When Is It Sexist?: A Chart That Doesn’t Get It Quite Right

A picture chart titled "Is it Sexist?". In the first panel a fully armored man stands next to a statuesque woman posed awkwardly and wearing a very skimpy set of 'armor', next to the panel is a giant "Yes" to denote that this is sexist. In the second panel the fully armored man stands next to a simiarly dressed and posed woman, with a "No" to denote this is not sexist. In the last panel the skimply attired woman from the first panel returns with a man in a loin cloth, next to this panel is written "No" to indicate a lack of sexism.

A picture chart titled "Is it Sexist?". In the first panel a fully armored man stands next to a statuesque woman posed awkwardly and wearing a very skimpy set of 'armor', next to the panel is a giant "Yes" to denote that this is sexist. In the second panel the fully armored man stands next to a simiarly dressed and posed woman, with a "No" to denote this is not sexist. In the last panel the skimply attired woman from the first panel returns with a man in a loin cloth, next to this panel is written "No" to indicate a lack of sexism.

The following is a guest post by Zaewen:

Zaewen is a white, straight, cis woman and avid feminist gamer, with MMOs being her favorite genre. She has a degree in psychology, a Texas accent, and spends most of her free time playing games, reading blogs, and very occasionally doing some blogging herself. Zaewen hopes to one day get a PhD in awesomeness (or sociology) and do her best to help change the culture we live in.

I tweeted about this a little earlier, but there’s really only so much you can articulate in 140 characters or less and I’d really like to address what I find this chart to be lacking. There’s a lot to like about the picture as a handy reference for the inevitable Chainmail Bikini argument that crops up in the gaming community and it’s wittly done. The first and second set of characters are perfectly spot on. The first set is definitely sexist as all get out despite its heavy presence in the gaming industry (I’m looking at you Rift, Terra, WoW, etc.) and the second set is definitely one of the better, non-sexist ways to go about creating armored characters in the more realistic medieval fantasy settings (I <3  you Skyrim for mainly sticking to this path, but don’t think I didn’t see the Forsworn armor *glare*). The third set of characters are supposed to be the non-sexist way to have that high fantasy “we have magic barriers and don’t need no stinking armor, besides nudeliness is godliness” setting that game developers love to delve into. The problem I have with the picture, and with that whole mindset in general, is that the sexual objectification and sexiness aren’t equalized between the genders.

You see, clothing (or lack thereof) is not the end-all-be-all measure of sexual objectification. It’s the easiest, most apparent and tangible part to be sure, and therefor the aspect of objectification that is pointed to the most during these discussions, but there’s dozens of other things, both big and small that contribute to a character’s objectification. In this particular case, there are four distinct things that keep the sexualization unequal (and therefore sexist): pose, type of clothing worn, facial expression, and anatomy.

The third panel from the chart at a larger size. The woman is wearing a bikini outfit with high heeled boots and is posed sexily/awkwardly. The man next to her is wearing a loin cloth and is standing in a more natural position.

Spot the differences! Okay, not *those* differences, yeesh.

Let’s start with the foundation of these characters: their anatomy. There is no doubt about it, the man in this picture is very much idealized. He has a body that would only be attainable by a select few men in the real world through a combination of hard work and lucky genetics. The woman’s body, however, is not an idealized body, but a body that has been distorted out of normal proportions into a sexual object that approximates a hyper-real idea of what a ‘Sexy Woman’ looks like. Her body is not even physically possible for humans outside of some pretty radical surgery: she’s missing parts of her rib cage and her waist is smaller than her head. There is also something to be said for the fact that the woman’s breasts are very exaggerated but the man’s comparable feature (the ‘bulge’) is not. I mean, he’s big, but he’s not got balls that are each the size of his fist like the lady’s got boobs that are each the size of her head.

The next layer of foundation for these characters, their poses, is also unequal. The man is in a passive pose that suggests sexual objectification, but he’s also still standing at the ready. The only thing the woman appears to be ready for is knee pain and toppling over at the slightest breeze.

After we get past the posing, we come to the issue of clothing. Here, again, the man is somewhat objectified in that he’s not wearing much of anything at all, but the woman’s outfit far out strips (ha!) him in objectification. The man’s outfit, what little of it there is, still somewhat looks like actual armor with it’s studded belt, large shoulder guards, and normal boots. The woman’s outfit, on the other hand, has almost nothing approaching real armor outside of the shoulder guards, but does have components that would actively get in her way during combat or any sort of vigorous movement: high heeled boots, long hair that hangs loose in and around her face, and that strappy contraption trying to pass as a bra.

Last, but not least by a longshot, are the differing facial expressions on the man and woman. The man has got some vague bored/nonchalant/neutral expression on his face. The woman is in the middle of having a… really nice time. Mayhaps that’s why there is a face on her crotch. Magical panties indeed.

So in sum, yes, the man in this picture is being sexually objectified what with his lack of clothing, idealized body, and passive stance. However, the woman is far more objectified because her body has been distorted to non-human proportions, she is wearing very little clothing that also restricts her ability to be active, and has an overtly sexualized facial expression. These two characters are not equivalent in their sexual objectification, and so, unlike what the chart says, this pairing is actually sexist as well. Not anywhere near as sexist as the first picture to be sure, but it definitely does still have some lingering sexism in it.

Now this is not because the person who drew this chart is a horrible, wrongity-wrong, sexist person, but because, well, they’re human and living in this same effed up sexist culture we all are stuck in. Depicting a man that has been as sexually objectified as this guy is is a huge subversion of the dictates of the patriarchy. Its such a rare and taboo-ish sight to see sexualized men that we automatically take it as extreme sexualization when in reality, and compared to what is de rigueur for women, its really not. So I can’t really get mad at the artist for making the mistake, especially when all they were doing was attempting to give us a handy illustration of this subtle form of sexism. However, for the last panel of this chart to be true and for it to have greater impact, we would need to see the real equivalent to the sexually objectified woman. We would need to see a man in heels and a skimpy, flimsy loin cloth that lifts and separates his balls, posed  in an odd, unbalanced way that best shows off his impossibly tiny hips and waist and perfectly sculpted pecs while making a face better reserved for the bedroom than the battlefield. And ya know why we probably didn’t get to see that in the last panel? Because it would look freaking ridiculous, just like the woman already does. We’re just so used to ridiculously sexualized images of women that it doesn’t even register as such anymore.

And that, really, is the lesson we should take away from this chart. Not that everyone should be brought down to the low, low standards set by the likes of Terra and Blade & Soul, but that this level of sexual objectification is just absurd. Ludicrous. Outrageous. A bunch of other adjectives that denote “holy crap why do I look like this, this is really weird”. Sexy is fine, sexy is good, nay, great! I love being sexy and seeing sexy characters, but let’s stop with the sexual objectification. Sexy is for people, not objects that are vaguely people-shaped.

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48 Responses to When Is It Sexist?: A Chart That Doesn’t Get It Quite Right

  1. Quinnae says:

    A well written article, and thank you for letting us republish it here.

    It’s an unfortunate canard that “men are just as objectified as women.” It always misses the fundamentally non-parallel ways in which these representations operate. It also misses the fact that both dominant modes of representation are by-men-for-men, a non-trivial detail here. The idealised male in games is not created with the intent of titillating women (and certainly not of titillating men, who are all presumed heterosexual). The idealised and sexualised woman assuredly *is* created to be attractive for and pose for men.

    Pose. That word is important, for reasons you pointed out.

    Objectification isn’t just in the lack of clothing, as you so rightly point out. I remember fairly recently I gave myself quite a laugh when I tried to imitate one of the poses I saw in an RPG manual. A woman with her hips thrust way out. I tried to do it myself and immediately felt like I was doing some sort of painful exercise. Giggles ensued.

    The postures of many women are almost never neutral. They’re almost always standing in some fashion easily coded as alluring or enticing or flirtatious- whether or not it emulates a physically possible pose- and the way they stand almost always emphasises breasts and genitals. It’s not enough that every woman in games ever has to have big breasts, she has to be practically smothering you with them.

    This has been linked before but it bears repeating: http://vito-excalibur.dreamwidth.org/183224.html The brilliant artist here captures what actual sexual objectification of men would really look like.

    My favourite is the one showing a guy chewing his hair.

    The problem of hegemonic masculinity and its literal embodiment in games is a real one, but the terms of its relation to power are very different. The idealisation is not especially sexual, it’s more to do with fantasies of power by-men-for-men. In many ways it can limit the conception of what men *can* be, yet nevertheless countless men really really enjoy it. This says something about what hegemonic masculinity *does* and what it does is different from what the objectification of women does.

    The idealised image of men is one where men are active doers, knowers, fighters: agents in their own right. The sexualised image of women is one that is more passive, there to be looked at, frozen in permanent orgasm.

    You can argue, as some men fatuously do, that being expected to be successful is a burden and not a privilege. Any expectation on the basis of gender can have a confining quality to it. But it is in no way, shape, or form the same as, or anywhere near as damaging as the expectation that you will fail, the expectation that you cannot do, or should not do something. Doing is for men, you see.

    Visions of power operate differently from visions of sexualisation.

    I especially like your last lines:

    Sexy is fine, sexy is good, nay, great! I love being sexy and seeing sexy characters, but let’s stop with the sexual objectification. Sexy is for people, not objects that are vaguely people-shaped.

    Here’s where you get the heart of the issue, in some significant ways. The unitary, heternormative/androcentric definition of Sexy.

    This deserves an article all on its own, but what we are so often told when we complain about images like this is that we’re anti-sex, puritanical censors who just faint at the sight of cleavage and thigh. The truth is that what we’re militating with is the idea that these images are the sum total of sex, that they are what Sexy *is*, and what Sexy for all women must necessarily look like.

    That is one of the more damaging aspects of this trope, and your final lines reiterate that truth: we don’t want to ban sexiness. We want to see real sexiness.

    • Zaewen says:

      “This deserves an article all on its own, but what we are so often told when we complain about images like this is that we’re anti-sex, puritanical censors who just faint at the sight of cleavage and thigh. The truth is that what we’re militating with is the idea that these images are the sum total of sex, that they are what Sexy *is*, and what Sexy for all women must necessarily look like.

      That is one of the more damaging aspects of this trope, and your final lines reiterate that truth: we don’t want to ban sexiness. We want to see real sexiness.”

      Yep, that’s one of my biggest problems with sexual objectification in games. It takes what should be a great opportunity to explore and play with sexuality and sexiness outside of the muck and mire of the real world’s screwed up sexuality and modesty mores. For both men and women, really. Instead we get the same mores regurgitated at us, but with an added sense of gender essentialism, lack of options, and forcefulness

    • “This deserves an article all on its own, but what we are so often told when we complain about images like this is that we’re anti-sex, puritanical censors who just faint at the sight of cleavage and thigh.”

      Or, all the more bizarrely, get accused of being “jealous” of some vaguely disturbing, doll-like caricature of a woman.

  2. Korva says:

    *thumbs up for Zaewen and Quinnae*

    I do question, though, whether the man is actually sexually objectified in any way. Idealized, yes. Sexual, no. But then, it’s possible that I just can’t see it because the small part of me that isn’t asexual is still not interested in men. :p As you said, the difference between him and the woman is really drastic. Everything about [i]her[/i] is designed to make her a wanktoy. What does HE have to make him a sex object? It’s not the bare chest, IMO, because there’s nothing drawing special attention to it nor to suggest availability. No ridiculous costume, no stick-it-out-even-if-it-breaks-your-back pose, no impossible anatomy — by that I mean that, while idealized, it still looks like a man’s chest, while female “breasts” often have nothing to do with the real thing at all. It’s not the “package”, which again has nothing drawing attention to it and is barely noticeable (to me, at least, see caveat above). It’s not the face nor the stance, which are both neutral and natural.

    • Zaewen says:

      I’d say, as a heterosexual woman, that the man is drawn to be rather appealing sexually. He’s well toned, but not overly muscular like a certain God of War that we all know and love. He’s also wearing his loin cloth/speedo low enough to show off his lower abs and the adonis belt, unlike many speedo wearing gents who wear speedos that go higher up the waist to avoid that hint of sexuality, like Zangief.

      So you’re right, he’s idealized, even sexy, but not sexualized to the point of passive availability and objectification.

      • Laurentius says:

        In my opinion man’s outfit is sexualizing, he’s almost naked, his pubes are sticking out form very low hanging belt that is placed right on something that is “just” covering his package, which is still very much “hinted” by this small line in the middle. It’s his pose and face, especially in comparison to woman’s pose and face that makes big difference in perception

        • makomk says:

          I’d actually tend to classify the strap and the shoulder pads as at least a bit sexualized too – the strap because it seems to be designed to draw attention to his rather nice chest, and the pads because they emphasise his shoulders. (Yes, his shoulders. I’m pretty sure those are more sexualized in men than people consciously realise.)

  3. Laurentius says:

    “The man’s outfit, what little of it there is, still somewhat looks like actual armor with it’s studded belt, large shoulder guards, and normal boots.”

    Now while article is spot on I think this bit was a little unnecessary, you are right about boots yes, but the rest ? Low rider belt, and another thin one across the chest doesn’t resemble armor at all and shoulder pads serve to underline this. That not say that I disagree that presented woman outfit is far more objectifying.

    • Zaewen says:

      With that I was meaning that, in the way my mind interpreted the picture, the woman seems to be wearing flimsy straps of cloth strategically placed to keep a G rating with some high heeled boots and jewelry. Probably because I’ve seen more outfits like that worn by mage type characters than melee (which is a good thing, I guess lol). Meanwhile, the man, to my mind, is wearing a leather loincloth with a studded belt and leather boots.

      It was pointed out to me on my personal blog that this is not necessarily how everyone else interprets the material of the clothing. That commenter saw the woman wearing a leather get-up which, when I look at it that way, does impart more of an armor-y feel to her outfit. So, yea, that line came from a blind spot caused by the way i interpreted the line drawing and as such was a little unfair. Yay psychology, yay brains!

      • Laurentius says:

        In my opinion high heels boots make the significant difference, while rest of both outfits comes rather on equal terms for it meant purpose i.e. to show striking lack of armor and general abundance of body showed for these supposedly heroic characters. The disparity we observe comes in this case mostly from the other factors you’ve talked about: body, pose/stance, face, haircut. Have these things being alerted either way: the result would be that both outfits wouldn’t be considered to have any resemblance to actual armors.

  4. Patrick says:

    Another thing I noticed: the guy looks like he could be a warrior or adventurer, the woman doesn’t.

  5. 0thello says:

    Mmm.. -raises eyebrow- I still have a problem with the feminist deconstruction of what is sexist to men and what isn’t. A) because they use the current models of sexism to do that (which is very exclusive) and b) very few have studied or have any idea what the alternative models would look like.

    Until the alternatives are more studied or publicised I always take a hands-off approach to these discussions. Yeah a lot of people (males included) are able to identify sexism when generated at females but few are able to acurately identify when the shoe is on the other foot. This leads to spurious assumptions as well as false misandry reports.

    The world could use less of both the former and latter.

    • Ms. Sunlight says:

      10 minutes with Google and the search terms “gay erotic comics” (no links as they’d obviously be NSFW) should be enough for anyone. There is plenty of comic book art out there where some of the male characters are sexually displayed in a similar manner to the typical female character in comics and video games.

      That is, sexual characteristics are emphasised, costumes are impractical with emphasis on sexiness rather than practicality, characters are placed in contorted poses or given exaggerated demeanors that invite a sexual gaze etc.

      Compare and contrast with the male characters in mainstream media – you know, the ones that elicit the cries of “but men are just as objectified as women” – and the difference is obvious.

      My thoughts: sex is good. I like sex and sexuality, and I like sexy costumes and poses. I just like it to be context-appropriate and equal opportunity. If that’s not going to happen, leave it out – 99% of situations and storylines in games, comics and other media do just fine without sexualisation anyway.

      Or, in the immortal words of Mr. George Michael – “If you’re gonna do it, do it right, right? Do it with me.” Note he said with me, not to me.

      • Patches says:

        Alright, as an anime blogger I am interested in this. When someone says “gay erotic comics” I hear “yaoi”.

        When you look at shoujo leads (or even rom-com leads) they adhere to the traditional definitions of masculinity and masculine sexuality which are active in contrast to the female as object of desire.

        Now, maybe that’s not how women imagine “using” these men, but you’d have to twist the portrayal more than the dude who just has to replace himself for the lead and as a result I’d argue that even in the cases when you present sexualized men, that the narrative can torpedo or subvert this effort by giving him agency (of course, this isn’t a problem in a larger sense, because I think we all want narratives where people AREN’T sexualized, so…) or making him the aggressor.

        If you read the subtext of the following comic (http://tinyurl.com/7ym8frx), which David Willis NAILS, it seems to me that the “Batman” shown there is not “Batman” as we understand him AND THEREIN LIES THE PROBLEM.

        Or am I doing it wrong?

        • Ms. Sunlight says:

          I was thinking more along the lines of comics by gay men for gay men than yaoi, which seems to be largely by women for women. They obviously apply the “male gaze” to men in a way that other types of comics just don”t tend to do.

          • Ermoss says:

            The standard for female objectification that you and others are using seems to be “resembles a female character which would appear in pornography aimed at straight men and made by straight men.” The logical counterpart of that definition for male objectification is, therefore, “resembles a male character which would appear in pornography aimed at straight women and made by straight women.”

            I don’t really understand why you’d prefer to compare pornography made for gay men.

        • prezzey says:

          Bara would be a more accurate comparison than yaoi (as Ms. Sunlight noted below, yaoi is aimed at straight women):
          http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BaraGenre

      • 0thello says:

        Yaoi comics are exceptional, they DO NOT and CANNOT represent the breadth and width of what is sexist to men and what isn’t. For the most part they are so inconsequential that most males have never even heard of them.

        Shi’t I myself only heard about them a few months ago.

        Also if you have to type “gay erotic comics” into any search engine just to find “male characters (that) are sexually displayed in a similar manner to the typical female character in comics and video games” then you are clearly heading into niche territory. I’m not saying it is totally ineffectual but that it’s blip at best.

        Now let me make myself clear: I’m not looking for similarities, there won’t be enough, Women have it different, what I’m looking for is that difference, not from the female perspective (Cthulhu knows, that’s been mapped out quite a lot) but the male perspectives have not.

        Until the studies of masculinity are approached properly and vehemently by ‘insiders’ I take hands off approach to these discussions.

    • Quinnae says:

      A) because they use the current models of sexism to do that (which is very exclusive) and b) very few have studied or have any idea what the alternative models would look like.

      There is a rather ample and growing body of feminist literature on masculinities. Raewyn Connell, Michael Kimmel, bell hooks, and Michael Messner are good places to start. As to using “current models of sexism” which are “very exclusive” you’ll have to substantiate that a lot better; my own comment offered a brief but accurate reading of what these images often mean to men.

      Almost invariably men use the “we’re being objectified!” argument for the sole reason of silencing women, and then go right back to merrily enjoying what they just labelled objectification. What’s happening clearly is that they are appropriating, as you say, current models of sexism for their own privileged ends, misapplying them, and then discarding them once the annoying feminists go away.

      If you’re suggesting that images of men operate differently than images of women, I already analysed a large part of how that works- in brief summary, of course. They do indeed work differently- as fantasies of power, as idealisations of hegemonic masculinity; they are made by (cis het) men for (cis het) men. We do, I think, have an understanding of the contextual distinctions of how men are portrayed.

      It’s the anti-feminist malingerers who apply highly reductive models of objectification in a highly contingent and self-serving way, falsely painting the issue as a parallel one.

      To assert the issue is parallel you have to demonstrate that portrayals of men exist for the enjoyment of the archetypal heterosexual female. It’s why we as women writers often emphasise that so-called objectified men do not pose a certain way, look a certain way, have certain parts emphasised/drawn-attention-to and so forth. What Zaewen and many others have shown is that these images are clearly not made for women to sexually objectify men with (which would be the appropriate parallel to the normative portrayal of women in these games).

      If they have a purpose it is to provide a convenient fantasy vehicle for men to experience a certain kind of power.

      Not every man appreciates this for sure, and some feel slighted or marginalised by hegemonic masculinity, but the complaints should not be left at the door of women or of feminist activists, they have to be left at the doors of the men making these games with other men in mind.

      Finally, “sexism” is a way of doing power in a social context, i.e. someone is doing something to someone else. It starts somewhere. So when you talk about “sexism against men” you have to identify who’s actually doing it and where the power is coming from. Almost invariably, it’s coming from other men. Now, that is, yes a different topography of power relations than we see with men and women, binary people and genderqueer people, et cetera. But it’s actually one feminists have long recognised. I wouldn’t say we’re the laggards in understanding that, social justice activists- including many feminists- actually led the way in calling attention to this.

      • Deviija says:

        My hat to tips to you. Thank you for posting that, it is worded better than my own reply that touched on similar points. :)

      • 0thello says:

        I understand, and you’ve made a more than adequate point. I’ll stew on it for a while then drop back. Effing work…

  6. feministgamer says:

    You know, I liked this thing and planned to show it to all my friends, but coming here as just buzzkilled that. Haha … Yes, I see your point. #3 is not a solution to sexism, and no, it’s not fair. Because the man is still overly idealized in pertaining to the male fantasy: the dude is actually masculine and strong-looking. If you want something that women go gaga for but make men weep, make a wispy bishounen character instead of Conan the Barbarian. They get the most flack for being unrealistic and degrading to men than #3′s man will ever get. Not even one Fenris-looking “pretty boy” can exist, or else they become the target of most ever male gamer’s ire.

  7. For anything like equivalency, you basically need to go to Tom of Finland or Patrick Fillion levels of sexualized silliness (links possibly NSFW: these particular images do not contain nudity, but do contain extremely exaggerated male bodies in clothes that leave so little to the imagination that they might as well be nude. In other words, just like female comic characters. And most of the rest of these artists’ images are DEFINITELY nsfw. So google at your peril.)

    Fillion’s fanart pic of Namor there may become my go-to visual aid whenever anyone says that male comic characters are just as sexualized as women. Fillion’s Namor is wearing exactly the same skimpy swim trunks as regular 616 Namor, but the proportions, the pose, the PACKAGE… Just as you say, it ain’t just clothes, and here’s what’s missing.

    • Zaewen says:

      Yup, those two artists definitely get into the equivalency territory. Thanks for linking to them, they’re great artists and great examples of what super sexualized men could look like. Unlike most sexy men characters, their drawings don’t just beef up the muscle and try to call it a day. Like you said the posing, the proportion, the package are all played up to emphasize the smexyness just like they are on sexualized women characters.

  8. gunthera1 says:

    I just saw a comic that was linked on tumblr that also discusses the false equivalence of the third panel in the “what is sexist” chart.
    http://www.shortpacked.com/2011/comic/book-13/05-the-death-of-snkrs/falseequivalence/

    I completely agree that there is much more to this issue than just the amount of clothing a character wears. How is that character then portrayed? Female characters are given sexual poses or camera angles that remain focused on their butts. In the example of Kratos we don’t get that kind of emphasis on his crotch/rear. Just having the same amount of cloth does not make the characters in the 3rd panel equivalent. How are they then shown beyond that one image?

    • Zaewen says:

      That’s a great comic and I love ‘background radiation’ as a way to describe what it’s like being constantly bombarded with these images and messages.

  9. Sunflower says:

    Thank you for this great post and awesome comments. I clicked to see the objectified males and was struck by how weird it was for me to see that and how it almost seemed perverted. Then I thought about how women are constantly depicted in much more fetishized ways and that my constant exposure to that has made it seem normal and expected even though I actively do not think it’s acceptable. It’s really making me think how hard it is to question sexism not just because of backlash or possibly worse consequences, but also because we all are steeped in this “background radiation” (as said in that tumblr) of sexism and our minds are malleable enough to accept it as normal.

  10. Ikkin says:

    I think the last set of images ran into problems because it was trying too hard to make sure its sexualized male figure didn’t come off as feminine (or, at least, didn’t have blatant feminine markers). Pretty much all of the things that differ between the two (hair, heels, toe-in stance, and makeup) are things that are considered “girly.”

    If you take the facial expressions, for instance, the underlying intention seems to be the same — the inside lines of their mouths are pretty similar, they’re both squinting, and neither look particularly threatening. But then, when you add lipstick and eyelashes for the woman, and a lower brow and bigger chin for the man, all of the similarities are lost and the guy’s expression just looks kind of generic.

    These kind of comparisons always seem to face a choice between avoiding “of course he looks weird, [X] is for girls!” responses and being able to take the male exaggeration as far as its female equivalent. I think it’s quite possible that the only way to pull off an equivalency attempt is to tone the female sexualization down by several degrees, no matter what you do with the guys.

    • To be fair, women don’t have to wear lipstick or anything. That said some women have natural features that can make them look quite “made up” without trying, and it is a “feminine” look so I kind of see your point.

  11. Great.

    It’s a shame as for discussions on costumes it’s a great image. But as for the game as a whole or the character design/general imagery, it missed the mark for the reasons given above.

  12. Rahab says:

    Hm… pardon me, I don’t know if this is something that was blatantly obvious or not, but I thought I’d bring it up in case anyone found it interesting: Upon further reflection on this image, I thought perhaps this may be a case where the man’s lack of clothing tends to make him seem more fearsome and badass. His pose and face don’t so much imply sexual availability to me as a gay man so much as the sense that he is so badass, he doesn’t need armor – kinda like some interpretations of Viking berserkers. Does that… does that make any sense?

    • Zaewen says:

      That’s actually one of the typical strains of thoughts surrounding the barely dresed men in gaming right now. Think Kratos, Conan, etc. In those cases their loincloths are very much all about “I’m so tough I don’t even need armor to kick ass”.

      Since this picture however was supposed to be putting the man and woman on equal footing sexy-wise, I left that argument alone even though it is a very good point to make. Without the overly decorative clothing and styling, passively available posing, and such that the woman is drawn with, the overall effect does seem to be one of the man being so tough as to not need armor.

      • Rahab says:

        Huh! I knew the pose was important in terms of sexualization before, but wow! This image is actually a really great guide to for telling us more about how sexualization and objectification work in images – mind you, it does so in a way that the original artist probably didn’t intend, but hey! Life’s like that!

        Oooh, y’know, this is mildly off-topic, but I think you might get a kick out of it: I have friend who enjoys writing as a hobby; primarily short stories. Now, one of the recurring characters in these stories is a gun-toting southern belle who travels about righting wrongs in an insane world while wearing a big ole fancy, very effectively covering dress. (HOLD ON I’LL TIE THIS TO THE DISCUSSION IN A SECOND.) See, while the character herself furiously denies it, as she has rather odd notions of what is “proper”, it’s heavily implied that she wears the clothes she does not to be a proper lady, but because she actually relishes the challenge they bring. So it’s sort of a bizarre, different take on the whole “too badass for armor” thing that I really liked.

        • Ms. Sunlight says:

          Has your friend ever worn corsetry and a hoop skirt? Tried to do anything practical in such an outfit? What gender is your friend? There’s a reason why “southern belles” and “proper ladies” may have worn such outfits, but the people actually doing hard physical work on farms, in factories or in domestic service didn’t.

          • Rahab says:

            Oh, he’s a guy – for the sake of context, I should mention that he did it specifically as a challenge to see if he could pull that sort of characterization off. And he’s never done drag, though he has mentioned it seems like fun to try, if only to see what some women have to deal with for future reference.

            I should also mention this was not by any means a serious story. We’re talking “attempting to defeat a giant robot by using trebuchets to fire cows at it” levels of silliness. The whole thing was meant to come off as charmingly ridiculous, and the main character’s choice of wardrobe was described in the story in such a way as to highlight the insanity of wearing such clothing in a combat situation while using it to further establish the main character as an -admittedly very eccentric – badass.

            Oh God I hope I didn’t piss anyone off with this. The idea was to make ya’ll chuckle. D:

            • Ms. Sunlight says:

              I’m not pissed off, I just think that it would be extremely difficult to do this well without actually attempting to do active things in a tightlaced corset and crinoline, or having someone else do so and letting you observe. It strikes me as likely that your friend is pretty ignorant of the technicalities of such dress.

              You should remember that the dress reform movement in the 19th century came about because it was so difficult, if not actually impossible, to be active in such elaborate attire. Just wearing it could be physically demanding and painful. Women doing physical work simply didn’t.

            • Rahab says:

              Oh! But that’s the whole point, you see! I probably did a poor job of explaining it, but the dress thing was presented as another of the story’s silly aspects, as opposed to a sensible or even halfway-sensible way of going about things. Think a feminine version of King Bumi in Avatar getting encased in rock and bending with his chin, only intentional on the main character’s part.

              And don’t worry, we do know how those sorts of dresses work and the amount of stress involved in putting them on/wearing them, and we certainly understood the causes of the dress reform. We’re young and male, not stupid. :D

  13. Sunflower says:

    Is it possible to have a woman that’s dressed in few clothes and not have it contain some degree of objectification just because of how we see women’s nudity as opposed to men’s in society? I wonder because of how deeply ingrained it is to regard women’s looks and bodies as public property that people are free to evaluate, comment on, and in fact almost expected to.

    Also, is it possible to have a sexualized male image where the sexualized characteristics aren’t considered traditionally feminine? That Namor drawing has an exaggerated penis but to me the indication that it is sexualized comes more from the very prominent nipples and coy expression, as well as the graceful pose. Maybe it’s just all conditioning– that I’ve been taught certain things are considered sexual, to the point where they are more prominent than the actual sexual organ in indicating “sexiness”!

    So is sexuality mostly learned? I know nudity and sexuality are not necessarily linked, but there are so many weird artificial connections between sex and what is considered sexy that it hurts my brain.

    • Zaewen says:

      I think its entirely possible to have even completely nude women that are not objectified. A lot of sexualization comes from posing, camera angles, and body distortion that highlights certain body parts. We just rarely get to see it because a part of the deeply ingrained sexism in our culture is that very few images of women get to escape into the common domain without some form of objectification going on, be it heavy make-up and styling, airbrushed skin, strategic posing and lighting, or outright photoshopping/distortion to make the woman’s image conform more to the ‘ideal’.

      As for the sexualized male image and femininity, yes there is definitely an issue there. So much of what we code as sexiness or sexual expression is also highly coded as feminine, from coy expression to passive poses that telegraph sexual availability. It really is the result of a lot of conditioning that says men have only a very limited set of ways to be sexy and stay masculine at the same time (despite the patriarchy myth that men are inherently more sexual than women…. incongruity at its finest)

      So, yea, I do think that a lot of sexuality (the ways we express desire, the ways we preform sexual appeal) is learned and influenced by the culture we live in.

      • Ikkin says:

        It really is the result of a lot of conditioning that says men have only a very limited set of ways to be sexy and stay masculine at the same time (despite the patriarchy myth that men are inherently more sexual than women…. incongruity at its finest)

        Is it really incongruous…? It seems like “sexy” and “sexual” are defined as two different things, with the former being a producer/seller role and the latter being a consumer/buyer role — which is where I think the real problem lies, not in any sort of hypocritical reasoning.

        Sexualized guys tend to come across as feminine because the act of making an offer is coded as feminine, and trying to avoid the character appearing like they’re making an offer rules out nearly all of the common “sexy” tropes. (One alternative is the super-aggressive, almost feral posturing with its implied demand of, “You. Me. Now.” that you sometimes see used, which has never seemed particularly feminine to me) I imagine that the assumption that offering oneself to the viewer is feminine is culturally-derived more than anything, though.

        • Zaewen says:

          I meant incongruous in a step-back-and-look-at-the-whole-mess kinda way. That the patriarchy’s mythos has separated the sexy and sexual side of sexuality into active-man and passive-woman has always just seemed so off to me. Much like the rest of sexual mores, the lines are drawn fairly arbitrarily between what is feminine and what is masculine. Making a sexual offer? Feminine. Making the first move on a date? Masculine. Being casually sexy? Feminine. Having casual sex? Masculine.

    • Nathan of Perth says:

      The stance I tend to adopt is: Yes, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t be brave enough to take a punt on trying it in my writing.

      Liked the article, Zaewen

  14. idvo says:

    After link-hopping from FB to DA, I managed to stumble across something that’s probably relevant to this discussion: Zero Suit Master Chief by Kevin Bolk: http://kevinbolk.deviantart.com/art/Zero-Suit-Master-Chief-182780088

    • idvo says:

      Whoops! Forgot to add: Possibly NSFW.

      Impossible pose that manages to show off his chest, bottom, and package? Check. Skin-tight suit that might as well be paint? Check. There’s no pouty, come-hither look on his face, what with his helmet and all, and he is holding a gun, but I think this is a better sexualized image of a male character than the one in the original chart.

  15. Stuff like this is a big part of why I started doing my own webcomic.

    But yes, you’re absolutely right about pose and expresison and general attitude making as much, or more, difference than the amount of clothing. A friend of mine showed me a picture recently, http://www.lineage2.com/gd/classes.php#warrior , that really exemplified this. It was for an MMO, Lineage II, and showed a guy in obvious plate armor, layers of metal and everything, that left his midriff and thighs bare – like plate armor ALWAYS does when women wear it, right? And because of his aggressive pose and expression, it didn’t look nearly as sexualised or absurd, it just looked like he’d decided he didn’t need armor there and might very well be right.

    So yeah. In general, HOW you display something says a lot more about your attitudes toward it than WHAT you happen to be displaying, I think.

  16. Jonathan says:

    I’d really like to see someone do a revised version of the chart, splitting the third pair and adding appropriate counterparts to the scantily-clad, but not really sexualised man and the sexualised woman.

    Quick semi-related question: does anyone know of any good studies into what men and women really find sexy? I just know from personal experience that what is commonly accepted that men find sexy and what I find sexy are two completely different things.

    • Kai says:

      I guess everyone has different perspective on “sexy.” For me, contradictorily, I feel being naked is *not* sexy at all, a best, one should wear a bit of something which signifies what one is trying to portray as.

  17. Ruth says:

    The thing that annoyed me about the Forsworn armour was that they *weren’t* both equally naked. Sure, the outfits themselves were pretty similar, but the way they had been modelled was not. Both male and female Forsworn have exposed upper thighs. On the female, these are lovingly rendered, and on the male they are just a big block. It actually upset me a little. I was pleased that there were muscle options for women characters (though they ought to have been the same as the men’s), the women’s armour was usually as useful as the men’s, and that the women were as dirty as the men (though of course this heinous wrong was quickly corrected by modders), but this was a step back entirely. It made it obvious that the reason for the Forsworn women to dress like that was not actually anything to do with how they deliberately made themselves frightening and like barbarians, but just because they wanted sexy naked ladies in the game.

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