A recent video game came out called Bayonetta, and it’s received a lot of criticism for, once again, sexualizing and exploiting women. She’s a woman of impossible figure – big breasted, long legged, unrealistically skinny. Most of her costume is just her hair, so when she fights, a lot of her body is revealed. She blows kisses to break seals and the targets you use in the game is in the shape of lips. She sashays needlessly and no doubt, her sexuality is the weapon you use to fight baddies in the game. In other words, this isn’t the type of game you’d want to play in front of your parents. And so the angry cries of exploitation of the female body for sexual enjoyment by men rings in the air once more.
However, over at GamePro, a female writer by the name of Leigh Alexander says games like Bayonetta – with its flamboyancy, nudity, and fluid violence – doesn’t set back women’s rights; in fact, it’s progressive. Bayonetta is over-the-top, yes, but that’s because the game designer, Hideki Kamiya of Devil May Cry fame, is always over-the-top. Anyone who’s played his games can attest to it. So what some call exploitive, Leigh calls stylized, and sometimes, a little sexuality isn’t a bad thing for women’s rights.
It’s wonderful that our entertainment medium is developing more characters that bring more to the table than their looks — but at the same time, we can accept that being mousy, tomboyish or turtle-necked is not the only way a woman can be considered admirable. Bayonetta’s elegant nakedness in the fervor of battle is not in and of itself a bad thing.
Now, I’ll admit. Just looking at the pictures of Bayonetta set off my exploitation-radar. I am definitely what you would call an old-school feminist – women should be able to wear pants, they should be able to vote, they should have their voices heard, they should be able to work, they don’t have to look like impossible supermodels, or, so help me, I’ll get all Susan B. Anthony up in your grill.
But I can’t argue with Leigh’s logic – in Bayonetta, women are the power figures and players of the world; the men simply follow the rules and hope to survive. The unique fact that Bayonetta uses her feminine sexuality specifically as a weapon means she’s doing something male game characters can’t do, and as Leigh played through the game, she had never felt more empowered by a game in her life.
Leigh’s particular point that impressed me:
I already know that women can do all the same things men can. This time, I get to see a woman do plenty of things men can’t. And I love it.
This isn’t a game I’d let my ten year old daughter play to help her feel empowered, that’s for sure. But at the same time, isn’t this something we want in games? Girl characters in games who not only can do everything guys can do, but something only girls can do? Empowering, strong female characters that aren’t regulated to just sidekicks or mere NPC eye candy? Female characters that are more than “the same thing as a man, just with breasts and a ponytail”? And while I certainly can’t say I want my daughter to grow up into some kind of vigilante that fights naked and overtly uses her sexuality as a weapon, I don’t want her to cover it up, think mousey-ness is good (culturally insert “chaste”) and all forms of female sexuality is bad (culturally insert “slutty” or “exploitive”). I want her to be comfortable with her sexuality, to know that she’s special and different than boys rather than just playing “catch-up”, that she really has power and autonomy in a world seemingly ruled by old, white dudes. Perhaps this is the new direction of feminism, and while at face value it might seem disconcerting at first, it’s really something I can’t complain about for the time being.
To read more of Leigh Alexander’s thoughts on video games and girls, along with a follow up post on her GamePro article, visit her blog Sexy Videogameland.