So Penny Arcade has brought this to my attention and I feel compelled to comment. Issues like this have been coming up a lot lately. I think this individual article is absolutely awful and I am actually a bit offended over it. A bit — Kim Richards was doing some ridiculous riffing and obviously having a bit of fun in her insulting description of Shepard #5, but the sheer concept of what she is saying still bothers me. Despite HATING the article, I can’t have any real ill thoughts toward Richards — her stakes in feminist arguments are much greater than mine. On the other hand, I feel the need to disagree publicly.
… Slut Shaming? A little bit.
One of the issues I take with this article is the idea of “slut shaming”. A feminist idea is that it is harmful for a woman to be shamed or insulted for being sexual. Being sexual, if one chooses to be, is natural and women should be able to express themselves sexually. So Richards says…
“So it breaks my heart that the mass public have gone for such the wishy washy, Barbie faced personality vacuum that is Shep 5.”
“Commander Shepard deserves better than this. You’re talking about a woman who brought down a teched-up Saren. A woman who survived being brought back to life after being blown out into space. The woman who punched that damn annoying reporter right between her lying eyes. Just look at Shep 5, then back to these words. Now look at Shep 5 again – that is the face of a woman who cares more about her glue-on nails and handbag Chihuahua. She’s not the saviour of the goddamn universe.”
Lets look at all the potential Shepard models. They all have roughly the same face, just a difference in complexion and hair. Are you saying a blonde woman is not capable of doing things things? Are saying that just because she has hair that she can’t be a badass? That seems counter productive. You know what every potential Shepard as in common? Look at that expression. That is an expression that looks dangerous. Any one of the female Shepards look like they can kick my ass. Is her past history and obvious resolve totally destroyed because she decides to wear here hair long? Default Shepard in the original two mass effects had similarly long hair, though black and neatly kept. Is that okay just because her look is more reserved looking?
I call bullcrap on that. Sherpard #5 is my second favorite design. I like most of them in fact (well, actually I don’t like Shepard #4 but whatever. Emo chicks could kick ass too). The short haired military look is definitely more appropriate. I like Shepard #5 for the opposite reason of Richards. There aren’t actually a lot of blonde female central protagonists (Samus? Fighting games have a bunch, but everything else seems to have black or red hair). I don’t even personally like blondes very much. But I look at Shepard #5 and I can feel how she swings.
She swings Renegade.
I liked the Penny Arcade comic for that reason. #5 is acting like a Renegade. I mean, why else would she have hair like that in the military? She clearly doesn’t give a fuck. I also like Shepard #2 (my third favorite). She’s more pragmatic, but the pale skin (like #5) gives those eyes added intensity. Still, I think it’s terrible to imply that a woman can’t have a head of hair and be dangerous. Remember, these characters are all the same, have the same backstory, same armor, same weapons and are only different by their complexion and choice of hair style. So I think Richards implying that her chosen hair style invalidates everything about her is ridiculous and unfair.
Personally though my favorite is #6. Impractical? Very, but you know what, I adore blunt bangs and nothing will ever change my mind. If I was a girl, that’s how I’d cut my hair. In a strange gender squishy way I thusly identify with #6 more. Which leads to the next point!
Well this Shouldn’t be a Beauty Contest! …. Right?
The second tier of arguments don’t center on whether or not a sexy Shepard could kick ass (she most certainly could! If you disagree you are objectively wrong!), but on the whole process Okay so Female Shepard is blonde? Fine, but was the voting process fair? Isn’t it wrong for the default appearance of the female character to be chosen by horny dudes who will make their decisions based on sex appeal? Isn’t that degrading and objectifying?
Well, if the winner was the most buxom and slutty, I’d agree, but considering we’re talking about a head here, I don’t. Even then it wouldn’t be the fault of the voters — it’d be the fault of Bioware for making an option with bigger breasts or sexier armor. You see, there are about 4 reasons a regular player will make a character. Creative folk are less clear cut then this, never mind that. For the majority, there is about 4 ways to do this.
You make someone who you wish you come be (Male Shep), you make someone you would want to sleep with (Fem Shep), you make someone who looks cool (IMMA ROBOT) and you make someone who looks hilarious (I HAVE DOWN SYNDROME).
It is perfectly natural for people to select the sexiest Shepard. We’re men. We’re attracted to women. We want to sleep with them and that’s fine. It is especially fine in the case of Shepard. Shepard’s characterization does not change with her appearance. Due to the androgynous nature of her role, she is still a total badass. The problem with attractive females in games generally has nothing to do with them being attractive, it has with them being vapid. Whats the most offensive example of a female role in a game in the last few years that someone can think of? I’ll give you mine. Samus. She’s in armor most of the time, besides being too tight,m her outfit isn’t insanely revealing and she’s not horribly sexualized. The issue was that her role, writing and characterization was AWFUL. As I’ve mentioned, I know manly women who like Bayonetta, who very much has her characterization based on her sexuality. It can go either way. Sexualized designed are fine as long as they come with proper characterization. In Mass Effect it could be a bit more of an issue — the universe is ‘real’ enough that people will complain about #5’s impractical-in-combat haircut. If she was sexified more it would feel horribly out of place (Midriff revealing armor!). In other games, where disbelief is suspended even more, you have more leeway on these things.
Another argument that bothers me is people saying that if people were voting a Male Shepard, the criteria would be different. I think this is a bad comparison — again, the majority of men wish to sleep with women… But even then, they likely would vote for the one that they’d want to be the most — in a way, still a “Beauty contest”. On the other hand, if, in a female dominated media, you had women voting for a male character, you’d probably STILL see the hottest character win. Women do tend to separate their sex drive from their decisions more, but not so much. I know plenty of women who constantly fawn over various male anime characters. I asked one of my lady friends a question earlier and our conversation went like this…
Me: YOU ARE PLAYING A CUSTOMIZABLE GAME. YOUR AVATAR HAS TO BE A HUMAN MALE. WHAT DO YOU DO
Her: MAKE A VERY ATTRACTIVE HUMAN MALE SO I CAN GET THE LADIES.
Her: OR OTHER MEN. WHICHEVER.
Yes, I talk to my friends in all caps, wanna fight about it? Another friend would, on the other hand, probably try and make him look like a Robot. But whatever. Either way, we make things we like to look at, whether it is sexual, wish fulfillment or comedy and there is nothing wrong with that. Acting like men should have voted for the most practical looking female Shepard is asking something unrealistic. The important question is whether that’s all Shepard #5 is? A Cute blonde mop of hair? I think not. I think she’ll be punching more reporters and kicking more ass, all without the aid of a belly shirt and mini skirt.