The women of Super Street Fighter 4

I recently picked up a copy of Street Fighter IV in the Steam sale. I’ve not played the Street Fighter series since SF2, when I used to go to my friends’ houses and play it on the SNES. It was early days as a gamer for me, but I still remember thinking something was not quite right about the gender in Street Figher. SF2 had a grand total of one female character out of the eight (Chun-Li) who’s now seen as something of a design classic. Over the years Capcom have put in a few more women, but it’s still a minority.

There’s a lot of fan art out there, so I’ve taken the official promo pictures from the Street Fighter 4 website. Here’s the current women in the game.

Crimson Viper

C. Viper is a new character. She’s a CIA operative – hence the suit. Almost all the Street Fighter women themes are here – she uses mostly kicks, has huge breasts and isn’t really doing anything in her picture. She’s also very small and while obviously very fit, isn’t what you’d describe as a credible bare knuckle fighter. She’s an undercover agent.

A woman in a suit with a very low cut blouse and large breasts. She is wearing yellow shades and has a city backdrop.

Cammy

Cammy is an American soldier. She used to be the love interest of the main baddy (M. Bison). She’s probably the most extreme when it comes to just not wearing anything. Her physique is highly unlikely – she’s got pretty muscular legs but not really any biceps. She’s very typically feminine, with very long, blonde hair.

An American woman with long ponytails. She is wearing a leotard and boots, and holding a whip. The photo is from behind and gives you a full view of naked bum.

Chun Li

This is the original Street Fighter woman. Again, she’s known pretty well for not wearing anything. Most of her moves are using kicks and to show off her legs. She’s very lithe and like Cammy has huge legs, bum on display and non-existent biceps. Presuambly the dragon in the background is if you can’t guess her ethnic background. According to Wikipedia: “Her name in Mandarin is (chūn 春 “Spring”, lì 麗 “beautiful”), meaning that she is a single young girl filled with the beauty of spring.”

A Chinese woman in a revelaing gown. She in standing in such a way you can see her unclothed legs and bum.

Juri

Juri is the token woman who fights for the baddies. Strangely enough she has fully clothed legs and a top that’s basically a rectangle with straps on it. She also is the only women with sensible sized (for a fighter) breasts, and this is the only photo where one of the characters is attacking. Maybe baddies have their breasts out and goodies have their legs out? Case in point Crimson Viper – she’s an undercover agent so has her breasts not legs out. Coincidence?

A woman is taking a kick at the camera. She is wearing trousers and a non-existent top.

Sakura

This character seems to me the very typical Japanese sexualized schoolgirl. I can’t say for sure but I’m pretty sure nobody dresses like that to school in Japan! I presume the reason she’s so relatively modestly clothed is due to her age.

A Japanese schoolgirl in a miniskirt and blouse. She's drinking from a bottle.

Makoto

This is the only character that’s not immediately identifiable as female – presumably she’s pre-pubescant and hence properly dressed too!

A schoolgirl wearing a white gi with a black belt.

Rose

Rose again has the physique we’re used to now – huge breasts and non existent muscles. Shes holding cards – I’ve not played her, but I’m presuming she relies on tricks and finesse to score hits.

A mystic-looking woman in a purple body suit and yellow scarf.

I don’t really have a conclusion here. I find it interesting that out of the 8 characters, they’re all so similar. Only one is evil, and one is passing as evil. Generally none of them are in it to fight, they’re there for some other plot reason, unlike the men who generally just want to prove they’re the best. They’re all kind of unlikely as fighters – there’s no overweight women (like Rufus) or ludicrously beefy women (like Zangief), no Black or Eastern European women – they’re all Western or Asian. There’s no women boxers or wrestlers – they all rely on kicks, punches and tricks. They all shave their legs and arms (!) and bear no scars or wounds.

Obviously I could go on here about all-male design teams designing for male target markets and so on, but I just though it was interesting to see these pictures and roles side by side as examples of how women’s bodies are policed and regulated in computer games. Almost all the bodies in Street Fighter are somewhat unrealistic, but the women’s bodies all seem unrealistic in the same way (save Makoto).

About kimadactyl

Kim has been involved in genderqueer activism since 2003 or so when they finally found there were other weirdos like them. In the last few years they have been thinking a lot about race, disability and gender from the perspective of privilege (being themselves white, middle class and well educated). As a gamer it didn't take long to start getting really upset about the blatant and unapologetic homophobia, sexism, transphobia and racism in gaming. Kim is studying for a PhD in acoustic aspects of gender identity, and runs various Queer events in Manchester, England. Kim is also a website developer, working with Drupal; you can see their slightly out of date portfolio at alliscalm.net, or follow them on twitter as @kimadactl.
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16 Responses to The women of Super Street Fighter 4

  1. Lake Desire says:

    Didn’t Cammy used to be British, or was that just in the movie?

  2. Marshall says:

    Yeah I’m pretty sure she’s from England or something. Granted I haven’t played for about a decade or something, but still.

  3. Jayle Enn says:

    I am really, deeply afraid of asking what the heck Ms Viper’s tie is made of. It looks -wet-, and kind of like the Venom symbiote from Marvel comics.

  4. Bel says:

    I actually always appreciated that Street Fighter women look… well, substantial, like they’ve got muscle on them. It is not, at the very least, waif fu.

    Anyway, I’m irrationally fond of Crimson Viper and her ridiculous pompadour and kazuya eyebrows.

  5. rho says:

    Interesting post. That Street Fighter’s characterisations are a little off ( to put it nicely) is not exactly news, it’s really eye-opening to see the female characters collated like this to see just how incredibly similar they are. It makes it feel as if they wanted to have more women, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t go to the trouble of designing them

    Of course, given that this is the series that gives us the Brazilian savage, the Indian mystic and the stereotyped native American, I’m hardly surprised at their laziness in character design.

    (Also, off topic, but I see in your “about the author” blurb that you’re from my part of the world (I’m up in Lancaster). This excites me more than it should.)

  6. Nezumi says:

    … Just because I can’t stop myself from correcting this: Cammy was never Bison’s love interest. Capcom US made that up for the initial US release to cover up the reference to murder — Vega (the Japanese name for Bison) had originally said she used to kill for him, and Capcom was, at the time, hesitant to include references to non-evil characters killing people — this is also why the non-evil, but murderous Gouki was reworked into the evil Akuma for the US.

    Oh, and, incidentally, Bison/Vega’s claim that she killed for him was actually true… but he conveniently left out that she was a mind-controlled servant at the time.

  7. Amanda Lange says:

    Rose is from Italy. Cammy is British. Makoto is mostly just fighting to prove her style is best.

    I understand that this isn’t a researched opinion, just more a first-impression thing from a non-fan, but the series also does have an African woman (Elena) and a female wrestler (R. Mika) though the latter does have large breasts and the former fights with kicks.

    The Street Fighter characters are colorful and fun. They’re a little stereotypical, sure. What I’m wondering is what it would it look like “done right”? Without losing that sense of color and fun? Because to me, as a young woman when SF2 came out, seeing Chun Li hold her own against men in a fighting game was inspiring, not shameful.

  8. Robert Yang says:

    Cammy and Chun Li have huge legs because both characters favor kicking attacks — yeah, it somewhat sexualizes them, but at least they don’t have droopy eyelids / there is a design rationale behind their legs.

    And I agree with the previous poster; Chun Li is an icon of female empowerment more than anything. She’s been in almost every Capcom fighting game, she’s fairly popular in competitive play — and her costume design emphasizes huge, covered shoulders. How “unwomanly.”

    Again, her legs are sexualized, but I don’t think she’s objectified / hypersexualized in the way that so many of the other characters are.

  9. kimadactyl says:

    Thanks for all the corrections. I used Wikipedia for a lot of the data, and quite surprisingly (to me) it seems to be incorrect. I’ll go through and update this later.

    @Amanda Lange – yeah I totally missed SF3 series – got a little overwhelmed with SF4!

    I really don’t want this to sound like I’m having a go at any of the individual fighters – I too used to love Chun Li (mostly because her special move was mashing kick). The reason I put them together was to show how similar and hyperfeminised the body shapes are. The men get everything from Dhalsim to Rufus – it’s a huge difference in shapes. The women are all barbie doll shaped and smaller than the men (apart from possibly Dhalsim). This is a reinforcement of the frailty myth (http://www.amazon.com/Frailty-Myth-Redefining-Physical-Potential/dp/0375758151), and I am just a little concerned about what message it sends out about body shape.

    @rho – that’s cool! i’ll email you tomorrow and we can compare notes :)

  10. KeijiDash says:

    Long time lurker, first time commenter here so this might be a little rough.

    Looking at the original outfits, I wish the devs would have went with some of their alternate outfits as the default in these promo pics especially for Chun-Li and Sakura. For example, Sakura has another outfit with a gi over what looks like a P.E. uniform where she’s depicted as someone who actually HAS been in fights before with all her battle scars, scrapes and an actual tan. Though the fact they still have Sakura wear some of this stuff when her character is hovering somewhere in her late-teens/early 20s is unsettling.

    As someone who has played this game far too much over the years, I sometimes had a feeling I had to take what I could get as far as Black female characters went. It’s at the point now where an unfunny amongst me and my friends is that Crimson Viper is obviously what Capcom intends to be a more Western Token Black Female in the game once we consider her skin color, her somewhat duplicitous nature, the (awesome) snake-pompadour and the fact she’s actually a single mother.

    In a game that gives us about every stereotype under the sun, we just couldn’t put it past them. Especially when we found out Juri is the Token Evil Female character and just so happens to be the only Korean.

  11. 12Sided says:

    I always kinda liked Viper despite her oddly tailored shirt. She gave me the first impression of a female Reno but with more toughness and strength in her demeanour XD

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v280/ReiSilver/reno.jpg

  12. Skye says:

    That’s what’s so sad about the depiction of women in games as well as comics, movies etc. Where’s the diversity of body types that the men get (more of)? Where are the big bruiser women?

  13. Re: Sakura:

    “I presume the reason she’s so relatively modestly clothed is due to her age.”

    Well, previous Street Fighter games have had no qualms about having her show her panties when she kicks, so yeah.

  14. Re: Sakura:

    “I presume the reason she’s so relatively modestly clothed is due to her age.”

    Well, previous Street Fighter games have had no qualms about having her show her panties when she kicks, so yeah.

  15. Nezumi says:

    To be technical, Sakura never showed her panties, but what the Japanese call a “bloomer” — a less revealing item of clothing that can be used for underwear or outerwear; they used to be common for girl’s PE uniforms, but although they’re rarely seen in real life anymore, they’re still common for such in anime and manga.

    Not sure if that actually makes a difference, but I tend to feel the need to correct things when I see them.

  16. Laurentius says:

    Ok, i played SF4 recently a little, imo your description of Chun-Li is a little amiss of what i saw in game. Sure, she has massive and very musculed legs for sure, but her arms muscles aren’t dfenietly non-existatnt. Ok, biceps are actually covered by her costume, but watching her animation, i see that her shoulders are broad and very well developed, and forearms muscels ? I would love to have them cut like that…

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