Tue
May 29 2012 10:00am

Sleeps With Monsters: Mass Effect and the Normalisation of the Woman Hero

Commander Shepard image by DeviantArt user DazUki

Let’s get something out of the way before we start. The Mass Effect franchise ending? IT DOES NOT EXIST AND WE SHALL NEVER SPEAK OF IT AGAIN. Somewhere in an alternate universe, Garrus and Tali are having cocktails on a beach, while Jack teaches junior biotics how to swear, is all I’m saying.*

*Other people like Chuck Wendig and Brit Mandelo have had things to say about Bioware’s failure to stick the dismount of an otherwise brilliantly-written RPG series. So let’s leave it there.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is how — provided one plays as Commander Jane rather than Commander John — the Mass Effect series normalises the idea of the Woman Hero.

You may have noticed that Woman Hero is my term of choice here, rather than Heroine. Whether we like it or not, heroine is still a word that embodies connotations which differ in many and manifest ways from hero. Gothic and romance novels have heroines. Thrillers and action stories have heroes: if these also have heroines, the heroine almost always takes second stage to the hero. Where the heroine has pride of place, she’s (again, almost always) intimately connected to, or in some way (emotionally, intellectually, or politically) dependent upon, a hero, whose actions and reactions are either vital to her as a character, or to the resolution of plot and theme. The reverse is much less true, and much less often true (once one might have said Not at all true), when the Hero stands centre stage. The Hero does not depend: his actions are not contingent actions.

Heroine is a word with a history. That history carries with it a metric crapton(ne) of implications, a bunch of which place heroine in opposition or in contrast to hero.

Commander Jane Shepard is not merely our protagonist and player-avatar in the Mass Effect franchise. She’s an ἥρως in practically the original Greek sense: a warrior of outstanding (legendary, potentially superhuman) achievements. Moreover, since Shepard’s interactions with other characters remain substantially the same regardless of whether one is a John or a Jane, it’s established that Commander Jane Shepard isn’t remarkable because she’s a woman. She’s extraordinary because she’s Shepard. This is reinforced by the ubiquity of other female characters who possess a wide array of competences: Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, asari archaeologist/information broker Liara T’Soni, quarian engineer Tali’Zorah vas Neema, Doctor Chakwas, Miranda Lawson, the asari Justicar Samara, and human weapon of mass destruction Jack (“Subject Zero”). And although the visible people of the human Alliance’s high command trend male, Mass Effect’s galaxy at large is populated with a multitude of interesting women, both human and alien.

And Shepard.

Marie Brennan wrote something pertinent to this disquisition at SF Novelists, not so long ago. In “The Effect She Can Have,” concerning another Bioware property, Dragon Age 2, Brennan says:

“It took me a while, though, to figure out that there was something else going on in my reaction — something beyond appreciation of the clever structural game the writers were playing.

She.

... [I]t allows you to experience the novelty of a woman being the most important damn person in the world.”

The most important damn person in the world.

There’s one scene in particular in Mass Effect 3 where that’s hammered home with a vengeance. How often is the “most famous officer” referred to with a female pronoun?

Dr. Liara T’Soni: Shepard was also a deadly tactical fighter. Most enemies never saw her coming. She was a soldier, and a leader — one who made peace where she could. And it was a privilege to know her.

The dialogue will be different depending on the game one plays. But the sentiment is the same. Commander Jane Shepard isn’t an extraordinary woman. She’s simply extraordinary. Full stop. No qualifiers. When one considers the amount of crap extraordinary people who are also women have directed at them even today — the likes of Hilary Clinton and Angela Merkel in the political realm,** household names like Lady Gaga, writers like Toni Morrison — this is immensely validating.***

**Whatever one thinks of their politics, there’s no escaping the fact that achieving their present positions took extraordinary drive.

***In researching this post, I discovered that Canada’s first female Major-General was appointed in 1994, while in 1995, Norway appointed the first ever female commander of a submarine. And as of 2005, the British forces have permitted female soldiers to enter the new Special Reconnaissance Regiment — which is the only Special Forces regiment in Britain to recruit women. Speaking of extraordinary.

In “The Effect She Can Have,” Brennan goes on to mention the dislocating effect of “having people speak in such monumental terms about this woman. About any woman... [A] male character can inspire such loyalty in their followers, or scare a room full of people just by walking in” — but as she notes, the female equivalent of this power fantasy remains a (slightly shocking) novelty.

Whatever the Mass Effect franchise’s gender-related worldbuilding flaws (there are male gaze issues with the presentation of the “matriarchal” asari as a species, although these are less pronounced in the final analysis than I feared they would be — and rather less pronounced than many television series which have featured female aliens: I’m looking at you, Torchwood and Doctor Who — and the presentation of the female krogan in Mass Effect 3 as more rational and less warlike than the males is not necessarily the best of all possible decisions that could be made), the manner in which it assumes (on grounds of gender, at least) an equal-opportunity future (and peoples its background across the three instalments with human women and men of all orientations: I confess, I did a little chair-dance when I realised there were romance options in ME3 that only worked for characters attracted to the same sex) is a choice that remains radical in its implications.

The manner in which it presents the Woman Hero as normal, as a character, and as a choice, in the case of Commander Jane Shepard, also remains radical. Playing as Commander John Shepard, I found myself annoyed at how predictable the hero’s development — and dialogue — could be. Playing as Commander Jane...

It was refreshing, and satisfying, and disorienting all at once. But the arc of the story is the same. Merely by removing the emphasis from the Woman part of heroine to the Hero part — in creating a Woman Hero who is extraordinary as a Hero, rather than as a Woman — Bioware made the experience innovative and fresh.

Perhaps in another generation or three, the Woman Hero will be as Normal (and annoying) as the square-jawed Hero himself. But right now?

Right now, I find Commander Jane Shepard delightful.

 

Follow Liz Bourke’s feminist SFF column Sleeps With Monsters here.

Image by DeviantArt user DazUki

 


Liz Bourke also appreciates the fact that several of the romance options in the Mass Effect franchise involved smart characters. Competence is sexy and brains are hot.

64 comments
Jack Jack
1. JackJack
For me, I wil always associate "woman hero" as Celes in Final Fantasy III (VI for those pedants out there).

Very little was made of her gender. There were times it was brought up and needed, but these were opportunities having more to do with being a doppleganger of a famous person, and her attraction to the man who saved her life (there was no opportunity with lgbt development in a video game at that time, barely even now). What struck me about that relationship is, she actually went through process of first being interested, then finding out about him as a person, rather than just going "oh, golly, you saved me, I love you forever."

She was an Imperial General. A construct trying to come to terms with what it meant to be a human being, not just a "heroine." Also, she was the most important person in the world, after it was broken. She played second fiddle to no one, except perhaps Terra, the first protagonist you meet in the game, also a female. Hell, you could probably show they were both the Heroes of the game.
Fade Manley
2. fadeaccompli
I followed the link to the Perseus definition of ????, and it says:

No accurate distinction is observed between “????” and “????

...which says a lot right there, I think, about the conception of the Hero in Western literature: intimately tied to the concept of a man, and not merely the sense of a person who is identified as male, but the Masculine Ideal and all the baggage that goes with that.

(I also recall the line in Homer about Athene's spear, which she uses to destroy "battle-lines of heroes." But I digress.)

And really, it's that kind of normalization of the female hero that I long for, and which pleases me so often when even the most cliched plots in video games let me play male or female characters with no real change to the plot itself aside from the choices I make. (Dragon Age, Mass Effect... Heck, even Diablo 3.) I don't find stories about women who are Exceptional Women all that empowering; it just reminds me that the story assumption is that most women aren't, and that it's all exciting and new that one woman could be. I want more stories like this, about women who are Exceptional. Without the unspoken caveat of "...for a girl" tagging along.
Fade Manley
3. fadeaccompli
Oh dear. It seems the comment box doesn't like my copy-pasting of Greek characters. I was referring to 'heros', then 'heros' and 'aner'--"hero" and "man"--in my comment above.
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
Okay, if we are going to talk about hero I think it is fair to bring up
aglæca the word for Beowulf & Grendel, the MonsterHero...
Ralph Feldhake
5. feldhake
I agree 100%. Shepard commands a degree of unquestioned respect and authority that is unheard of in female protagonists. In these games I can only recall two occasions when other characters gave her grief for being a girl. In 90+ hours of gameplay.

But it makes sense, if you think about it. To humans, she's already a proven veteran at the start of the series, while to the aliens she's just another human. Damn humans all look the same, anyway--what do I care which of their genders this one is?

Richard Cobbett has written that he thinks "Femshep" turned out so great at least in part because of benign neglect--Bioware paid for the extra voice acting and some extra animations, but generally just wrote the same game as for a male character. If they'd set out to write her as female, we would've been treated to a lot of scenes of her having to prove herself in a man's universe, etc.

Maybe so, but maybe not, too--Bioware has a history of strong female warrior characters, after all (who would've tried questioning Jaheira or Aveline about their toughness?). At any rate, Shepard really is wonderful.
Liz Bourke
6. hawkwing-lb
@fadeaccompli
which says a lot right there, I think, about the conception of the Hero in Western literature: intimately tied to the concept of a man, and not merely the sense of a person who is identified as male, but the Masculine Ideal and all the baggage
That's a good point, I think. A lot of the time, when we have a heroine, she's an Exceptional Woman - a singular woman - whose heroism is tied to the Exceptionality of her Womanness, rather than of her personness. (And let's just say that when she partakes of the Feminine Ideal... well, the reverse of the Masculine Ideal has its own shitload of baggage.)

I'm fumbling after words here. But there's a definite distinction to be made, I think.


@mordicai

The terror-hero?


@feldhake
Shepard commands a degree of unquestioned respect and authority that is unheard of in female protagonists
Yes. This, precisely.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
6. hawkwing-lb

I'm not quite sure. I think maybe the best examples of that are to be found in science fiction & comic books, actually...like, The Hulk.
Gerry__Quinn
8. Gerry__Quinn
'Heroine' has historically tended to carry connotations different from 'hero', only because women and idealisations of women have historically tended to be different from men and idealisations of men.

You might as well object to the character being described as a woman. Shepard is an action-heroine, like Lara Croft or Red Sonya. Such fanciful idealisations of women are quite commonplace in the present era, IMO.
Liz Bourke
9. hawkwing-lb
@Gerry_Quinn:

fanciful idealisations of women

Are you saying that the female action hero is inherently unrealistic? Do please clarify what you mean.
Gerry__Quinn
10. Edgewalker
I disagree entirely with this. The problem I have with FemShep is that her gender doesn't matter at all. She could be a man, could be a woman, everything is the same. That isn't a strong female hero or even a strong female character. That's a blank slate.

A true strong female hero would use the qualities inherent to women as her strengths. I understand such a thing would be almost impossible with Mass Effect's design of picking male or female and all the other choices you make. But regardless, FemShep isn't a strong female character, merely a strong character.
Ashley Fox
11. A Fox
Admittedly Im not a gamer, nor have I played any of the games mentioned...

But about 13 years ago I did play resident evil when it came out. Where you had the option of being Jack or Jill, and most people prefered Jill. Remarkably similar (banal) names to Jane and John. Obviously ths biomass is acclaimed as being more sophisticated all round, but that premise is not original, belying this as not quite as new as this article suggests.

The LGBT relationships seems to be where Biomass is more ground-braking. And this of course can be viewed as feminist empowerment as it promotes equality (and acceptance) with all genders.

@9 hawkwing-lb I would also like to hear that claification...

::raises eyebrows::

from the perspective of a woman who was playing with swords till near dawn (reasearch, honest). ;)
Mordicai Knode
12. mordicai
10. Edgewalker

I mean, I hear what you are saying but the article is explicitly discussing the normalization of gender & the "hero" role, right?
Liz Bourke
13. hawkwing-lb
@Edgewalker

The fact that's Shepard's a strong character, rather than a strong specifically female character, is rather the point. It is refreshing for her femaleness not to be a marked state.
Sky Thibedeau
14. SkylarkThibedeau
Well the twins Jack and Jane are both descended from Colonel John(over the years one of the p's dropped off or as many speculate great grandson Elmer Grey Sheppard had so many aliases his descendants didn't know which spelling was correct and went with the Devon and Cornwall spelling), its no wonder both are extraordinary heroes.
Fade Manley
15. fadeaccompli
Unless an important plot point revolves around the hero creating life the old-fashioned way, I don't want to see a science fiction action game where said hero uses "the qualities inherent to women*" to solve problems.

And even then, in a good futuristic setting, I'd assume that one could purchase all the ingredients and tools needed from a nice clinic to get the job done, with "the qualities inherent to women*" being therefore entirely superfluous.

--

* For biologically reductive definitions of "women," which many women will not--and are not obligated to--match anyway. But it's the only quality I can think of that'd be relevant by that definition.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
16. tnh
Liz @6:
A lot of the time, when we have a heroine, she's an Exceptional Woman - a singular woman - whose heroism is tied to the Exceptionality of her Womanness, rather than of her personness.
Which, by emphasizing how exceptional she is, deprecates all other women, because they're defined as the class to which she's the sole and glorious exception.

Edgewalker @10:
I disagree entirely with this. The problem I have with FemShep is that her gender doesn't matter at all. She could be a man, could be a woman, everything is the same. That isn't a strong female hero or even a strong female character. That's a blank slate. A true strong female hero would use the qualities inherent to women as her strengths. I understand such a thing would be almost impossible with Mass Effect's design of picking male or female and all the other choices you make. But regardless, FemShep isn't a strong female character, merely a strong character.
What exactly are these "qualities inherent to women"? Can you list them for us, please?

Why is it that the inherent qualities which men attribute to men and to human beings are so nearly identical, but the inherent qualities they generally attribute to women have so much less overlap with those of human beings?
Christopher Johnstone
17. CPJ
I think there's an interesting point here that deserves some thought.

Edgewalker's comment relates (as far as I read it) to similar points raised by writers like Le Guin. Now, I could be misremembering things, I don't have Voices of the Night to hand, but if I remember right, Le Guin's concern (that in part lead her to write Tehanu, Jo Walton's summary here: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/02/a-woman-on-gont-ursula-le-guins-lemgtehanulemg) was that a lot of sexist portrayals in SFF (and other lit and media) revolve around not a dismissal of the biological female as unimportant or lesser than biological males, but of a dismissal of the cultural female as lesser to the cultural male: those things culturally associated with 'female', domesticity, the home, children and so on are always devalued.

I'll immediately state of course, that not all biological females are concerned or interested in traditional cultural female concerns, and not all biological males are uninterested in traditional cultural female concerns. It's a false dichotomy to talk about 'cultural male' and 'female' as cetegories for real people, but I think we can talk about traditionally male a female concerns. So, the home might be viewed as a traditionally female concern, but boxing might be viewed as traditionally male concern. A person might feel a concern for both their home decor and their boxing career.

I think what this leads to though, is a question about what is achieved by presenting the female hero as a culturally male hero (whose behaviour and concerns are traditionally male, but who happens to be biologically female) (which having not played Mass Effect, I assume is the case: I'm not sure? Correct me if wrong on this point).

My feeling is that such a portrayal is going to resonate with biological females who don't identify with traits associated with being culturally female. It would be relieving and refreshing to not have to deal with any of the baggage of cultural femaleness (or at least that's what I read hawkwing-lb to be saying, again correct me if wrong).

But from a certain point of view (and I'm not saying the right point of view, or a more right or less right or whatever), but from a certain point of view, the action of making a biological female 'heroic' by making the character behave like a traditionally masculine 'hero' is dismissive of traditional cultural female concerns, and of people (male or female) who identify with them.

For me, this gets down to a question about what is sexism? If a biological female can avoid sexism by acting traditionally masculine in all ways, has sexism been overcome, or is the biological female just seen as an honorary male until procreation is required?

You could imagine a switched around game where a player can pick either sex, but they are culturally 'traditionally female' regardless of their biological sex (the character is concerned with domesticity, the home, raising their well-adjusted children, doing school runs, oh my god, aliens! etc).

I think that would be much more surprising to see, because as a culture we still tend to think default = male, so that in most computer games, default hero = male hero, regardless of biological sex.

I'm trying to be careful here not to imply assumptions about women in today's society *actually*being concerned with culturally or traditionally female roles or behaviours, or for that matter assuming that biological males are not culturally or traditionally female in their behaviour or concerns.

I guess the rhetorical question I want to ask is: does normalisation of sex and the 'hero' role have to equate with a transposition of the biological female into a traditionally masculine notion of 'hero'?

Put another way, is there an example of a game where the reverse happens? Where a biological male is transposed into what we might recognise as a traditional 'heronie'? or a game where you can play a man or woman, but the behaviour is indistinguishable in both case from someone who is culturally traditonally female?

Would such a game sell? Would people play it? Would you play such a game? If so, why? If not, why not?

@ fadeaccompli: for trivia purposes, you could add a plot point around being a tetrachromat, I guess, if you wanted to get down to really fine biological differences, as anyone without two X chromosomes can't be tetrachromat. An person who was XXY could be though, at least in theory. That would be a more interesting plot device than birthing I suspect. Let's say, it turns out that the some angry aggressive aliens are tetrachromat, and because their technology is coloured for a tetrachromat vision, only a very few biologically female individauls can look at an alien view panels/tech and read it correctly. Men and non-tetrachromat women would just see a jumble of indistinguishable colours (though gene therapy might provide a tetrachromat fix?). You could imagine a situation in which not only would military strike teams need to include tetrachromat women, but pretty soon it might be obvious that tetrachromats need to lead the teams to avoid total confusion inside an alien vessel or when dealing with alien tech or something. After time a cultural image of military leader might default to biologically female.

I'll just finish this off by explaining that I've tried to avoid (my own) unexamined assumptions in the above but probably haven't completely suceeded. I hope I haven't offended anyone. If I have offended, I apologise.

Chris
Christopher Johnstone
18. CPJ
@ tnh

What exactly are these "qualities inherent to women"? Can you list them for us, please?

I read that as culturally assumed 'qualities' rather than actual morphological or physiological traits. This is why I changed the term to 'concerns' to make it clearer that cultural assumptions are at work (hope that's clear in my ramble?).

Why is it that the inherent qualities which men attribute to men and to human beings are so nearly identical, but the inherent qualities they generally attribute to women have so much less overlap with those of human beings?

I'm sort of sort of side-tracking, so feel free to ignore me, but...

As long as you mean 'within a given cultural group' rather than 'among races and cultures', your statement holds. European men have a pretty poor track record in terms of attributing qualities to non-European men that overlap with a notion of 'human'. This is literally true here in Australia where early attempts were made to prove that native Aborigines were not human by dissecting them... my understanding is that until shockingly recently (the 20th century) killing an Aborigine was only a crime under the wildlife act. It wasn't even murder.

Anyway, that's just me side-tracking. As I said, your point seems valid within cultural groups at least, and maybe between nieghbouring or closely familiar cultural groups as well.

Chris
Mordicai Knode
19. mordicai
Any discussion of sex & gender is going to get muddy, & even muddier when you seperate (rightly) "masculine" & "feminine" from "man" & "woman" & the nebulous biological spectrum that people often incorrectly pretend has two settings.

I think the discussion of normalization doesn't have to be...universal. If you think Sheppard's gender doesn't come into play enough, that is a fair & valid point...but the counterpoint is that Sheppard's gender doesn't come into play. That in & of itself is a statement on depictions of gender! It doesn't mean that allllll female action heroes should be depicted with their gender not being a concern...just that this one time it does.

& if I'm not mistaking, I think part of the point of the article is that by normalizing the traits of heroism, ME3 is implicitly stripping them from a "masculine" context. We get to create culture! There isn't a magical cultural "masculine" checklist; it is a moving target. By having a Sheppard that kicks butt & leads people-- & is female-- there is a characterization that says "who says kicking butt & leading people is inherently male, or masculine?"
Cait Glasson
20. CaitieCat
Actually thinking about picking this game up, now that I've joined the 21st century in acquiring a newer console than my aging PS2s (PS3 now, huzzah!). Any shooter/RPG that can turn out to have a feminist review/approach that doesn't basically say "Caveat cogitora" is starting off from a pretty good point, in my book.

The thing that would have made Red Dead Redemption a perfect game, in that same book, would have been the option to be Jane Marston, a scarred woman bounty hunter, looking for some complicated vengeance-thingy (I've not finished RDR yet, so I dunno how it turns out yet - only got the PS3 last week!).
Gerry__Quinn
21. Gerard__Quinn
hawkwing @ 9:
"Are you saying that the female action hero is inherently unrealistic?"

Pretty much all genre action heroes are inherently unrealistic. For a fact, though, female humans dedicate a good deal more biological capital to things necessary for the propagation of the species, which leaves less over for things necessary for kicking butt.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
21. Gerard__Quinn

Arguing that depictions of action heroes are unrealistic, then saying silly pop culture evolutionary biology "facts" (nota bene, not actual facts) to justify why women kick less but is...um, pretty patently ridiculous.
Maiane Bakroeva
23. Isilel
Tnh @16:
Which, by emphasizing how exceptional she is, deprecates all other women, because they're defined as the class to which she's the sole and glorious exception.
Which is why it is truly disheartining that the bulk of urban fantasy seems to have adopted this trope. In fact, many go even further, making becoming supernatural creature X rare/impossible for women, and of course making the heroine an improbable/only exception, so that she can bask in the attention of all the male X without any fear of competition!

Re: basing a game around "culturally female" concerns - I'd say The Sims and maybe Harvest Moon/Rune Factory series do it? Never played the latter 2, though, and I think that they have male protagonists anyway...
Fade Manley
24. fadeaccompli
Isilel @23:

The Harvest Moon settings do predominately feature male protagonists... in the US. Some versions that were released in the US with only the male protagonist let you play as a boy or a girl in the original Japanese version. (In some cases, the girl version was later released as a standalone in the US as well.) The Rune Factory settings have all had male protagonists so far, though the latest iteration, for complicated reasons, lets you play sort of as both for most of the game, and then choose which you want to control after you reach a certain late-game plot point.

That said, I find the trope subversion (at least compared to US standard tropes) interesting in that these are games with male protagonists where romance is a major factor. And not in the "to get sexy cutscenes" sense. Playing as a male character, it's a major gameplay component to form friendships with various other characters, and then eventually pursue a romance with one of them. And get married. And have a child.

Which is not to say that they have startlingly modern gender dynamics; a lot of it comes across as very 1950s, if anything. But it's still an interesting change of pace from the assumption that games about domestic matters are inherently about girls. Having a male protagonist who's committed to gardening, pet care, and getting married is almost as interesting for making certain Protagonist Goals unmarked as the female Hero is.

Of course, in the Rune Factory games, with the almost exclusively male protagonists, they go and add in combat again... But you can also have various characters follow you into battle, some female, and this is generally treated as unexceptional. If someone is particularly afraid of monsters, or gung-ho to interact with them, it's because that's their personality trait, not because of whether they're male or female.
Pamela Adams
25. Pam Adams
(the character is concerned with domesticity, the home, raising their well-adjusted children, doing school runs, oh my god, aliens! etc).

Didn't Connie Willis write this one?
Gerry__Quinn
26. Marian Halcombe
@mordicai --
& if I'm not mistaking, I think part of the point of the article is that by normalizing the traits of heroism, ME3 is implicitly stripping them from a "masculine" context. We get to create culture! There isn't a magical cultural "masculine" checklist; it is a moving target. By having a Sheppard that kicks butt & leads people-- & is female-- there is a characterization that says "who says kicking butt & leading people is inherently male, or masculine?"
Exactly! I don't have much to add to that but I felt compelled to second it.

@CPJ -
(the character is concerned with domesticity, the home, raising their well-adjusted children, doing school runs, oh my god, aliens! etc).
One recent PS3 game with a male protagonist who fits this bill is "Heavy Rain." Ethan's storyline is all about taking care of his family, beginning with mundane domestic tasks (like setting up for a birthday party) and moving on to more dramatic challenges.
Liz Bourke
27. hawkwing-lb
tnh @16
Which, by emphasizing how exceptional she is, deprecates all other women, because they're defined as the class to which she's the sole and glorious exception.
Yes. This is what I was trying to say yesterday and failing.



mordicai @19

I think part of the point of the article is that by normalizing the traits of heroism, ME3 is implicitly stripping them from a "masculine"context.
You make the point with so much greater brevity. :)



Gerard_Quinn @20:

FOB FEMINISM WOO YAY welcomes a new visitor to the environs of the Sleeps With Monsters column, and suggests that consultation of some handy reference materials might prove of use. Argument ad dubium physiologia (to break out the bad Latin)? Not so useful...

fadeaccompli @ 24:

Having a male protagonist who's committed to gardening, pet care, and getting married is almost as interesting for making certain Protagonist Goals unmarked as the female Hero is.
I have to say, since I'm almost exclusively in the blowing-shit-up-with-good-storytelling end of the rpg pool (and that not more than once or twice a year: games be expensive and time-consuming!) I haven't encountered many games in which domesticity is a Big Thing in general. The benefit of your knowledge, I seek it.
Fade Manley
28. fadeaccompli
Unless you go for Cooking Mama or themed puzzled games (it's Bejeweled... but with cleaning product icons!), the Harvest Moon/Rune Factory games are the only ones that spring to mind as ones about domesticity, for me. I mean, it comes up in The Sims too, but even there, the focus is usually more on jobs and relationships--which can include caring for the house and having a family--than domestic matters as such.

Oh! Though there was one weird, adorable GameCube game called Chibi Robo, in which you play a teeny tiny robot who cleans the house for the nice family while they're asleep at night. Lots of navigating the huge house, scrubbing spots with a toothbrush and such. But given it involves a robot who's very loosely gendered as male, I'm not sure how well it actually bears any relevance on the "gender roles in games about domesticity" thing.

The Sims does provide an interesting example, though, in that by the third installment of the series, it has managed to reach almost complete gender neutrality in actual gameplay. (The exception: producing infants by making your virtual people have sex.) There are still a lot of strong gender markers in what clothing and hairstyles are available for different genders, but as far as actual mechanics go? It is a wonderful world of perfect equality.

...as is The Sims Medieval, which casts everything in that faux-medieval time of generic knights fighting generic dragons. That's a pretty goofy game--and not very domestic, so I'm wandering from the point--but it does provide an interesting example of a game deciding to just go, "Eh, why should playing a male/female character make any difference except in graphics and pronoun choice? Players will choose for themselves the routes they want to take if they feel it matters for the character."
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
30. tnh
Gerard Quinn @21:
hawkwing @ 9: "Are you saying that the female action hero is inherently unrealistic?" Pretty much all genre action heroes are inherently unrealistic. For a fact, though, female humans dedicate a good deal more biological capital to things necessary for the propagation of the species, which leaves less over for things necessary for kicking butt.
Since we're talking about virtual butt-kicking, I believe my activities qualify. I moderate more than one forum. There isn't much of that at Tor.com, but I certainly do it elsewhere. On the other hand, I spend zero time or resources propagating my species. Which conclusion do we draw -- I'm not human, I'm not female, or your model leaves a lot to be desired?

Liz @27: Blockquoting, like whiting out, only works properly if you apply it after cycling through "Preview Comment", just before you post. Doing multiple previews after you apply the blockquote format adds extra blank lines each time you do it.
Steven Halter
31. stevenhalter
tnh@30:
Since we're talking about virtual butt-kicking, I believe my activities qualify.
Best exemplar of the day. +1 internet.
:-)
Liz Bourke
32. hawkwing-lb
tnh @ 30:

Thank you. That information will help me be tidier next time. *does not want to muck formatting all to hell and gone*
Christopher Johnstone
33. CPJ
I'm completely out of touch with consol games, so it's interesting to hear about Harvest Moon and Rune Factory. Also, I now want to play Chibi.

mordicai @19 and hawkwing-lb @27

I'm remain somewhat unconvinced that Mass Effect will have so successfully stripped warfare and violence of its masculine context - but - I haven't played the game, so I can't really judge... I'll defer to those who've actually played the game on that score. I can only add that it does seem a rather remarkable achievement though, to have taken thousands of years of cultural baggage in which 'violence = masculine' and absolved all of this from the experience in a consol game...

Maybe I'm misjudging the game? My impression is that characters solve problems by killing problems, and the image at the top of this page is of a woman in what would probably be considered a traditionally/culturally masculine pose. If you made a stick figure of that pose and showed it to strangers, I suspect most would identify it as culturally male.

Nonetheless, I agree with Mordicai's statement above that not all normalisation of the hero role for a female must be universal, but I dunno... it just looks like in this situation we are looking at masculinisation rather than normalisation exactly, admittedly only an impression from a distance.

I'll leave that alone now. As I said: I don't know. Haven't played the game. Feel free to shake you head and mutter to yourself, digital philistine. No appreciation for fine gaming.

Gerard_Quinn @20:

I won't get into biology too much. I'm reluctant to because I tend to find that non-biologists don't actually have a good understanding of the underlying theory, and then get angry about what they assume biologists think based on outdated theories from decades ago.

I am myself a biologist with a focus on conservation biology, physiology and evolutionary theory (I have scientific papers and fancy letters after my name and lecture in a university and everything), so, um, yeah. I think I understand what you were trying to say, but it isn't what you actually said, and what you were trying to say isn't strictly correct anyway, given our understanding of evolutionary processes and metabolic theory.

Producing viable sperm (and competitive sperm if a woman is having sex with multiple men), identifying potential mates, behaviour needed for establishing a pair-bond, maintaining a healthy immune system so as to be fertile, maintaining a high (and harmfully viscous) red blood cell concentration so as to be active: all of these are metabolically expensive for males and relate to reproductive investment. Remember that on average men die younger than woman. If anything, an argument can be made that differences in investment in reproductive potential (rather than output or fecundity) wears men out faster than women, and leads to earlier average deaths.

Childbirth is dangerous for women, and post-childbirth care is metabolically expensive, but unless the character in this game gives birth half-way through, that isn't really an issue here. Also, technology has presumably solved this problem in this future universe anyway, because dying in childbirth sucks and we've been trying to stop that happening for a while now. It's clearly a technological goal we want as a species, zero deaths in childbirth. We're not there yet, but things have improved and will improve into the future.

What you were trying to say (I think) was that because of birth canals, the musculo-skeletal strucutre of an average women is less well-suited to physical close combat than the musculo-skeletal structure of the average man (on average, and for other readers, please don't assume I'm agreeing with this or not). This is a whole rabbit hole of assumptions and confusions and it's not worth getting into.

In any instance, if we are discussing a science fiction game in which killing other people is done with technology, not clubs, its a moot point. The average woman can pull a trigger or push a button and kill people with technology-induced detachment just as easily as the average man can.

Re-reading that, I'm probably now coming across as anti-violent to the point of being ludicrous. Hm. Ok. I've only once in my life been in a situation where I found myself potentially needing to solve a problem with violence (crazy, drug-addled Scotsman with a huge timber axe screaming 'I'm going to kill you all' on a London Underground carriage. As it turns out I still didn't need to resort to violence. I took the axe off the guy stealthily rather than violently, and stared him down until he calmed to a point where we could talk.) But the point is, yes, I do concede that there are some situations in which violence is justified because it is the only course. And yes, I watched Star Wars and enjoyed it, and other similar films and books too, so I'm not immune to the violence/primal head-buzz thing either.

Anyway, I appreciate the civil intelligent conversation around this. This is exactly the sort of topic that can spin off into angry accusations. It's nice when that doesn't happen.

Chris
Mordicai Knode
34. mordicai
33. CPJ

Oh man now I sort of want to corner you at a party & talk Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. I usually point to her as the point at which my little college brain went "OH WAIT WOAH NOW I GET THIS FEMINISM THING!"
Liz Bourke
35. hawkwing-lb
CPJ @ 33

It hasn't stripped violence of its context for us, no. But I think part of the process of moving towards more egaliterianism in entertainment is being able to have a Woman Hero who does exactly the same things as a male Hero and is in no way punished or marked out for being a woman while doing them.*

There is no perfect entertainment. (And it would be fantastic to have more depictions of men doing traditionally female things and not being punished or marked out for them.) But the Mass Effect games (and the Dragon Age ones, and the likes of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, but I point to Mass Effect particularly because it evolved to have a large shooter element) is significantly less unfeminist than many. (Particularly than many shooter games, which I enjoyed as a young teenager and can't touch now because the thoughtless sexism makes my teeth hurt.)

---
*I can't say that internalised misogyny plays no part in what I value in entertainment. Who can say that, honestly? But I can't deny that my interests as far back as I remember involve "Big Damn Hero" stuff - so I'm really glad to have a handful of games that let me see myself in the main role (and normalise it as a choice) without saying, You can't REALLY do anything like this, because you're a GIRL.
Steven Halter
36. stevenhalter
hawkwing-lb@35:I think your footnote is quite important. Why in the world should anyone be stripped of the potential for identification with characters because of sex.
It is the case that pretty much no one could really do the things characters in games can do, so there is no reason to limit anyone based on artificial "real world limits." I'm glad that games are opening up and letting everyone share in like this.
Christopher Johnstone
37. CPJ
@ Mordicai

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's stuff is fascinating. As I understand it, a lot of what was considered controversal when she first proposed it is now in the mainstream of modern sexual conflict theory* (though it's not my specialist area, so I could be wrong about how much is accepted as standard theory now).

* Which I think is what she's best known for? She has more recent work as well that I ought to look up and read.

@ hawkwing-lb

Fair enough. That is of course completely valid. And the thing is, even regardless of what the creators of the game may or may not have been concious of when designing it, if the game provides the experience of being the hero without any sort of weird-baggage-aftertaste, then its a good thing.

And I'd be lying if I got all faux moralistic and claimed I didn't also enjoy a bit of heroic actiony stuff now and then. It's valid and I understand where you're coming from, or at least I think I do. I'm always a bit unsure whether I really understand what people write online (or elsewhere) or whether I only think I do. I guess that besets us all.

Also I think 'significantly less unfeminist' has got to be up there with TNH's virtual butt-kicking for the quote of the day stakes. Nicely phrased.

Thanks,

Chris

EDIT: typo you>you're
Mordicai Knode
38. mordicai
37. CPJ

Yeah, when she started writing, the anthropologist community snubbed her-- "no, choosey females choose show off males, we decided that was how sexual selection worked, now get back in the kitchen!"-- & the feminist community snubbed her too-- "evolutionary biology is the tool of the Patriarchy uses to explain why they oppress women!" & so that was a tough row to hoe. "Mother Nature" is her best work by a mile, if you ask me, but if you are in the mood for some clinical primatology "The Woman Who Never Evolved" is good.
Gerry__Quinn
39. Gerry__Quinn
CPJ @ 33:
"What you were trying to say (I think) was that because of birth canals, the musculo-skeletal strucutre of an average women is less well-suited to physical close combat than the musculo-skeletal structure of the average man (on average, and for other readers, please don't assume I'm agreeing with this or not). "

This was the least evasive of a number of responses. (Though I am baffled that you felt it necessary to add the rider that you don't want people to see you agreeing to something that is pretty obvious to everyone. Are you afraid to speak freely?)

Some people mentioned evolutionary biology. I did not - I was referring to human sexual dimorphism which is observable, and no reasonable person would claim that it is entirely a product of culture. I would note that aside from birth canals there are many other differences in male and female musculo-skeletal structure and body composition, along with whatever differences in mental composition that have co-evolved with them (the latter are undoubtedly real too, although their entanglement with culture is greater).

When we talk about action heroes, we are not talking about average people; we are talking about extremes, tested against other extremes. Suppose we took a sport such as soccer as an analogy to battle, and attempted to objectively determine the best soccer players in the world independent of gender. What proportion of women would we choose?

Of course I'm assuming that we have the means of determining this, which would require that men and women competed on equal terms in the same teams. That happens in very few sports. Why is that?

You do make a valid point about push-button combat, which obviously depends much less on musculo-skeletal structure. But most action heroes/heroines don't depend too much on this. As for the mad Scotsman, you resolved it without violence, and if you were a woman you could have resolved it as well, and in much the same way, leaning on calmness and getting it through to him that you were not afraid of him and also considered him capable of returning to rationality. (Though it wouldn't be exactly the same in every nuance; gender relations play a part in any such interaction.)

Now I don't have the slightest objection to fantasy action heroines, and I think it's fine that people who want to play them (as some posters have pointed out) have that option. What I object to is the implication that they are somehow asserting radical truths about human nature that our culture conspires to deny. They do assert the truth that women can be very capable in any situation. But equally they deny the truth that men and women are not, in fact, completely interchangeable.
Fade Manley
40. fadeaccompli
I am baffled at people who refer to action heroes--who wildly defy the laws of physics, and in the case of Mass Effect, can quite often not only use heavy weaponry and armor, but outright kill you with their minds--and say that it's somehow more implausible for them to be female than male.

My Shep can kill people by pointing a really enormous high-tech gun at them and pulling the trigger. I fail to see how hip dimensions are relevant. Hercules walked into Hades and wrestled an enormous three-headed dog into submission. I also fail to see how the proximity of a penis was relevant.

Heroes are exceptional. Fictional heroes are often unrealistically exceptional. Trying to apply "but sexual dimorphism!" to heroes is as silly as getting upset over how that three-headed dog would have occurred, grown to that size, and ended up guarding the land of the dead.
Mordicai Knode
41. mordicai
40. fadeaccompli

...but, but, but...slight endocrine differences! I think it is weird; there are plenty of common tropes in media-- like Bron & Sandor facing off last week & The Hound saying he's bigger & Bron quipping that he's faster-- that would seem to apply to women as easily as men. Like when characters talk about how the hard part of killing isn't the doing of it, but the mental part. Could be a lady as well as a man. We can see Batman fighting Superman & not go "wait, but Superman can kill him by looking at him" but the idea that a lady might be as tough as a fellow is somehow outside the suspension of disbelief? Oh, because the suspension of disbelief is a cultural construction? Oh, huh.
Fade Manley
43. fadeaccompli
mordicai @41:

I know that slight endocrine differences weigh heavily on my mind every day! Why, just this morning, I was going to say something assertive, but then the slight endocrine differences kicked in and reminded me that I was supposed to be diplomatic and nurturing.

Fortunately, I have acquired tiny boxing gloves, which allow me to punch the endocrine differences in their tiny metaphorical faces, and thus violently resolved the potential issue.

Slightly more seriously: one of the things I find interesting about playing JRPGs is the way they can highlight gender issues by showing me a different culture's idea of what men and women "normally" act like, even when run up to hero/heroine levels. Play one or two games, and it looks like a character trait; play a dozen games, and I suddenly realize that what I thought was an interesting bit of character development for that one male or female character is actually an entire codified idea of What Men (or Women) Really Act Like.

There's a huge amount of overlap--women are more domestic and like cute things! men are braver and make crude comments!--but even so, it helps remind me how much these things are culturally encoded.

All of the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games, however, are full of people who are firmly convinced that the best way to a woman's heart is by baking really impressive meals that are to her taste. Go figure.
Mordicai Knode
44. mordicai
43. fadeaccompli

I mean-- I don't want to be too much of a jerk to Gerry__Quinn, who is discussing with us in good faith. Sorry Gerry, I just...I just can't. I can't have this conversation without being snarky. I just can't.
Fade Manley
45. fadeaccompli
mordicai @44: You make a good point. I should note, for the record, that I really appreciate the politeness and good faith aspects of this debate so far.

But, yes, on a personal level, I feel like someone is trying to explain to me how, as a woman, I should just inherently adore kumquats. And that if I dislike kumquats, I'm still disliking them less than the level at which men tend to dislike kumquats, because I am naturally predisposed to kumquat love in a way men are not. So of course, in any story where fruit play a role, it's Right and Proper that a woman should star--because of that inherent kumquat love--and it's some sort of wacky political correctness to let a man be the protagonist. Since even if he likes kumquats, he could, as the most kumquat-loving man of all, never love them as much as the most kumquat-loving woman does, which will then affect all relationships to fruit.

It just seems silly, and I'm not really sure how to respond.

Also, "kumquat" no longer looks like a real word to me.
Mordicai Knode
46. mordicai
45. fadeaccompli

It is more than that, because it is an argument telling you why you can't feature women in stories about apples & oranges. Sure, all the mainstream stories are about apples & oranges, but whatever. It would be ridiculous to have a woman in a story about apples & oranges...everybody knows women love kumquats. It is just natural. It isn't that they don't think women are great! Kumquats are just as important as apples & oranges, right? Just you know, not everybody wants to see kumquat stories, so we stick with apples & oranges, & thus men are the stars. That isn't sexism, that is science!
Fade Manley
47. fadeaccompli
mordicai @46: See, now I'm contemplating the Vorkosigan series, where the author manages to tell all sorts of action-adventure-spy-explosions stories about a protagonist who is, indeed, prevented from being physically equal--much less superior--to most men, by virtue of inherent physical characteristics. And yet somehow still manages to be an exceptional person, and quite often a Hero--sometimes even in combat!--despite those limitations.
Cait Glasson
48. CaitieCat
Since even if he likes kumquats, he could, as the most kumquat-loving
man of all, never love them as much as the most kumquat-loving woman does, which will then affect all relationships to fruit.

You're not really John Norman, are you? Cause that sounds alarmingly like something out of House and Gor-den, or maybe Kumquat Love Slaves of Gor.
Liz Bourke
49. hawkwing-lb
CatieCat @48:

That made me laugh so hard.
Fade Manley
50. fadeaccompli
*spit-takes*

I am never looking at a kumquat the same way again.
Craig Jarvis
51. hawkido
Always refreshing to see how someone else views what seems trivial and un-noteworthy. I myself didn't think it such a big deal that there is/isn't woman heros in stories.

I remember watching "Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story", I thought it was great, but my friend I had watched it with started crying sometime during the movie. It took me a while to figure it out. He was Philipeno, and experienced alot of the same prejudicies Bruce Lee had and it hit me, how different people get different things out of their choice of entertainment depending on their background. To me the movie wasn't much about prejudice at all... just the opposing forces between him and his goal, but being a white protestant male, I couldn't really see what he had experienced. And I was there through alot of it. There hadn't been much prejudice against my categorical group at the time (except for being quite short for a male)... It's a little different now days LOL.

I get what she is saying about the difference between Female Hero and Heroine... Hero is the role being filled, gender is only a descriptive, not a qualifier. Heroine is kinda like the WNBA. They are really good, "For being girls". This is why there shouldn't be gender specific changes to role names... Ladies stand up and be proud Policemen, Firemen, Airmen, for if there is no difference then why the need for a different name.

Just keep an eye out for all those short heroes you don't see or hear anything about. I'll leave the fruit out of the discussion.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
52. tnh
Gerry Quinn @39:
This was the least evasive of a number of responses. (Though I am baffled that you felt it necessary to add the rider that you don't want people to see you agreeing to something that is pretty obvious to everyone. Are you afraid to speak freely?)
You will be more polite, please.
I was referring to human sexual dimorphism which is observable, and no reasonable person would claim that it is entirely a product of culture.
No person here, reasonable or unreasonable, has made that claim. Meanwhile, I'm sure that no reasonable person would claim that sexual dimorphism is unaffected by culture.

However, the really pertinent question would have to be either "How much is it affected?" or "How much does it matter?" That is: there are differences. They aren't well-defined, and many of them aren't well-understood. Insofar as the question can be asked at all, in a situation of highly mechanized warfare, what differences do they make? Are those differences significant?

For instance: men on average have greater upper-body strength. Back when warfare consisted of hitting each other with sharpened metal bars, it was an advantage. That's been changing ever since gunpowder came in. Meanwhile, women have greater endurance, greater cold tolerance, and cope better with zero gee. Those haven't gone out of style.

As for real-world weapons, I can fire an M15 just fine, but I really prefer the Thompson submachine gun. I like its engineering. Achilles, Beowulf, and Lancelot would be dead long before they got close enough to use their upper-body strength on me.
I would note that aside from birth canals there are many other differences in male and female musculo-skeletal structure and body composition,
Again: what are they, how significant are they, and what exactly do they change or affect? It's not enough to simply assert that there are differences.

We know that there's a great deal of physiological variation between one man and another. If we're comparing a man and a woman of similar ancestry, age, social background, upbringing, and inclinations -- as alike, say, as Cersei and Jamie Lanister -- is there less difference between that man and woman than there is between that man and another man who's of the same age but shares nothing else?

Quite possibly it is. Genitals and reproductive organs are significant features, but god knows they aren't magic. They certainly aren't the only physical fact about us that matters.
along with whatever differences in mental composition that have co-evolved with them
Oh, no you don't. Last I looked, there wasn't a single mental characteristic that had clearly and unambiguously been established to be a function of gender -- and that's not for lack of trying.
(the latter are undoubtedly real too, although their entanglement with culture is greater).
They are still very much in doubt. Gender, it seems, is a much more complex and nuanced continuum than the simple bipolar schemes imagined in earlier times.
When we talk about action heroes, we are not talking about average people; we are talking about extremes, tested against other extremes. Suppose we took a sport such as soccer as an analogy to battle, and attempted to objectively determine the best soccer players in the world independent of gender.
They would still be men, of course. But we're not talking about games where the player's first-person character is a soccer player -- or a prima ballerina, for that matter.

You put a great deal too much faith in the underpants-gnome proposition that there are certain physical differences between men and women, and therefore some vast number of assumptions and consequences must necessarily follow. So many of these immutable laws have evaporated on close examination that you really must forgive us for taking a skeptical attitude toward the rest.
You do make a valid point about push-button combat, which obviously depends much less on musculo-skeletal structure. But most action heroes/heroines don't depend too much on this.
Which game were we talking about?
As for the mad Scotsman, you resolved it without violence, and if you were a woman you could have resolved it as well, and in much the same way, leaning on calmness and getting it through to him that you were not afraid of him and also considered him capable of returning to rationality. (Though it wouldn't be exactly the same in every nuance; gender relations play a part in any such interaction.)
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that the nuances of such interactions are different for everyone. Unless you're dealing with a gender-obsessed crazy -- that is, with someone who's determined to make gender an issue -- it's not that big a factor. Styles of communication matter more.
Now I don't have the slightest objection to fantasy action heroines, and I think it's fine that people who want to play them (as some posters have pointed out) have that option.
Thank you. I recognize that that's a generous concession.
What I object to is the implication that they are somehow asserting radical truths about human nature that our culture conspires to deny.
Insofar as anyone can be said to have asserted that, you're more than welcome -- encouraged, even -- to engage with the idea and argue with it. The thread's young yet.
They do assert the truth that women can be very capable in any situation. But equally they deny the truth that men and women are not, in fact, completely interchangeable.
Once more into the breach for hairy England: no one has said that women and men are completely interchangeable. They have questioned whether the ways in which men and women are not interchangeable have any relevance in this matter.
Christopher Johnstone
53. CPJ
Ok. I'm up against a marking deadline, so this'll be quick and I won't be checking back for a couple days.

I'd prefer it if everyone played nice. Gerry Quinn picked up that I'm being careful with phrasing. It's not because I'm afraid to say what I think. It's because I'm trying not to accidentally say what I don't think. Firing off quick messages without careful phrasing tends towards the latter in people, I find.

Sexual dimorphism is real in humans, but we've no clear idea how functional it is. Other apes (without pair bonding mating systems) have much more substantial sexual dimorphism. It could be that sexual dimorphism in humans isn't highly functional, but is possibly just a hang-over of our ape ancestry. Vestigal dimorphism if you will. Certainly it seems to have been radically unimportant during early human evolution because our ancestor males who were bigger seem to have lost out in the gene pool race to males who were more similar in size to females. I don't know if there is good fossil evidence for that offhand, but given our ape ancestry, at one point our ancestors must have had much more pronounced dimorphism. Humans are sometimes decribed as infantilised (or sometimes 'self-domesticated') chimpanzees. That is reasonable, but you could just as easily argue that human males are feminized male chimpanzees. We lost most of the big bad male ape genes millions of years ago. Are the remaining morphological differences functional? Maybe. Human males don't fight one another for access to multiple mates, so if dimorphism is functional, it isn't in any sort of standard mammalian way.

But, here's another way to look at the physical differences and fighting thing. Japanese men are on average shorter and less robust than European men. Does this imply that samuri and ninja would have been inherently inferior fighters compared to a European knight or man-at-arms? I think that's murky at best. The thing is, training, culture, mental agility, speed and other factors overwhelm the average physical differences.

For more context, scroll down the below link for images of athletic women and men. Diversity in body shape between and within men and women is pretty extreme.

http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/page/10

What this does raise is a really interesting question: why have most (but not all) cultures traditionally sent men but not women to fight wars? There are no doubt many sociological theses on this, but I'll give you what I consider a reasonable biological explanation.

Most men are dead wood.

It's nothing to do with body size or fighting ability or anything. Men are reproductive dead wood as far as the gene pool and the next generation are concerned. Men are utterly expendable from a continuation-of-the-population point of view. A culture that chooses to send men to fight (for whatever superstitious, biased or cultural reason) will still be able to produce the next generation. You can kill all the men bar a few, and still produce a healthy number of children. There will be enough genetic diversity in the women that having only a couple of fathers isn't a big issue.

On the other hand, if your little village sends all the women to be killed in a war, bar a few, and you keep all the men home barefoot and cooking, there is no next generation. A few surviving women just can't reproduce fast enough. If human women gave birth to litters, things might be very very different...

This argument runs that the cultural reason for sending men to war (men fight better) isn't the reason this was selected for in cultures over time (too few women = too few offspring, regardless of how many men are around).

The same runs for men doing heavy physical work (dangerous), hunting (dangerous), handling large animals (dangerous).

I'm running the risk of being biologically reductionist, but to be honest, I think humans are animals and ignoring biology and selective pressures is just as dangerous and short-sighted as attributing everything to biology where humans are concerned.

- I'm going to call out the 'slight endocrine' differences here too. There are also genomic (XY chromosome) and epigenetic differences, but more importantly, the endocrine system is so complicated that small differences in hormone cocnentrations cannot be inferred to mean functionally unimportant either. I know what you're getting at but just be careful with wording.

- Also, I'm unconvinced that if the world's top football teams were opened to women, there would be no top women players. I've always suspected that some of the best female soccer players in top leagues are already better than some of the worst male players in top leagues. As soccer requires both agility and strength, the atypically large males who sit at the end of the curve don't really have much of an advantage, so aren't able to have the same excluding effect as they might in say boxing or American gridiron.

Right. That's all very quick. I've probably typed it too quickly to catch various typos and other errors. Also, I may have not represented my thoughts very well. Also, I may have made you all angry or offended someone or something.

Gerry Quinn is discussing this in good faith and deserves good faith answers and questions and conversation in return.

Chris

Also, on a final note, the drugged up Scotsman was so drugged up, I expect he didn't know if I was male or female, or a giant talking aardvark for that matter.

Certainly if a giant talking aardvark took my axe away and stared at me I'd shut up and calm down too.
Mordicai Knode
54. mordicai
53. CPJ

I mostly call out the endocrine differences on account of the fact that your chromosomal sex is pretty secondary to your gender if your body reads those signals wrong & gives you different doses of hormones. Intersex conditions affect like, 1 in 200 people which is pretty statistically massive, yeah? & yeah, perhaps slight hyperbole to underscore the fact that differences in human biological sex-- some fat deposits, face fur, & then genitals-- are nothing when viewed against the backdrop of the animal kingdom's sexual dimorphic extremes. Or heck, not even extremes, human males don't even have FANGS.
Christopher Johnstone
55. CPJ
All true. I was responding more to the slight hyperbole... it can do harm to an argument to overstate things, and ironic overstatement can lead to murkiness.

Now. Back to marking.

C.
Cait Glasson
56. CaitieCat
The all-new CaitieCat In Soviet Russia Internetz Win You!* award goes to tnh for returning the spit-take favour with this:

...the underpants-gnome proposition that there are certain physical differences between men and women...

Best. Description. Of. Central. Stupidity. Of. Genital. Essentialist. Argument. EVAR.

*swoons*

* We are aware of all Internet traditions.
Craig Jarvis
57. hawkido
@52 TNH
As for real-world weapons, I can fire an M15 just fine, but I really prefer the Thompson submachine gun. I like its engineering. Achilles, Beowulf, and Lancelot would be dead long before they got close enough to use their upper-body strength on me.
Note: a thompson wouldn't penetrate Lancelot's shield... the .45 acp has horrible armor penetration... try the .454 It'll punch cleanly through 1/4 inch steel plate as if you put it in a drill press, and that is with a standard .45 350 grain round nose ball just like your .45 acp.


As for your choice of weaponry the M16 clones are great rifles... gas operated or piston driven? Frankly I am proud of your Jeffersonian tendencies. everyone should fling a couple pounds of lead a month at minimum.

Ammo has weight... alot of weight. It will account for most of the weight you will carry into combat. The weight that you will be carrying out of combat will consist of that guy you went into combat with that didn't make it. Close combat is more prevelent in urban settings, and so also the need for a quiet take down... just saying.
Gerry__Quinn
58. H. Hsiao
I guess people have forgotten the story of the Devi in in her form as the Durga. You know. The goddess all the Vedic gods summoned because they couldn't defeat the demon king. She Who is Alone Before and After.

A woman walking into a room with shocking power. Hmmm. Sounds like Kali-devi to me.

Things will cycle back where we remember again.
Maiane Bakroeva
59. Isilel
The interesting thing is, that while the whole muscle mass/reach disparity argument seems to crop up with annoying regularity re: female action heroes, people conveniently forget all about it when it is a man on a smaller/weedier side who is taking on bigger men.

Maybe because history is full of small men being better killers, soldiers, generals, than their bigger muscle-bound counter-parts?
I have recently read biography of Al Capone (who was a big man), and it is amazing how many dangerous gangsters were short and seemingly delicate. And they didn't just shoot people, but beat them up too.
For that matter, wasn't the most highly decorated US soldier in WWII so short/slight that he was refused admittance into the Marines? And, of course, Romans regularly beat the Germans despite the size disparity.

So, obviously, among dangerous men much more than size comes into play to determine their lethality, but once we talk women, suddenly reach and muscle mass is all that matter and are completely unsurmountable obstacles on the way to bad-assitude? Huh?
And of course, in the works that feature impossible prowess anyway - double huh?
And in those with SF technologies and/or magic - huh by factor 10?
Gerry__Quinn
60. Gerry__Quinn
tnh @ 52:

"along with whatever differences in mental composition that have co-evolved with them
Oh, no you don't. Last I looked, there wasn't a single mental characteristic that had clearly and unambiguously been established to be a function of gender -- and that's not for lack of trying.
(the latter are undoubtedly real too, although their entanglement with culture is greater).
They are still very much in doubt. Gender, it seems, is a much more complex and nuanced continuum than the simple bipolar schemes imagined in earlier times."

You are treating the idea that differences don't exist - that evolution has for some reason been inactive when it comes to sexual dimorphism in brain function, or that any differences have actively been selected out - as a null hypothesis. It seems to me that the burden of proof should fall substantially upon those asserting such a remarkable proposition. A quick Google search will find plenty of observational evidence for gender differences in brain function. Such findings might not be easy to explain or understand in detail, but it is hardly sensible to ignore them.

CPJ @ 53 has pointed out that sexual dimorphism in humans seems likely to have been selected against to some degree compared to our ancestors, or at least changed its form. But to say it has gone away entirely would be rather a stretch (and arguably a violation of Dollo's Law).

"For instance: men on average have greater upper-body strength. Back when warfare consisted of hitting each other with sharpened metal bars, it was an advantage."

fadeaccompli @ 40 said "My Shep can kill people by pointing a really enormous high-tech gun at them and pulling the trigger." So upper body strength seems like it might still be of some use.

Again, CPJ's point about the likely reason that just about all cultures send men rather than women to war is well taken. But if that's been the way of things for sufficiently many generations, it provides a rationale for expecting it to provide an arena in which selection principles would be active. (In fact the strongest pressure might be towards ensuring that it is, in fact, the males who are more warlike!)
Gerry__Quinn
61. Gerry__Quinn
Isilel @ 59:
"So, obviously, among dangerous men much more than size comes into play to determine their lethality, but once we talk women, suddenly reach and muscle mass is all that matter"

I don't think they are the only things that matter. But they matter. As they say in boxing "a good big 'un always beats a good little 'un".
Maiane Bakroeva
62. Isilel
Gerry_Quinn @61:
I don't think they are the only things that matter. But they matter. As they say in boxing "a good big 'un always beats a good little 'un".
Yet there are tons of examples where other factors seemingly mattered more.re: lethality of men and who won over whom. Physical superiority didn't help Celts and Germans against the Romans, for instance.
Sports are different, since factors that matter are much more limited and you aren't allowed to quickly kill or seriously damage your opponent ;).

Anyway, there is never any outrage re: some small weedy fellow or a young teenager being described as a dangerous killer, so why this tedious repetitive argumentation about how it ought to be impossible for a woman?

Not to mention that action genre, SF, fantasy, etc. already include some highly unrealistic elements, so why is this even an issue?
Why are some people so bothered that half of humanity wants to see itself represented as a hero, too?
Gerry__Quinn
63. Edgewalker
Way too much to respond to, so I will sum up my views regarding my earlier comment like this:

Ripley in Alien could be a male or female.

Ripley in Aliens can ONLY be female.

I prefer the latter as a strong female character. The former is merely a strong character.
Gerry__Quinn
64. seth e.
I'm coming into the conversation when it's already over, but I have just one observation to make about the thread here. A lot of what's happening is a very common phenomenon: when we talk about a single female character in specific, we must therefore be talking about all female characters in general. If this particular protagonist has a gender-unmarked heroism about her, then we must be saying that all female characters should be like that, and good gravy, that's unrealistic.

As someone pointed out above, this isn't the way we talk about male heros. There are plenty of iconic hero roles whose heroism isn't particularly marked as male, via the need for upper body strength or what have you--Bruce Willis in Die Hard comes to mind--and we don't think much about it. But female characters with gender-unmarked heroism are so unusual that the conversation takes them as representative of female heroes as a class. There's no need to take this one character that way, though. The fact that this character exists, and that Ripley in Aliens also exists, is fine. The fact that this character exists at all is refreshing, not definitive.

Incidentally, I will note that (a) Ripley in Aliens manages to get into a mano-a-mano slugfest despite her less-impressive body strength, and (b) if she's more nurturing than a male character would have been towards a defenseless little girl, it's because we're conditioned as audiences not to expect the same parental protectiveness in male characters that men often feel in real life. Certainly, Aliens has a thematic relationship between Ripley and the alien queen as opposing mothers, which has a nice fairy-tale symmetry to it; but that's how the character is treated within the larger story, not something that's inherent in Ripley as a character.

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