I’ve had a beaten-up copy of The Shattered Court lying around my apartment for some time now, and I finally decided it was time to give it a read. The book is the opener to a series, and introduces a Britain-based country with its own unique magical system. However, my interest in the book quickly turned to frustration and disappointment as I learned more about how the magic worked. While the series attempted to say some challenging things about gender and magic, it fell down harder and harder every time it tried.
Let’s talk about sex. Sure, it’s magical, but sometimes it’s literally magical. One of my favorite things about speculative fiction is its ability take something ordinary and add a supernatural level to it, creating thought-provoking analogies and metaphors about various aspects of the human condition. Sex is one example of an arena sci-fi/fantasy media can explore in this way. Unfortunately, this is also an aspect that can lead to some pretty uncool tropes, from mystical pregnancies to magical virgins and everything in between. Imagine my surprise, that while watching Teen Wolf, I saw a show where characters’ sex lives were separate from their supernatural lives.
Sexism affects people of all genders, but it affects us all differently. Women, whether virgins or sexually active, tend to be demonized and ridiculed. But for men, virginity is the ultimate crime. Whether the guy just hasn’t had the opportunity for sex or has chosen to wait, it doesn’t matter. According to our society, men who have not had sex, particularly with a woman, are somehow lacking. So when a prominent male figure is revealed or even implied to be a virgin (for whatever reason), there tends to be something of an uproar. In our media, there is almost never a virgin male character, and when there is, they are either portrayed as having something wrong with them or almost their entire plotline is dedicated to them losing their virginity. For our pop culture to have a character who doesn’t follow these rules is rare and frankly revolutionary. That’s why I am so happy that Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, is a virgin.
The manga series Loveless is… well, it’s a weird one. It’s admittedly terrible, vaguely shounen-ai, and based in a universe where magically linked pairs of fighters battle in duels based on language—but none of that is what I want to talk about today. Rather, I want to talk about one of the stranger details that mangaka Yun Kouga included in the series: namely, virginity as a visible trait.
In Loveless, humans are born with cat ears and a tail—bear with me—and shed them after they lose their virginity. And while this could have made for an interesting discussion of virgin- and slut-shaming and effectively parodied our own society’s obsession with both, I found the actual implementation of the idea disappointing at best.
A little more than a month ago, I brought to light my dislike for the white mage trope in RPGs and my wishes that such lazy tropes would be re-worked into more dynamic characters in the future. I still very much think this, but in writing said article I made myself consider the white mages that I had already come across in my gaming life. Unsurprisingly, the character that I automatically think of when considering this trope is not, in fact, Yuna from FFX, but Colette from Tales of Symphonia.
This is an obvious choice in my case because, while my brother certainly is a fan of the Final Fantasy series, I never really got into it until X-2 and honestly, I’m still not really into the series beyond that specific game. Instead, my first true foray into the JRPG scene, and probably the RPG scene as a whole, was Tales of Symphonia. Its story focuses on a religion that has been perverted to the point of sacrificing someone in waking up the goddess that will bring mana back to the world, and it just so happens to be Colette that has been chosen to—rather, has been bred to—become this sacrifice. However, most people aren’t aware that this ‘chosen’ will end up giving their life, and instead believe that they will become an angel. As such, it makes sense for Colette to carry the typical angelic-healer looks and personality: blonde hair, blue eyes, white clothes, and a sense of self-sacrifice that could make anyone around her feel ashamed.
Yet Colette isn’t the healer/white mage of the group. In fact, Colette gets no healing abilities and is actually more aggressive in her play style. The healer in Symphonia is Raine Sage, a somewhat bitter half-elf who has more fondness for ruins than for the people around her. I bring these two up not because Colette is exempt from the white mage trope due to her lack of healing skills (she’s still a “white mage” in terms of motivation), but because the game actively presents opportunities in which the audience can re-evaluate the inherent tropiness of having someone be a “white mage” in the first place.
It’s been a while since I’ve played Star Ocean: The Last Hope, and to make a long story short, I was significantly unimpressed with the game. Although the game does boast many female characters—more playable women than men, even—it does deal in several offensive stereotypes. And those stereotypes are hard to ignore.
We have Reimi, our main female lead who constantly cries rape and sexual harassment for no reason—and if there is a reason, the narrative uses it as a source of humor. We have Lymle, our five-year-old who ends up in a pseudo-romantic relationship with someone at least ten years older than her. There’s Meracle, our scantily clad cat girl. There’s also Myuria, our obligatory big-busted girl who the camera can’t stop zooming in on. And last but not least, we have Sarah, our mild-mannered, angelic, virginal Featherfolk—someone born with angel wings—who is kidnapped by an evil syndicate to be used as a blood sacrifice in order to call forth a powerful deity that will rein holy hell down upon a planet. And the syndicate in question chooses Sarah because she’s a virgin.
So many of you may have realized by this point that I have been pretty heavily into Teen Wolf recently. No, don’t worry, this post isn’t about Teen Wolf too, but it was when reading some Teen Wolf fanfiction recently that I noticed something that I thought was pretty cool.
Many of the fanfics I read did not define a loss of virginity with penetration. There was more than one fanfic I read were mutual masturbation or oral sex were defined as enough of a sex act to be considered as “actually having sex.”
Now I’m not saying on the whole that every Teen Wolf fanfic is like this. I think it is more likely I just ended up reading a string of fics that define sexual intercourse more broadly than penetrative sex. That being said, I find it incredibly interesting that more fanfics are beginning to define sex and virginity more broadly. The reason I find this so interesting is because even now you have plenty of people who declare for sex to be “real sex” there must be some kind of penetration. No penetration, no sex.
As you can imagine this is frighteningly heterosexist and extremely problematic when we talk about virginity.