So who saw that Smash Bros reveal on Monday? Can I get a “hell yes” for Lucina becoming the first female playable character from the Fire Emblem series to enter the melee/brawl/etcetera? To some, the choice may not have been that huge of a surprise, or even a big deal, but from a personal standpoint I think it’s a nice step towards having a more balanced roster in the popular Nintendo fighting series. And luckily, it coincides with something I’ve wanted to talk about. For the past couple of days, a certain post has been making multiple appearances on my Tumblr dash, and it brings up a fair point about lady characters in media.
i’ve been thinking about all those posts about “we need female heroes who do girly things”/”why is the female hero always such a tomboy” and then the response posts that are like “uhhh actually we don’t really have any really masculine female heroes either” so i was trying to figure it out—what do we have, exactly?
and really what we get is women who eschew “girly” things while still managing to look like society’s ideal woman. they would never touch eyeliner (they’re too busy with Important Things), but their eyeliner is immaculate. they have a huge, varied wardrobe, but wouldn’t be caught dead actually shopping for clothes. and it reminds me of the expectation that women must be effortlessly beautiful. don’t wear makeup or you’ll seem self-absorbed—but god forbid you look like you’re not wearing makeup. it’s interesting to me, that the impossibilities imposed on female characters are the same ones imposed on real women.
I would say that this is an issue especially present in video games if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so prevalent in all types of media. However, I believe it’s easier to pick it out in video games if only because when you’re trouncing around in deserts or swamps surrounded by haggard looking men, it’s ridiculously easy to pick out those perfect manicures and stylish outfits of the women characters when a cut scene zooms in on them—kinda seems out of place. Truthfully, Fire Emblem: Awakening doesn’t subvert this issue in any meaningful way. Some of the more physical lady fighters still look on point and none of the women seem as though they’ve stepped away from their boudoir for longer than an afternoon. Though, to be fair, the men in this series look equally as prettied up; also sporting stunningly beautiful armor and well-coiffed hair. But, I do think this game tackles the issue of femininity on the battlefield very well. Or, rather, women maintaining their femininity without sacrificing fighting prowess. In fact, there’s a friendship that can be built up (should the player partner the two up in-game) between two seemingly opposite female characters—Sumia and Sully—that portrays the idea that a woman doesn’t have to be masculine to tear zombies and evil do-ers apart.
At first, it seems like these two fighters wouldn’t have much to talk about. Sully is a knight to the bone who trains herself day in and day out to equal the strength of the men while Sumia—who is still a knight, but not as blatantly hardcore—takes on a more doting personality, very openly caring for those around her, while still being a fan of less knightly things like fortunetelling and baking. As the two talk, they bond over one of the important figures in both of their lives: their horses. From this, their walls break down and they speak on everything from tea, to love, to war philosophy.
When comparing the two, it would have been more than easy to make their support conversations about Sully being bad at “girly” things and Sumia needing more battle training, pointing out one’s strengths at the cost of making it seem like the other is flawed for not having said strength. But, the relationship never goes there. Neither is shamed for any of their life choices and it’s clear that, despite their outwards differences, the two enjoy many of the same things. The important thing here is that FE:A makes it a point to show that no activity or belief makes one incapable of being a fighter. Sumia, for all of her klutzy tropeiness, is never seen as a woman who can’t hold her own on the battlefield. Sully’s power and drive, on the other hand, is never belittled or seen as futile because she’s not a man and she never looks down on someone for their, perhaps, less masculine activities.
FE:A is full of women fighters who don’t necessarily fit the stereotypical “strong woman” ideal, but they’re all strong, capable, fighters. What’s more, they all have depth to them because they’re not constrained by some antiquated notion of what makes someone, especially women, strong. Although it really is unfortunate that none of these characters fit outside of the societal standards of beauty, and that even characters like Sully still have perfect make-up, I still believe it’s important to show these relationships between women in games. These supportive relationships, theses non-judgmental relationships, these “getting to know you better” relationships: this is the kind of thing we need in video games. More women interacting and helping each other, rather than being pitted against each other in some stupid love triangle to add to some dude’s manpain.
In the future I hope games like FE:A can take the steps into having important women—battling or not—step outside of the small box of generalized beauty the industry is so attached to. Sure, we have some characters like that already, but we need more. Women are free to wear make-up and look stylish if they want to, that’s their prerogative, but it shouldn’t be something on the checklist to being allowed screentime in a game, movie, or any form of media.
One thing I hate is the apparent need to give female characters masculine-sounding names or nicknames, as if to signal that’s how we should know they’re competent…or, god forbid, “feisty”. Samantha Carter (“Sam”) from Stargate leaps to mind.