|Sexist or just silly?|
Internet land exploded recently when a Bungie employee (makers of Halo) in an interview described the design for a new Metal Gear Solid character as “disgusting”. I remember being a huge fan of Hideo Kojima’s work after I played his first game on the original Playstation. I was especially enamored by the many philosophical concepts he tackles in his series, things you don’t typically find in a stealth/action game. While Kojima’s name will likely never be brought up in any Philosophy 101 course, it’s nice to know that games can deal with more grown-up fare from time to time. Now it seems Kojima’s name has become synonymous with sexism and everything wrong with our male-dominated society. While I consider myself a feminist to some degree, I do get defensive when certain women go into rage mode regarding scantily clad characters. With regards to income inequalities, intrusive medical mandates and our overall beauty obsessed magazine culture, sexism is a continuing problem in our society, and yes, popular media tends to fuel this problem. But any discussion regarding depictions of women in the media should be focused on “objectification” meaning “to make an object” or to “dehumanize”. While sexy images, particularly those in smut magazines like Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler do objectify women (Penthouse is particularly bad, calling their centerfolds “pets”) it isn’t the nudity itself that is the problem, otherwise, feminists would also have to complain about the Venus de Milo or Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Conversely, a female character can be fully dressed and be objectified. I sometimes finds things sexist that most people do not even notice. Am I the only one, for instance, who felt that the real hero in Harry Potter was Hermione? The author is a woman, oddly enough, so you cannot blame her for intentional sexism, not consciously anyway, but still, Hermione is the real hero of that franchise; Harry just bumbles along and everyone calls him the “chosen one”. Being the father of two daughters, I encounter sexism in video games all the time. Whenever I pick up a Wii title for my 9 year old, the first question she asks is, “Is there a girl in it? Can I play a girl?” It saddens me when I have to say, “Sorry.” It’s also frustrating having to explain why in Super Mario Bros. Wii and Wii U, you can play as Mario, Luigi, and two male Toads (count them, two) but no Princess Peach or even Toadette. There is a very subtle message here: girls are helpless victims and must wait to be rescued by a male figure. Super Princess Peach aside (and even in that Gameboy exclusive, her chief ability is crying), I’ll take a bikini clad warrior who kicks butt any day.
Point is, a scantily clad or nude female character is not inherently sexist and a fully dressed character certainly can be. Naturally, sex sells, and feminists can cry foul for a million years and never change the fact that men enjoy looking at women, more so sans apparel. This is design by evolution. But desire for sex does not fall exclusively into the male or female domain (see Fifty Shades of Grey). Rather, lust is just one of many emotional facets that makes us human. The problem derives when eliciting desire becomes a female character’s only quality (I am looking at you, Red Sonja). In this case, the character does become, in the eyes of male viewers, an object, which is admittedly disgusting and degrading. So is Hideo Kojima’s character, Quiet, unrealistic? You bet! Ridiculous? Definitely! Representative of an unfair double-standard? Probably. Sexist? Not so fast . . .
Take Thelana. This girl could be deemed the very epitome of sexism, and yet, she is anything but an object in Ages of Aenya. In this character we have the whole gamut of human emotion, from fear, sorrow and pride to love, jealousy and compassion. She is courageous, intelligent, and every bit as capable as any male hero. She is a farmer, a warrior and a thief. Incidentally, she never uses sex as a tool, and beauty is not her “primary virtue” as feminist Susan J. Douglas might argue, but rather, climbing and archery. We even get to know Thelana’s father, mother, and eleven siblings by name. The only thing that really sets her apart from most female characters: she’s nude most of the time, as in no clothes whatsoever. Why? Why couldn’t she be all those things and keep her clothes on for heaven’s sake? Two reasons 1) Nudity is beautiful and the heroic nude is a tradition that dates back to Ancient Greece, and 2) More importantly, Thelana is a naturist (as is the author) and if you’ve never experienced the joy and connectedness that comes from experiencing nature in the buff, you cannot really comment on it, which is why many of my female naturist friends identify with Thelana, because they are neither whores, strippers, or objects of male desire. And before any feminist gets all up in arms about double standards, Xandr, the male hero, is just as naked just as often, because there really is a double standard when it comes to male vs. female nudity.
As ridiculous as Hideo Kojima’s new heroine appears, let’s not rush to judgment here. Let’s play the game and see what this character is all about, while keeping in mind that the most insidious form of sexism is more often found in places where it has the most damaging influence, in the minds of young girls, particularly with the dearth of role-models for young girls in video games.