Pretty Bums

Women have pretty bums. If I must stare at one for twelve hours, surely I would much rather it were a pretty one.

That is the usual logic when a developer has a female main character in a videogame. Nay, it applies to a majority of female characters that feature in games at all; whatever our escapist fantasy may be, there will be beautiful women.

I was dubious when approaching this topic, as every side is lined with spikes: too flippant and it is sexism; too far the other way and you are hampering creativity. But I honestly think it is worth looking at, and not just to scold developers who surround macho main characters with supermodels in fetish clothes.

Chell from Portal is notable for being one of very few female characters who does not have her cleavage slapped on the box art. Not that she is any ugly duckling.

However, she is not objectified. The game is not sold based on her appearance, and at no point does she have sex with anyone. (Because we all know, girls who have sex must be objects.)

Chell is only worth mentioning because she is one of few women to lead a game. Even when allowing Bayonetta and other girls that make Christina Hendricks look flat chested, the majority of games focus on a bloke. And some would have us believe this is a bad thing. (Incidentally, absurd body shapes are rampant throughout fictional characters, whatever the gender. That isn’t sexism, just bad writing.)

Men tend to write novels about men. Women tend to write novels about women. In the videogame industry, most writers, directors, and executives are male, and therefore they tend to write male characters as the heroes.

I have heard it said a thousand times that there should be more women in these roles. Why? Why is it that we must force more women into these roles?

Studies show women are more likely to work part-time and take time off for family commitments. If they marry, women are more likely to work from home or at minimum take more maternity leave than men. Career-wise, women are less ambitious – and this is not a bad thing. The outcome is that proportionally more men occupy the high-pressure roles and spend less time with their family. And so, more men are in control, and choose by default to make the main character male.

The idea that the directors/executives in the industry should be 50/50 between the sexes is preposterous. Placing limitations will be sexist; if there are 10 dedicated, talented women for every 30 dedicated, talented men, I would expect the ratio to be 1:3.

Some have suggested that we must encourage more women to work in the games industry. (And encourage them to be ambitious once there.) I find this concept curious – it implies that the games industry is better than whatever else the woman may wish to do. Why is working in the games industry better than staying at home raising children? The idea that we should get women out of the home strikes me as rude to those who choose to stay at home. If family are more important to the individual, then that is where the individual may wish to go.

This whole post comes from hearing far too many feminist writers call the games industry sexist because of the high ratios of male directors and male characters. Nay, I say. If more women wished to work in the games industry, and put careers first, and climb the ladder, then the option must be open. Generally, the option is open, and therefore the games industry is not sexist as a whole.

There are more men than women in games because it is not a sexist industry, focusing on talent rather than gender. We do not need to force women to become more ambitious within the industry.

And that, friends, is why most games focus on some bloke shooting things.

* The only footnote is that some companies discriminate against women who appear likely to get pregnant and take maternity leave. I can see both sides of why this is detrimental to both women and the companies, and I wish there was a better solution. Until then, this is the awkward area where my argument falls.

I would love to hear some counter-opinions. Do you think the industry is sexist?

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2 Responses to Pretty Bums

  1. deb says:

    I agree that the gaming industry needn’t be a microcosm of society, particularly as men are bigger consumers of computer games.
    I do however disagree that “Men tend to write novels about men. Women tend to write novels about women”. Wuthering Heights, one of the greatest novels in literature is testament to this as is Harry Potter, Frankenstein and Alice in Wonderland. Therefore, I don’t think that the majority of characters are males because of their producers, but rather because of their consumers.
    Statistics may well prove that “career-wise, women are less ambitious” and you may believe that “this is not a bad thing”, however, there are many women who actually find that statement condescending and chauvinistic.
    I think that most feminist writers agree with you that women should climb the ladder etc if they want to work in the gaming industry, however, being such a male-dominated industry, it is often hard for them to do so.

    • Thomas says:

      You have an interesting take on how it is based on consumers rather than the creators. Perhaps it is both? I have a hunch there are more female gamers than there are games directed at them. It’s hard to separate cause and effect there.

      I consider the idea that all people have to climb a career ladder as insulting to those who don’t wish to. Feminism should include wanting men to feel comfortable being househusbands. I want no-one to look down on those who choose a family-oriented life, because it is not a bad thing to be. A lot of feminism seems to focus on encouraging women towards careers, but I don’t see why this cannot be balanced with letting men out of them. The idea that housewives (and husbands) should be discouraged baffles me.