Ace plays Final Fantasy X: A Response

final_fantasy_women_by_aqua5496-d38henhWell, 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.

Let’s begin.

  • 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:

Dona_FFXAnd now take a look at Barthello:

imagfdfdfdesAdditionally, 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.

7 thoughts on “Ace plays Final Fantasy X: A Response

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  4. Hello. I realize this post is a million Internet years old, but I stumbled upon it by incident and thought it an interesting read. However, there is one point I’d like to discuss, just to see what kind of opinions we can garner out of it.

    For the record, I’m a bisexual male who fully supports feminism, gender and sexual equality. I am also involved in the videogame industry, as I’ve been working as a concept designer for games I can’t mention over NDAs for more than 3 years, and counting. And of course, I’ve been a gamer all my life. I just want to make it clear that we are on the same thinking ground regarding representation of women and non-heterosexual characters in videogames.

    So, anyways, about this point!

    I noticed how you talked about objectification being wrong for both genders. As you said, two rights don’t make a wrong, and that is 100% true. However, I think there’s a misuse of the word objectification in a very general and broad sense. I say this because objectification and sexualization aren’t the same things. They are far from being the same things.

    Now, I understand why you mention objectification, because, yes, it goes hand in hand with sexualization, specially when brought onto female characters. And while I understand that your point is about how these characters don’t have a say on the clothes they wear because they are forced into those clothes by their designers, I don’t think you’re covering the matter of objectification vs sexualization entirely.

    As an example, I’ll use MMORPGs, which are infamous for their female armor designs. One of the games that stands out, coincidentally, is Final Fantasy XIV, in both of its incarnations. This is one of the few online games that has super revealing and sexualized armor for both genders. Granted, it doesn’t look great a lot of the times, but you have to give it to them that they’ve done this. They really give the players the choice to be muscular, thin, lean, small, cute,whatever they wish, and they can dress however the hell they want, be it scantily or not. This, despite being self-objectification in a way, is a conscious choice, and I think when you are given the chance to make your own portrayal, that’s perfectly acceptable. As a matter of fact, I fully support this kind of ideas.

    I realize that most of this comment doesn’t really sets up much debate, since it’s a very granular opinion, but I think it’s an important matter too. I also hope you can find questionable or wrong spots in it and we can talk more about it.

    Thanks for reading!

    • Hello, and thanks for the comment!

      I think you make a really good point. There is a difference between sexualization and objectification. Rereading my post, I don’t think I was as clear on some issues as I could have been. This was written a while ago, and looking back, I wasn’t as educated on the subject as I am now.

      It’s not wrong for characters to be dressed a certain way. Though it is true that these characters are not real and have to adhere to the standards their creators put on them, that does not necessarily make their clothes demeaning. And it is possible to have strong, sexualized female characters without making those characters exist for the purposes of titillating audiences. But at the very least, their clothes should match their personalities.

      Looking at Tifa, her mini skirt makes no sense. Tifa’s character is very shy and self-conscious. And even if she wasn’t, she’s a martial artist. Her clothing choice fits neither her personality, nor her chosen profession. So while it’s not wrong for her to wear a mini skirt, it does lead me to believe that her personality wasn’t considered all that much during her character design. And I think that leads into objectification. I don’t think a character like Tifa would willingly dress like that, especially considering her line of work, which then leads me to believe that her skirt was chosen for aesthetic purposes only.

      I hope that clears up some things. Thank you again for your comment.

      • 2 million internet years later, I discover this post as well, & I have thoughts that somewhat fit here.

        My thoughts are mainly about FFVII because I don’t disagree much with the other examples.

        To start, Nomura actually did reveal the story behind Tifa’s clothing. As a martial artist, he wanted to give her something he felt would be good to kick in, & put it to an office vote whether to give her jeans or a miniskirt. Why she also wears suspenders remains a mystery to this day. Perhaps because nobody in FFVII zips their bloody pants. So make of that what you will.

        From a character standpoint, her outfit has always really confused me, especially since she wears comparatively much more concealing clothing in Advent Children. The best explanation I could come up with is that it was a way of trying to attract attention without actually voicing her feelings, which is mainly what Tifa was shy about. After all, if she were shy in all contexts, she wouldn’t be this brash woman who beats the crap out of people & forces her way into expeditions & terrorist groups. I don’t know if I agree or disagree that Tifa’s clothes are objectifying. Square has certainly drifted more in that direction, & even in the original game, Tia’s victory pose seemed designed to thrust her chest out.

        On an unrelated note, she does speak about her motives for fighting against Shinra. Not as often as Cloud, but then again, nobody monologues as much as Cloud does. On another unrelated note, I’m probably the only person in the world who feels this way, but I am maintaining the position that there’s nothing wrong with the slap fight & it makes perfect sense. If someone kept slapping me & I wanted to retaliate, yes, I probably WOULD slap them back rather than punch them. It’s the whole concept of “yeah, this really sucks when you’re on the other end, doesn’t it?” And frankly, in my experience, it hurts more.

        As for Aerith, I’m going to completely disagree with that. Boiling her down to her death & her position in the love triangle is pretty reductive. What about her effect not just on Cloud, but the rest of the party? Her status as the Last Ancient & the calling she feels because of it? Her crucial, if posthumous, role in stopping Meteor? Her strong friendship with Tifa?

        I see even less of a case when it comes to her status as Staff Chick, or her death. While it’s sort of true that Aerith had a limited arc if only for the amount of time she was alive, & that love triangles are always annoying that eat up time characters could be using doing something more interesting, the points about her other tropes are kind of moot when you consider what came before her. Celes & Terra were both Red Mage type figures. Faris was a pirate. I don’t know the FF4 characters & FF3 was all Onion Kids, but the female party members in 2 leaned towards archery & knife-fighting. So, I’m not sure what happened between 7 & 10, but at least at this time, it was not as if Aerith represented a pigeon-holing of Final Fantasy women to a certain archetype.

        Likewise with her death; prior to it, it was usually MEN who died to motivate the protagonist. To be clear, I’m not trying to argue some “sexism against men” thing, I’m saying that it’s not inherently wrong to kill off characters to motivate other characters as long as it is done equitably. If anything, the problem up to this point might have been that every death had to be a Heroic Sacrifice & women weren’t considered worthy, or something.

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