Monday, July 15, 2013

Greater Chainmail Bikini of +5 Distraction

Dear Fantasy, SciFi, Video Game and Comic-Book Artists/Designers,

Please stop drawing every woman in what amounts to combat-themed lingerie.

Exhibit A

Seriously, though, it's gotta stop. This stuff makes it really, really hard for us nerds to get our girlfriends, fiancés, and wives to show any interest in the games, books, and graphic novels that we love so dearly.

(...And I realize that part of this is the audience's fault for demanding it. I'll get to that in a minute.)

Now, I like looking at images of attractive women as much as the next guy. And seeing  those women wearing the trappings of my favorite genres (fantasy armor, superhero costumes, Starfleet uniforms, etc.) makes the experience all the better. I have fond memories of juvenile and adolescent crushes on Storm (X-Men), Misty (Pokémon), Chi (Chobits), and Slave Girl Princess Leia (if you don't know where she's from, you're dead to me). I know what it means to be the nerdy boy with unrequited feelings for imaginary characters. Believe me, I do.

But lonely teenage boys aren't the only ones who consume this media. (Well, OK, in some genres they still pretty much are. But they don't have to be the only ones!) There are girls and women out there who love this stuff, and their numbers are growing every day. And this is a good thing. We've been complaining for decades about the dearth of women who read doorstopper fantasy novels, watch sci-fi obsessively, and enjoy hanging out at comic conventions. So why are we driving them away with stuff like the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook?

Strong enough for a man, but designed for a man.

I object to this type of illustration on two fronts:

First of all, it's a stupid idea to expose your chest and midriff in battle. If you're going to pay someone the equivalent an entire family of peasants' biannual income for a suit of armor, then why would you not demand enough material to cover your cleavage and navel? I guarantee that you will never see a male character in midriff-baring armor on the cover of an official D&D book. Some players will giggle and say "it provides a +2 distraction bonus against males!" Yeah. Right. When your body is overclocking itself on adrenaline and trying not to loose its' bowels in your armor from the sheer stomach-wrenching terror of battle, the absolute last thing on your mind is gonna be "Hey, that chick with the battleaxe has a pretty hot ra-"

Secondly (and more importantly), it sends an exclusionary message to would-be female players: it says to them that "This is a man's world. You can play here if you like, but you're only welcome as long as your body (or at least your character's body) proves pleasing in the eyes of our entrenched fanbase. Now, strap on your battle-thong and let's see ya prance around, hot-cheeks." This is not the best way to convince our girlfriends that our hobby is anything but adolescent wish-fulfillment. Because until we excise this kind of treatment of female from the official guidebooks, that's all our hobbies will ever be in the eyes of the women we love.

Gentlemen: the next time you're in a shop where nerds like to hang out (GameStop, Barnes & Noble, your local comic shop), take a good hard look at how most of the women in the works that line the shelves of the "Fantasy", "Science Fiction", and "Superheroes" sections of that store are depicted. Then ask yourself how eager you'd be to embrace a hobby of your girlfriend's if those costumes were the norm for all male characters.

Ohhh, baby.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that artists shouldn't be allowed to draw attractive women in sexy poses. What I object to is that virtually ALL women in roleplaying games, mainstream comic books, and even a surprising amount of science fiction, are depicted in these kinds of poses and costumes, almost all of the time. A few more female characters, in a little less-revealing clothing, would go a long way towards improving Geekdom's relationship with its' female participants. As a wise man once said, (and I know, I've quoted him before in this blog, but his words remain as true as ever):
The answer is always more art; the corollary to that is the answer is never less art. If you start to think that less art is the answer, start over. That’s not the side you want to be on. The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work. The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring. That even with a computer in your pocket connected to an instantaneous global network, no-one can hear you. When you believe that, really believe it, the devil dances in hell.


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  2. That's why I love the women of Firefly. Even Inara, who uses her sexuality in her career, and Mrs. Reynalds (whatever her real name might be) who uses it as a weapon. Other places, though, it's difficult to imagine bothering with female characters because really--armor class! COME ON!

  3. It's interesting, though: the players' guides all state (or state by omission) that female characters are no less strong or dextrous than males, yet female characters are typically consigned to "support" roles in combat situations. Whenever you see a female in a fantasy setting, odds are 90-to-1 she's using a long-range weapon, magic/energy-powers, or both.

    However, there /are/ a few exceptions to this unfortunate and limiting rule in popular media, including Brienne of Tarth, Kim Possible, Wonder Woman, Thalia Grace, Batgirl, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    1. Er, that should read "9-to-1", not "90-to-1".