Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let's Play a Game Part 1: Catwoman and Lara Croft

So, the internet has been ablaze the past few days with a truly stunning amount of asshattery in both games and comics. Since it's all aimed at either female characters or women who are creating things within arguably male dominated spaces, I'm comfortable with putting it all under the umbrella of gross misogyny. And I'm discussing it all together because I personally believe that it's all interconnected. How we treat female characters directly relates to how we treat women and vice versa. (Links at bottom for pics/articles on what I'm discussing here).

This first post will deal with Catwoman and Lara Croft.

I'll start with comics since it's a field I'm directly involved with. It all revolves around a Catwoman #0 cover which is...yeah, no, not really working on a lot of levels. (see here for the original:

Now I'm going to break down the most popular arguments about it here to save time.

1. Women CAN pose like that. I've seen them. Like contortionists or gymnasts.

A. Contortionists, maybe, but not gymnasts. However, what contortionists do you know who have an arm growing out of their head, no right shoulder, two completely different sized buttocks, a butt foot, and a severed leg? Also, Catwoman is not a contortionist, she's a cat-burglar, and in this image she's jumping, not performing in a circus. I think she might also be stabbing herself in the palms with those claws, but, that's the least of her worries right now. I'm mostly concerned about her butt foot, though the arm growing out of her head is also troubling.

2. Well, she's CATwoman. Cats put themselves in uncomfortable positions all the time. It's just an exaggeration.

A. This is true, I have three cats. Of course, they don't tend to break their spines to show me their tits and ass, nor do they have limbs growing out of their heads. If they did, you can be sure I'd be taking them to the vet post-haste.

I also have no problem with exaggeration so long at it makes some kind of sense. I've worked with a lot of artists, they still base their exaggerations on real anatomy, not butt feet.

3. You just hate women who are sexy. This is a sexy picture.

A. Nope. I like pinups and cheesecake and boobs and butts. And while I agree that what's sexy is subjective, weirdo anatomy and brokeback don't seem like the only requirements for something to be considered sexy. I think we're maybe lowering our standards a little too much here.

4. You hate men and men are who read comics. So shut up.

A. Actually, I think very highly of men. I just don't think very highly of sexism and objectification for the sake of a lowest common denominator audience assumption. Also, I write and edit comics and most of the books I've worked on have had at least a 50% female readership. Maybe fewer women read supe books, but I'm pretty sure that's not a valid argument for putting out books that alienate them. But it might be an argument for why they don't read them in higher numbers, or why we should maybe consider not doing things that suggest they aren't welcome here. I mean, unless we're saying comics as an industry hates money and growing its' audience. In which case, it's been nice knowing you, comics.

5. Men are objectified just as much as women. They get exaggerated too.

A. ::sigh:: They are exaggerated to look stronger, tougher, and more heroic. So that the presumably male audience will want to identify with them, not shag them. If these comics are "for" men, and straight men at that, then they aren't drawn that way to be sexualized. It may be unrealistic, but it's not dehumanizing, and the intent is completely different. You can't have it both ways.

6. This isn't a "real" issue. Why don't you complain about something important?

A. I'm not so much complaining as discussing. Because I work in this industry and I care enough about it to want it to get better, reach more people, and stop stagnating in tired tropes and sexism. So, to me, that IS important. Likewise, it's important because it speaks to larger issues with sexism in both media and the culture in general. Also, my brain is fully capable of caring about and discussing this while ALSO caring about and discussing other issues, such as women's reproductive rights, politics, healthcare, and equality issues all over the world. It's not like caring about this precluded me from caring about or knowing about any number of other issues. This is just a bad argument that seeks to silence discussion about sexism, and it's used no matter what is being discussed. I could be talking about the issue of rape as genocide in The Democratic Republic of the Congo or why empowering women financially in developing nations helps them directly and the world economy generally, and someone would still tell me it's less important than something else.

Further, a big summer movie will be opening soon that stars Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. DC books have a pretty good track record with their films sparking interest in their titles, especially bat books. So they developed a backstory issue, Catwoman #0, which is presumably for new readers to get to know the character. And they went with that cover. I'm sure the sales on it will be fine, and they may even get some new readers. But I suspect they will not be from the movie going crowd, but from people who already read supe books and want to check this out too. We're an insulated, niche industry enough already. This isn't doing us any favors, especially since it plays into every cliche there is about comic book art and female characters. We can do better.

Now, on to games. Let's let's talk about Lara Croft and the "cornered like an animal"/attempted rape backstory that supposedly adds depth and nuance to her character. On the one hand, the developer gave her more realistic body proportions for who she is and what she's doing. That's great. However, following that up with some kind of brutal, almost-rape story pretty much undermines any goodwill I might have had. This is one of those tropes that has needed to die a painful death for quite some time. Female characters do not need to experience sexual violence to be interesting or have motivation. It's lazy storytelling, for one thing, via superficial character "development" that is almost never done with any sort of care or understanding, and it's generally exploitative and gross. This was further confirmed in an interview with one of the developers who claimed Croft was "sexier" now that she's a vulnerable character who goes through this trauma, making players want to protect her, not be her.


So, instead of having a badass female character who was a lot like Indiana Jones (who didn't need to be sexually assaulted OR lose a lady in his life to be motivated, I might add)...we have a victimized character who does what she does out of revenge. Super. I can't imagine why anyone has a problem with this.

Oh, wait, yeah I can. Because to add insult to injury, that same developer managed to imply that the only players who matter for this game are male players who feel "protective" of her. And that they can't identify with her character, so, let's just throw in some rapeyness so they'll feel extra protective while wanting to sleep with her. Because that's not weird and problematic and gross. Personally, I think a lot more highly of male game players since I'm married to one. I think they can identify with a female character, I don't think they need to feel protective of her or want to sleep with her, and I think a lot of them would prefer she not have this particular backstory. It doesn't add to the gameplay and it's a pretty crummy story trope to be relying on. Plus, Croft was a popular character without all this before.

And just like Catwoman, why are we doing things that will likely alienate female players? I see a ton of Lara Croft cos-players at conventions. Lots of women like having kickass female characters to identify with and it seems like something that would bring even more players to the game. I mean, even if more men play games than women, I don't think that's a good excuse for shitting on female characters and being horribly sexist. What does that say about men, that apparently people think they won't play/read/watch something unless it's offensively misogynistic? And if that's the case, why are feminists like myself the ones who get accused of hating men?

Beyond all that, these are industries that want to make money. I should think they'd want as much of it as they can get from as many people as possible. And yet, they do this. So is there something about lady money they just don't like? It doesn't have cooties, I swear. You can still pay your bills with it.

So, to sum up: Both comics and games seem to have this weird blind spot when it comes to female characters and doing things that potentially alienate an audience because they're too myopic to tell better stories or rethink a pose. Games are able to get away with it a little more easily because they're still very lucrative and widely played. Comics, though, should really get with the program or they're not even going to have T&A books to read when the medium blows up because it can't sustain itself. Games, meanwhile, should take it as a lesson that stagnancy ultimately kills your bottom line.

Next up: Women Vs. Tropes: Video Games harassment and Trolling Felicia Day: I think you guys finally went too far...

Catwoman links:

Shows the original:

Cameron Stewart's awesome counter art:

Kate Beaton's take:

Lara Croft links:

Forbes article:

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