Stereotypes: Not Just for Ladies
This week, I was going to write about female stereotypes that are damagingly prevalent within video games, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that men are just as often stereotyped yet the issue isn’t pushed nearly as much. So I thought that this week, I’d give a little more thought to men and the way in which both genders are culturally perceived in such a way as to their detriment in video games, and in society in general.
I’m always intrigued as to why stereotypes against women are seen as so much more of a problem than stereotypes against men. Sexism towards men is laughed at, while sexism towards women is abhorred and unacceptable. I’m going to put forward a few of my own theories which may or may not reflect my actual opinion, please keep that in mind.
Firstly, let me explain what kind of sexism or stereotypes I’m referring to with regards to video games.
How often have we decried the presence of stupidly proportioned women like Ivy from Soul Caliber, yet remained happily quiet about the obscene musculature of someone like Chris Redfield from Resident Evil? If a character has huge breasts, people will immediately jump on the idea that she’s being portrayed as nothing more than a sexual object, yet when Chris Redfield and his ridiculously bulging pectorals ‘muscle’ their way onto the scene, no-one bats an eye lid. I do understand that Ivy is more offensive because of how contrived her outfit it; it serves only to show her breasts, whereas Chris Redfield, despite his obscene musculature, is more appropriately attired. But it still serves as an example of how there is a double standard at play; men and women alike are up in arms about the ridiculous proportions of someone like Ivy leading to skewed views of women, yet the same is never said for the hundreds of hugely muscled men that appear as well.
I think this has a lot to do with the male and female psyche. I am in no way a believer of gender essentialism (the idea that men and women are born fundamentally different in nature, above and beyond their obvious physical differences), I am instead referring to our culturally prescribed natures; this is, of course, a generalisation and can never be applied to every member of a group, it is merely an observation. The cultural socialization processes for men and women is undoubtedly different. How often do you see a small boy fall over and their mother tell them to “be a strong boy and don’t cry” while the little girl falls over and gets a cuddle as she sobs? What this tells us from an incredibly early age is that boys should be boys and girls should be girls and that there are ways for men to behave and there are ways for women to behave.
It seems to me that women are almost taught that they’re the victims and to be wary of any discrimination directed towards them while men are regarded as the bolshy ones who are just meant to accept things and get on with it. They’re taught to almost embrace any stereotype thrown at them. I am not referring to this in a sexist way, I’m merely commenting on what I perceive to be a social phenomenon; what I mean by this victim statement is that in most western cultures, women are assumed to be incapable of wrong doing, while men are assumed to be ‘masculine’ to the point of aggression and a blasé attitude. They’re meant to take things in their stride; women are meant to be on their guard.
Consider these cases: In a divorce, it is nearly always the woman who gets custody of the children, often to the detriment of the father. Cases of domestic abuse against men are hardly ever publicised, (despite the fact that the figures are actually alarming) because in our heads, men are the aggressive and domineering sex while women are meek and weaker; women can’t abuse their husbands. And think of male sexual harassment or even rape, something apparently considered hilarious if we are to take societies word for it. In the recent film Horrible Bosses one of the main characters is sexually assaulted repeatedly and in a variety of ways by his female boss (from being locked in a room by her while she stands there naked to being knocked unconscious by her and having compromising pictures taken of him while unaware) and apparently that’s laughable because men are such sex crazed maniacs that any attention from females is good attention, even if it was against their will. If the same scenes had been with a man sexually assaulting a woman, we would all be rightfully disgusted and the scene would in no way be funny, yet it seems to be only me left unamused when the tables are turned.
So when female characters have huge breasts that jiggle we get defensive, yet when male characters have huge muscles that flex and bulge, we don’t say a word. I know you could boil it down to breasts being considered sexual and muscles less so but at the end of the day, it is still a case of both sexes being objectified in a way potentially psychologically harmful to those watching, yet only one of the cases is considered a problem. If we are to say that women can develop low self-esteem because of the plethora of images and characters possessing unattainable beauty, who is to say that men don’t feel the same? Society is apparently, because men are just meant to be ‘manly’ and not give a damn. But the truth is they are allowed to give a damn, they should give a damn, and it is no less ‘masculine’ for them to do so.
It also comes down the social idea that men can’t be sexualised because being sexualised implies you don’t desire the attention, however, men apparently always desire the attention – they have rampant, ungovernable sexual desires – while women are the ones who are meant to deflect such sexual attention because women are the less sexual of the two genders with a lower libido. Writing it out just highlights how wrong, out dated and sexist such a notion is but it is still incredibly prevalent. Just think of the differences between a man being a ‘player’ and a woman being a ‘slut’. You don’t have to go far to find someone who considers this a legitimate label for each gender, regardless of them engaging in exactly the same behaviour.
This isn’t quite as video game focused as I intended when I first started writing but, like any other art form such as literature, movies or music, video games reflect societal norms and values. Until men realise they don’t have to accept these insulting stereotypes portrayed in the media and until society and media in general stops portraying men as violent, sexmongering, ‘muscle-heads’, video games will have a hard time shedding these stereotypes also. This isn’t meant to excuse any sexist or stereotypical portrayals in video games, but it might go some way to explaining them.