For those who may have missed our last podcast, we had an incredible interview with author Christa Charter. In the interview, Charter narrates the struggle between portraying a female protagonist who is sexual, and likes her sexuality, and one who is a slut. She found in her research that there seemed to be a 2 slut line: if a female character slept with more than 2 people, she was a slut; two or less was alright. In her upcoming book, she is struggling to balance a plot that needs her protagonist (Lexy) to sleep with 3 people and not wanting her to be read as a slut (and of course, even use of the term “slut” here can be an interesting–and incredibly problematic–discussion).
Lexy (the protagonist) works in the video game industry, an industry that is rife with sexual assault problems and has an utter lack of women, partly because of the shocking statistics about how often women are sexually assaulted and harassed. Every day women in the industry find different ways to cope with being outsiders: pretending there are no problems, ignoring the problems, speaking out about them, forming alliances with other women, etc. Many women have worked their whole careers towards creating a better environment for women, whether that be demanding sexual harassment policies like the ADA Initiative or forming mentorship opportunities to encourage other women like Women in Games International. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the strife between women who have worked to get w0men in technological industries to be seen as more than just booth babes, sluts, and tokens and women who want to own their femininity by wearing clothes, makeup, and shoes that are not traditional for women in the field. In other words, some find it troubling to see women wearing tight, revealing clothing when they have been arguing for years that women are more than just breasts and legs. So I suppose it’s a feeling that 1 attribute about you can trump all else; if you wear a short dress and red lipstick, then there is a risk that someone will assume you’re one-dimensional.
My inner feminist wants to scream: fuck ‘em then. Let the protagonists (and women) wear and act however they want. But, it’s not really that simple. Because when I first starting reading Lexy, who ran out of underwear and so had to wear a bikini and whose hello kitty shirt read helllllllllooo kitty because of her large breasts, I rolled my eyes. I didn’t think about her as showing that a sexual woman can be other things–a character who showed the hybridity that exists in the industry. I thought, great, another overly-sexualized, unrealistic portrayal that women will have to work against for years to be taken seriously. I imagined men would read her as confirmation that women really are just sluts and should be treated accordingly.
But Lexy, like real women, is complex. And her sexuality is an important part of her character. It’s not superfluous, and I don’t think it’s as shallow as a quick shock-factor. But she does get at some very real problems that video game makers and players face all the time, and something we talk about a lot on our podcasts (as we discussed at length in the Lollipop Chainsaw playthrough): a problem of representation and reduction, and whether we can have one without the other.
Examples (or lack thereof?):
Examples in things like literature and movies go back a very long time. You see classic examples like Helen of Troy who brings about the demise of a country because she’s too beautiful. Or you see more recent examples like every horror movie ever made where if a woman has sex she is immediately murdered. But I think video games and the industry around them face a unique problem for a number of reasons: 1) many companies are actually amalgamations of many smaller companies and contractors, all operating under different sets of rules 2) the narratives about technology is that of the pair of friends (always men) working feverishly in a garage until some big breakthrough 3) the constant representation of women as sexual objects 4) the lack of women making the games and 5) the perceived (but inaccurate) perception that women don’t play games and that gaming is for boys. I’m sure there are others, but you get the idea. The bootstraps, meritocracy of the industry has created a particular environment that–I think–is somewhat unique. Because of this, the crossover of Charter’s character is very interesting. Charter has worked for years in the video game industry, and she bases many things in her book on encounters she witnessed.
So I started racking my brain trying to think of female video game protagonists, or even side characters, who have sex–not dress or act slutty– but actually have sex. FemShep from ME3 can have sex with men or women, but then again it’s the same option for the BroShep, so less of a political statement than just consistent plot. Sims characters can have sex, but again it’s not gender specific. The GTA protagonists have lots of sex in and out of the “missions,” but again they’re all men. I’ve heard you have some disturbing sex in The Witcher, though I’ve never played. If you can think of some examples of female video game protagonists having sex in games, I would love you to post the game in the comment section. Then I can do a follow up comparing the slut line in games to the slut line in fiction.
So, like most posts, there is no solution, only articulations of complex and conflicting views. In the end, I really like Lexy. And some people (men and women) may read her negatively. But I supposed what’s important about her character, and about Charter’s work as she bends the slut rules of fiction, is that she is complex enough that we ask these questions and that she invites conversation.