A Nerdy Woman in a Man's World

Image video game character Lara Croft from 1996 game compared with 2015 game
Photo Courtesy of Malaymail

In 2015 one of the world’s most popular movie series had a sequel coming out, Avengers: Age of Ultron. But this release had an issue before the movie could even premier. In an interview with the Digital Spy, an online British entertainment website, co-stars Chris Evans, Captain America, and Jeremy Renner, Hawkeye, responded to a question about Scarlett Johansson’s character, Black Widow, being in a film with so many male co-stars. Renner’s response was that she was “a Slut.” To which Evans, while laughing, added in that “She’s a complete whore.” Though there was immediate backlash against these comments, they aren’t too out of line for not only the comic book industry, but also the video game industry, as there is a deep seeded history with sexism in these industries.

To be a woman who is into these typically male things is to invite either harassment or ridicule. To be labeled as a Fake Geek girl, or as a stupid girl, because she doesn’t know an obscure fact from the fandom, the name of the fan base around a certain thing. I cannot list the numbers of times I have been told that I am not a real fan of something because I don’t know some small fact, or my favorite character isn’t one of the main favorited characters by men. If a woman is accepted into the fandom she sometimes isn’t truly accepted as she thinks, for the developers and owners of these products still don’t have her in mind when they design them. And there are other times where they can only see them for the sexuality appeal that they have the possibility they can bring. But with more woman in theses fandoms forming groups to stand up and band together to make these fandoms more inclusive, there may be hope in the future that these industries and fandoms will start to be a better place for both men and woman.

Since the late seventies one of the biggest forms of entertainment, and a large source of profit for the companies, have been video games. But it has also been perceived as something inherently masculine. Even though in a poll conducted by the ESA/IDSA (Entertainment Software Association, and the Interactive Digital Software Association) found that almost half of those who play video games in America are female. But of those women only six percent will call themselves gamers. And there is a strong reasoning for that, normally women who are use the label of gamer are known as “Gamer Girls,” which can be used to tell woman that they are the minority of gamers. There are a multitude of reasons for these stats to be why they are. One of the reasons I personally think that these stats to be what they are, could be built into the games themselves. Look at iconic characters we all know, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Kitana from Mortal Kombat, Princess Peach from various Nintendo games, and Widowmaker from Overwatch. Now all of these characters are from different gaming genres: Action-Adventure, Fighting, Platformer, and First-person Shooter. But each have critical flaws that bring sexism to video games that stop woman from becoming gamers. Three of those woman: Croft, Kitana, and Widowmaker, are and have been overly sexualized in their games. Princess Peach in every game, except for any Smash games, has been shown as needing saving. Most of these don’t really give a woman a reason to play games. Having overly sexualized female characters don’t often entice woman to play games, or having us shown as helpless always in need of rescuing doesn’t help that fact either. To look at the costuming, and character models, that each of the overly sexualized characters they are shown in tight yet very reviling clothing, for the most part impractical for fighting, and all have extreme body types that over accentuates either their breasts or bottoms. Even Princess Peach has had a sexualized scene in Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door, where in a section when you play as her, you a have a mandatory showering scene, which serves no point to the story. To have such a sexualized scene in what is meant for children is completely unnecessary and can drive woman and girls away from wanting to play games.

There have been some strides made for how some female characters are portrayed. In 2013 Tomb Raider was rebooted, and so was how Lara Croft looked. Gone was the mini-shorts, replaced with a pair of cargo pants, her breast were reduced from their balloon sized they were before. But with all these strides there are still loads issues with it. Though her breasts are smaller, she is still in a tank top that in many scenes show her cleavage more often than trying to hide it. There is also the fact that in the press conferences Eidos, the developer of the new Tomb Raiders games, even claimed the fact that the new Lara Croft is a character “you’ll want to protect… from sexual assault.” Note as someone who has played the actual game, I can confirm there are no actual rape scenes in the game, it is just antagonistic character caressing her shoulder. Though it can seem like every step forward is two giant leaps backwards, they are still step in the right direction and we can only hope that in the future we may be able to play a video game without focusing on a female characters looks instead of how a game plays.

There is also another even more important reason, the sexual harassment of the female gamers in multiplayer online games such as Overwatch, League of Legend’s (LoL) and Call of Duty. I have personally, while playing Overwatch, experienced a multitude of sexual harassment. When I first started to play, I was trying to gain friends so that I could play in teams, and have a sense of comradery, and though I did not have a microphone to talk to my fellow teammates I did gain some friends, but while doing so it was almost like I was inviting people to harass me. I made the mistake of saying my gender when playing with one friend and a group of random other players. This led that player to throw insults and refusals of help to me the rest of the quick match that I was in. In another match I played a female character that has had much dislike in the game, before and after a rework that made her weaker, I was told I would found and raped, than beaten to death, if I refused to change characters, and though I reported the player and left not only the match but the game for the rest of the day, it still left me shaken. During this game no one knew my gender, just the characters, but the fact that her gender alone would cause someone to threaten me was shocking to me. But I am not the first nor will I be the last woman to have this happen. Female players have started to ban together to stop harassing players from doing so. And games like Overwatch are putting into motion tactics to stop those whom are harassing with banning and blocking controlled by players, and though they aren’t perfect it is still a starting point that we can hope will continue to help and grow in the future.

Something that has brought forth by video games is one of the fastest forms of entertainment, ESports. These events bring in tens of thousands people, the Overwatch World Cup in 2016 bring in 100,000 people during the BlizzCon, Blizzard Entertainment’s own personal convention based around their games. In these events there are players from every continent, every race, and supposedly every background. But with all this diversity it still is pretty much one tone, male. In almost all pro “gamer” competitions there are hardly any woman on the team, in teamed games, or in single player games. Just because a woman goes pro in her game of choice doesn’t stop the harassment she may have received before. A pro gamer in the Street Fighter games Sherry ”Sherryjenix” Nhan, participated in female only competitions, which allow woman to shine and show off their talents, while inspiring other woman and girls to compete. But this still separates females from main game competitions, which can seem to imply that the female competitors wouldn’t be able to keep up in a male competition. Though they are said to be equal in the world of Esports, woman are decidedly not treated with that same equality that may come to their male counterparts. Nhan has talked about the harassment from the community from generalized insults to disparaging comments about her looks. But it isn’t just the community or leagues that host the competitions, since there are no rules stating that woman can’t be in the leagues, but it can also be linked the marketing of these competitions, which is often advertised to men between the ages 21 and 34, with their sponsors advertising it towards the same areas, completely disregarding their female fans for what seems like a more lucrative market.

No matter who you are, your age or your job, at some point you’ve more than likely have either read a comic book or seen a movie based around one. From DC’s Batman which has had comics, movies, television-shows, and cartoons based around it; to Marvel’s Avenger’s which has had a lot of the same things as DC. But it appears these giants of the industry are hiding behind bright colors and action, a deep seeded sexist reality. Inside of both DC’s and Marvel employees only a small portion of their employee’s actually work on the comics, but most of those only a small portion consist of woman. And of those woman who do get the chance to work on comics, not a lot of them are given the full credit, or the chance to go to conventions and show case their works. Sadly these companies have not made strides to fix this problem, most denying that there is in fact a problem in their companies.

But the gender gap in their employees aren’t the only time these companies are shown to be sexist. The works they produce can also be extremely sexist and inconclusive to their female audience. Since the start of modern comic books, so comics that focus from DC’s Superman, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, and Power Girl; to Marvels Emma Frost, Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, and the Black Widow. Now you may be looking at all those names and thinking that it really isn’t that big of a list of characters, but it’s just a scratching of the characters that have been used and abused. But also think of this, each of those characters have multitude of series, sometimes multiple comics about them coming out all at the same time. And a lot of those times, past and present, those characters are put into situations that don’t put their female counterparts in a good light or situation.

The comments made by Avengers co-stars Chris Evens and Jeremy Renner were not the first time Marvel was in trouble for sexism. A lot of the wrong treatment of their woman characters are typical things; Costumes that are too small, too tight, too reveling. In a great case of this is the character of Emma Frost. She is shown as a pale, tall, busty, slender but curvy, blonde literally just a pair of white underwear, a white bustier (most of the time less), a white cape, and white high-heels footwear. Other covers, and characters, are out there make this one look innocent. Other times its comic book covers that put the woman in the least flattering light like She-Hulk, who was multiple times was shown on her cover in either small under clothing/swim wear, or in a few cases nothing put a newspaper page, looking about as uncomfortable as the rest of us woman feel about it. Or Spider-woman’s famous overly sexualized cover incident. The cover was an alternative cover for a Spider-woman new comic line that was coming out, but who they got to do this cover wasn’t the most appropriate choice. They got Milo Manara, an Italian comic book artist, whose comics are R-rated erotic graphic novels. Marvels editor-in-chief issued an apology, trying to say that it was a limited edition cover that was just meant for collectors. But it still goes by that they had to have looked at the work Manara puts out, the cover had to go through a series of high ups, yet no one stops these covers and thinks about the females they might affect and offend.

Now in comparison to DC, Marvel’s crimes seem tame in my eyes. Yes Marvel has not treated their woman in ways that are anyways appropriate, but DC has taken it several steps to far in a lot of bad directions. DC has never had the most respect for the female characters that are in their comics. When they first started with Wonder Woman, and Bat Girl, were treated as vain and weak. Not being able to fight because it would mess up their make-up, because they have a run in their tights, they have to fix their clothing. Or in one comic some of the Justice League members get imprisoned, and they are all trying to break out, yet when Wonder Woman suggests that she try, Superman tells her that her weak female muscles would not be able too. Even though she is shown to have super Amazonion strength in other comic’s. Or Power Girl, who is one of the bustiest woman in the DC comics. According to one of the writers at DC, a Jimmy Palmiotti, her original artist Wally Wood was convinced that the editors weren’t truly looking at anything he was doing. So he decided that every issue he would draw Power Girl’s breasts larger and larger. It took almost eight issues for people to notice and put an end to it. Her character hasn’t changed since this, but the reasoning for her costume has. Sometimes just being said that it’s to show that she’s female, and if men want to stare that’s their problem, as stated in Justice League Europe #37 (1992), or in a airheaded way in JSA: Classified #2, where she states that she wanted a symbol like Superman’s but couldn’t think of anything, so she just left a hole in the costume, which doesn’t explain why the hole was there since that’s not how a symbol would be placed on.

But truthfully, in comparison to this next topic I will bring up, these are tame. On Thursday Sept. 5, 2013, three days before the start of suicide prevention week, DC announced a contest. They wanted four panels of a fan favorite character Harley Quinn, using pencils, inks and/or colors, nude about to commit suicide by doing these acts: One of her standing atop of a building during a lightning storm; one of her sitting in an alligator pond wearing raw chicken; one of her standing in the mouth of a whale; and one of her nude in a bathtub. They were using this to for a open talent search, and the parameters of the contest made it impossible for artist whom oppose the eroticization of violence against woman from applying. They never stopped to think about the females they were affecting, seeing a character that is beloved doing an act might affect a female reader who has toyed with suicide.

DC has made an attempt to correct some of their mistakes with the introduction of their newest series, DC’s Super Hero Girls. This is a series of toy’s, comic books, and even a tv series, all based around the well known characters from their comics: Batgirl, Bumblebee, Harley Quinn, Katana, Poison Ivy, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman, with the support of other famous characters from the different series they produce. The series is based around the premies of all of these characters as students at Super Hero High School, dealing with all of the awkwardness of growing up, only with the immense pressure of being a superpowered teenager. This series has a distinct audience in mind, young girls, not necessarily women though I’m sure a few watch it too. But will this series in the long run cause more harm than it does good? Will young girl’s read, watch, play, fall in love, with these characters and want to look for more only to see what DC has originally done to those characters? Or might this finally be the moment where the comic book industry realizes its not just boy or men interested, but girls and women, whom are in the market as well, leading to a change in the comic’s they produce. Time will only tell.

But it isn’t just all doom and gloom. At the 2017 Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, Ubisoft, a well-known publisher for not only their games but also the diversity in their development teams, held a pan called “World building: the power of developers in representing diversity.” This panel was to talk about how, as an industry it needs to openly talk and figure out how to be better with the challenges both women and minorities face in business, and how it should fix it. One of the factors it pointed out was that if the industry could “tap into that breadth (width) of backgrounds and experiences helps us create immersive, credible game worlds for our players, who are themselves an increasingly diverse group.” Ubisoft isn’t a female run business, it doesn’t just employ women, nor was this panel women ranting on about men. This was to show that diversity in the industries are vital, but this doesn’t just apply to the video game industry. This should be applied to every industry, every walk of life. This is looking past a gender variable and seeing what an employee has to offer. To look at this in the context of this paper let’s say two concept artist apply for the same position drawing for a comic book with a military theme to it. Two of the artist are a man and woman, the man has a bachelors in graphic arts, and has been doing art classes since he was in middle school, and the only experience with anything military are video games. But the woman has a liberal arts degree, minored in graphic arts, and her school system had cut its art program which lead her to self-teaching herself art. But her schools did have a ROTC program that she was in, giving her an idea on the background and inner workings of the military. But without the mindset that Ubisoft is saying should be implemented into companies, between the two the man would be more likely to get the job, even though the woman has more of an idea of what the comic would be about. But what Ubisoft is suggestion would to look at their backgrounds and use that to the benefit of the company and the product.

To be a woman who is into typically male forms of entertainment is hard. To everyday look at things I love, comic books, video games, and so much more, and see that the characters that are supposed to represent my minority portion of the fandom, the female portion, shown over sexualized, or joked about as being sluts for being on a team with so many male co-stars, is hard for myself and other women. We have had to toughen our skin to the harassment that we might invite for showing our love for out fandoms. Or avoid looking at possibly our favorite characters having the violence against them eroticized. There are those out there who are trying to fight these things, woman who are fighting back. But it can’t just be woman who fight back, it must be both men and woman combined, looking at the content and treatment of their characters, their workers, and the woman who love them. Being a nerdy woman is hard, but hopefully for future generations the fights that woman are fighting now, will lessen this hardship, making the time of such events happening come to a close, with the help of both players and the developers.

Work Cited

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Sieczkowski, Cavan. “DC Comics Holds Harley Quinn Drawing Contest With Suicide Scenarios”. Sep 12, 2013. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/dc-comics-harley-quinn-suicide... . Web. Nov 10, 2018.

Romano, Aja. “Why we’ve been arguing about Lara Croft for two decades”. Mar 17, 2018. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/3/17/17128344/lara-croft-tomb-raider-hi.... Web. Nov 18, 2018.

Cheney-Rice, Zak. “’Avengers’ Stars’ Sexist Jokes Illustrate a Major Problem With the Comic Book Industry”. Apr 23, 2015. https://mic.com/articles/116370/avengers-stars-sexist-jokes-illustrate-a.... Web. Nov 18, 2018.

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