Feminism and Video Games 101: Shooting Female Enemies Isn’t Icky

Laughing Octopus, a member of the Beauty and the Beast Unit and a boss from MGS4. (Pictured: A woman in a full-body futuristic gray suit; a device on her head sprouts four mechanic tentacles that snake around her. She floats slightly, two of the tentacles holding her up.)

Laughing Octopus, a member of the Beauty and the Beast Unit and a boss from MGS4. (Pictured: A woman in a full-body futuristic gray suit; a device on her head sprouts four mechanic tentacles that snake around her. She floats slightly, two of the tentacles holding her up.)

I almost never read Kotaku, let alone the comments. But I found this comment on the post about the lack of female characters in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 via Stephen Totilo’s Twitter and thought it was worth discussing. The comment, written by Kotaku reader Friedhamster, reads as follows:

We fight as men because we’re fighting men.
As soon as we fight as females we have to fight females. (Bayonetta and Jeanne.)

I have no qualms about dumping round after round into a dude’s face made of pixels. I do have an issue with doing the same to, even, a virtual female. I wouldn’t feel right about that. I just wouldn’t.

This immediately reminded me of that story of how there were a Harry Reid punching bag and a Nancy Pelosi pinata at CPAC, but only the women were allowed to hit Pelosi and only men were allowed to hit Reid. In both cases, the gender segregation is silly. At CPAC, someone realized there might be a PR problem if news that men were beating up Pelosi in effigy got out, but thought it was a gender issue rather than a violence issue. The punching bag and pinata shouldn’t have existed at all, because advocating violence against your political opponents is wrong, regardless of gender. But in video games, the gender segregation is silly because there’s simply nothing wrong with shooting a female enemy combatant.

So where does this ickiness the commenter is talking about come from? In the ensuing comments, Kotaku reader Holly Green gets to the heart of the matter:

Its not hating women to shoot one in a video game. You shoot men in video games, do you hate men?

Your hesitancy seems to be based in the notion that women are fragile and need protecting.

To which Friedhamster replies, “You got it buddy.” His hesitancy about shooting female enemies in games comes from a sense of chivalry.

A FROG soldier from MGS4. (Pictured: A woman in fitted, futuristic gray full-body armor and a helmet with glowing red eyes. She carries a submachine gun in one hand and has a machete strapped to one leg.)

A FROG soldier from MGS4. (Pictured: A woman in fitted, futuristic gray full-body armor and a helmet with glowing red eyes. She carries a submachine gun in one hand and has a machete strapped to one leg.)

Chivalry, as most of our readers likely know, is sexist. It is based, as Holly Green said, on the idea that women are weak and need a man to protect them. Obviously this is extremely condescending and untrue–women don’t need special protections any more than men do. This logic has been used to actually deny women rights, with the excuse that it is “for their own good.” Friedhamster exposes this line of thought when he compares killing women in a game to how killing children is all but banned in games: how insulting is it to imply that women and children are somehow equal, similarly helpless and in need of protecting? (Answer: extremely insulting!)

Chivalry is also behind the idea that women are somehow purer or better than men; Friedhamster indicates this when he refers to women as “the finer sex.” But that logic is also sexist and limiting; it allows people to hold women to a higher standard of behavior than men, when the reality is we are all flawed human beings. In short, chivalry is just a way of policing women’s behavior under the guise of it being beneficial or a compliment to women.

The bottom line is, when women are treated differently simply because they are women–whether by treating them as inferior or putting them on a pedestal–it’s sexist. As an advocate for better representation of women in games, I believe it’s important to have female “grunts” or “cannon fodder” enemies in games, almost as much as having our Jades and our Commander Shepards. And many games do have female enemies that are treated the same as their male counterparts: BioShock, the Mass Effect games, and Dragon Age, to name a few.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that, when female enemies are included, they are often not treated equally as the male enemies, but inappropriately sexualized, playing into a dangerous conflation of sex and violence. While Metal Gear Solid 4 has the awesome, all-female army of supersoldiers known as FROGs, it also has the “Beauty and the Beast” unit, four bosses in the game which are beautiful and scarred women in ultra-high-tech suits that double as weapons. The sexualization of the women in their second forms (wearing only skin-tight suits), while inappropriate, could be interpreted as intentionally disturbing (though I think it would be a stretch), but the secret “photoshoot” mode where the women pose while the player takes pictures cannot be anything but disgustingly exploitative. Kris Ligman at The Hathor Legacy has more (the post spoils MGS4, but the part about the B&B Unit is before any major spoilers).

Another example: Grand Theft Auto IV also treats female NPCs differently, because there are female prostitutes that can be hired, then killed to regain the player’s cash. Aside from a single gay male character who can be murdered while on a date with him, only female NPCs can be victims of such sexualized violence. Even though the code treats all the NPCs equally when it comes to violence, the result is unequal because of what kinds of NPCs exist.

Another example of a great female enemy: an Asari Commando from Mass Effect. (Pictured: A blue alien woman from the waist up, wearing black futuristic armor and looking down the sights of a futuristic assault rifle.)

Another example of a great female enemy: an Asari Commando from Mass Effect. (Pictured: A blue alien woman from the waist up, wearing black futuristic armor and looking down the sights of a futuristic assault rifle.)

In his God of War 3 review, Justin McElroy distinguishes between fighting female enemies and killing sexualized female NPCs:

More problematic for God of War III is that much of the “collateral damage” I referred to manifests as an unsettling streak of violence against women. Not just violence against women, but against (human) women that have been sexualized and made to appear defenseless. This thread may have been present in the previous entries in the series, but, for me, it was especially notable this time around. I’ve killed countless e-people, in all manner of disturbing ways, so I can’t condemn God of War III too harshly, but there were times when I was nauseated enough by Kratos’ actions that I was momentarily distracted from having fun. Maybe this is Santa Monica Studio’s intention, but if there is a “lesson” here, I certainly didn’t get it.

Here, it’s only female enemies that are portrayed as helpless and sexualized, conflating sex and violence similarly to the gross MGS4 photoshoot mode. If the female enemies were treated the same as the male warriors in the game, it probably wouldn’t have had that same nauseating effect, and likely wouldn’t be sexist. Hopefully someone here can weigh in on this when God of War III comes out.

It’s fine to have female enemies even when playing as a male character, but they’d better be treated the same as male enemies. Preventing situations like the one Justin describes requires a more nuanced approach than simply disallowing women to ever serve as enemies in games. We don’t need your chivalry.

50 thoughts on “Feminism and Video Games 101: Shooting Female Enemies Isn’t Icky”

  1. One of the things I’ve noticed over my years of gaming is not just a lack of female enemies, but female villains-I.E. main antagonists.

    Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft and Darth Traya from KOTOR II are the two biggest standouts I can think of, but I can’t remember too many others outside the MGS ones you mentioned.

      1. I could have named a few more female villains if I knew about that thread…

        GLadOS (Portal)
        SHODAN (System Shock 2)
        Marjorly (Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure)
        Lady Windy (Suikoden)
        Dahlia Hawthorne (Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations)
        Myria (Breath of Fire 3)

        1. Ultimercia/Edea from Final Fantasy VIII.
          Altima from Final Fantasy Tactics (though, this could be debatable).
          Mother Brain in Metroid.
          Eve from Parasite Eve.
          Bunch of female antagonists in the Silent Hill games, aren’t there?

          The lame part of course being that these antagonists tend to have a mother-gone-bad overtone to them, as if that’s the only reason to use a female villian. Just once, a woman who is awesomely bad on her own and not because teh babiez/lack thereof made her crazy would be nice.

          1. Hi grapesoda, please don’t use “lame” as a synonym for “bad,” as it is considered ableist language, and, in an effort to maintain as safe a space as feasible, our discussion policy forbids ableist language. Thanks.

  2. Excellent article and good explanation on how chivalry isn’t as respectful and beneficial towards women as some believe.

    When the author mentioned sexualized violence, one of the first things that came to mind are the twitchy nurse characters from the Silent Hill games. The presence of many female-faced opponents made perfect sense in Silent Hill 2 where the protagonist’s mixed up feelings about his dead wife led him to Silent Hill in the first place.

    Since then, though, the same busty leggy models keep appearing in later games where they make no sense. Out of context, “nurse” came across as a stereotyped icon for “woman” in the later games. I felt queasy smashing up these human-looking women in skirts and high-heels, and cleavage-revealing uniforms, when most of the other monsters I attacked look completely nonhuman.

    1. I’ve heard so many interesting things about Silent Hill 1 & 2, it’s a shame I have to choose between playing them and ever sleeping again xD

      It’s a shame they continued using the nurses out of context. I guess they’ve become iconic to the series and that was more important than story message.

  3. An interesting and well argued article, the vast majority of which I agree with. I have a couple of points I would like to express moreso to hear the opinions on them than because of any firm belief of my own.

    The first relates to the sexualisation of the few female NPCs that actually make it into games. While this is certainly an issue when females are sexualised in explotative ways (I was unaware of te photoshood mode in MGS4, and am now quite dissapointed to learn of it), could it be argued that while the vast majority of woman in games tend to be the generic male-focused concept of ‘sexy’, the vast majority of male characters, also, are generic (still male-focused) concepts of handsome and good-looking. Just as some female characters aren’t nearly as muscular as they would be in real life, neither is Nathan Drake or Raiden. I know that this doesn’t relate specifically to what the arguement is saying, but it is something I am curious to hear opinions on.

    My second thought that I wante dto comment on is the reference to Grand Theft Auto IV. Firstly, I acknowledge that my admiration for this game makes me quite defensive. However, I cringe each time I hear the “you can have sex with prostitutes and then kill them to get your money back” arguement. I think this is misleading and is the kind of arguement used by zealous anti-gaming family groups. Yes, you can have sex with prostitutes and yes, you can kill npcs and potentially steal money (if they actually drop any), but I do not believe you can combine these two possible game actions into te one evil-sounding “have sex with AND kill prostitues”. There is no “Press X to have sex with and kill this prostitue” action. THere is the “have sex with prostitue” action, and there is the “kill npc” action. Yes, it is possible to interact with the same npc with both of these actions, but i think combining the two as one action is misleading and unfair.

    As for GTAIV not having male prostitutes. I think, yes, it should have them (though their notable existence should be in line with how noticable they are in real life to a heterosexual middle-age man who is the perspective we see Liberty City through), but you should not be able to sleep with them simply because it would be contradicting the fiction. Niko would not sleep with male prostitues, so it wouldnt make sense.

    In a game like, say, Oblivion or Fallout, though, where the character’s alignments more closely reflect the player, the player certainly should be able to choose if they sleep with males or females. Fable II is a great example of this, actually.

    That said, a female protagonist is long overdue in the Grand Theft Auto series, and their are few strong female characters at all (Elizabetha being a rare exception, IMO). It was also disapointing that THe Ballad of Gay Tony did not actually allow you to play a gay character, but that is a side point.

    So I certainly agree with this entire post on principle, but those are my two-cents on a few of the finer points.

    1. Oh, and sorry for posting again, but I totally forgot that this relates to a random idea I had this morning!

      Just as Mass Effect can generate either a male or female Sheppard, wouldn’t it be interesting if a game could randomly decide if any given character was male or female and play the voices and show the models for that character? Certainly, this would have limitations, but I think it wouldbe more than possible fora few characters in any given game. Perhaps a major antagonist or a close friend to the protagonist. If they can do it for playable characters, doing it for NPCs should not be difficult.

    2. it be argued that while the vast majority of woman in games tend to be the generic male-focused concept of ’sexy’, the vast majority of male characters, also, are generic (still male-focused) concepts of handsome and good-looking

      Addressing this argument in full requires a lot more link gathering than I am inclined to do, but I will gently suggest that you do a little research on the subject of the “male gaze” in order to understand why the sexual objectification of women is not the same thing as or comparable to handsome and/or muscular men in video games.

      Yes, it is possible to interact with the same npc with both of these actions, but i think combining the two as one action is misleading and unfair.

      If it is indeed possible to combine these two actions in-game, why is it then “unfair” to criticize the fact that the game was designed to allow such a combination? And it’s not even a criticism to simply acknowledge the fact that in GTA, you as the player character can have sex with and then kill prostitutes. I can steal a car in GTA and then use it to run over innocent pedestrians. Do you find it unfair of me to make such a statement regarding GTA? Am I misleading anyone or unfairly characterizing the gameplay in GTA by talking about the possiblity of executing these two actions in tandem?

      1. Reply to point about sexual objectification of women:

        I entirely understand that objectifying women in games is not the same as playing a handsome male. I think what I was trying to say is that I believe there is nothing wrong with a female character being “good-looking” in and of itself because it is rare to find any character that is not so. When this “good-looking” factor is exploited (like, for example, Madison in Heavy Rain), that is objectification and obviously a bad thing. However, the female characters of Uncharted 2 could be considered sexy, and one of them even uses that sexiness to often seduce the male characters into doing what she wants, yet I do not feel that these female characters are objectified but rather are just typically handsome as is every character in the game.

        I was not disagreeing with any of the examples given in this article, nor was I disagreeing that, unfortunately, more games objectify women than don’t. However, it is possible for females to be attractive in games without being objectified, even if this only happens the minority of the time. I think that is all I was getting at.

        As for the point about GTAIV:

        My problem with people saying “you can have sex with prostitues and then kill them for your money back” is that that is an interpretation of the mechanics of the game. Just as it would be in interpretation to say You can kill a man in Algonquin and then drive to Dukes and kill his wife. That example would require the player to interpret the female npc in dukes as the husband of the npc in Algonquin. Certainly, it is a way the player couldinterpret the game, but it requires extra input from the player’s imagination. Now this is an extreme example, but I am using it just to prove what I am trying to say. By my understanding (and certainly I may be wrong), if you kill a prostitute in GTA4 after having sex with them, there is no guarantee that they will drop an amount of money equal to or greater than the money you pay them. In fact, there is a chance they will drop no money at all. If they do drop an amount of money that just so happens to equal the amount handed to them by the player, the player still has to interpret, wit their own imagination, that that money is the same money that they gave the player. Yes, I know, this sounds like nitpicking over semantics, but it is the implication that you can kill the prostitue to “get your money back” that I have such a problem with.

        Yes, the game allows you to kill npcs and sometimes receive money. And yes, the game allows you to have sex with prostitutes. It is certain players who decide to do one action after the other and then apply their own meaning that they “got their money back”. I think it is unfair to blame the game designers because certain players make decide to take meaning out of the “combination” of these two actions.

        However, if it is a fact that indeed it is coded into GTA4 that a prostitute will drop the amount you pay them if you kill them after sex, then I retract this entire argument, because then that would imply that Rockstar intended for these two acts to be combined, and that is not cool.

        So no, I am not well read enough to be making the first argument about handsome men/sexy women, but I was just throwing it out their for opinions. But I feel quite strongly about the GTA thing.

        1. Yes, you get whatever money the NPC is carrying, plus the amount you paid her.

          And really, I don’t care whether the devs “intended” people to be able to kill prostitutes after hiring them. It still happens, it’s still a big part of the game for many people, and it’s still fucked up.

          1. Okay. Well I am not going to continue this argument as I was nitpicking at a single example from an article which I otherwise entirely agree with. But just to be clear, I certainly do not condone people playing GTA4 in this manner, if it truly is as big a part of the game for many people as you claim. Apologies if my comments implied differenty.

            And now I shall let this rest as the argument this article makes is still important and appropriate and something I fullheartedly agree with.

        2. With regards to the objectification of women point, thanks for clarifying. Definitely, yes, I agree: women can be conventionally attractive in games without being objectified and the Uncharted series is a good example. There’s actually a post here about Elena and Chloe were.

          RE GTA: I was not aware that the cash drop was as random as you suggest, so I do see the point that you’re making better. That said, at this point I don’t think this element of GTA is solely up to each individual’s interpretation. The fact that it is possible to kill prostitutes that you hired and get cash drops from them afterward is something that has been highly publicized since GTA III. Whether Rockstar initially intended that to be a result of their design or not, there is just no way that they are not aware of the way these two gameplay elements have become tied together both in game, and out of game in the series’ reputation. That the gurrent gen of GTA games still allows you to murder the prostitutes that you’ve previously hired and then get a cash drop (no matter how the random the amount of the drop) is happening by design, not by accident. Unless Rockstar has made some sort of statement condemning this interpretation (they haven’t that I know of, but I’d love to know if they have)…but even then, the continued presence of this element of the game says to me that Rockstar approves of this interpretation.


  4. Richard Naik:

    Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft and Darth Traya from KOTOR II are the two biggest standouts I can think of, but I can’t remember too many others outside the MGS ones you mentioned.

    Kerrigan might be an antagonist but isn’t she sexualized in the process? Women are represented poorly in this Blizzard series (and Blizzard in general perhaps? I’ve seen plenty of articles on the representation of women in WoW), single player and multiplayer.

    The only female leader of the protoss in the game, Raszagal, and the extremely few units available in multiplayer are also sexualized and/or treated with chivalry – like the ‘dropship’ unit. Why aren’t there any female protoss pilots? female ‘ghosts’? etc etc

    I brought this up on the Stacraft II forums and immediately realized the mistake I made. I’ve yet to take a gender studies class or race class…one of the reasons I’m on this site.

    1. I often cringe when people say Kerrigan is an ideal type of woman “we” want to see. She’s OVERLY sexualized, and now fits into the ‘succubus’ type of woman. The deadly and sexy.

      I wouldn’t say ANY woman from Blizzard is a good example really.

  5. Chivalry as a social construct can leads to sexism and as such certainly can be crticizied, but as an individual choice in democratic and liberal society..i don’t know…

    1. Chivalry is always bad, but many people confuse chivalry with basic politeness. Of course, all people should be polite to each other as much as possible, it’s when it becomes gendered that there’s a problem. There’s a big difference between basic courtesy and chivalry. (Is this what you’re talking about?)

      1. In this context i’m talking about a quote: “I have no qualms about dumping round after round into a dude’s face made of pixels. I do have an issue with doing the same to, even, a virtual female. I wouldn’t feel right about that. I just wouldn’t.” – of course using this as an argument against including female models in BF:BD2 is obviously flawed and invalid,but as a matter of personal preference about not shooting women ,man or green blobs in video games for whatever reason , who i am to say otherwise.

        1. Um, okay, I guess? My problem is chivalry stems from sexist thinking, and if someone holds sexist ideas, then somewhere down the line that’s going to hurt women.

    2. Laurentius, do you mean that personal decisions ought not to be criticized? I think you might be relying on the idea that society ought to be concerned with “the Right” and can legislate on that, but that individuals should be free to pursue their own idea of “the Good.” This idea has a strong history in liberal political philosophy dating back at least to Kant, and Rawls’ theory of justice invokes it quite explicitly. Is that the kind of view you are relying on in this comment?

      If so, it is important to notice that (even staying within the liberal framework) there is a big difference between criticizing and legislating. JS Mill, for example, thinks that the justification for free speech is our ability to criticize what is said and thereby come to the best ideas. Mill thinks that we should not make expression of any kind illegal, but he also thinks we have a strong obligation to criticize that expression.

      I think something similar could be said here. No one is talking about making chivalry illegal, but that does not mean we have no right to criticize chivalry (even if it is a personal choice). So long as we are not agents of the state we are even free to actively discourage chivalrous behavior.

      I think there are also reasons to be skeptical of the liberal division between the public and the private, but I won’t get into that.

      1. I think that even though in liberal an democratic society we have a right, and we can openly criticizie others peoples: opinions,preference, lifestyles, tastes etc., this should not be taken as a main interpersonal activity, especially when it imo comes close into “looking into others people heads” with alwayes handy false consciousness and “guilty until proven innocent” instruments, as for me this has totalitarian streak in it, and quickly leads to polarization and ceasing the dialogue.

        1. This seems to me to be an entirely unfair reading of this post. Your reading is conflating “what you did/said was sexist/racist” with “you are racist/sexist.” See illdoctrine for further explanation. Alex is not advocating “thought police.” Instead the post is pointing out why some actions and behaviors that are often thought to benefit women are actually sexist.

          Alex never says that the people who hold these views intend to be sexist. Alex does not impute motives to the persons involved at all. Instead Alex points out why these views are sexist. This information could be helpful for those who do not wish to be sexist, and may not be aware that such things are sexist to be alerted to the fact that they are sexist. None of this involves “looking into other people’s heads.”

          It is not at all totalitarian because Alex is not an agent of the state with the power to censor individuals or companies. Nor is Alex forcing anyone to change their views. Alex is merely pointing out why x is sexist and leaving it up to the individual to decide what to do with that information. Alex is engaging in exactly the kind of dialogue Mill envisioned as a justification for free speech in the first place.

          1. Now this is confusing, now in comment #18 i thought i was asked a question so i answered to it in comment #19, this answer was not really conected to Alex’s post but to your question. My comments to Alex’s post are #14 and #16.

    3. Okay, I’m a little late to the party but I don’t know where this is coming from.

      Alex is commenting on how the idea of Chivalry is bad because it fits within the paradigm of sexist attitudes even though it’s pushed as a wonderful thing, it is still a sexist attitude. If someone feels that this is their choice, that they choose to ‘live chivalrously’ — or however you want to spell it — then they are choosing to live within a sexist paradigm and they should be called out on it.

      1. “If someone feels that this is their choice, that they choose to ‘live chivalrously’ — or however you want to spell it — then they are choosing to live within a sexist paradigm and they should be called out on it.”
        “My problem is chivalry stems from sexist thinking, and if someone holds sexist ideas, then somewhere down the line that’s going to hurt women. ”
        I just disagree with this statments and i already posted why in #19.

        1. The idea that calling out sexism is totalitarian isn’t going to fly at this blog. And if you don’t think criticizing sexism is a good thing, I have to wonder why you’re even here.

          1. Whoa, that’s not what i have written. Criticizing sexsim is one thing, looking into people heads to see what they are guilty of is the other,especially with so elusive proof like “somewhere down the line “. I belive in dialogue, not in confrontation, i belive that delicacy in interpersonal contacts is better then thumping right over worng, that being right does not automaticly means that others are wrong, that if someone has to win, that others have to loose. And especially I don’t belive that goal justify the means.
            In this particular parts of post i was refering in my comments i saw less critique of sexist social construct “chivalry”, but rather grounds for social confrontation. I do take into consideration that i may be wrong on this.

            1. Prolly just a bit. Chivalry as a concept is sexist, you can’t get away from that regardless of how much people might like to. If someone goes, “I’m doing this because it’s chivalrous” then they’re acting in a sexist manner.

              No one is trying to be the thought police. However, if you profess to acting in this manner then calling that out is what we should be doing because we’ve all heard the “But that’s not my intent” argument umpteen million times.

  6. Hey, Alex, fantastic post. It’s amazing how I always seem to agree with you. Treating women differently because they’re women is sexist, I always try to explain this to me my friends, they never understand!

    About female enemies, I definately recommend you check No More Heroes. It has lots of female enemies. You play as a guy and he has some different reactions to each girl he must defeat. I don’t remember rolling my eyes at this game, thought it treated women quite nicely in comparison to what we’re used to expect.

    1. One of my favorite characters in that game is Holly Summers, one of the bosses early in the game.
      I wouldn’t say I never rolled my eyes during the game, though I like it a lot there was a lot of objectification coming from Travis’ point of view and his actions towards Sylvia especially (and sadly got turned up to eleven in the sequel from what I’ve seen in video clips) it still had a large female cast some of whom were sexualized more then others

      1. I love Holly Summers too!

        I thought Travis was Sylvia’s plaything. I really liked the story of the game, it has so many levels of interpretation. I don’t really know what to think of Sylvia, but I did like her, I liked her mysteriousness. I guess I need to play it again and again (I already beat the game twice).

        Sometimes she did appear over sexualized, but I think in this game it has to do more with a part she plays to get new people to try to be the number 1 assassin. The scenes with her in the shower and thing had to do, for me, with Travis’s imagination of Sylvia’s personality (we play as Travis anyway). I mean to say that Travis fantasises about Sylvia being more sensual than she really is and we see his fantasies in cutscenes. Am I reading too much into it?

        I haven’t played the new No More Heroes, maybe that will answer some questions. I thought the idea of Sylvia speaking through the Wii Remote was genious, it really helped me get into the story, as if I was Travis. I felt a lot like Travis. He’s young and doesn’t know what to do with his life.

        1. I’m pretty sure that No More Heroes is, in a lot of ways, an indictment of the “traditional” white, heterosexual male videogamer, and as such, its treatment of women utilizes (especially in the second game) the male gaze as a means of critical analysis. There are plenty of other levels of analysis too that don’t deal with this aspect of gaming as much, but NMH and NMH2 are definitely seriously brilliant games.

  7. Another great post Alex. Very interesting, and I agree with you that chivalry is just sexism dressed up in shiny armor. I also agree that there is a big difference between politeness and chivalry and one of the big differences is the gendered nature of the latter but not the former.

    One further thing about chivalry is that it is often done “for our own good” without consulting us about what we think is in our interests (an this is infantalizing). In the post you point this out quite nicely because it is a male player who is objecting for chivalrous reasons, while female players are suggesting we do not find this kind of “protection” to be of use to us, or to be desirable.

    I have one question, though. There is this one sentence that I am not sure how to read.
    “The bottom line is, when women are treated differently simply because they are women–whether by treating them as inferior or putting them on a pedestal–it’s sexist.”

    Does this mean “when women are treated as inferiors, or put on a pedestal, simply because they are women, it’s sexist” or does this mean “when women are treated differently simply because they are women it’s sexist, two examples of differential treatment are treating them as inferior or putting them on a pedestal.”

    I wonder because while I agree with the first, I disagree with the second. I think it is true that treating women as inferiors or putting us on a pedestal is sexist treatment. But sometimes, treating women differently is not sexist (even if it is because we are women). For example, allowing women maternity leave is treating women differently because they are women, but I don’t think it is sexist. (Of course, it is even better when countries have parental leave that is available to men and women, but given the paltry maternity leave in the USA that seems a lot to hope for.)

    I think there are many other examples where differential treatment for women is not sexist. And there is a lot of debate in feminist theory about whether ‘sameness’ or ‘difference’ is the way to go, and each has advantages and disadvantages. More recently in feminist theory, feminists have begun to point out that one problem in both cases is that the male is still the standard no matter which way you go.

    Anyhow, excellent post. I was just wondering about that one line, and whether it was meant to be a strong statement about differential treatment, or whether the emphasis was on those two particular forms of differential treatment.

    1. Yes, I meant it the first way. Sloppy language on my part. Thank you for pointing that out and explaining the difference so thoroughly!

  8. A very good article Alex. Especially the conection between oversexualized female NPCs and violence.

    To be fair, i think many games already treads this issue very good. In many games you can shot,stab and beat up female zombies, villans, hench(wo)men, mercanries and aliens without giving the game the taste of sexual violence.

    Even sexist games like Soulcalibur 4 are aware of this problem and avoiding the “icky” feeling by removing any gore or extreme violence.

    I think the problem is if there a oversexual enemies and more or less extreme violence or gore. then the whole game as immediately the taste of rape and sexual violence.

    For example i always found the Mortal Combat series very disturbing because of the female “Bikini-Battlesuit” oppenents which will die in extreme fatalty moves ad the end of the match.

    1. Mantheos, your reaction to this post appears to be defensive, as if you believe this post was written with the intention of calling you out. Frankly, this is self-centred, off-topic, and trolling. This post is not about you, so please don’t make it about yourself.

      Secondly, yes, chivalry is sexist. It falls under the category of benevolent sexism. Please read this post (and the accompanying linked content) and this post for some information about that.

      I would advise you to read the posts in the resources page and continue to educate yourself before commenting. You’re obviously ignorant of the fact that chivalry is sexist, and as a consequence you left a defensive, trolling, and ignorant comment. You have shown some willingness to educate yourself, so this is just a small reminder that we would appreciate if you continue to do self-educate, rather than forcing us to spend the time and energy to respond to your concern trolling.

      This is your only warning on this thread. If you continue in this vein, your comments will be removed.

      Thank you.

    2. Why does it have to be an “either/or” choice of the dominant party’s choosing? Both of which tend to be utter crap.

      -Ani8

    3. It might seem that I’m going to parrot Brinstar, but Brinstar was awesome and gave you outside links. I’m going to point out things in the post and the thread that you may not have noticed with this knee jerk reaction.

      The first point is that Alex gives a pretty succinct description of chivalry.

      Chivalry, as most of our readers likely know, is sexist. It is based, as Holly Green said, on the idea that women are weak and need a man to protect them.

      There’s also an elaboration in Alex’s comments where it is stated that:

      Chivalry is always bad, but many people confuse chivalry with basic politeness.

      and

      My problem is chivalry stems from sexist thinking, and if someone holds sexist ideas, then somewhere down the line that’s going to hurt women.

      Having established if you read the thread rather than just reacting to the words “chivalry” and “bad” we can continue having a conversation.

  9. This may be a dissenting opinion, but I’m a bit disturbed by killing “grunts” in games whether they’re men or women. I think it normalizes that military rank-and-file (the characters we’d cast as NPCs) are simple and disposable. I think to an extent it normalizes casualties of war. In real life, I don’t know that including women (or queer folks) within the body of disposable soldiers is really something I want to celebrate.

    Of course, I still play games with delight, so I’m living in contradiction.

    1. That is a good point. This post kind of takes for granted that mowing down faceless enemies doesn’t have any issues to begin with, which is totally not true!

    2. I agree, to be disgusted by violence and blind military obedience in real life and enjoying this stuff in games is a bit absurd.

      Problem is that a good action game needs a lot of opponents. And you cant fight robots,zombies and aliens all your life.

      What i like is that some military shooters changes the factions during the story. Fight against North Korea first, then fight the evil aliens together. Or your commanding officer sends you from suicide mission to suicide mission and in the end you find out that he staged the whole terrorist threat you where fighting. etc etc

      To make this short, mowing down faceless enemies is maybe even more fun if you fell bad about it afterward. ;)

  10. Sorry about that. I have gotten crap (well, you know what I mean) before from women for opening the door for them or other actions that I viewed as simply being polite, so I guess that’s where my knee-jerk reaction came from.

    Now that my knee is down, I would like to ask: How should one behave? Is there a happy medium between politeness and benevolent sexism? Some men are polite to women because they want to be, not because society’s protocols demand it.

    You may be surprised to hear this, but I have no problem killing a female enemy in videogames. If they are trying to kill my character, I have no problem returning the favor. If I had to guess, then I think some male gamers have an aversion to killing female enemies because they (either consciously or sub-consciously) do not like killing someone they are/could be attracted to. Just as there are certain images (e.g. Swastika) that make people cringe, the image of killing a female enemy a videogame might make a male gamer cringe. Just a thought.

    1. I’d guess that the happy medium would be extending the same courtesies to other guys as you would to women. It’s not sexist if you treat both genders the same, and holding the door open for someone is a nice thing to do in general.

      The idea that people might have an aversion to killing characters who they’re attracted to is an interesting one, but I’m not sure how well it works with generic enemies. From my perspective as a girl, at least, there’s nothing the slightest bit attractive in any of the male enemies that are used as cannon fodder (even though the more important baddies sometimes do spark that kind of reaction). Then again, that might point to a different issue about the way female enemies tend to appear.

      1. I think there are two additional problems here besides chivalry

        A) gamers who don’t take female enemies serious at all, and then they have a of course a strange feeling about killing them. probably the same kind of people who don’t take female cops or soldiers serious .

        B) obviously the issue of attractive enemies + violence.

        Violence as entertainment is (sort of) excepted in general. Very attractive people too. The problem is when both topics are mixed. Many action movies ship around this topic. The evil “sexy” female villain usually dies in a explosion while the male not oversexed counterpart is typical gunned down or beaten to dead, because sexual themed violence is normally not really excepted by the public.

        Some video games have the problem that they want to have gore and they want “babes” as enemies. And this is for most people disturbing, i think.

    2. Chivalry is not politeness. I’ve already given a brief explanation why in the comments above, so if you still need help on that, please use Google.

      As for how to treat people. There are no real rules. Do your best, and if you fuck up, apologize. When in doubt, ask. That’s all. Not only is everyone different, but people go through different moods throughout a day or even a minute, so how they want to be treated will change. And finding out how a person wants to be treated is part of getting to know them. There’s no rules to follow that will prevent you from ever offending someone or making them angry. It’s a learning process.

      Although not posting your knee-jerk reaction on a feminist blog that is supposed to be a safe space is a good place to start.

  11. A bit late to comment on this (to say the least) but whatevs.

    I do think it’s odd to find shooting enemies who happen to be women in a game that’s all about shooting enemies to be uncomfortable. I mean, really, if one doesn’t have a problem shooting men with guns then I can’t see a good reason for them to suddenly have a problem with women with the same setup.

    But like you said in the article, it gets massively iffy when you get hyper sexualized male-gaze-riffic female enemies who you’re expected to be sexually attracted to while you’re killing them. And yeah, it *can* be used to intentionally disturb the player, but more often than not it’s just the standard archetypal straight male oriented character design pervading the game resulting in extra squick.

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