I watch a lot of streams these days; it’s the easiest, most constant form of entertainment I can get while working at my computer. Just today, I watched the second half of a playthrough of Michigan: Report from Hell, an old PS2 game. And man… if you haven’t heard of it, suffice it to say it has to be up there on the list of best worst games ever; to me, it’s the Troll 2 of video games. Definitely my favorite because the bad writing, terrible voice acting, and horrible everything else really come together to make a hilariously bad experience.
Part of what makes it so painfully archaic is the really awkward sexism that’s all over it. Michigan is as cringe-inducing as talking to your weirdly racist grandma; you lock onto your reporter with your news cam and it instantly focuses on her ass and you face palm and think, “Fuck’s sake. Someone seriously thought this was okay.”
But, the weird thing about watching Michigan was thinking, for a moment, “Man, I’m glad we’re not still this stupidly sexist,” and then checking Kotaku and finding this, Samus’ newest outfit for Smash 4:
And realizing… Michigan isn’t all that archaic with its sexism, is it? Because, sexism is just an oddly casual thing in nerddom. And casual… in weird ways that I feel I’m going to get in trouble for talking about. But, hey, I’m going to do it anyway. Not because I want to write something flaming, but because I’ve wanted to write this article for a long time; ever since hearing about the Bechdel test and realizing I passed it without trying. My goal here: seriously just contributing to the effort to get women portrayed realistically in Fantasy, at least; because, seriously with the armorkinis.
So, the best way to do this, I think, is to attack it in two parts; first, I’m going to talk about the obvious, visual side of sexism and then I’ll move on to the not-so-obvious, narrative side of it. Originally, I was going to do all of this in one post, but I went pretty high over my post limit on the first part, so I thought it was better to take my time.
That means that, today, we’re starting with the obvious kind of sexism. Because even though it’s the obvious kind that everyone sees… it still happens.
The Obvious, Visual Kind of Sexism
So, when I was young, I thought Red Sonja was really hot. I mean, she’s still hot, of course, if that comic even still exists. But when I saw her for the first time, I thought I was looking at porn. I do not know how old I was, but the reaction was shifty eyes; “Am I even supposed to be looking at this?? She ain’t wearing nothin’.”
What I didn’t know then was that the armorkini was just the standard of lots… and lots of fantasy. I can’t name all of the places I’ve seen armorkinis, but that’s not because it’s rare; it’s because I wouldn’t know where to start, and furthermore, I cannot be bothered. Because you’ve seen them too, and if you haven’t, just google “armor bikini” (for the most sincere results that are most lacking in self-consciousness), or look in the general direction of any comic or game shop and you’ll spot one. Maybe you’ll have to look a little harder these days to find an actual, straight up, Red Sonja two piece—always at its finest when it’s sincerely donned as armor for actual battle. But even if you can’t spot an actual armorkini, it’s got loooooots of cousins.
There’s the super heroine questionmarkitard; what I can only sum up as a collection of belts that the majority of female superheroes tie together and then wear into battle. Always as ridiculous as the two piece because it’s always worn for fighting villains with superpowers.
There’s the obnoxious armor bra; because nothing says, “Tits are happening right here!” like shiny armor that’s only over a female character’s breasts, often molded to look exactly like the real thing.
There’s the sci-fi variant of all of this, which, for whatever reason, is usually more comfortable with putting weird details that draw attention to certain spots (neon track lights that go right over a character’s nipples, for example).
And then there’s cyber panties, which I’ve seen enough of to be their own thing. Cyber panties are literally just panties that are part of a woman’s power armor/futuristic outfit—always, at least, as a color choice, but often an actual change in texture that’s designed to look like a thong, a pair of panties, or, failing all of that, to just highlight that entire area (by making it a different color, for example). And, before we move on, yes, cyber camel toe is sometimes a part of that package.
It’s a Choice People Make
And I say all of this and can immediately imagine someone crossing their arms and telling me that, “Dude, these are just design choices.” And, yes, they are. Of course they are. That’s the entire problem. These are choices made to showcase and sexualize female characters… in just about everything nerds play and read and watch. It’s strange and archaic. It cheapens female characters and makes them into the same flat object—a pair of tits to stare at. And, even if there is some attempt at giving such characters depth and character, it is always lessened, dramatically, by objectification. Because adding an armor bra to your character’s design says, immediately, “First and foremost… tits are happening right here. Check those out. Also, this is a character.” Even if someone tries really hard, adding an armor bra to their design of a female character says, “This is a character. Also, check out her tits.” Neither of those treatments… is good. Neither of those treatments is what any character deserves.
Off the top of my head, it’s seriously just Ellie, Clementine, Arya, Katniss and Korra who aren’t designed in ways that showcase their body parts, sexualize them or stereotype them instantly (the pretty dress for the damsel in distress, for example). I’m sure I could think of a handful more if I tried, but, the fact is, I’d be trying. We don’t live in a society where I have a long list of female characters in nerddom that I’d want my daughter to look up to. Because that list has actually shrunk for me lately.
It Feels Like It’s a Losing Battle
Because Samus Aran isn’t on my list of strong, un-manipulated female characters anymore.
And maybe that’s the thing that finally made me start this series. This is Samus:
This is not Samus:
Samus is the character who inspired a lot of my female characters. Because Samus was unlike any other female character for such a long time; maybe I’m wrong, but it actually feels like she was completely different from most characters, man or woman. I still remember when I read the special about her in one issue of Nintendo Power. I looked at her stats and saw that she was seven feet tall—seven feet tall and she rolls up into a ball in her weird ass, alien power suit… Are you serious? I just sat there and stared at that page and read everything about Samus Aran and thought, She’s so fucking awesome. Me, fat little Puerto Rican kid—I sat there and wanted to be Samus because she was so goddamn cool. And that never went away—I still want to be the lone bounty hunter in Chozo armor, choosing to go on dangerous solo missions no one else could handle. Fighting… well, not Metroids, because they terrify me. But whatever—the point is, I still admire the shit out of Samus.
Which is why I absolutely hate what Sakurai has done to her.
To be fair, this is something that started with the very first Metroid. This is the culmination of the Justin Bailey code and years upon years of making the reward for successfully beating a Metroid game seeing Samus outside of her suit. But it always seemed like Samus still managed to avoid total manipulation until Brawl gave us a closer, prolonged view and the absolute fucking travesty of Metroid: Other M drove home the idea that Samus was a scared, strangely and overly-maternal idiot who followed her male supervisor’s orders without question. And now we have the… Shorts and Sports Bra Suit (I actually just shuddered as I wrote that).
So, this really obvious brand of sexism? Somehow, it’s winning. Somehow, Other M and the shorts and sports bra happened. Somehow Disney decided to sexualize Merida. Somehow, all of these decisions—the armorkini and the cyber panties—still get made in the favor of armorkinis and cyber panties. No. There’s no reason why.
If you’re writing anything and you have any female characters, and you feel like you’re making any of these choices with their design, please just make a braver choice for them. Design them not as a man or a male-centric society reflexively would—especially if you don’t design your characters; if you just stop and think, “Well, I’m not designing her because I don’t design anyone—it’ll be fine,” no, it won’t. Because if there’s any chance your story will become a movie or a show or whatever, someone will make the choice to sexualize her anyway, at which point it will be totally out of your hands. And, of course, you’re not likely to have studios listen to you unless you’re J. K. Rowling and have a Potter-level phenomenon on your hands. But still, please—try anyway. If you love your female characters, then, for their sake, try. And, to be a little more melodramatic but still honest about it, if you want your daughter to have awesome role models to look up to—try.
I’ll start off next month with the second and final part in this series. And, if you don’t remember, I said I was reluctant to write about any of this at the end of my last post. It isn’t because of what I wrote here—it’s because of what’s coming up; I’m going to talk about the more complicated idea of sexism in narrative, which I’ve argued about with a feminism before, so it’s bound to be interesting.
Thank you for reading. As always, a Like and a Follow would be greatly appreciated. But all the same, take care and write well.