One A Day #11: Thoughts on Women in Comics, Games, and Anime

Lately, there’s been a lot of stuff in the media regarding the portrayal of women in various areas of geek culture. I wasn’t planning to open this can of worms here, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot recently because I’m trying to figure out exactly where I stand.

So, here we go. Don’t expect this to be organized or anything. I’m just thinking with my fingers on the keyboard.

Sometimes, I almost feel as though I’m not offended enough by my own culture’s objectification of women. As a geek, should it bother me that comic book women are often drawn in horribly contorted poses that aren’t even physically possible? Frankly, I don’t have a lot of experience with comics, but from what I’ve seen, the men can be drawn just as ridiculously in terms of poses that would break their backs. I’m looking at you, cover of DC Vs. Marvel.

Seriously, Superman and Wonder Woman are competing to see whose spine will break first. Their chests practically run perpendicular to their legs! Plus, I think Cap lost part of his leg somewhere. (For more ludicrous images, check out Escher Girls. It’s a Tumblr that curates tons of pictures of anatomically incorrect portrayals of women in art, and I have to admit most of the stuff you’ll find there is pretty cringe worthy.) Still, I’ve never been incensed to anger over it. This isn’t just comic books, though, and the bad figure art involves more than just broken spines.

One thing that irritates me is how in anime, comics, and games, breasts are often drawn like giant, perfectly rounded beach balls stuck onto women’s chests with a little bit of fleshy glue. As an example, I’ll borrow this image from Escher Girls.

For one thing, many women with breasts that large actually get reductive surgery because their size gives them health problems. Also, there is definitely a possibility that being flooded with pictures like that could give geeks unrealistic expectations about the female form. Maybe this portrayal of women has even cost a lot of great ladies a chance at dating someone because that person placed too much value on looks. (Honestly, though, who needs that kind of date, anyway?)

Admittedly, however, this sort of thing hasn’t stopped me from reading manga or comics, watching anime, or playing video games starring big boobed women. I was just replaying Final Fantasy X earlier tonight for the first time in years, and I noticed that Lulu’s boobs jiggle when she bends over for her victory dance at the end of a battle. Didn’t bother me in the least. Maybe I’m weird. Maybe I’ve been desensitized to this sort of thing because most of my friends seem to be guys. Perhaps I’ve just been unaware of any problems because I’ve been surrounded by great people that like me for who I am and not what I look like. Of course, I don’t actively seek out games with jiggling boobage, so it could be that I just end up choosing not to expose myself to it much.

Speaking of video games, someone recently asked me if I was offended by the main character from Lollipop Chainsaw. Now, I haven’t played the game, but the idea of a pretty teenage girl running around with a chainsaw and kicking lots of zombie ass sounds awesome. (I am in no way drawing a comparison here, but I do happen to enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot, so maybe that’s why the concept sounds cool.)

I will say that it’s a little annoying that Juliet had to be a ditz in a revealing outfit, though. (Again, I haven’t played the game, but reviews I’ve read mention that she’s ditsy.) I’m pretty sure she could fight zombies just fine in jeans or something. Actually, it would probably make more sense for her to be wearing pants and trying to stay covered up to avoid leaving so many places for the monsters to nibble at. I mean, look at Leah from Diablo III. Maybe she’s not the best example of a great female character (Despite the fact that she’s been fighting off risen corpses constantly and saw an angel fall from the sky, she doesn’t believe her uncle’s stories about the end of the world until he’s killed by a demon! How thick can you be?), but at least she’s dressed sensibly for going to war against the undead.

In the same breath, though, I’ll point out that real cheerleaders seem to dress pretty much the same way as Juliet as part of their job. Also, I’m fairly sure I am not part of Lollipop Chainsaw’s target demographic, so it’s not like this game was made for me. Neither of these things makes it magically okay for everyone, but again, for some reason, I’m just not ready to take up arms over it. There are too many other things I can be doing with my time, like showing game companies that make titles I approve of how much I adore them by playing their games and encouraging others to do the same.

I have nothing against sexy women in any medium. But here’s a hint for the people who want to make female characters with sex appeal and score a few brownie points with geeky girls like me: women don’t always need blouse-bursting boobs, revealing clothing, and a few missing ribs to be sexy. They only need to rely on these things when there’s nothing else interesting about them. Intelligent, confident, determined female characters can be very sexy without being scantly clad. This type of woman will know how to use whatever mad skills she has to get what she wants. Otherwise, she’ll do whatever it takes to learn what she needs to know or obtain the proper tools to accomplish her goal; either way, she’ll pursue that goal relentlessly. A character like that should be able to rock anything (even if it’s jeans and a screen tee) and make it attractive by the sheer power of her confidence in herself. I’m pretty sure she would appeal to both male and female geeks looking for a strong protagonist who isn’t just a sex object. As an example, check out this image of Gertrude Yorkes from the Runaways comics.

Oh, Gert. One day, I will do a post all about you and your awesomeness.

Ignore the fact that she’s a teenager for a moment. The point here is that she is walking fearlessly into a fire to save her boyfriend with her telepathic pet dinosaur at her side, and she even takes the time to include sarcasm in her threat to the enemy. How badass is that? Somebody out there finds her attractive, and I know it. Not gonna lie, even I have a bit of a lady crush on her.

This portrayal of women doesn’t appeal to everyone, and that’s sad. However, the female geek audience is growing, and it’s about time we had some attention. After all, as far as I know, girls usually don’t pick up games to marvel at their breast physics or comics for the Boobs & Butt Poses. Also, just because you might have a female character in your comic or game that is like the one I described, you don’t automatically win. I’m talking about making this kind of woman the lead character.

The bottom line? It doesn’t bother me that there are people out there who want to play games and read comics with unrealistically proportioned women. Let those people have their fun. I’m not condoning violence against or degradation of women simply for being female, but I also don’t think stuff like Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball or Lollipop Chainsaw is really hurting us. However, I do think that a trend toward more comics, games, and anime that include sensible portrayals of women is definitely healthy for geek culture as a whole.

Should companies start creating things that objectify men in a way that is specifically tailored toward women to make things fair? Um, no, because that won’t change anything. Should everything portray women the same way as Gert? No, because not all women are like her. However, there needs to a better balance. I just think there should be more geek stuff designed with people like me in mind.

I didn’t get around to talking about the recent backlash against the concept of merely opening a dialogue about the portrayal of women in video games, but I’m tired, so I’m signing off for the night. Perhaps I’ll get to that later this week.

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on all of this?

One A Day #10: My Stormfall Cosplay Prop

Today’s #GamerPhotoADayJuly‬ theme was “Weapon,” so I decided to use a picture of a Keyblade I made for a cosplay of Aqua from Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep that is still…Well, let’s call it “in development.” (That sounds better than saying “unfinished, possibly never to see the light of day again,” at least.)

I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of this version of Stormfall. I made this thing sometime during Spring 2011 with the intent of wearing an Aqua costume to MegaCon, but the costume never got finished. The base is actually made out of an old shower curtain hanger I had lying around the house at the time. The blade, the rounded part surrounding the grip, and the little decorative bits in between are pieces thin but sturdy wood that I picked up at the craft store. I used a length of jewelry chain I had lying around and a couple of pretty metal charms to make the keychain.

The hardest part about making this Keyblade was definitely cutting out the wooden pieces. I sketched them straight onto the wooden planks I was using and made most of the cuts with my handheld Dremel tool. When the battery ran out on that, I had to use a hobby saw. Our back porch was covered in sawdust for a while when I was working on this.

After I had all of the pieces glued on securely with massive amounts of E6000, I coated the entire thing with midnight blue spray paint. I gave it more of a textured look using a rough sponge dipped in black and gray acrylic paint. To make the Keyblade shiny, I sprayed on a few coats of Krylon Clear Glaze.

It looks rather nice, if I do say so myself. My one regret is not taking progress photos. I made this before I started blogging, so the concept of posting a tutorial never occurred to me. Though it’s pretty nifty, I do feel this Keyblade is unfinished. Someday, when I actually finish my Aqua costume (It will happen eventually!), I want to put a nice, cushy grip on it to make it more comfortable to carry at conventions. I may also add some kind of shoulder strap for it so I don’t have to worry about putting it down and having someone walk off with it…I had a camera stolen that way once at a convention. :(

Have you made any epic cosplay props? I’d love to see them, so do share in the comments. Heck, I might even do a compilation post of them, if you don’t mind. (Don’t worry, you’d get full credit and linkage if you provide me somewhere to link to. ;) )


One A Day #9: Taking a Photo Challenge

On a whim, earlier tonight (I suppose by now it would be last night…) I decided to take a photo challenge this month. I’ve toyed with the idea of participating in one of those things where you put up a picture/song/other random thing every day for a month, but I just never got around to it. Luckily for me, I was on Twitter at the right time see this post from Epic Gamer Girl. You can click the link to see the details, but the concept is pretty simple: there’s a list of items corresponding to every day in July, and I’ll try to post a picture for each one.

I love the range of this list. It looks like I’ll have to find pictures of everything from a mystical creature to landscapes. The topic for July 1st was “Cake,” so I used this screenshot of a Medkit Cake that I saw in Pyroland.

Getting healed is even sweeter in Pyroland!

You can check out the full stream of photos on Twitter at the hashtag #GamerPhotoADayJuly, or you can see slideshow of Instagram photos here. I’ll also be sharing my pictures here, so if you don’t want to join in on the photo challenge, hopefully I’ll manage to amuse you with whatever I manage to come up with for the various topics. :)

One A Day #8: In Which I Gush Over Pyroland

Do you believe in magic?

I certainly do. That’s part of why most of the time, when I play Team Fortress 2 with my roomies, I tend to go Pyro. There’s just something magical about running around the map like a crazy person, burning everyone and everything in sight. I definitely do my share of gleeful laughing every time I torch a cloaked spy or manage to air blast someone off a cliff.

One thing I’ve always wondered, though, is what goes on behind that mask. All you ever hear the Pyro say is, “Mmph, mmph!” So, when Valve announced that a “Meet the Pyro” video was coming soon, I had to speculate a bit. I thought it would be fun if the Pyro ended up being the only female character in the game other than The Announcer.

I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong. When I watched “Meet the Pyro,” I couldn’t stop grinning from sheer delight, and I just wanted to dive into TF2 match right away. Check out the video below, courtesy of Machinima.

Isn’t that beautiful? It’s so perfect that Pyros see a magical candy land with babies, bubbles, and rainbows, when the world around them is actually burning to a crisp. Now that I have a pair of Pyrovision Goggles, I don’t think I’ll ever stop using them. After all, if I remove them, I won’t be able to tell when other players have adorable floating unicorns flying above their heads or when fellow Pyros are showering the baby TF2 enemies with bubbles. :)

Other classes trying on the Pyrovision Goggles.

Tonight as I farmed for charred bits of garbage in hopes of catching a Balloonicorn (which, by the way, you can purchase in the real world), I think I played the most amusing round of TF2 I’ve ever encountered. Thanks to Pyromania, everyone wants to try out the new Pyro goodies, so the team I was on ended up being nothing but Pyros. We didn’t win, but everyone was running around burning the other team, using rainbow taunts, laughing with muffled gas mask voices, and generally having a good romp. Eventually, even the opposing team switched to all Pyros, and the game became pure burning mayhem. Some folks smacked their foes with Lollichops, others blasted each other into the air, and still more managed to get that elusive OMGWTFBBQ achievement (Myself included!). Have a look at the two screenshots below to get a look at my awesome Pyro team.

Have you been enjoying Pyromania? Feel free to share any fantastic stories of your adventures in Pyroland in the comments!

P.S. I’ll bet you’ll get “Do You Believe in Magic?” stuck in your head every time you play TF2 as a Pyro from now on. :)


One A Day #6: Getting Girls into Science

I recently came across a weird video on a post over at BlogHer. The video is apparently part of a European Union effort to bring more girls into science careers. However, the people who created it don’t seem to understand the right way to bring anyone into science. All the video shows is a few pretty girls in heels prancing around with makeup and beakers in the background. According to the YouTube video description, it was taken down from the EU’s “Science: It’s a Girl Thing” website after much backlash from the scientific community. Check out the ridiculousness below, then read on for more of my thoughts.

There are already tons of people talking about this, but I figured, since I’m a woman who loves science, I might as well weigh in with my opinion on this silly video.

Though I suppose I am a little annoyed that these people don’t seem to understand girls at all, I’m probably more troubled than offended. It bothers me that the video’s creators–I won’t say “the men” involved because it wouldn’t surprise me if women were on the team–just don’t seem to know how to inspire curiosity about science. I mean, it would be just as crazy to try and bring boys into science careers by showing a video of buff guys playing sports with DNA sequences and equations popping up every so often. It’s not that makeup and sports aren’t acceptable things for scientists to enjoy. The problem is that both the real video and the fake one I just described don’t provide much of a reason for anyone to like science.

When I was a kid, I had relatives who helped foster my interest in both science and more stereotypically “girly” pursuits. I would receive beading sets and dresses as presents, but I would also be given science books and games. I particularly remember a series called “You Can be a Woman ______.” The books told brief biographies of real women who were in fields like geology, astronomy, chemistry, and engineering. They were colorful and had great illustrations, but more importantly, they showcased people who were scientists. Games like those in the Magic School Bus series exposed me to the inner workings of the Earth, the ecosystems of the rainforest, and more. Thanks to this kind of exposure, I’ve come to enjoy things like stargazing and programming as well as dressing up and making jewelry.

I decided to become an engineer sometime after I took a class where I could program robots. It wasn’t a terribly hard class, but it helped me see the possibilities for awesome tinkering I could do if I had the right set of knowledge.

Based on my own personal experience, I see at least one thing that this video could have done better. It really should have used some of the women of science that the website profiles individually in that promotional footage. The words of women in the field on why they do what they do and what they love about it would be more inspiring than the strange mashup of science and fashion presented in the original version. For example, this video profile of an Italian engineering student talking about her passion for science is something I wouldn’t hesitate to share with a young girl.

That was just one of several profiles at the link I provided above. The creators of the main promo video should have done something similar. They could have had some kind of roundtable of female scientists sharing their experiences and doing experiments. That part of the video could have been followed up with something offering young women suggestions on how to get involved and expand their own scientific knowledge. The idea is to expose girls to real science and and real opportunities to grow.

Overall, the campaign seems like a good thing. There’s a section on why science needs more women and another describing several of the different science jobs out there. Hopefully, they’ll give the promo video another shot and get it right. What do you think about the video? Do you have any thoughts on good ways to interest young women in science?