This week’s topic is woman as image and man as the bearer of look in cinema, and whether or not this still exists today. I’m arguing that yes, although it isn’t as blatantly obvious as it was in the past, modern texts still contain the tropes that make up this theory. I’ll be discussing this in terms of video games, seeing as the industry was (and still partially is) a boy’s club, and although they’re getting better, many video games are still blatantly sexist and position women for the male gaze.
For so long, the roles of women in video games have been limited to tropes like damsel in distress or evil seductress. The woman functions as an erotic object for both the characters in the story and the player playing the game. Thankfully, we’re seeing a little more diversity in recent games and we’re getting more realistic NPCs as well as female protagonists, however the way they are created is not on an equal level to male playable characters. There’s endless topics to cover in terms of how woman are presented in video games but one in particular I find interesting, is what Anita Sarkeesian (pop culture critique) calls ‘strategic butt coverings’. Often the way the character is positioned on the screen and how the camera moves around her is created to keep her bum at the centre of the screen. It’s also not uncommon for a player to be able to move the camera under the protagonist’s skirt if she’s wearing one. For male characters however, there are great lengths in place to avoid their behinds being looked at – by only being able to adjust the camera above or to the side, or by costuming with a cape or long jacket. This is proof that women are still presented for ‘visual pleasure’.
In many modern films, this trope is used by the female characters themselves to gain an advantage (aka in teen movies like Mean Girls and Easy A). However since the player is in control of the game and the protagonist, the character is being positioned against her own will, purely for the player’s viewing pleasure. It is similar to the cinema trope of a camera pan or tilt of a lady’s lovely figure from a male character’s POV. The difference is that the audience is not just watching, they’re controlling what they see.
I’ve noticed a similar deal with video game posters, cases and promotional art where there seems to be a trend of getting the female character’s boobs and butt in view at the same time. One might think that it’s just a dramatic way of posing, however the male equivalent is far less revealing. It’s rare to find a male character stretched around at a ridiculous angle to get their front and back in view at the same time – but when it does happen, it’s not in a hypersexualised way. They are shown to be ‘badass’, but female characters are shown to be ‘badass and sexy’. This isn’t restricted to video games though, it’s common for action films, tv shows and comic books as well. The images below will hopefully speak for themselves and justify that women are still indeed the subject of ‘male gaze’.
Since writing this post, Anita Sarkeesian has created a video on Body language and the male gaze in gaming, and discusses Laura Mulvey’s theories as well as her own observations. It’s an interesting video that takes the themes from this post further.