Well, this was not the post that I had been planning on doing since I started reviewing X, but after some sound rebukes on Tumblr from my last post, Ace plays Final Fantasy X: The Sexism, I decided to not delay. And oddly enough, though I also knew what I wanted to say for my next post, which is also about sexism in Final Fantasy, some of the comments I received just really put into perspective to me how much people let Final Fantasy, or rather that they don’t notice it, get away with certain things.
It also made me realize that I certainly didn’t make my points as well as I should have. And so, before I get into the sequel and sexism, which was what I originally had planned, I’m going to address some of the things that people pointed out, because they are things that need to be addressed. And after the reactions of the last post, I also feel the need to add a disclaimer to this.
If you are under the delusion that Final Fantasy can do no wrong and is perfectly amazing in its representation of female characters, you are not going to like anything that is after the jump.
So I have six main issues that I am going to address, and I am going to try to do this without calling out certain people. Furthermore, while these issues came up in criticisms of my Final Fantasy X post, they could all be applied to just about any video game, movie, book, etc.
- Large-breasted female video game characters do not exist for the purpose of representing a variety of female body types.
In my review, while I said that I don’t believe that the sexism in Final Fantasy is that bad compared to sexism in other games, I still pointed out that there are large-breasted female characters like Tifa and Lulu. And yes, I have to agree that simply having a large-breasted female character is not sexist by itself. However, I have to disagree that these characters were rendered that way without sexist purposes.
Quite naturally, there are large-breasted women in real life, and as one so kindly pointed out to me, she likes to see large-breasted fictional women, because it is a representation of a curvy body type, like hers.
It is not. Neither Lulu nor Tifa, nor any other large-breasted female in the Final Fantasy franchise for that matter, is curvy. They are skinny with large breasts, and that is the same highly improbable body type we have seen over and over and over again in fiction. If they were actually curvy, that would be a rarer fictional body type that is not often represented. Large breasts do not automatically make a character curvy. Furthermore, the fact that there are large-breasted women in real life who would like to be represented is not the reason behind these character designs. That is, at best, an excuse designers can now use to render female characters a certain way to titillate male audiences and not be called out on it.
- Just because a fictional culture does not perceive certain gender representations as sexist does not mean that it isn’t sexist.
In the original article, I made a comment about how the background female characters have clothing that reveals their underwear. This is not true of all female side characters in Final Fantasy X. I could name a good few that are more or less covered. And it should be noted that the male characters also have a very odd fashion sense that can be revealing as well.
This does not excuse the fact that many of the women are dressed provocatively. On top of that, the fashions between the genders do not compare. Take a look at Dona:
Additionally, regardless of the fact that it is a cultural norm in Spira, it does not excuse any sexism involved. It is a cultural norm, because characters like Dona cannot turn around and tell their designers that their outfits are objectifying and that they want to be covered more. They cannot do that, because they are not real, and they only experience the emotions and thoughts that they are allowed to feel.
- Just because women may have been involved in the makings of Final Fantasy does not mean objectification and sexism is dead in its story or characterization.
I’m not sure how this point even came about, since I’m quite certain that nowhere did I ever mention who was actually behind the character designs. And seeing as sexism can be internalized and that video games are normally a group project involving numerous people in their construction, it would not surprise me if a woman had worked on the project. Nor would it surprise me if she had some sexist or misogynistic notions that society has taught her to have.
I should point out that I don’t know who actually designed these characters, and so I am not calling anyone out in particular as sexist, but women are capable of demeaning other women. Furthermore, just because a woman may have worked on these characters does not mean that that woman had the last say in how they were portrayed. After all, it is highly possible that, though I don’t know for certain, the decision to make Tifa wear a mini skirt was based on an office vote.
- Equality of the sexes in objectification does not justify objectification.
This is another point that I never thought that I would have to address, and I’m not certain why anyone would use this as an argument. This completely baffles me. I feel as though the person who said this meant to tell me that I shouldn’t get upset when women are objectified because men are too. And my post wasn’t about the objectification of the male characters when I could have included that.
Never has the phrase “two wrongs don’t make a right” been more applicable.
If the male characters were objectified to titillate female audiences, that wouldn’t excuse that fact that female characters are objectified for the sake of male audiences. In short, teaching both genders to demean the other does not cancel out sexism.
And I should point out that any “objectification” of male characters in the Final Fantasy franchise tends to be for the same reasons male characters in other media are also given unrealistic body types, which leads me into my next point.
- There is a difference between objectification and power fantasies that are reflected in body types.
When you take characters like Cloud, or Squall, or even Kratos, Batman, Superman, [insert physically strong male character of your choice here], they are not rendered the way they are for female audiences. I have no doubt that many women find some of these characters attractive. There is nothing wrong with that, just as there is nothing inherently wrong in finding Lulu attractive. And finding Cloud attractive doesn’t make a person hate men, just as finding Lulu attractive doesn’t make someone a misogynistic jerk. That is not how sexism works.
However, while Tifa’s breast size and Lulu’s posing are done for the purpose of arousing male audiences, the body types of male characters are fantasies that are not rendered for the sake of arousing female audience members. They are power fantasies for male audience members.
Additionally, the standards the female characters are placed with are used against women in the real world daily. Fictional characters, including Final Fantasy characters, do impact how we perceive other people around us. They teach us that men want to look a certain way for themselves, while women want to look a certain way for men. It is much more likely that a woman will miss out on a job opportunity because she is not attractive than a man will.
And the difference between objectification and power fantasies is one of the many reasons that is true.
- Even though Final Fantasy may have strong female characters, that does not mean it won’t have problematic female characters.
I do not care how strong of a character Lulu is. Yes, she is strong. She is well-written, my dislike of her relationship with Wakka aside. However, her personality doesn’t change how she was physically rendered. Rikku’s personality doesn’t change the fact that she is a fictional minor rendered for the purpose of adult male audiences. I can name numerous female Final Fantasy characters that I like, and it still wouldn’t mean that sexism, no matter how subtle, isn’t involved in their characterization.
Take Aerith. She is my favorite Final Fantasy character. I bawled when she died. I didn’t want to go on. I loved her. I can sit here and name plenty of her traits that I find strong. However, she was still relegated to being in a love triangle with Cloud and Tifa, and her death, no matter how iconic and conducive to the plot, was used as one of Cloud’s motivations to kill Sephiroth. Aerith is also a character type that female characters are placed into over and over and over again. By herself, this isn’t a problem. But when you take into account that she, Yuna, Garnet, and many others are all physically weak, white-mage type characters who provide the needed nurturing qualities that women are expected to give, it becomes a problem. And it is also for that reason why Hope from XIII is interesting, because we need more male characters to fill that role. Effeminate men exist, but they are not used. Women, on the other hand, are seen as strong when they take on male traits, or they are seen in their traditional care-giving roles.
Yes, there are some characters who do try to break out of this mold. We’ve got Tifa, who is physically strong. Her purpose, however, is to further Cloud’s storyline and to be involved in a love-triangle to make the plot more interesting. Helping to defeat Shinra and Sephiroth is secondary. She doesn’t even seem to have too many emotions about Sephiroth burning down her hometown and murdering her father. And the game also felt the need to have her get into a “bitch-slapping” contest with another female character. And I have no idea why Tifa couldn’t just beat the shit out of Scarlet other than that some kind of sexism was involved, when Tifa is capable of doing this:
So while I stand by what I said in the original post that Final Fantasy is not as sexist as other games, it is still sexist.