in defence of females redux

There’s another medium where female characters generate a lot of hate: video games. There are reasons for this, and one of the primary ones happens to be that a lot of female gamers take issue with the fact there’s a lot of “fan service” going on. Specifically, the females are half-naked a lot of the time. Not always, but enough for it to be a concern.

This is the way the companies market the games to their male audience. It’s proof that sexism is alive and well in the video game industry. But it doesn’t mean the female characters should be completely disregarded or hated.

The Final Fantasy games are an extremely popular Japanese role-playing (or JRPG) series. There are a lot of perfectly well written, fleshed out female characters in this series, even if sometimes they have misplaced their bra.

Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the most well known game, spawning several spin-offs and a movie. It’s about a lot of complicated things—the plot is certainly more complicated than a lot of books and movies—but it basically comes down to an ex-mercenary who joins a terrorist group that his childhood friend happens to be part of. Their goal is to topple the megalomaniac arms development turned electricity company, Shinra, that has basically taken over the world.

The game is a love story, with a twist. Tifa and Aerith both have feelings for the main character, Cloud, and this develops all throughout the first disc of the game. You even get to pick which one of them Cloud is nicer to, through text options, and you score a date with one of them depending on what you picked. This love triangle is the cause for a lot of the hate focused on Tifa and Aerith. There are a lot of debates about whom Cloud should have picked, which are silly when you consider the fact that Aerith dies, so it negates one side of the argument completely.

A lot of fans seem to be under the misapprehension that Tifa and Aerith were fighting tooth and nail for Cloud’s affections. Yes, they competed, but they also became close friends. Tifa was just as distraught as Cloud when Aerith died. Both characters are strong and have agency, in their own way.

Tifa is a martial artist who resolved to topple Shinra after her father was killed and her hometown destroyed because of them. Aerith is a girl with special powers, who spent most of her childhood in the Shinra labs as a research specimen. She joins the fight against Shinra to learn more about her heritage and the fate of her previous boyfriend, who was killed at the hands of Shinra. Both of them are three-dimensional female characters, and both of them have strengths and flaws that add to the overall story. It wouldn’t have worked half as well with one of them missing, and the contrast between them is what makes them so great.

… Yes, Tifa wears a mini-skirt and suspenders, and Aerith wears a pink dress and is delegated the role of Team Healer, a general female stereotype. But this doesn’t make them vapid or one-dimensional or purely “fan service”. This is an aspect of their characters that is inevitable in the video game industry, and a whole lot of other industries, but it’s not all there is to them.

The other Final Fantasy games similarly have female characters that are hated, simply because they occasionally need to be saved or occasionally reveal that they are flawed characters. Oh no!

In Final Fantasy VIII, Rinoa is a character that joins a resistance faction to free a town from martial law, despite her father being the general of the army of that country. Later in the game, after travelling with Squall and co, she becomes a Sorceress: someone who is hated and feared by the world. But she deals with this as best she can, and she ends up being the strongest character in the game because of it.

Final Fantasy IX has Garnet, who is heir to the throne but decides to seek counsel from her uncle when her mother starts becoming more and more corrupt. Final Fantasy X is really all about Yuna, a summoner who decides to take on the burden of saving the world, knowing that she’ll have to sacrifice her life to do so. And Final Fantasy XII tells the story of Ashe, another princess who has her country invaded by the enemy, joins the underground resistance and does a lot of the dirty work herself to get her country back.

These are all female characters that accomplish just as much as the male characters, both in terms of development and their achievements in the plot. They’re all clear-cut individuals who have motivations and aspirations, and they are all integral to the story.

Why do they receive so much hate? Rinoa is apparently too naïve and immature, even though she’s only seventeen and has lived most of her life in luxury. Garnet is apparently not worldly or wise enough, even though she’s never been outside her kingdom. Yuna is apparently too much of a martyr, even though she eventually challenges the notion of sacrifice and saves the world while surviving. And Ashe is apparently too serious and “bitchy”, despite the fact she lost her father, husband and kingdom all at once.

These aren’t really circumstances normal people find themselves in, but these characters have the personalities of real people, and it seems they most often get criticised for acting like real people.  Instead of being one-dimensional cardboard cut outs, saving the world and never doing any wrong, they are well-rounded individuals who don’t always do or say the right thing. It’s exactly the same with the male characters, but they are seemingly accepted because they are strong and manly, and sometimes have to save the girl.

Final Fantasy XIII is especially guilty of this criticism of its female characters. Lightning and Fang are accepted by both male and female gamers alike, because they’re strong, stoic and… well, manly. It’s interesting to note that Fang’s character originally was meant to be male. Vanille and Serah, on the other hand, receive a lot of hate for being “girly”. Vanille is kooky, eccentric and sometimes annoying on the surface—but she’s hiding a lot, and this seems to be what people forget. She has depth; incredible amounts of it, even though sometimes you can see up her skirt. In one review, Serah was called “passive” for allowing her boyfriend to help her deal with her grim future. A grim future that was, essentially, either turning to crystal or becoming a mindless monster.

That is not exactly the correct definition of passive. That should actually be defined as ‘normal’—an eighteen-year-old girl not knowing how to deal with that on her own and having no one else to turn to? Shocking.

The Final Fantasy series has a lot of depth and, yes, it has a lot of flaws. But its female characters are rather amazing, and should be recognised as such—they don’t have to be liked, because their personalities are unique and won’t appeal to everyone. But they should be respected as characters and they shouldn’t be hated for being female or showing off their cleavage, because they all have a purpose outside of that. They all tell a story. They’re all important.

in defence of females

Why do female characters in fiction generate so much hate?

In books, movies, TV shows—across the board, there are female characters that are criticised. Most often in ways that male characters with similar personalities and traits would not be. And have not been. Sarah Rees Brennan made the point that if Harry Potter were actually Harriet Potter, she would not be as beloved by millions.

This is sadly true, in my opinion, especially when you consider fans’ attitudes to characters like Hermione and Ginny. Some fans criticise Hermione for not being “strong” in the seventh book, for falling apart when Ron leaves. And yes, she did fall apart to an extent, but remember that Harry didn’t react well to it, either. If you consider the fact they were being hunted by Death Eaters and were Undesirables Numbers One and Two, they had a lot of valid reasons to be stressed. More than that, Hermione was strong. She stayed with Harry, kept trying to figure out where the horcruxes were and what the deal with the Deathly Hallows was.

That’s where Hermione shines: in all seven books, she’s always the one with the answers. When she’s petrified by the Basilisk in the second book, Ron and Harry are at a complete loss—until they find the note in Hermione’s palm, telling them that it’s a Basilisk. Seeing a pattern here? Hermione is just as heroic as Harry.

Ginny is mostly criticised for being a “tramp”, or worse, which is something that is frustrating to no end. She likes Harry and Harry never notices her until the sixth book, so she’s not allowed to date other men? And if she does, that automatically makes her a tramp? It’s a double standard in a lot of fiction. You don’t see Harry getting flak for dating Cho Chang; in fact, for the most part, people criticise Cho Chang for that. You also don’t see Ron getting flak for being with Lavender; again, it’s Lavender being criticised. And while these two female characters may not be the most likeable, do they honestly deserve the criticism more than the guys? Not really.

Harry Potter is just one example, of course. It’s an example that does, for the most part, pass the Bechdel Test. Which is: there must be more than two female characters in the text, and they must interact with each other about something other than a man. Harry Potter has a multitude of female characters, all amazing in their own way. They do interact and form close friendships, and no, they don’t solely talk about how amazing Harry is. (Even though they sometimes do.)

For that matter, Twilight passes the Bechdel test, too. Yes, Bella Swan does not like a lot of her human “friends” and sometimes acts as though she and the Cullens are superior. This can be considered a flaw. But she does interact with Alice, and Angela. And Rosalie, too. Yes, they do talk about things that aren’t Edward, shock horror. Yes, they do have a close relationship, though the latter one takes some time to develop.

It’s not a crime to criticise the flaws of characters in fiction. But, to me, it is a crime when the character is female and a large part of the response to the character is based around the fact that she is female.

No, female characters do not need to hate skirts, be uninterested in men or know five different martial arts styles to be considered strong women. As I mentioned in the last article, Mae from The Demon’s Lexicon is a shining example of a strong young woman comfortable with her body and sexuality, and she’s not afraid of flaunting it. This is completely okay, and she’s pretty amazing in her own right.

Buffy Summers is another character who’s severely criticised, and yes, she does know five different martial arts styles, but that’s part of her charm. A blonde, spunky Vampire Slayer who likes clothes and guys and other things outside of slaying vampires? Whoda thunk. How dare you, Buffy!

She’s a character that a number of fans seem to dislike because she’s flawed, which is really not a very good reason to hate a character, since someone who’s perfect is not very interesting. Yes, sometime she makes mistakes. Yes, sometimes she dates vampires and they lose their souls and she has to kill them. Yes, sometimes she sleeps with a vampire because she’s just been brought back from the dead. Yes, she’s a young woman who lost her mother and didn’t know how to raise her sister on her own. Is this really a crime?

You know what, she managed to avert a couple of apocalypses as well as deal with these crises. To me, Buffy is a fantastic character, never mind her flaws. She makes the show and, without her, what would the show be? Blank the Vampire Slayer? As attractive as David Boreanaz and James Marsters are, sorry, they can’t make a show on their own. They need the badass ladies alongside them.

And does Buffy the Vampire Slayer pass the Bechdel test? Absolutely, with flying colours. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Tara, Anya, Dawn—they all interact with each other, a lot of the time not about any of the male cast. In fact, their relationships generally have more depth than the relationships between the males.

You’ll note that the female characters discussed all have very different skill sets. They all have different avenues of strength available to them, but that doesn’t make any of them weak. Female characters have always been criticised harshly, have always been judged more than the guys.

In fantasy, female protagonists that are oblivious, naïve and don’t know how to use a sword are often viewed as weak and pathetic. Male protagonists that act exactly the same are generally accepted, and their leap to heroism is not examined cynically. Not usually. But are both protagonists heroes? Absolutely. None of this heroine business. They both mean the same thing regardless.

Basically, female characters don’t deserve the treatment they get. They can be flawed, they can make the wrong decisions, and they can pick whichever guy (or girl) they want. Women aren’t prizes or trophies or objects: they are complex people with complex strengths and flaws, and they are allowed to shine like stars without being hated for shining too brightly. After all, stories are written about people, for people.

So people should really stop complaining when they get presented with female characters that act like people. It’s only logical, isn’t it?