Ms. Male

by whereibelongsf

The latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes Vs. Women” is up now at Feminist Frequency. She describes the Ms. Male character as:

A female version of an already established or default male character. Ms. Male Characters are defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts via their visual properties, their narrative connection or occasionally through promotional materials. 

Rather than do a lengthy dissection of the parts of her argument that I disagree with, I want to highlight the important take-away I got from the video: in video games, and much of media, male is the default. She gives the example of adding female birds to “Angry Birds,” which had the effect of making all the other characters male. All too often in media, women are defined by their gender and drawn to conform to gender stereotypes. The problem isn’t so much with having girly girls in games or TV or movies, but in the fact that almost all girls are girly girls, and very few female characters get to be defined by anything but their gender. Sarkeesian illustrates that point very well, and it was eye-opening for me.

As always, however, I had issues with the tone of the video and the overly academic approach to games criticism. There’s very little in the video that puts the gender stereotypes in context of other media of the time.

A someone who recently had a baby girl, I was put off by Sarkeesian’s outrage at pink being a signifier for femininity.

“Now just to be clear, there’s no inherent problem with the color pink, makeup, bows or high heels as design elements on their own. And of course people of all genders may choose to wear any of them from time to time in the real world and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that either (emphasis mine).”

Pink, lipstick, bows and heels are almost universally feminine. There are very, very few instances of masculine use of lipstick, bows, and heels (at least since the 19th century). If you go to a drag show, you see a whole lot of lipstick and heels. Most of the male-to-female transgendered people I know wear some combination of the above because they know it reads as female. It is either disingenuous or out of touch to act like lipstick and heels are not feminine identifiers. I get that many women don’t wear any combination of the above, and that there is an issue with women in media always being identified as extremely feminine, but to knock video games for using identifiers that are universally accepted to read female seems unfair.