But if you don’t, it’ll be much appreciated.
So, on G+ a friend shared about her experience discussing the issues she had with the presentation of women in a specific game and the internet responded, and it was basically a lot of back and forth of misunderstanding. Why? If you’ve ever been a gamer, you really don’t have to ask that. You already know. If you’re not a gamer – that is a person who sits around a table (or these days a digital table, as traditional table top games move to online play to accommodate people moving and what-not) – then you probably don’t know.
And that’s okay. I’m going to explain it to you.
You could say I’m going to gamexplain it.
Which is probably only amusing in my head. Moving along.
So, you are talking about people who, as a group, will happily sit there and argue for at minimum fifteen minutes, but upwards of the entire game session (most averaging about 4 hours), with the GM (Game Master, for the uninitiated) and/or other players about things like whether or not the inclusion of exclusion of an oxford comma in the sentence about SR (Spell Resistance, fellow gamers, bear with me) means that their wizard/sorcerer has to make the Caster Level Check or not. Or … and this one is even better. They will happily write up at minimum three-page story backgrounds on no less than five to seven different cheesed-to-the-nines character concepts just to whittle down the poor GM or Storyteller (the White Wolf Games name for a GM) and get them to approve their Halfling Monk/Paladin to Yondalla or their Mokele (You know, Dragons in White Wolf – though to be fair, still better than weresharks).
In other words, gamers love to argue.
But gamers aren’t really what I want to talk about.
What I want to talk about is the role of women in fiction and media. Games sparked this thinking in my head, but this holds for really anything print, audio, or video, that we consume on a daily basis.
I’m going to share with you a great little song my Permanent Editor shared with me.
So those that know me know that as a general rule, I despise country music. I can name on one hand the musicians that I like, and in most cases, only a few songs. These girls will get added to that list (I don’t think it still goes beyond a single hand, by the way). They remind me more of some of the older styles I can tolerate and the music actually puts me a little in mind of Indigo Girls as far as the sound and styling.
I keep digressing. Anyways … Maddie & Tae illustrate far better than I can (because of the visuals and music) what I am talking about when I talk about women in media. In stories, we started as the damsels to be rescued. And while that gets better, how often do you find the leading lady destined to be with the leading man? I’ll give China this, at least they don’t tend to resolve that romantic tension – if they do, someone’s gonna die. No seriously. Compare, say, Once Upon a Time in China to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Spoiler alert: in the movie where the love stories are resolved, one of the lovers dies … in both love stories!
Also, try watching Once Upon a Time in China in Chinese with no subtitles.
At least in Matrix, the first movie … you know, the good one, when Trinity admits her love for Neo, the writers do some clever twisting with the trope, giving her Agency and the power of the Gaze.
The female lead falling in love with the male lead, however, is a relied upon trope. It is fine if that is the point of the movie. It is not so fine, however, when the story is an action flick, or a mystery, or anything else where the romance is not only secondary but actually takes time away from the plot, action, and pace of the film. Consider for a moment … and if this does not get people trolling my Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Blog, nothing will … Star Wars. We all love the whole Han/Leia romance thing and the whole “I love you” “I know” thing is iconic. However, what does the romance actually serve to the story? That is to say, does it actually move the plot along?
- In New Hope, Han cares nothing for saving a damsel. It’s the money that gets his attention.
- We never actually see Han and Luke argue over the Princess and at no point does any shared or perceived attraction cause friction between the two. Even when Leia kisses Luke in front of Han, Chewie has the stronger reaction (my guess is he smelled the shared genes and was saying “eww!”)
- Darth Vader’s torture of Han is solely for the purpose of exploiting the friendship between Han and Luke and luring Luke there. It has nothing to do with Leia.
- Even if Leia was not in love with Han already, you can clearly see the respect that Han earns for putting up with Vader’s torture in Cloud City.
- Leia’s love for Han is not needed to ensure a rescue. Even if we wanted to say that a principaled and pragmatic Leia would not want to risk things, do you really think that Luke, who left his force training to go save Han and Leia from Vader … knowing that it was Vader laying a trap … would even flinch at facing down a giant slug to rescue his friend?
- The Leia/Han romance does not affect any of the scenes on Endor in Jedi. Every scene would have played out just the same, even faking out the storm troopers, had the two had no romantic links. The only thing we get is the iconic dialogue turned around. You know, a gimmick.
So yeah, even the iconic Leia/Han love story is just a trope that serves to add a little romance for – I guess it is supposed to be for the ladies to like the film better? It’s not even a McGuffin.
And this is actually one of the least problematic examples of women and the use of romance in media. Consider Twilight. I could fill a feminist blog with the problems that Bella presents for women in fiction or what that woman has done to set back women in literature. Since I’m looking at romance right now, I’ll just focus on one thing: how freaky scary the Bella/Edward romance is, if you sit back and think about it. In the movie, Edward tells a persistent Bella ” I wanted to kill you. I’ve never wanted a human’s blood so much in my life.” I had a boyfriend tell me once that he would kill me. I had the good sense, eventually, to leave. Bella not only pursues this, it is later declared that she is not a complete person, the real her, until Edward turns her into a vampire.
So in movies, romance is used pointlessly, in novels women write women who chase harmful, possibly deadly relationships and are not whole until a man makes them whole, and in comics and games, women are hyper sexualized.
Image courtesy of Marvel, though linked from somewhere else, and blah blah attributions.
So what is the solution then?
Well, that’s not such an easy question to answer.
I mean, in part – well, it kind of depends on who you are, what you want from your media, and what your purpose in storytelling is.
I mean, as much as I bemoan the trope of the leading lady falling in love with the leading man, I use it in my own novels. Granted, I like to think it is an integral part of the story. I mean, it is part of the plot itself, but I am still using a trope. I am still relying on a very old storytelling tool – romance.
And that is not a bad thing. To be honest, I don’t mind looking at some of the sexualized images, of men or women, that I see in different media.
Where it becomes problematic is when a sense of entitlement surrounds those images. When women, and men as well, speak up and go “Um guys, we’re kind of tired of seeing yet another over-sexualized female stereotype” they get shot down because how dare they! I can argue whether or not a saving throw should be allowed for a touch-based spell – you know, something to do with the rules of the game – and my opinion even as a woman will be logically argued, countered, and sometimes supported. But mention that the tits in the picture are bigger than natural and suddenly you’re either a prude or the champion of the feminist movement.
People expect to see hyper sexualization. We have become accustomed to it. It almost makes the day begin. We’ve grown accustomed to …
Wait, that might be My Fair Lady.
Yeah, another problematic but beloved tale of a woman being changed to suit men.
Yeah, I’ll ruin anything. I’m a feminist.
Only, that’s not what I actually want to do. That’s not what any feminist wants to do.
What feminist want is to level out the playing field so that everyone has an equal opportunity to prove they can succeed. In the case of media, we – well I, because in this, I’m only going to speak for myself. I’m a feminist, so I can do that – I want a broader presentation of women. Sure, give me some pretty pictures that I can imagine looking like. There is a reason I tend to play things like pretty elves. Also give me tough-looking women in armor that actually serves to protect them. Don’t make every picture an inner-thigh shot. Also, don’t be afraid to show just a little skin, something that is a blend of smart clothing for the setting and isn’t this a pretty woman – you know, the type of picture that one man will look at and say “well, that’s kind of dull” and another will look at and say “Hey, I see the swell of a tit! Hot!”
And we want our artists – be they writers, musicians, comic book creators, whatever – when they use age-old tropes involving women and what women and men do, that they understand what those tropes are and mean, how to properly use them, and what affect that they have – on their work, on their reader, and what affect adding their work to the body of work has on the perception of gender and stereotype in society.