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.
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.