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Year of the Woman
by Ian Bogost on 01/20/10 10:06:00 pm   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Today I listened to NPR On Point on the ride home. The topic was "A big year for Hollywood women?", with film critics Manohla Dargis and Nicole LaPorte discussing (and deflating) recent buzz about the "Year of the Woman" in movies.

If you listen to the show online, you'll be struck by how much the conversation about women in film mirrors that of common conversation about women in games: women not getting the same treatment as filmmakers as men; industry assuming that movies are mostly for guys; the expectation that women filmmakers make "chick flicks" like romantic comedies; that women's roles in films are generally the same as ever; and on and on.

Perhaps my favorite one-liner was Dargis's proposal that women would be equals in Hollywood when a woman directs a picture like Transformers 3. The best caller question asked when we might see a woman create a Judd Apatow-style "raunchy comedy," that might demonstrate "what women are really like."

Then again, my least favorite was the one mention of videogames as distractions for 13-year olds. No matter, the entire discussion ought to dampen considerably any ideas we videogame folk have about other media having accomplished considerably greater audience and creator equity, even if it may seem so on the surface.

(cross-posted from

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al marcy
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I studied programming in 1970 in DC. The teacher brought in Grace Hopper to talk to us about the computer world. She was the last person I met who understood what was happening and was ready to do it. She said we would have to deal with business people, who think they manage people, but, we can not manage people, we can only lead them. Or fail to accomplish what needs to be done. She was right. And, much of the effort to get computers doing useful things was indeed a failure. Well managed, in the ancient ways, but a nearly total waste of talent and time. A lot of talent and time. But, the managers got promoted as if it was the best of all possible worlds. Maybe it was. Sigh.

I have female avatars on Aion. Since I spend much of every day watching my avatar's backside...

The media presents things in whatever frame of reference they think will sell to us. Pretty disheartening at times. I have known great software minds and blundering fools, of both sexes. A much larger percentage of men were pathetic. Women have to be really something to even get a job. Even from other women.

My wife used to manage a family planning educational center. All women. Men don't do family planning.

Freaking ax swings both ways.

Reid Kimball
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Nancy Dowd wrote the script for Slap Shot, a raunchy hockey comedy if you ask me. But I suppose it's not as raunchy as the recent gimmicky comedy films that just try to shock and eww you.

Meredith Katz
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What bothers me about how this subject is often approached -- see also Jeffery Parson's comment for an example -- is that people tend to forget to divorce "discourse of masculinity" and "discourse of femininity" from actual male/female behaviors. Jeffery talks about how masculine heroes should demand a male lead naturally, and how female heroes should, instead, demonstrate a feminine strength. And on the surface, there's nothing wrong with that.

Except that said "masculine strength" and "feminine strength" are both constructs.

The heroes and superheroes we see in games or media are characters built around said constructs, usually gender constructs. It's not even that men and women are so fundamentally different in behavior that it's only natural to have different roles. It's that for many, many years there have been glorified images of The Man and the Woman and how their roles differ... in a non-existent, idealized society. In many ways modern media is just an expansion of the "Arthurian Court" ideal. But that's not how real men and women in this society behave. Ignoring media examples, look at the men you know around you. Almost certainly, they aren't at all like Marcus Fenix in behavior. Almost certainly, they're just 'normal guys'. They probably get up in the morning, are annoyed at work, bow their heads' to their bosses demands, come home to their family (if they have one) and basically don't own this collection of traits required for the 'male hero'.

So the traits required for the male hero aren't actually inherent to being male, just as the traits required for 'feminine strength' isn't actually inherent to being female (in fact, in daily life, I'd suggest that the laid-back-but stressed supporter of the family would actually be more of a male role rather than the feminine one, where 'female strength' in film is usually exactly that archetype). So what *that* means is that the 'masculine hero' and the 'feminine hero' actually have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with perceived, constructed gender roles by assigning them to two different portrayals of strength.

And that is the difficulty, I think, we have in expanding male and female roles in video games (and in movies): that the battle is actually not against natural portrayals of men and women but against the concept that gender roles are not constructed and thus extremely specific heroic roles are so completely gendered that the traditional assignment of them can't or shouldn't be broken.