It is time for another in-blog confession! I am a female academic, who knowingly takes advantages of all of the rights and benefits that the feminist movement has fought so hard for, but actively avoids dealing with feminist discourse. There are all sorts of reasons for this, most of which I will not talk about in this post, but some of which will surely become evident as I move forward with my discussion of some of this week’s readings. I consider myself to be a pretty open minded individual who is rarely afraid to challenge the status quo, develop odd theories, or discuss almost anything (no matter how taboo). However, I make an explicit effort to avoid debates within feminist discourse, out of fear of saying the “wrong thing” I am not completely ignorant to the actual theories behind, and reasons for, such discourse, and I am in no way saying that it is unimportant. It is just one of those topics, like civic engagement, and socialism, that I have limited knowledge of, little desire to focus on and that I do not feel qualified to analyse or debate. Of course, there is always the inevitable time in each course when I must address various feminist issues. Because this blog has been so helpful in allowing me to experiment with different ideas and challenge various terms and theories, I am just going to go ahead and write without fear. As a disclaimer then, because I know that what I am going to say will be slightly controversial, I am only dealing with some brief ‘non-journal’ readings (someone else’s blog, a news story, and a Wikipedia entry) and my own personal opinions and experiences. I will start by briefly summarizing the three pieces in order to provide some context before tearing off into my inevitable rant.
The Wikipedia article is the entry on the 3D eroge video game RapeLay. The game “centers on a male character who stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters.” It was released on April 21, 2006. The story and characters are outlined in the article, but what is important is the controversy surrounding the game. “The game has also earned the dubious honor of being the first, and only game to date, to be effectively banned in Argentina.” Ultimately, what the game does is test the boundaries of what societies expect from video games. Rape, which is a horrific and damaging crime (mostly against women) is not only portrayed, but practically celebrated in this game. Of course, defenders of the game draw attention to the nature of physical violence and murder in other ‘acceptable’ video games. I will talk about where I stand below.
The blog Sailor Moon and Femininity, talks about the ‘beautiful fighting girls’ (or ‘magic girls’), portrayed in the popular manga series Sailor Moon. The author states that Sailor Moon is “a story about women, created by a woman, edited by a woman, written for a popular female audience, and enthusiastically embraced by an adult female fandom…an example of a homosocial female space in which women can talk about women and femininity without having to worry about what men are thinking.” Her core argument is that the ‘male gaze’ is actually removed from Sailor Moon, and the femininity that the characters portray is a source of power. She talks about the evolution of the Sailor Scouts (Sailor Moon and friends) who “gradually mature into capable and competent young women who must shoulder great responsibility and make difficult choices, usually without the support or interference of men.”
This picture, which portrays the Sailor Scouts, is evidence of where the debate around the femininity of Sailor Moon comes from. On the surface, the girls embody many of the tropes associated with “beautiful girls” – short skirts, big eyes, youth, ‘cuteness’. The author of the blog, however, argues that the scouts safely explore these feminine characteristics without a concern for men or the masculine gaze.
The news article “Dating simulator games inspire legion of followers – and detractors” discusses the business of adult oriented games or dating simulators. These games range from simple (and tame) virtual conversations to explicit ‘eroge’ (erotic games) and ‘yaruge’ (sex games). The controversy over RapeLay is discussed, however it is made clear that rape games are only a small minority in a popular and thriving genre in Japanese game development. In an interview with Azuma (whom I have mentioned in previous blogs), the reporter learns that “dating sims offer patterned characters and relationships that can be consumed and reproduced in pursuit of a pleasant experience. The ways characters are created and approached is a distinct cultural style that in fact has very little to do with reality.” The point is made in this article that the majority of dating sims do not contain ‘hard’ or ‘explicit’ sex and are more focused on the idea of love than actual sex. Regardless of specific content however, with a “ready supply of creators in Japan, and the growing demand overseas, the genre is simply here to stay.”
So, why did I feel the need to start this blog with a ‘disclaimer’ about my potentially controversial reaction to these readings? Because I believe that the argument made about Sailor Moon and the power behind the sort of femininity explored and portrayed in the series, is far more offensive and controversial than what occurs in RapeLay (or other ‘eroge’ or ‘yaruge’ that take on a male gaze). Ok, so why? Well, lets talk about RapeLay first.
This game does not try to hide what it is. The name itself is a combination of the words ‘rape’ and ‘play’. It is an example (albeit an extreme example) of a fantasy simulator that allows a player to ‘play’ out taboo fantasies in a fictional, virtual world full of empty, unrealistic characters. It is an interactive, animated, modern-day version of the experiences sought out by readers through the works of the Marquis De Sade (for example). Azuma’s point (made in the news article) about “patterned characters and relationships that can be consumed”, is that the characters in these games are meant to be exactly that – consumed. If you look at Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, you can see a similar mechanism at play – empty, ‘trope’ laden, ‘symbols’ are consumed by the reader. There are some superficial story lines surrounding the various protagonists and antagonists, but they are ultimately unimportant outside of pure symbolism. Hollow, empty, stereotypical, symbolic objects are exploited for pure, animalistic pleasure. Granted, Sade’s work tended to have a deeper, political meaning in that it represented a resistance to the development of ‘biopower’ where external forces were gaining greater control over the bodies of the citizenry; while RapeLay seems to be aimed more at satisfying the needs of Azuma’s “Database Animals”. The point, however, is that in either case, the work is not being deceitful, trying to hide the fact that it is blatantly exploiting these ‘objects’. I also have to say here, that the argument made by some defenders of RapeLay, that the rape portrayed in this game is no worse than the murder portrayed in other games, holds some weight with me. While Mortal Kombat seems to be the most commonly referred to game that explicitly promotes brutal murder, I think that the Grand Theft Auto series is even ‘worse’ due to the deeper relationship that you develop with the protagonist. In RapeLay, the ‘protagonist’ Masaya has one obvious motivation and goal – to rape the family – he is an empty character designed with one purpose, to act as a tool. In GTA Vice City, I have gotten deeply involved with the protagonist Tommy, who has an intricate back-story and series of relationships, and have used him to murder thousands of innocent people, including more than a few prostitutes that he had just had sex with (killing them means that you get your money back…so why not?) Now, I am not denying the fact that in all of these examples, women are typically the the objectified ones that are taken advantage of, while men act as the powerful protagonists who are in control and positions of domination. And, I do agree that such objectification can and does have a negative impact on women and can act as a method of maintaining patriarchal power. However, whether one of the prostitutes in Vice City, one of the family members in RapeLay, or one of the victims in 120 Days of Sodom, the ‘women’ or ‘girls’ under attack have no more ‘body’ or personality or subjectivity than an NPC that might fall victim to an assassin in Skyrim or Fallout. And this is where I turn to my issue with Sailor Moon…
This image is of one of the characters from RapeLay. Now it is not hard to look at this and the above picture of the scouts to see the similar ‘tropes’ (although the scouts are obviously younger, and ‘cuter’). However, as mentioned in the blog about Sailor Moon, these ‘tropes’ are not really an issue. The scouts embrace their femininity, not to please men, (which is likely the reason that the RapeLay character is ‘helplessly’ dressed in such a similar fashion), but to be powerful despite men. Sailor Moon is supposed to teach girls/women that ‘girliness’ and being ‘pretty’ is not something to be ashamed of – instead it should be embraced as powerful, as ‘weapons against evil’ so to speak. As such deep and developed characters, the scouts represent the struggles faced by so many young women, to find themselves, to stand apart, to do something important that has nothing to do with impressing the opposite sex. The problem that I have with this argument is that they are only making an argument for the power of one ‘type’ of femininity, a ‘type’ that is so stereotyped and limited that most young women I grew up with could never fit the bill. What is the best way to be a powerful, independent female according to Sailor Moon? Embrace your “typical chick attributes” while developing your skills, relationships, and talents. The second part, I totally agree with – to be a powerful person, the development of skills, talents, and relationships, is extremely important. The message of teamwork, evolution, and allowing your personality to shine through, is a fantastic one. But, the ‘typical chick attributes’ part has me a bit perplexed. What does it mean to embrace femininity? Obviously it seems to involve being ‘pretty’ – so makeup, jewels, and cute clothes are a must. And everyone knows that high-heeled shoes are the best choice for any heroic defender against evil. I realize that I am being a bit superficial here – the point is supposed to be that you can wear all of these things, and look ‘pretty’ without caring what men think. But so many of the things associated with being a ‘typical chick’ developed specifically to make the female body more attractive to men. As a woman who has done martial arts and been in the army, I can testify first hand that the absolute last thing I would want to wear when attempting to accomplish anything physically demanding is a school-girl outfit with a short skirt and a pair of heels. I guess what I am saying is that the argument made about Sailor Moon and femininity just rubs me the wrong way, because it still seems to dictate what it means to be ‘feminine’ and powerful. In my opinion, if Sailor Moon was really about expressing the power of ‘femininity’ removed from the gaze of men, it would celebrate all different types of femininity in an obvious way…granted, I do realize that the characters do each have their own unique personalities etc. For example, Sailor Mercury, has short blue hair and is the smart, serious, ‘nerdy’ one of the group, BUT she still runs around in a mini-skirt and high-heels…
So to conclude…why is the Sailor Moon argument from this week’s readings far more offensive to me than the idea that a game like RapeLay exists? Because the power behind the message and characters of Sailor Moon has so much more potential to offend what it means to be a female. Rape games, must like a lot of pornography, explicitly exploit and objectify women who “need to be dominated” by men…but they are objectified to the point that they are not really women any more – they are symbols that exist only to be consumed. Sailor Moon, on the other hand, (if we believe the argument made by the author of the blog) uses powerful, well developed, complex young women – women with whom the audience creates a relationship – to dictate an ideal of femininity that is ‘supposed’ to exist external to the masculine gaze. The message is that to be a powerful female, it is ok to embrace certain ‘girly’ characteristics that girls/women SHOULD possess. So what about those girls/women who don’t want to embrace such ‘girly’ things? Are they less feminine and powerful as a result?