In Defense of Shepard #5

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.

Shepard #5 is pissed off and has really nice contrast. I personally think she's the best -designed- Shepard.

… 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?

Mai waifu~

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…


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.

13 thoughts on “In Defense of Shepard #5

  1. I think #5 looks a little too ‘Samus’, really. Nordic blonde badass girl in future armor? Yeah, we’ve all seen that before. 3 and 6 have the most personality.
    Anyway, to suggest that any of these designs are somehow representative of undignified women shows off some biases on Richards’s part. I feel bad for all the real flesh-and-blood females who look like that “barbie-faced personality vacuum,” they’re forever designed to care about glue-on nails I guess.

  2. @Endril Funny you say that because a friend of mine made the nordic connection and said she reminded him of a barbarian chick, which I dig. But yeah she is rather Samus-y. But considering Samus lost her balls, maybe it’s okay for someone else to give it a go.

  3. I like #5 the best, I mean, in my case, it’s a moot point because i’m going with my premade one anyway, Stush Shepard all the way!

    But yeah, I think calling someone vapid and obsessed with beauty because they’re blonde just makes you look like an idiot, and #5 looks the most badassey, and if shepard is anything, she’s/he’s a badass.

  4. Not gonna lie, when I saw the pic, my first thought was “Kayin is playing Guild Wars again?”

    #4 just needs a haircut, and then CASCA IN SPACE!

    I like how feminist lady chose #2 for short hair when you can’t actually tell if it’s short because it’s pulled back like that. If I had to guess, 2 and 3 are rocking ponytails, which makes them less vapid somehow? Clearly this woman has never been or spoken to a cheerleader. :/

  5. “It is perfectly natural for people to select the sexiest Shepard. We’re men.”

    Kayin: people are men

    (messin’ wit’ ya)

    Actual serious thing I wanted to say: I’m not sure why people are surprised that, when put to a vote, gamers devolved to stereotype and went for the one they’d most like to sleep with. If one is concerned about the portrayal of women in games enough to care about how female Shepard is portrayed to the wider world, surely you’ve got to be conscious that it wouldn’t be so rare if gamers were more inclined to think about that. If BioWare were planning on making an artistic statement in their advertising I’d imagine they wouldn’t be putting it to a vote.

    Then again, it’s not like this is a double standard here, male Shepard doesn’t really have a rich inner life either. He’s a *bald space marine*. They both work best for the purposes of promotion if they’re more or less attractive blank slates, and at this point Shepard #5 is probably the closest.

  6. The whole thing is bullshit anyways. FemShep #5 is also doing well because she’s different from the other 6. 1-2-3 look like sisters or clones and 4 and 6 are both cool alternative choices (depending on which way your preferences go). #5 stands alone as the sole choice of a 3rd type of look (crazy barbarian-esque chick that either really wants you or really wants to kill you).

    So if you have 1,2,3 splitting votes for the short-haired badass white(ish) girl and 4/6 splitting the minority/long black hair/altenative look it’s only natural that 5 is going to be ahead when she gets the votes of anyone who wants that style of look. If there were a 2nd blonde femshep the voting would probably be way more even and #5 might not even be the top contender.

    The results of any survey are heavily influenced by the choices presented (and how they are presented) this one is practically setup to ensure #5 wins unless there’s an organized community rally to all pool votes to a single non-5 candidate.

  7. I think the real question is… why isn’t there a BLACK FemShep?

  8. I’m still wondering how, if at all, a female lead changes Mass Effect. Does it actually influence the story? Do your NPC buddies or enemies CARE that you’re a woman? Or are you just a gun with a vag as opposed to a penis?

    Wow I just said more in that paragraph than I have in the last 3 podcasts…

  9. In-game effect? It changes which of a couple party members want to sleep with you, and you get a MUCH better voice actor. Oh and there’s like… one reaction from one NPC in the second game that’s gender-based too.

    The “Barbie-face” line though is just bizarre, because all 6 have the EXACT SAME FACE. Seriously, aside from 4 and 6 getting darker skin selections, and maybe a slight tweak to the complexion slider. Otherwise, you’re only deciding on the hair here. Shave’em bald and they’re clones, two of whom have gotten some sun.

    So… OK, because of that, there isn’t even a rough approximation of the look I actually went with in the choices (for that matter, the haircut I went with isn’t even in there, which is weird). No matter what, it’s going to be angry eyebrows and thick black eye-liner. So OK. Angry eyebrows and thick black eye-liner suggest a flirty, bloodthirsty nature. Which haircut actually fits with that? Clear answer. Long, uncombed I don’t give a %$@# hair, which is only present on #5. So, tada. You can also kind of make a case for #6, in that “I’m also avidly involved in a vampire LARP” sort of way, #1 if you can somehow convince yourself it’s at all appropriate for Shep to look like Wynonna Rider. The rest just don’t present any sort of consistent image though.

    And if we’re really going to argue that one looks trampy, #4 goes the extra mile for highlights in hair that covers half her freaking face. #5 is actually showing the LEAST effort in focusing on presentation.

  10. Hmmm, I don’t think what Richards has written even says anything about what her opinion actually is. Whether or not a blond-haired women has the ability to do these things isn’t pertinent to what Richards is getting at. Being around people who talk about sex constantly, things like the color of a woman’s hair/skin brings in some ridiculous opinions. Now I don’t wanna say that blondes are oppressed in the halls of academia (that would just be silly). Opinions like these simply come from a place of hostility, where there needs to be a unanimous opinion on what is deemed “smart” sexy. Blondes just suffer the repercussions of being thrown around the media as the general consensus of sexy. So anyone who wants to differentiate themselves as “higher minded” (if that phrase is even appropriate) is going to say that, “Blondes aren’t sexy” or even, “Oh, even though such-and-such character could be seen as a feminist symbol, the fact that she is blonde shows that our society still has to put the American mascot of sexy on the cover”

    So all Richards comes across in the article is, “Look at how much of a free thinker I am. I don’t share opinions with anyone but those I deem as intelligent.” Now I can’t argue that on principle, she isn’t slut shaming, but I know an opinion like this stems from a petulant adult, who feels the need to differentiate herself from the crowd/mainstream/whateverthehellelsethekiddiesaresayingtothefaceoftheiradversity.

  11. Among other things that seem to have passed by a lot of persons commentating on this when it was going on: most of those who were admitting to voting for #5 were adding the caveat that they were voting for the HAIRCUT, not the HAIR COLOR, and they wanted it RED. Which happened after the second round of voting.

    And the raging against the hair. Exactly how is that effective in any way? I mean, “anti”-racist (cause she’s white) , “feminist” (the blonde thing) rants… But if you’re lambasting someone for their PERSONAL CHOICES, because they aren’t YOUR OWN, aren’t you undermining your point?
    note that I’m not referring to you, obviously; there was someone on deviantART that did a picture that would have been amusing about “BimboShep”, but had the addition of said hypocritical rant in the AC…

    Plus the whole YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN Shepard….

  12. And even if she WAS sporting a high heels, belly shirt and mini Skirt, blowing bubblegum and carrying a Chihuahua in her purse, she’d STILL be COMMANDER SHEPARD. You can bet that Chihuahua is a Biotic or a hidden CAIN, the heels have Omni-Blades, and the shirt’n’skirt are the very best armor Mordin and Jacob can put together.
    The clothes -and the hair- don’t make the woman. THINKING they do is the problem, on both sides of the equation.

  13. A huge undertone with this whole thing that bothered me was the “Your personal preference is wrong”, which I think is inherently problematic. You can’t expect people to choose stuff like that on high moral ideals. People will almost never choose anything like that on high moral ideals! If we were doing this for male Shepard, the winner probably wouldn’t be the most appropriate Shepard, but the one that looked the most like a Jersey Shore douchebag. As for the ‘make your own Shepard” deal, the problem more was, if I’m understanding correctly, the fact that this Shepard would be representing Mass Effect 3. As such I think it was a bit foolish of them to resort to a poll. While I don’t think anyone should be lambasted for their opinion of digital haircuts, you really can’t expect voters to make careful and informed votes.

    That said, the whole thing was probably rigged up so Shepard #5 (or one or two other acceptable alternatives) would win anyways (probably just going off focus groups) and they wanted a get-out-of-jail-free card for changing her design, but whatever. That’s another sotry.

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