So, this is a post that is going to probably upset some folks. I’m taking a dissenting opinion on a topic of great interest to the gaming/geeky community right now (or so it seems to me). I want to explain that I am not taking issue with anyone in particular and that I’m not even going to go so far as to say that my opinion on the topic is fully fleshed out… more that this post is an exploration of my feelings to try and make some sense out of the topic for myself. I hope to be respectful and I hope to be careful in what I express here… and if you disagree or would like to help me explore my feelings, I hope you’ll comment.
This is not what I meant to post about today. This is not what I wanted to post about today… but it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while (ever since the explosion of “women in reasonable armor” images/posts a while back). I decided to write today after seeing this pop up all over my Facebook the last few days… “Drawing the Impossible? Fully Dressed Superheroines”
Now, don’t get me wrong – the art is cool – and this guy did a good job of making sure to say that his intent was in no way to push a moral code. Bravo to you Michael Lunsford, I really do appreciate your work here. I think my problem stems from the fact that the discussion (look at the editorial comment at the link I posted) and many of the Fb shares of this are exactly that – trying to extract a lesson out of all this. And that may be as simple as my disdain for these efforts gets – I’m upset by the smugness I often see accompany these images and memes – the idea that if you disagree you are sexist, or you hate women, or you don’t welcome women into the culture/subculture…
So maybe that’s really what upsets me. But I’m still exploring so bear with me please. I’m a gamer and a guy. I don’t really identify as a geek. I like things that others have decided are geek things, like gaming, but I haven’t really faced a lot of social stigma because of those things because, well, one – I don’t self-identify as a geek and two, I don’t really give two tugs what a portion of intolerant people think of me or my way of having fun. I will admit, I have been subjected to harassment over the nearly thirty years of my gaming life by people in my extended family, workplace, and personal life telling me that gaming is evil, that it is a tool of the devil, and that I’m a tool of the devil if I do it, I just never let it bother me. Since my mom sat me down at a young age and let me watch The Last Unicorn and bought me books on mythology alongside my first D&D Basic Set I feel like I know that I am secure as a gamer.
I don’t know what it is like to be a female cosplayer who gets groped and insulted at conventions. I think it’s ridiculous and awful that such things happen and I fully support efforts like CONsent and I wish them the best of luck in raising awareness – and I’ll be more aware too when I want to take a picture at a convention (heck, I’m super nervous when I ask a cosplayer for a picture anyway, I always feel like I’m bugging them no matter how nice they are about it). But reading what the CONsent folks had to say, as well as the article they link to, is good information to know. I also realize that there is this whole “fake-geek-girl” thing and this weird backlash against girls in gaming in some quarters… To those people I can only ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Why would anyone take all the time, energy, and money to craft a costume, be brave enough to wear it, and spend their weekend at the freakin’ convention if they didn’t want to be there just as much as you did? (I’ll admit, I wish I was brave enough to cosplay – I follow several cosplayers online and find them completely inspiring.) I’d hazard a guess that many of them might want to be there more than you… they are committed in a way you wish you were.
But I’m digressing a little. I’m always bothered by the discussions of how women are depicted in gaming… mainly because the conversations seem very one-sided and most involve groups of people who only want to vent into their echo chamber and god forbid you have the temerity to disagree. And as a guy who identifies as straight – I’ll say this with no shame at all – I don’t really understand people’s beef with skin, male or female. Heck, show it all off if you want, as long as you are respectful of the opinions of reasonable people in public places, of course. I don’t particularly feel the need to cater to the fringe or the unreasonable – but I accept that there are wrongs committed in gaming and comic art in some people’s eyes, and as long as they are reasonable in their discussion I think we should all keep listening and learning.
I just don’t really see how the “women in reasonable armor” or “fully clothed superheroines” discussions are in any way “helping.” I much prefer to see someone who comes out and says, “you have the right to dress however you want and no one has the right to abuse you for it.” [Please note: this video could include triggers and the part I’m interested in here kicks in at about the 3:40 mark.] That’s the education we need to give in this discussion – not changing appearances, but rather, changing attitudes.
But let’s really get back to the discussion of fully-dressed superheroines for a moment. First of all, my spell-checker doesn’t like the word superheroines and frankly, neither do I. I prefer just to call them superheroes and move on with it (can I be silly and call them metahumans?) Anyway…
So, my wife loves Tomb Raider (at least the old Tomb Raider, the verdict is still out on this new reboot). She loves the old games, she’s read the comics, she even likes the movies… I give her a bit of a hard time for liking the movies… I’ll admit. And Lara Croft is often a poster-child for the supposed ills of depicting women in fantasy/scifi. But I always get a laugh out of this because that’s not the first thing I notice about Lara Croft. The first thing I notice about Lara Croft is the fact that it seems highly unlikely to me that someone that thin would be able to do the extreme adventuring she does. Where’s the muscle mass, the fitness, the fat reserves for endurance? Right, no where to be found because she has to be drawn like a Victoria Secret model. You want to get into a discussion of drawing reasonable or realistic women in comics? I’d love to see a version of Alex Ross’ painting of Batman, covered in the scars of his life that depicts the Huntress or Black Canary in the same way. You know how many times the Huntress has been shot, stabbed, clawed, burned, electrocuted, and just plain beaten up? Draw me a superhero who looks like she lives the life and that’s something I can believe in.
Something that caught my eye when looking at the superheroines in full clothing was that I noted the only one who seemed to have a costume that closely echoed her male counterparts was Power Girl. I love the costume he created for Power Girl by the way and I love that he kept her muscles and her toughness right up front in the picture too, but I wonder if those muscles didn’t prompt the costume to seem more like her male counterparts? I could be wrong about that. It was just an immediate thought that occurred to me as I viewed the images.
Ultimately, I feel like my takeaway is that I’m glad that there are more females in my little corner of the subculture… it means more people to game with. I’m thankful that I’ve always had the opportunity to game with and enjoy the company of excellent females – geek or not – and I’m thankful that there are more high profile female geek icons. This awareness is a truly wonderful development in our hobby and whenever I have the opportunity to welcome another female player to the table, I’m happy to do so. And I’m appalled at some of the ridiculous examples of idiotic behavior that belittles or outright abuses women for being a part of our culture (and frankly, more than women, anyone who has to suffer in a group they have chosen to identify with). And there is nothing at all wrong with art projects like the one depicting the Fully Dressed Heroines… (except when paired with stupid tag lines like “Drawing the Impossible”). My crisis with these types of things, when they pop up, is the smug bandwagon effect that seems to accompany them. I’ll admit freely, maybe that’s just that I get my news and reactions from the wrong sources… I hope, more than anything, that we continue to educate people to be more mature, more open, and more accepting in all phases of life. I may not particularly identify as a geek (despite running a gaming blog, right) but I love being a part of a thriving community of gamers, cosplayers, artists, and writers who are sharing wonderful imagination with each other and I would hate to lose any of the voices because they have been shouted down – no matter which side of the aisle you are on.