EDIT: For a shorter version which is less divisive than my answer below, here's a summary which should be less disagreeable. All martial arts are designed for the same goal: to make you be the best you can be. If a martial art was designed to demand X pounds of upper body muscle mass, it would not be useful for any males who don't have X pounds of upper body mass. Accordingly, martial arts all use arms the best way you can use arms, legs the best way you can use legs, hips the best way you can use hips, etc. Every one of them will naturally let you tailor the style to your own body.
Also, every martial art is designed to allow technique (mental skill) to be more important than muscle. If not, why would you bother training it? You'd just go work out instead. Accordingly, every martial art is designed to support how to use the mind to overcome the body. The way to do that is unsurprisingly very similar for people with 2 arms and 2 legs.
Consider this list,* not a single one of them is a "specialized" female only martial art. They're all just martial arts, like any other martial art. They focus on mental techniques. Now some of them focus more on it than others (such as Judo, which concentrates on letting your opponent do most of the work), but its far more about how we use our mind than anything else.
In my comments, I asked whether you were looking at just the physical differences between the sexes or the mental differences between the genders. You said you were looking at the sexes.
Unfortunately, my question was sort of a trick question.
The physical differences between male and female humans is actually quite minor, when you really get down to it. Punches and kicks are far more dependent on the configuration of ligaments in the knees and wrists than they are the sex chromosomes. Sure, men have more upper body strength, but if 1st Lieutenant Kristen Griest, and Captain Shaye Haver have anything to say about it, there's not all that much of a difference in the parts that count.
While you mentioned the mental gap should be minor, it is starting to be recognized that the gap between feminine and masculine is much much larger than the gap between male and female. We've just not had many opportunities to explore the difference between gender and sex because they typically line up.
The different genders end up treating their body very differently. This is reflected in the more feminine martial arts, such as Wing Chun. A more feminine martial art concentrates on precision strikes that do massive damage from small amounts of force, not just because they might have less upper body strength, but because the social conditioning makes it easier for them to make such strikes without putting themselves in a bad position. The feminine martial arts tend to be more focused on how to achieve your goals rather than how to prevent the opponent from achieving theirs. (This sentence should be controversial. Most balanced martial arts talk about both halves of the spectrum, but the martial arts geared towards the feminine side tend to balance it differently than those geared towards the masculine side).
The number one thing I see when I look at the more "feminine" martial arts is softness. They tend not to rely on the ability to simply turn into a brick and pummel their enemy. When an opponent throws a punch, instead of violently blocking it with a spasm of muscle driving their fist far out of line with your face, the more feminine arts have a tendency to softly make contact with the opposing strike, and redirect it so softly that the opponent loses track of where their body actually is because they assume the woman's block is actually harder than it really is. It's fascinating to observe, really. In the martial arts which are more tailored for feminine approaches, combatants (male and female) simply melt out of the way of an incoming strike, only to reappear right inside their opponents defenses.
From what I have been able to glean, much of the softness comes from the use of more of the postural muscles in ways that prevent an opponent from figuring out which muscles have been used. Due to the typical gender gap, the more feminine individuals have a general tendency to have more control over these than a more masculine individual. Doubt it? Look at the ultra-pure steriotypes. The ultra-pure feminine individual carries herself with poise, and its almost impossible to capture her essence (which is why female nude paintings are so popular... the goal is to try to paint an essence which is so very hard to capture). The ultra-pure masculine individual is a bulldog, who will crush anything which gets in his way and can turn into stone if needed. Stereotypes? Absolutely. Everyone's a mix of both sides, but stereotypes are useful for trying to start exploring the differences. Its up to you to then refine this to something more realistic, with a realistic feminine character or a realistic masculine character, or something in between like an English gentleman. However, what is very clear is that it is not something decided by sex. Men are capable of learning these techniques just as much as women. The only difference is cultural: women tend to get a head start in the feminine martial arts, while men tend to get a head start in the masculine martial arts.
Razordynamics is no longer an active website. I have rescued the text, thanks to web.archive.org and reproduced it below:
When it come to self defense, there are certain martial art styles that are more effective for women than others. Many martial art styles rely too heavily on brute strength and meeting force with direct force to defeat an aggressor. While some women are big and strong, and would have no problem applying these styles, most are not. And since the majority of violence towards woman is caused by men, there are certain martial arts styles that are more effective in handling larger and stronger opponents.
Here is a list of the five best martial arts styles for women';s self
defense. Note: Each of the martial art styles listed were chosen for
their street practicality, directness, efficiency and ability to be
pressure tested during training (all things we like here at Razor
Judo -- Thanks to fighters like Ronda Rousey and Hector Lombard, people all over the world are becoming more aware of the effectiveness
of Judo in fighting. What makes Judo a great self defense system for
women is its focus on throws and submissions. While some strength is
needed to perform Judo moves, leverage is the cornerstone of most its
techniques. In Judo, you do not have to worry about punching power or
knocking out an opponent. Instead, the earth becomes your fist and
slamming an attacker on the streets is more than enough to dismantle
them. However, if the throws do not work, Judo has many limb breaking
and dislocating techniques that will.
Wing Chun -- Wing Chun, is one of the most direct and effective fighting systems in China. It was also created by a woman, a nun named
Ng Mui (at least that is how the story goes). While Wing Chun single
punches are not necessarily known for their knock out power, the
repetitive compounded punches (chain punches) the style is famous for,
cumulatively, have the same effect. In addition to chain punches, Wing
Chun’s eye gauging, force deflecting, knee cap breaking and elbow
striking techniques make it a very effective style for any woman
looking to protect herself against would be attackers.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu -- Of course we cannot leave out Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ). A high level female BJJ practitioner is dangerous to
any man looking to beat or sexually assault her. What makes this style
especially effective for women is its focus on technique and leverage
over brute strength. A well trained female BJJ practitioner can easily
defend herself against bigger and stronger opponents. Through shear
strength, some men have the misguided belief that they can easily take
any woman to the ground and do what they want. It is this
overestimation of their abilities that leave these men open and
unprepared to defend against the grappling of a well trained female
BJJ practitioner resulting in the would-be attackers having their
limbs broken, being chocked unconscious or killed.
Muay Thai -- Muay Thai, especially Muay boran, is one of hardest hitting no nonsense martial arts styles in existence. What makes this
style very effective for woman is its focus on using the hardest parts
of the body (elbows, knees and top of head) for striking. Many martial
art styles depend too heavily on the fists for striking. It takes time
to develop fists to be strong enough to do damage (read: "[link]Should
you punch in a street fight"). Even when they are use effectively,
they are still vulnerable to breaking during an altercation leaving
you defenseless. However, head-butts, knees and elbows strikes can be
delivered continuously in a fight without much personal damage to you,
but a lot more to your attacker
Boxing -- Many of you might be wondering why boxing is on this list. Boxing often gets overlooked as an effective martial arts for self
defense system, especially for women. What makes boxing effective for
women is not necessarily the striking, but the evasive movements and
footwork. Again, we are talking about self defense and trying to
survive not winning a match. Getting out of a violent situation should
be the main goal. By using boxing defensive and evasive movements, a
woman can slip, bob and weave herself out of harms way and flee from
the situation (just watch how Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Bernard Hopkins
move around the ring when they do not want to be hit).
Of course, each of martial arts style mentioned have their limitations
and the advantages listed are effective for men as they are for women.
The key is finding martial styles that work with your strengths, are
effective and practical and fit within the [link]Scientific Fighting
What do you think are the best and most effective martial art styles
for women’s self defense?