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.
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?