Take A Bow: Ms. Male Character Explored

By John Walker on November 25th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

The latest episode in Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes Vs Women In Video Games series focuses on that most daft element of gaming: what Sarkeesian calls the Ms. Male Character. You know the ones – the pink version, or especially, the one with a bow on top. I confess to finding the “put a bow on it” meme to be very funny. The sheer absurdity of drawing a bow on the head of something to make it into a girl strikes me as comical. As a prolific doodler, it pleases me greatly to explain to someone that “this is a female teapot because it wears a bow.” Of course, realising that this is the depth to which so many games go when realising a female character rather brings that down. As ever, Sarkeesian explores the subject intricately. You can watch it below.

What I find most interesting about this discussion is the key point that in gaming, women require “marks”. If a character is plain, it is by default, male. Whether it’s a plumber, hedgehog, alien or ball of rock, simply by being unmarked it’s a boy. Want a girl version? Colour it pink, add some long eyelashes, and put a bow on top. That reveals an absolutely intrinsic and inherent gender bias – a default assumption of maleness, with femaleness requiring a smothering of stereotyped decorations. Which of course says, “Boys are normal, girls are exceptions.” And yes, it’s just as true of cartoons, comics, and so on. But it remains true of games, and hey, we’re discussing games today.

I still think putting a bow on a rock to make it into a female rock is very funny. It strikes me more as a commentary on the ridiculous trope, rather than a participant. But you can see how when placed in the wider concept of the recurring pattern, it loses some of its charm. And it certainly does play into the trope, the reinforcing of the notion that default = male. This is, of course, an example of the nuance that is often missed in these critiques: something can remain individually interesting or humorous, and still play a part in a wider issue.

I’ve switched comments off on this post, because the hosting for RPS cost us a fortune, and I’m naffed if I’m going to pay for the usual Sarkeesian-haters to spew bile at our expense. Yes, this has the consequence that people who want to make counter-arguments, or rationally challenge assertions, and indeed those who want to voice support or agreement, are unable to at the bottom of this post, and I’m sorry about that. Thankfully my freedom-of-speech-destroying censorship powers only extend to the boundaries of this single website.

Meanwhile, here are a few responses to what could have been posted by some, and some handy replies:

But I am a guy and I don’t care about this.

I don’t care about your mum, but you may. You can extrapolate this theory outward.

I am a woman/know a woman who doesn’t care about this stuff, so it doesn’t matter.

See above.

I know of exceptions to these examples!

Me too. And yet these extremely prolific examples still remain, in the majority, across gaming.

But these games are good despite these criticisms.

Yes, they are.

Anita Sarkeesian forced people to give her millions of dollars and has spent it all on feminism things and never makes any videos.

Good point. We’re sorry.

But Anita Sarkeesian is wearing make-up in this video!!!

You’re too stupid for a keyboard, and you have to hand it in at the nearest police station.

There’s already equality, feminists are fighting for imbalance.

Have a read.

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