If you're thinking 'err, WTF?' I think that's exactly what you should be thinking. I followed a link to The Hawkeye Initiative the other day and if you haven't seen it, it's worth a look. It's described as "How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing." It's a great idea - there's a huge amount of sexist crap - both in comics and games. The few times that you get strong female figures, they're generally half naked, blonde, physically very fit and so on - you know what I mean, you've seen them before. It's a dull, boring and rather sad stereotype, but it probably appeals very strongly to the key demographic for these games and comics - usually young men. Anything which can be done to show how stupid this is - well, that's a good thing, and I'm all in favour of it. However, the particular post that was linked to was slightly different. The CEO had a picture in his office of a very nubile young lady wearing not a lot, and some of the employees got understandably annoyed about it. So they created a male version of the poster and replaced it to see what would happen. You can see both posters here:
Now, the boss thought this was a hoot. He is reported as saying “That was a brilliant prank. You called me on exactly the bullshit I need to be called on. I put up pictures of half-naked girls around the office all the time and I never think about it. I’m taking you and Sam to lunch. And after that, we’re going to hang both prints, side by side.”
This is in some way lauded as a victory. The boss sees sense, and everything is right with the world. Except of course that it isn't. It's VERY far from alright with the world. Because now in that office there are two sexist posters instead of one. I'm sorry, but what twisted version of reality says that two inappropriate posters is a good thing? The fact that men can create and enjoy looking at sexist posters is a bad thing, but it somehow becomes acceptable when women do the same thing? Actually you know, it doesn't.
Let's be quite clear on this. Sexist posters of women are wrong. Sexist posters of men are wrong. Sexist posters are just wrong, full stop. Apparently however, this isn't quite the case I'm informed. I'm only making a fuss because there's now a man in a sexist poster. Yeah - thanks for that, but no; I shall say it again - sexist posters are inherently wrong, regardless. Apparently equal inappropriateness is acceptable, because everyone feeling uncomfortable is better in a workplace than no-one being uncomfortable so I'm told. Here's a thought - how about everyone in a workplace being comfortable with their surroundings? If the CEO had seen what had been done and thought 'yeah, not cool' and taken the poster down - great result and well done. But he *hasn't*. To repeat - both are in the office environment.
This has a number of potential consequences. Rather than discourage sexist posters in games (in this specific instance) it's saying that it's ok, as long as everyone can be sexist. It's saying the the people in the posters are worth putting up on a wall for people to look at. That is to say - young, fit (ok, very fit), healthy, very white, people are what we should aspire to. Actually - again - no. What about the people who don't, and never will fit those criteria? What if you're older, or not white, or you only have one arm, one breast, or you're in a wheelchair? How are those people supposed to feel? How do two sexist posters encourage an inclusive work environment, where everyone is happy? I suspect that *exactly* the opposite is going to happen. The young, healthy fit people who do identify with the posters may well actually feel very comfortable, and their world view may actually be strengthened. The point is made in the blog post "You know how sometimes you don’t realize how much you and your girlfriend are talking about shoes or menstruation until some dude walks into the room? Well sometimes guys don’t realize how much they’re talking about titties." That's fair enough - we all do things subconsciously, and we need to be pulled up on it. But it's that subconscious thing that worries me here, but the posters are, I suspect (and to be fair I have no figures to back me up) are going to add to that 'young, fit and healthy is the only acceptable way to be' idea.
I've had discussions with a few people about this now, and one of the other points that was suggested to me was that at least one battle was being fought. No - it wasn't. There was no battle fought or won, but simply a reinforced stereotype. Sexist Mr Boss is now going to think 'hey, it's ok for me to look at pictures of half naked women, because the women can look at pictures of half naked men'. That actually diminishes everyone. Wouldn't it actually be rather better to find some other way of promoting a game? Covers don't have to focus on the characters, and I have in fact seen plenty of examples that don't do this. There is of course always a problem of the 'superhero' concept because by definition the superhero has to be 'more' than we ever can be. However, I think it's DareDevil who is a blind superhero so while he's just the one example, it does show that it's possible to do things rather differently.
It's not just the comic book industry, or the games industry though. It's in a variety of other places too, and one example is the series of Dove commercials. You can see a bunch of them on YouTube (Search for Dove Commercials) and the idea here is that they use 'real' women, rather than models or celebrities to promote their products. They also do a 'pro age' one as well. But you know what - a lot of these adverts show women naked (therefore not reducing but emphasising the apparently importance of exposed flesh), and also they are - in their attempt to redefine beauty - simply replacing one stupid concept for another. What about the women who have had a mastectomy? How about the woman in the wheelchair? Apparently they can't - according to Dove - exhibit real beauty.
I'm tired and bored and dispirited by it all. I see no victories for anyone - male or female, young or old, fat or thin, with all their limbs or without, black or white. All that I see is one sad group attempting to attack another by turning the weapons around, or commercial interests continuing to utilise a concept of 'real beauty' to sell their products by simply leaving another group on the sidelines. What's worse is that I don't think that it's going to change either.