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On Credible Female Characters

Over at The New Statesman, Belinda Parmar complains about a game her son plays–Skylanders–in which there are no credible female characters:

The sky-lands are a man’s world, and this is a game in which a mostly male cast of fantasy heroes have to smash and bash their way through a mostly male cast of fantasy baddies. There’s almost no problem that cannot be overcome by slashing or shooting.

There are characters who are explicitly female such as Ningini. You can tell they are female because they are narrower-waisted with disproportionately large breasts and they grunt in a slightly higher-pitched tone than their male counterparts. These physical characteristics aside, they are functionally identical to the male characters – that is to say they obliterate and plunder in a broadly similar way.

For reasons of cost or lack of imagination – the female characters are merely alternative “models” – animated graphics that are loaded each time the player selects another character. The end result is a sort of PC pretence that gender differences don’t exist, since in this game everybody does exactly the same job in exactly the same way.

I grow tired–as I sense Parmar does–of the perceived need of game developers, editors, and producers to include an equal number of male and female characters in every game, book, or film. Our culture is obsessed with tallying, but parity of characters or writers does not make a game, book or magazine more womanly or better. On that score, initiatives like The VIDA Count are almost entirely misguided.

But here’s the deal: The “PC pretence” that Parmar identifies in Skylanders–where “gender differences don’t exist”–is not so much pretense as it is a faithful application of a feminism that regularly disregards such biological differences. As Parmar notes, that disregard is neither true nor interesting.

I once had a staunchly feminist English professor who had enrolled her daughter in a gender neutral preschool. There were no gendered toys, only things likes blocks and sticks. When she went to pick up her daughter, she was shocked to see that the girls were walking around the room cradling the blocks. The boys were throwing them.

about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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