RE: Sexualized Females

Matthew Moore, 2/15/14

On a classmate’s blog, Gendertainment, I read an article that covered the representation of women in video games and I can’t help but be reminded of how female gamers are reacted to online. Typically speaking, women gamers tend to meet with a fair amount of negativity when they try to interact with other gamers on the internet. One insult that is usually thrown at them is that they are a “fake nerd girl,” a girl who only pretends to be interested in video games and/or other typically nerd associated media.

This assumption that any girl who expresses an interest in nerd associated media is a “fake” tends to color their perception online. Female gaming journalists constantly field questions along the lines of, “Do you really like video games?” They have to constantly prove themselves online and perform under scrutiny from gamers at large. One only needs to look up much of the scandals surrounding Anita Sarkeesian to see a prime example. This is a woman who was threatened with rape and murder for having the audacity to have a Kickstarter to fund a web series about tropes surrounding females in video games. 

The representation of women in games is rather suspect, and it is not favorable to how women are looked at in the larger gaming community online. The blog post goes on to indicate that, “Female characters in game are often portrayed with stereotypical gender roles such as ‘brazenly sexualized beings and objects of sexual desire.’” The sexualization of the female characters tends to not favor women and gives video games the impression of being nothing more than a boy’s club, complete with “no girls allowed” sign.

One statement that I draw some problems with the blog post was the statement that “sexualization of female characters is empowering.” Now, I recognize that this is an opinion, and I respect the author’s right to that opinion. However, I must disagree. From my observations, sexualization of a character, female or male, in and of its self is disempowering and not good for characterization. In almost every case of this I have seen, there was no reason for the woman to be scantly clad, other than to appeal to the “lawl boobs” crowd.

This is not to say that sexualization can’t be used to represent a woman well, but there needs to be some deeper reason for sexualization. I watched an anime called Witchblade, which I do not recommend, and the main character is wearing about two square feet of clothing in her transformed state. In a vacuum I would say this is pointless and some-what misogynistic. In the context of the anime, it could be argued that this representative of her overall lack of choice in her life and how the magical macguffin of the series has rendered her into an object, both metaphorically, and literally. The sexualization spoke to her character, though I am largely positive that this was not intentional, given other examples of sexualization in the anime.

Occasionally I hear the question of “how do I write a good female character?” This statement to me is largely systemic of the problems women face in how they are represented. This statement seems to assume that all women must be written in a particular way in order to be considered “good.” This assumption is problematic in itself, but the bigger problem is the sheer number of people who don’t see it as a flawed question. They view it as a legitimate query that should be answered in order to produce better characters. Think about all of your favorite characters. Now how many of them are defined by their sex, gender, or how they are sexualized? For the most part, the answer will be none. This is because characters that are defined by one or more of these qualities tend to lend them selves very easily to stereo types. Stereo types tend to not lend them selves to memorable or well written characters, and neither does rampant sexualization. 

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3 comments

  1. I suppose I should have been clearer: I find “some” of the sexualization empowering. Many of the female characters who are scantily dressed are very stron characters and are usually underestimated. As a female gamer(I prefer the term Video Dame) I take pride in playing the under dog female characters and wiping the floor with especially mysogonistic male gamers(not all male gamers are like that though, but beating the ones who are is an added bonus). Boys (and I say boys because I don’t think they are mature enough on an emotional to be called men) often take one look at the sexy female character and think “easy kill” and then they lose. It’s a nice lesson in not judging a book by its cover.

    1. It occurs to me that perhaps I should have clarified my own stance as well. I don’t have a problem with female player characters. In fact, I find I play them more than male ones when given the chance. I do find the implication that a female character is considered an “underdog” bothering, but alas that’s the culture we live in. It’s just that the plate mail bikini makes me scoff in annoyance whenever I see it. There is no real purpose behind it usually, and I find the very idea of it immersion breaking. I remember in Persona 3 Portable I played as the female protagonist and I intentionally used a significantly worse armor because I refused to run around the evil tower of darkness in what looked like underwear.

      1. Fair enough. I’ve played too many games where “female armor” does in fact mean heavy plate bikini. But I do feel females are downplayed in the gaming social-verse.

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