Tropes vs Women in Video Games: Ms. Male Character

Here's a new installment in Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter-funded, misogynist-enraging, must-watch "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" series: Ms Male Character: a closely annotated, fascinating 25 minutes on the practice of producing a "female" version of video-games by feminizing the lead characters.

The Adult Swim game Giant Boulder of Death takes the trope to ridiculous extremes by gendering a pink boulder with a giant pink bow before she’s stuffed in the refrigerator to motivate the blue boulder to seek revenge.

Now the interesting thing is that these gendered signifiers are really quite arbitrary and abstract. There’s nothing about a bow in and of itself that is intrinsically or essentially feminine; it’s just a piece of colored fabric, after all. But our society currently assigns a very specific, socially constructed and strictly enforced meaning to that piece of fabric. It’s a symbol that conveys the concept of female (and invokes the idea of girlhood.)

The indie game Rogue Legacy has an interesting system whereby you can be randomly assigned the choice of either male or female heirs to play on each run. The characters are essentially identical both mechanically and aesthetically (except for a very minor difference in their breast plate styles). So far so good, but all the female heirs also have a strangely conspicuous and completely unnecessary lavender colored bow on top of their armour. This is a classic example of put a bow on it!

The colour-coding of characters is another frequently used visual element to signify gender. Typically the dominant color used in the design of the female variant is bright pink (although sometimes a purple or pastel palette may be used).

In the 1985 NES classic Ice Climber, player 1 controls Popo who wears a blue parka. If you have a 2nd player they can control Nana who wears a pink parka.

Ms. Male Character - Tropes vs Women in Video Games

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  1. mtdna says:

    Schools buy into the Ms. Male trope nearly universally with team mascots. It's incredibly insulting. My daughter's school has two basketball teams, the Grizzlies and the Lady Grizzlies. My university had the Buffaloes and the Lady Buffaloes. And so on. The implication is that there's a "real" team and an "almost as good" team.

  2. Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter-funded, misogynist-enraging

    Holy shit are you not kidding about that, it makes me think that what's she's doing might actually be important.

    You know, a good friend of mine once asked me why race-supremacists always turn out to be such horrible specimens of their own preferred group. I now have to extend that question to misogynists and male-supremacists.

  3. ruzkin says:

    You attack her argument by attacking the way she dresses? Smooooooooth.

  4. I assume that the man in Pacman would indicate male to many people.

    I love it when people comment on a video without actually watching it first.

    She mentions many signifiers throughout the video:

    The most commonly used gendered signifiers or feminizing accessories are bows, lipstick, long eyelashes and the color pink, but there are a whole host of other design elements that, in combination, serve the same purpose. Other signifiers used to differentiate women from men are pigtails, high-heeled shoes, painted nails, pronounced makeup (especially blush and eyeshadow), midriff baring outfits, exaggerated breasts with exposed cleavage, and a heart motif in their design or powers.

    Acknowledging that society treats a bow as "feminine" does not mean that she thinks it is appropriate.

    Are men unable to write interesting female characters or are they choosing not to because they do not think it is important to represent half the population in any significant way?

    I am sure she is well aware that kids start learning gender stereotypes at a young age. And she probably would not be surprised if kids identified the angry birds characters as male when they did not have any specific gender signifiers. But that kind of reenforces her point that kids are taught that "male" is the norm and "female" is the variation.

    You may want to rewatch the end of the video where she points out games that do not rely on the Ms. Male Character trope.

    I find it interesting that you know that the word bitch is an insult directed at women, but still feel the need to use it when talking about how women are stereotyped in games.

  5. I think it's interesting so many commenters perceived her as attacking these games, when she was, I think, very neutrally observing. Why do so many men feel attacked by even the mildest forms of feminism?

    For example, she pointed out that Ms PacMan is dolled up with stereotypically girly features. That's not an attack, it's a fact. The bow is a stereotype because there's no reason in physics or chemistry a man can't wear a pink bow on his head. But in our culture, this would be seen as wrong, because it's putting a female signifier on a male head.

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