Woman Warriors in Film and Games
Recently, feminist pop-culture analyst Anita Sarkeesian drew both an avalanche of animosity and a tsunami of support when she announced plans for a documentary about female video game characters. Speaking as a guy and a gamer, it got me thinking that game companies could—and should—do a lot more to court female players, not only out of a lofty concern for gender equality but also for the down-to-earth reason that it would broaden their own market. You won’t catch me saying this often, but I think
has a lesson to teach about this. Hollywood
Rise of the Woman Warrior
Male heroes have been slaying monsters for as long as humans have been telling stories, but we may be experiencing a historic shift in that pattern. A quick rundown of the history of women warriors shows not only an increase in frequency, but also a change in attitude. Here are a few of the high (and low) points:
Amazons. Contrary to contemporary depictions, the ancient Greeks considered tales of women warriors to represent a shocking threat that needed to be subdued and dominated by strong men.
Wonder Woman. Fast forwarding to the 20th century, Wonder Woman gave her sisters of Themyscira a PR makeover, but not right away. The original comic book was little more than a BDSM fantasy. Fortunately, the character evolved over the years, most memorably with Linda Carter’s portrayal of a hero who secretly defended the status quo (patriarchal as it was).
Sigourney Weaver. James Cameron’s 1986 masterpiece Aliens not only inspired a host of less-than-awesome franchises but also established the tough-but-vulnerable Weaver as the First Lady of Science Fiction.
Warrior Princesses to Vampire Slayers. The 1990s opened a floodgate of action-grrrls, starting with the neuvo-Amazon Xena, then the unrealistically buxom Lara Croft, and, of course, Buffy Summers, created by Joss Whedon to flip all the horror movie clichés upside down.
Some say these depictions are anti-feminist because they show women abandoning their femininity or objectifying themselves, but you’ve got to admit that the modern plethora of femme fatales are widely loved by both genders (and has sure enhanced cosplay options).
Today, science fiction and fantasy is more popular than ever with both men and women. This year alone, several box-office blockbusters feature female action heroes, most notably the fearless archers Merida of Brave and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. Even classic stories are being retold with stronger roles for women, such as Snow White and the Huntsman, which begins to reverse the usual gender roles so that the female protagonist does most of the heavy lifting (or, in this case, heavy sword-swinging). Oh, and let’s not forget Charlize Theron’s role as the queen: she might be evil, but nobody would dare to question her ability or authority.
We have come a long way, but there’s plenty more room for improvement. For all the successful super hero movies, we still lack an iconic female cape-jockey who can keep up with the boys in her ability to sell tickets (if not to inflict gratuitous collateral damage during fights).
has been making great strides to
appeal to female viewers, and not just by adding female characters, but also by
increasing character depth. The result: better movies for all, more tickets
sold, and more people discovering how great it is to be a geek. Hollywood
Game Publishers Take Note
Video game publishers have not been as successful at appealing to women for a variety of reasons. Women represent half the potential market, so it would benefit them to explore more about what these customers might want. Doing this would be good for us, too, because it might lead to new types of games and new ways of gaming.
Not all gamer guys want big guns and big boobs, either; some of us want to share games with the women in our lives. It’s easy to get my wife to go see a big
blockbuster because she knows that even if the hero isn’t female, there will
still be plenty of other elements to appeal to her. It’s much harder to
convince her to co-op the latest zombie-slaughtering XBox release, because
experience has shown that games don’t carry the same promise.