When the “Girl Geek Week” channel was started in the Geeks Under Grace staff chat , I literally cringed. “Seriously?” I asked myself. “Why? Why do we have to make a big deal of girl geeks? Why is this even a thing? They exist, and they’re regular people. It’s really not that complicated. Do we have to make an entire week out of it?” My mind drifted immediately to the likes of Joss Whedon, who when asked why he writes such strong female leads replied with “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Another of my favorite sarcastic responses was given by George RR Martin when asked a similar question: “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” And then I started meditating on this topic more seriously.
Women make up approximately49.6% of the total global population. And yet, there is a serious disconnect in the quantity and roles in which women are presented in media. This honestly puzzles me, which is why I didn’t understand the concept of “Girl Geek Week” at first. One of my past girlfriends used to beat me at arm wrestling without even trying. I took karate classes in high school and our sensei was a woman. I’ve had bosses that were women, I’ve seen women that can play circles around me on every instrument, and if you’re a woman reading this there’s a really good chance that you know more about cars than I do.
And yet, somehow, the entertainment industry has missed this memo. Somehow it seems like women are often secondary characters who exist only to fall in love with the hero and/or be rescued. They’re cast as either hopelessly romantic “manic pixie dream girls” or as heartless witches who really just want a man to break through the walls and love them. On the rare occasions that women are the main character, somehow developers in the video game industry and directors in Hollywood still seems to miss something critical. Either their sex appeal is exaggerated or they’re somehow broken. They always seem to need love–specifically eros with a man; agape, philia, and storge never apply–to fix them, and I don’t get it. Why can’t a single woman exist on her own terms without needing a guy? Why can’t she be attractive without being a sex object? Why she can’t be smart and quick on her feet for her own benefit?
When I first started watching Doctor Who, I saw an episode where the character Rose ends up by herself in a basement. Within seconds she realizes that she’s not where she meant to be and picks up a nearby weapon of opportunity—a large two by four. I literally cheered in my apartment. This was such a small detail, but too many writers don’t get it. Rather than be a ditzy blonde who’s too stupid to tell the difference between the basement and a regular floor, or too dumb to exercise caution and later needing rescue by the male hero, she immediately recognizes that something is up and takes reasonable precautions. Many of the Doctor’s companions, in fact, have been strong, independent, quick-witted, and not paraded around in half-torn shirts. That’s one of the contributing factors to its success. The women on the show are people.
Another stellar example of solid female writing is Leslie Knope from Parks And Recreation. She’s strong willed, smart, charismatic, and devoted. Eventually she does fall in love and gets married, but that marriage is a far cry from the stereotypical, “I need a man in my life to fix me.” Rather it was a much healthier, “I recognize and appreciate the way this person compliments and grows me and I want them in my life.” The entertainment industry is slowly starting to give us more Roses and Leslies, but we’re not quite there yet. Right now we’ve still got far too many Suicide Squad Harley Quinns–who seems to have been chosen purely on her character’s ability to wear shorts and tight shirts—or Elizabeths from Bioshock: Infinite, a classic damsel in distress.
How do we change this?
The entertainment industry is ruled by money; it doesn’t pay attention to YouTube comments, articles like this one, or even critics; it pays attention to first week sales, preorders, opening weekend at the box office, and the like. If a game sells, the developers may scan the internet and magazines to see what they did right and replicate it, but they’re not going to bother to correct the things they did wrong:
“The gameplay was awesome but the female armor was pretty sexist.”
The takeaway there is, “The gameplay was awesome, don’t change anything for the sequel!”
Lara Croft was given a makeover in 2013, transforming her from a “video game vixen” into an action heroine. Note that the 2015 Xbox One timed exclusive, Rise of the Tomb Raider, sold three times as many copies on the PC in January 2016. Money talks: Square Enix is unlikely to try that stunt again. Money talks.
After all, if the game sells well despite the drawbacks, why bother addressing them? “Don’t fix what ain’t broke,” as the saying goes. If we want to see a better representation of women in all of media, we have to speak with our dollars. We can’t buy games like Bayonettaand talk about how awesome the gameplay and the soundtrack are and then get mad when the game studios keep giving us scantily clad women and an entire physics engines dedicated to making their boobs bounce. We can’t watch movies like Green Inferno and then complain about how sick and gory movies are these days. This makes us huge hypocrites. When you spend money on something that perpetuates an issue you strongly disagree with—such as misrepresentation of women in media—you’re telling those who produce such content that the issue isn’t big enough to warrant change.
So where is the line? I consider myself a pretty liberal and progressive person, but one issue I’m pretty conservative on is sex. If a game or film has an overly graphic sex scene, I’ll pass (I’m looking at you, God of War). Someone else, though, may not care. “It’s just a video game,” they may argue as they beat the latest hooker in Grand Theft Auto to get their money back. And honestly, that’s fine with me. The point here is not “this is a hard line of how to spend your money.” The point here is to spend your money wisely.
You can’t spend money on a video game or movie with flaws you strongly disagree with and then say, “Well I don’t support those flaws, I just enjoy the gameplay/certain actor/story/etc.” They’re not mutually exclusive. You can’t write a note on your money about how it is only to be considered support of certain things and not others, and expect vendors to obey. You have to take a stand and be firm about your beliefs. As a music lover, I’ve passed up a ton of really awesome tours because I so strongly disagreed with one of the bands on the tour. It’s hard to give up a bunch of other things you like just because of one small thing you dislike, but if you really believe in your cause that much, you have to be willing to make that kind of sacrifice. “But Nic, I’m only one person,” you say as you read this. “Surely they won’t notice one less game being sold.” No, they won’t. But one thing adds up real quick.
Geeks everywhere were TRIGGERED by this one last year.
No Man’s Sky is about $60 at the time of this writing, and over 212,600 people have purchased it. That’s $12.8 million. That’s 212,600 people who voiced their support of the game and all the ideas in it. It takes a united effort. We all have to learn to use our money wisely to influence change in the industry to see more of what we want. More Buffys. More Samus Arans. More Eowyns. Be conscious and intentional with your purchases, even if it’s just one. Don’t forget that God has used just one person to affect change before. Because the fact that I even found myself writing this article or that we’re even having a “Girl Geek Week” is still, in my opinion, absolutely ridiculous. The industry needs to get with the times. Women are people. It’s not a difficult concept. One my never find a perfect video game with a perfectly crafted female character AND perfectly crafted game mechanics, combat system, story, graphics, and so on, but we should certainly reward the pursuit!
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