough, invoked by Atton Rand in the second Knights of the Old Republic. He mentions that Sith men are bad enough, but Sith women are much worse.
- In Ocarina of Time, Gerudo guards (who are all women) are the only enemies Link will surrender to.
- Considering they're the only enemies that will accept surrender rather than just killing him, wouldn't that make them less deadly?
- In Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, there are 2 thwomps that the Bros. encounter on top of Yoshi Mountain, Mr. thwomp and Ms. thwomp. Mr. thwomp does nothing but make passive-agressive taunts at you and help you throughout the following stage. Ms. thwomp, however, challenges you to a full-on boss fight against her, and it's certainly not an easy fight.
- Monique in Sinfest tried to imitate "male bonding". She does it wrong.
- Grace from El Goonish Shive used to have only two modes: complete pacifism and Unstoppable Flying Clawball Of Doom. However, this may have more to do with being a hybrid of a herbivore (squirrel) with a really monstrous alien while having rather limited experience. Later martial artist friends, including ladies, convinced her that it's not always a good idea and she got to learn more controlled ways of violence.
- Demise, the super-assassin from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe is the deadliest fighter on the planet not because she's superhumanly strong or because she's superhumanly fast, but rather because she knows how to turn anything... anything at all... into a deadly weapon, and can figure out ways around your defenses in seconds.
- The Nostalgia Chick might be as pathetic and miserable as the Critic, but her temper is scarier, she can worm her way out of trouble easier, she's stronger than him despite their height difference, and she'll stoop to any level to get what she wants.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: While there are very competent male Fire Benders and fighters in her family, Azula plots, schemes, and ruthlessly manipulates others to do her dirty work, before finally bringing out the lightning. And she puts even Daddy to shame with all of her machinations, murder and mayhem. Taking a leaf out of Lady Macbeth's book, she suffers a mental breakdown after she becomes totally isolated because of her Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- Katara can also have shades of this. While she doesn't have the raw power of Aang, she can be downright terrifying when angry. Most notable when she's on the receiving end of chauvinistic comments (things tend to break around her) and when hunting for her mother's killer (where she used bloodbending).
- In Samurai Jack, Jack and his friend The Scotsman are off on a quest to save the Scotsman's wife, a good head taller and bit wider than the muscular Scotsman, from being sacrificed by some demons. Jack and the Scotsman get to her, nagging about their lateness and pathetic fighting styles, and get her to the main hall where they are surrounded by hundreds of demons. Jack and the Scotsman fight to their last bit of energy when the Demon Lord orders his people to kill them and put the "fat one" back in the pot. The Scotsman's wife does not take kindly to being called that, so she jumps into the battle alone beating back every single demon before taking down the Demon Lord himself.
- The tricoteuses of The French Revolution (as Burke called them, "All the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell in the abused shape of the vilest of women"), which inspired the creation of Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.
- Wendi Deng Murdoch protecting her husband from a dangerous pie-thrower, and going for his throat.
- Female domestic abusers of male partners are statistically more likely to use weapons.
- In military basic training, female drill sergeants seem far meaner than male drill sergeants. And if they're also short, well...
- Common among any wild animal with Mama Bear tendencies.