I’m going to embark upon a very scary topic that is very dear to my heart, I ask only that you keep an open mind and an empathetic heart throughout. The topic is one that’s getting a lot of attention recently in the feminist circles I run in and is something I personally find disturbing and aggravating. Sexism. More specifically, how video games (and comics and movies) can contribute to our society’s sexist ideas when they could well be doing the opposite.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Elise, Feminists are crazy, bra-burning nutsos who hate men.” And you wouldn’t be exactly wrong in thinking this because that’s how the media has painted women like me. I love the men in my life dearly. So, before I embark on this further, let me clear up that a feminist is simply someone who wants men and women to be equal. Like LGBT allies, you do not have to be a part of this group to support those who suffer from oppression. The easiest way to become a supporter of women is to apply the situation to your own life and go ‘would I like this if this were me?’ Because the big secret of women is this; we’re human, just like the guys. We want the same things (at least the ones of us who are sane) as men do.
Since I was a child, I never considered myself a ‘girl’ because being a girl was BORING. I hated the color pink, I hated being shoved into a box and being told “you have to be this way”. This condition of independent thought was only exasperated by having two loving parents who told me, in no uncertain terms that I could be the world’s first female quarter back in a major league if I wanted, that it was ok to play video games and like Star Wars and want to be Qui-Gon Jinn when I grew up. The reason I wanted to be a boy? The women I was told to look up to and to emulate were not people I wanted to be. I wanted to live with honor and be respected. These are not things fiction often gives to women.
For me (just like you, I’m sure), as a child, video games were an escape from the mediocrity of modern living. I still remember the feel of the old brick black and white game boy in my hands. I rememberplaying Legend of Zelda until I couldn’t see anymore. I remember the Pokemon games. I remember getting a PS2 for Christmas. My excitement and love of these things was in no way diminished because of my genitalia or my gender. Imagine being told, since birth, by nearly every media source you run into that you should not love the things you love.
Now, this wouldn’t be SUCH a problem if the men within these fandoms weren’t so blatantly and obviously oblivious to this even being a problem. I am aware this is a blanket statement, but in this recent article from the New York Times it talks about professional gamers heckling another professional gamer right out of the game because she happens to have breasts and a vagina.
How can you help?
Stand up for women. It’s as simple as that. We are not outsiders, we are everywhere. We are mothers and sisters and friends and we deserve better. Do not let women suffer in silence for something they have no control over. Video games are meant to be fun, and they’re meant to be for everyone.
Some of the ways video games (and movies etc…) are sexist are pretty obvious; women with large breasts and tiny waists and perfect faces. This, I am willing to overlook because I happen to think Ezio in Revelations is a damn fine piece of man-candy. But the armor differences are pretty drastic in most cases. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that I know of that does not indulge in this practice and instead makes women who have some sort of personality instead of breasts out past their chins. Now, I like looking at the female figure as much as the next guy…er…gal, but when the armor is impractical, it ruins my immersion. This isn’t something that WAS happening, it’s something that IS happening. The God of War people were recently asked why they have no choice to play a woman and their answer was that they couldn’t make a woman look good in armor. The article (which was in Game Informer), went so far as to say that this was insulting to their art-team as well as to the public.
Now, you may still be thinking, “I’m still not seeing how this effects me, as a man”. Objectifying women contributes to rape culture, which is the idea that the victim of rape should be the one who prevents it, instead of men simply NOT RAPING, which seems a simpler solution. Objectifying a woman teaches men and women in our society that this sort of behavior is really ok because ‘she should have stopped him’, or ‘he wouldn’t do something like that’. And if you didn’t know, most rapists know their victims. The upshot of which is that as a woman, I have to view EVERY SINGLE MAN I MEET as a potential rapist. And it’s not just me. Women everywhere within our ‘modern’ society live with the knowledge that they have to be on guard against NEARLY EVERY MALE IN THEIR LIVES 24/7. Now, you might not BE a rapist (I hope that you aren’t), but that doesn’t matter. And that’s how sexism hurts you. You are getting judged for other men making horrible decisions and choosing to hurt someone.
Video games are not a place women should have to worry about being treated differently. I can assure you we play just as much for our games and equipment. Why I love the games I do is irrelevant, I am allowed to exist within the franchise and not just because I’ve been playing video games for as long as I could hold an NES controller.
The other (off topic) concern this brings up is this idea of the fandom vet vs the new player. You have NO RIGHT to tell someone why they like or do not like something, even if it’s for different reasons than you. You enjoy a fandom for certain reasons, and perhaps you’ve known about it for your entire natural life, that does not make you special. It does not set you apart, except that your experience is unique and you were allowed to have that. Do not go out of your way to take this away from others.
Video games are the way our generation expresses itself. They are our lives we live outside ourselves. They are so extremely important. They are the new frontier. Why are women being excluded from this? I feel like fantasy is the perfect place to empower people who don’t usually get a chance to be empowered. Assassin’s Creed recently made the decision to make a black female assassin as a main character in one of their hand-held games. I am pleased with this, but I would have been even more pleased with a female assassin within main gaming platforms. However, I have to give Ubisoft credit for trying to make people instead of sterotypes and this goes for men too.
So please, next time, if you see a woman being bullied because she is a woman, step in. Stand up. It’s bullying and we are better than that. We are the dreamers of dreams. We are the defenders of realms. Stand up for your fellow gamers, do not let your gaming comrades suffer in silence and be a real life hero.
I believe in you.