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June 30, 2011 10:21 PM   Subscribe

On Female Armor In The Fantasy Genre.

Bonus Related: Kate Beaton's STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS.
posted by The Whelk (145 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Go Make Me A Sandwich catalogs this stuff in exhaustive detail.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:34 PM on June 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Utility is in the eye of the male beholder.
posted by troll at 10:34 PM on June 30, 2011


Damn you, Elder Orb.
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


My SO and I have been reading up on a role playing game called Apocalypse World in anticipation of trying it out. There is a class in it called the Battle Babe with a class feature called "impossible reflexes"; its effect is that "if you're naked or nearly naked" you get +2 to your defence roll when someone attacks you. Chain mail bikinis for all!

The movie poster below the Kate Beaton comic is outstanding.
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:39 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phil Foglio got there first.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:43 PM on June 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Concept? Funny. Execution? Not so much.
posted by zardoz at 10:49 PM on June 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Of course this is just glib PC-ism; it's a well documented fact that Joan of Arc battled in the buff.

But yeah, it's weird.
posted by MetalFingerz at 10:49 PM on June 30, 2011


it's a well documented fact that Joan of Arc battled in the buff.

Really? I'm gullible, so I'm willing to buy this, but it just sounds like such a bad idea. The sunburn! Sharp objects! Finding a clean place to sit!

Concept? Funny. Execution? Not so much.

This. The idea is funny, but the actual video is a total yawner.
posted by Forktine at 10:53 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okeydokey.
posted by kafziel at 10:55 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a well known fact that females have a natural force field over vulnerable bits. Functional armor is totally unnecessary. DUH.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:59 PM on June 30, 2011


Related
posted by ShutterBun at 11:06 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


yeah, but that female armor is, like, +10 enchanted
posted by Bwithh at 11:07 PM on June 30, 2011


it's a well documented fact that Joan of Arc battled in the buff.

I can't figure out if this is part of a joke or not. If this is well-documented, can you hook a brother up? If this is a joke...oh yeah...her and molly pitcher. Totally naked all the time.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:23 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Way more smirky and voyeurish: How do they fight in those clothes?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:23 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I could swear Mac Hall had a bunch of hilarious strips and/or rants about how impossible it is to find pants in Morrowind that do not immediately turn skanky when you put them on a female character. The only one I could find is the one where victory (and pants) are obtained.

Anyway, I'm mostly cool with bikini armor at times because I find it attractive and would totally wear it myself but wish this was more equal footing between the genders, because if I'm looking at skanky women than damn it I want to be looking at skanky men too.
posted by NoraReed at 11:23 PM on June 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


My favourite comic on the subject.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 11:28 PM on June 30, 2011


[folks, if we need to complain that we've already seen this stuff on facebook, that maybe needs to go to metatalk, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 PM on June 30, 2011


See the real interesting thing about this is that I, uh, remember when College Humor was a place to post pictures of boobs. So the fact that they are now producing takedowns of nerd-sexism is mildly remarkable.
posted by silby at 11:50 PM on June 30, 2011


My half-elf fighter-thief gets +2 to Male Gaze, but -1 to Masculinity because of the tights.

Tights: the Curse of the Half-Elves.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:54 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the fact that they are now producing takedowns of nerd-sexism is mildly remarkable.

As long as they're including a hot chick wearing a chain mail bikini in the actual video, nerd-sexism will happily bear the attacks.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:03 AM on July 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think the first time I encountered this (other than on the covers of Gor novels in the Adelaide Central Market secondhand bookshop, although that wasn't really "armour") was the front cover of Curse of the Azure Bonds. Because, of course, nobody would ever try to hit you in your heart. Good game, though.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:05 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


My half-elf fighter-thief gets +2 to Male Gaze, but -1 to Masculinity because of the tights.

Tights: the Curse of the Half-Elves.


Go full elf, they're smooth as a ken doll down there. The sexually mature stage of the elven lifecycle is a tree.
posted by kafziel at 12:09 AM on July 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


One thing I wonder about is where this is headed. I'm pretty sure the erotic element in fantasy isn't going away. It seems to me that it has always been there - usually not-so-thinly disguised. Robert E. Howard, for example, whose stories largely created the modern barbarian genre - from which so many of these scantily clad women come - was almost certainly into what would nowadays be called BDSM (he didn't practice it - I think he died a virgin - but a list of pornographic books in his library reveals a particular fondness for women tying one another up and hitting each other with things). His stories tend to feature scenes that suit that taste.

Howard generally had his male characters get naked too (as did Edgar Rice Burroughs) but as all these videos and commentators point out, since then it has become the female characters who dress like strippers while the male characters wind up fully covered. The gaze here is definitely male.

Is this going to change? Adolescent boys will always remain a large market and one that is remarkably easy to attract by using sex. Older straight men will almost certainly continue to like images of naked women.

I hope that 3 things happen as a result of these blogs and posts:

1) Male artists become more honest about what they are doing. If they are presenting an erotic fantasy, they won't try to pretend that it is feminist or empowering.

2) As a result, with any luck, erotic representations will sort of divide off from other representations - so female characters can be vested with the same dignity and personhood as their male equivalents and can become equally figures of aspiration / identification.

3) A female equivalent to the more eroticized material will become more common - I suspect that there are a lot of women out there who want to use nerd imagery as a vehicle for erotic fantasy (and indeed this is already out there in a big way in urban fantasy and fan fiction).

What do other people think? It's quite a difficult area to talk about as a straight male, in some ways, because I don't want to offend anybody.
posted by lucien_reeve at 1:32 AM on July 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


what the fuck is 'nerd imagery'
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:09 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


what the fuck is 'nerd imagery'

Speaking very loosely: the stuff you find in fantasy novels and illustrations. Warriors, wizards, orcs, elves, vampires, wolf-people, big swords, strange worlds, dragons...

Not, you know, images of stereotypically "nerdy" guys.

And I say that as someone who has at various times happily self-identified as a "nerd", so it's not intended as a diss.
posted by lucien_reeve at 2:27 AM on July 1, 2011


Speaking very loosely: the stuff you find in fantasy novels and illustrations.

Circa 1988, maybe.
posted by Justinian at 2:48 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe the correct term is 'battle lingerie'.
posted by plinth at 2:56 AM on July 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


It will protect you from evil... even ghosts!
posted by emmtee at 2:57 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking very loosely: the stuff you find in fantasy novels and illustrations.

Circa 1988, maybe.


You obviously haven't been to DeviantArt. They're keeping the spirit of 1988 alive for all time.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:06 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Circa 1988, maybe.

Um... What?

Look at Wizards of the Coast.

Look at World of Warcraft.

Look at the fantasy related images on ImagineFX, the UK's main fantasy / concept art magazine.

Look at the fantasy related images on the Tor.Com website gallery.

Look at this original cover illustration for the Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is supposed to be more historical and realistic than most fantasy, but the light and the tone and pretty much everything about this picture is very generic.

There are plenty of far more interesting and bizarre fantasy illustrations out there, I know that. And I'm not attempting to knock fantasy illustrators.

But there is also a very mainstream idea of what fantasy is that hasn't changed very much in thirty years - in artistic terms, there is a kind of "extruded fantasy product".
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:08 AM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


At least it's not dragons and cars.
posted by ryanrs at 3:19 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I miss Frank Frazetta
posted by hank at 3:29 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


In fantasy art, armor almost universally sucks. For guys, typically it makes the shoulders and upper arms look huge, and not in a good fluted Maximilian plate way, more in a "sword funnel leading right to your neck" or a "you'll be perfectly safe as long as you don't have to move your arms" way.

Now, the same people who drew that need to do a female character and they want to make it obvious that it's a female character and not like they just photocopied the male character, traced that and stuck the female character's head on it. You would expect quality protective armor because...?

I'm trying to picture a female character in a muscle cuirass complete with repousse' nipples and everyone being really pleased with her totally protective just like real life armor. I'm not seeing it.

But I spent a half hour talking to a woman clad just so while on vacation a few years ago. Gaze on my works ye mighty and despair!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:32 AM on July 1, 2011


I'm not sure this is about the male gaze. I think it's about how the main audience for this kind of material is predominantly male.

Irratating as all fuck if you're a woman and you like to read about elves and the like, but I'm struggling to differentiate between the heavy metal imagery of these fantasy novels and the likes of this.
posted by seanyboy at 3:36 AM on July 1, 2011


Though to be honest, sexualised female imagery is hugely more predominant than sexualised male imagery. I'm not going to deny that that is a problem.
posted by seanyboy at 3:41 AM on July 1, 2011


I had assumed women in fantasy settings were basically invulnerable but suffered from Achilles nipple.
posted by biffa at 4:18 AM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


To be fair, a good armourer can be difficult to work with.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:21 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure this is about the male gaze. I think it's about how the main audience for this kind of material is predominantly male.

Dude, that is the "male gaze." The male gaze is a term from art criticism pointing out how chicks in classical art are drawn as if for the delectation of dudes, putting the viewer in the viewpoint of a horny straight guy. Tis alienating if one is not.
posted by Diablevert at 5:43 AM on July 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


Diablevert: Male Gaze is usually expressed as a feature/byproduct/enforcer of "power asymmetry". I'd argue that if the sexualisation doesn't speak to that asymmetry, but is instead a tool to get the consumer off then it's not "Male Gaze".

In this case, the imagery may enforce patterns of male gaze, but I'm not sure that the sexualisation is a byproduct of the male gaze.

If that makes any sense at all.
posted by seanyboy at 6:08 AM on July 1, 2011


I wish I could find a link to one of my favorite demotivational posters. It has a classic Elmore picture of a scantily clad female pirate and reads:

Fantasy Artwork
Let's face it, it is pretty much porn.
And pretty weird porn, at that.
posted by charred husk at 6:23 AM on July 1, 2011


Diablevert: Male Gaze is usually expressed as a feature/byproduct/enforcer of "power asymmetry". I'd argue that if the sexualisation doesn't speak to that asymmetry, but is instead a tool to get the consumer off then it's not "Male Gaze".

If the depiction of women is oriented towards getting the consumer off - that is, if the consumer is assumed to be a heterosexual man even though the environment is notionally equally open to all genders and sexualities - then that is building for the male gaze. It's locking down the scopophilic options in the text, if you want to get all Laura Mulvey about it.

Essentially, I think you're saying, "This isn't about the male gaze, it's about the male gaze" - and have done so in slightly different formulations a couple of times now.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:33 AM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I could be off-beam here but I suspect there might be a clue somewhere that *cough* fantasy *cough* armour isn't supposed to be all that realistic.
posted by Decani at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2011


I could be off-beam here but I suspect there might be a clue somewhere that *cough* fantasy *cough* armour isn't supposed to be all that realistic.

Even taking that into account, I can tell you that most women don't fantasize about WOMEN in g-strap armor...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on July 1, 2011


If you Google Image Search the archetype of this art Frank Frazetta, it's pretty clear that women are not getting special treatment.

Everybody is impossibly buff, and everybody is showing it.

I know there are artists who are inconsistent in that they depict men and women differently within the same scene, the above-mentioned male gaze, but I don't know that it's predominant rather than the exception, as people seem to be assuming.

I'm actually wondering if the problem is not a lack of even-handedness in the art, but a lack of even-handedness in viewers noticing the skimpy women more than they notice the muscle-bound men.
posted by anonymisc at 6:50 AM on July 1, 2011


Girlie art does have an effect on the way women participate in fantasy-related activities like reading novels and playing RPGs. I know after 20+ years of reading and gaming, I'm suspicious of anything that has that retro art because a lot of it has that retro attitude (girls are weak and get minuses on their stats and are really there as sexual rewards for the heroes) too.

The thing about 1988 is that some of us have gotten tired of this stuff because we've been bitching about it since then.
posted by immlass at 6:52 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's locking down the scopophilic options in the text
I'm not sure what you mean here. Are you saying that the imagery is locking out the chance for sexual pleasure in an associated but different "text", or the imagery is locking out the chance for sexual pleasure from the image itself?

the environment is notionally equally open to all genders and sexualities
I think this is the core of it. The environment isn't "equally open to all genders". (And isn't that a phrase that can be interpreted in two quite different ways)

The linked Mills and Boon is marketed towards women, and the Chainmail Fantasy woman is marketed towards men. The environment is deliberately targeted towards the predominant market in order to increase overall sales.

This is possibly damaging and self-perpetuating in terms of stereotyping, (I'm a girl, therefore I shouldn't be reading fantasy novels), and I'm not saying that semi-nude female characters being used across a whole genre is a good thing.

I just have a problem defining this as "male gaze". (Mainly because if you say every naked woman that's there for titillation is an example of Male Gaze, you dilute the sociological importance & power of the phrase)
posted by seanyboy at 6:53 AM on July 1, 2011


When I see men in this thread denying that the unrealistic depiction of women in fantasy art and games is a widespread issue, and asserting that the depiction of women in the fantasy genre is not reflective of larger social issues, and claiming that male and female fantasy characters are generally subject to similar eroticized treatment, I can only conclude that ridiculously, totally impractically scantily clad female characters are such an overwhelmingly ubiquitous presence in fantasy and gaming that in the minds of some men they have become roughly as noticeable as wallpaper.
posted by BlueJae at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2011 [35 favorites]


The female and male nudity in modern fantasy ur-texts -- Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, et al. is not just soft-core porn -- it also represented freedom from the constraints of post-victorian society, with a bit of post-colonial-malaise, closing-of-the-frontiers, eugenics, and social darwinianism on the side.

When ERB describes the Princess of Mars for example, he says she is naked and beautiful, but doesn't say she's 'hawt' (or the Edwardian equivalent). He talks about how perfect her feet are for never having worn shoes, how her flesh is uncorrupted by the false modesty of constrictive costumes meant to disguise and unnaturally mold the body.

Sticking with Barsoom, ERB makes it pretty clear that all the races of Mars fight with blade weapons and with minimal armour even though they (once) had the technology to do 'better' because that's the way their society worked. In ours, we try to avoid dropping nuclear bombs, even though we have them.

Tarzan, having seen in picture books that people who look like him cover themselves, attempts to make clothing out of the skin of his first kill -- his rival. Knowing nothing of tanning, it doesn't work. He never thinks about covering himself again. The point: clothes are no good here.

Frank Frazetta and a few others are responsible for how we visualize these characters and scenes, but these illustrators didn't write the stories, and the authors who did had little or no control over how they were illustrated or what aspects of the stories or character would be so emphasized. cf. Kilgore Trout.

These authors were doing social criticism as well as entertaining -- same as the 'social sf' authors of the 1950s and '60s. If later genre fans and creators missed or glossed this point, lacked the necessary cultural references, or were overly focussed on the cover illustrations, surely that's not the authors fault.
posted by Herodios at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


Ok idea. Mediocre script. Bad actors (her especially).
posted by nathancaswell at 7:03 AM on July 1, 2011


When I see men in this thread denying that the unrealistic depiction of women in fantasy art and games is a widespread issue, and asserting that the depiction of women in the fantasy genre is not reflective of larger social issues, and claiming that male and female fantasy characters are generally subject to similar eroticized treatment, I can only conclude that ridiculously, totally impractically scantily clad female characters are such an overwhelmingly ubiquitous presence in fantasy and gaming that in the minds of some men they have become roughly as noticeable as wallpaper.

I wish I could favorite this comment a hundred times.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2011


claiming that male and female fantasy characters are generally subject to similar eroticized treatment

Some might claim. I provided evidence.
posted by anonymisc at 7:14 AM on July 1, 2011


seanyboy: (Mainly because if you say every naked woman that's there for titillation is an example of Male Gaze, you dilute the sociological importance & power of the phrase)

I think we're getting into the dangerous waters of dudes deciding what is and is not an appropriate way to apply feminist critique - so I'd suggest we both go and read/reread "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" - that's a good primer on scopophilia and the male gaze.

anonymisc: I know there are artists who are inconsistent in that they depict men and women differently within the same scene, the above-mentioned male gaze, but I don't know that it's predominant rather than the exception, as people seem to be assuming.

I'm actually wondering if the problem is not a lack of even-handedness in the art, but a lack of even-handedness in viewers noticing the skimpy women more than they notice the muscle-bound men.


There's an interesting all-things-equal comparison here in online gaming, where the same equipment has a male and female version (and often versions for multiple races, also) - there's a fun comparison of how breastplates on men become bikinis on women here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:16 AM on July 1, 2011


When I see men in this thread denying ... etc, blah, blah

There's not only not that much of this going on here, but you've hit this thread with a statement that paints a pretty broad and vulgar brush over quite a diverse range of opinion. I can only assume that your comment was designed to ridicule those people in the thread who you disagree with, and you're not actually interested in this as a subject to discuss.
posted by seanyboy at 7:17 AM on July 1, 2011


I'd suggest we both go and read/reread "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" - that's a good primer on scopophilia and the male gaze.
Excellent suggestion. I shall do this.

the dangerous waters of dudes deciding what is and is not an appropriate way to apply feminist critique
I've never really got this. I think it's quite acceptable for anyone to voice any opinion on any subject. Plus if I have to read about this stuff, it seems only fair that I get to disagree with it if I want. As long as I try and engage with it respectfully.
posted by seanyboy at 7:24 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, well, that might be a differentiating factor. I'm not a film studies major, so I've never really had to read about this stuff, so possibly it feels fresher to me.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:33 AM on July 1, 2011


BlueJae : and claiming that male and female fantasy characters are generally subject to similar eroticized treatment

I would actually agree with the rest of what you said, but with this particular assertion, I must take issue - If you don't see males as similarly idealized (and even sexualized) in fantasy lit, you have the blinders on, not the rest of the audience.

The near-ubiquitous imagery of males clad in a thick layer of steel, simulating and exaggerating the natural contours of the ideal human musculature while reflecting the Platonic ideal of the stoic man - An external representation of his inner emotional armor - Strikes me as no less unrealistic than metal-bikini-clad warrior princesses.

And for the exception to that, Herodios already pointed out Frazetta's depictions of the male form, every bit as erotic as his females.

So once again, I find myself arguing on MeFi that "sexualized" does not equal "sexist".
posted by pla at 7:44 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I was a little disappointed with that short. Could've been funnier, they mostly only hit the really obvious jokes.

I know after 20+ years of reading and gaming, I'm suspicious of anything that has that retro art because a lot of it has that retro attitude (girls are weak and get minuses on their stats and are really there as sexual rewards for the heroes) too.

The thing about 1988 is that some of us have gotten tired of this stuff because we've been bitching about it since then.


I can't, off-hand, think of a single modern, currently supported RPG system where females get minuses to their stats compared to men. (A few fairly obscure edge cases I can think of have girls getting, say, -1 strength but +1 con compared to guys. And I'm sure someone will trot out some obscure game system to "gotcha" me.) I can't even think of one from the last 5 or 10 years. The art may still be pretty sexist but the mechanics haven't been for a long time.

There's still a long way to go, but if you don't bother to notice the actual progress that's been made since 1988, you'll always be bitching as though it still were. (I don't think it's totally unfair to bring up romance novel covers as a counterpoint, either. Similarly ridiculous in many cases, and has a similar effect of alienating the gender that isn't the primary target market.)
posted by mstokes650 at 7:50 AM on July 1, 2011


NoraReed: "I could swear Mac Hall had a bunch of hilarious strips and/or rants about how impossible it is to find pants in Morrowind that do not immediately turn skanky when you put them on a female character. The only one I could find is the one where victory (and pants) are obtained."

Those were good strips! I'm way late, but for some reason i can't stop myself from pointing out that they were about Final Fantasy XI, not Morrowind. And it was crazy. You could put the exact same pair of pants on a male avatar, and they would look badass and protective. Put them on a female avatar, and suddenly they're bikini bottoms.
posted by gilrain at 7:54 AM on July 1, 2011


It's fine to notice the differences in how men and women are portrayed by some fantasy* artists, but:

the unrealistic depiction of women in fantasy art and games is a widespread issue

Yes, the part that's unrealistic about a woman mounting her griffon with the help of her elven compatriots so that she can engage in mortal combat with a fire-breathing dragon as three blood-red moons rise in the west is that her enchanted armor is skimpy.

*SF does this too with space suits and power armor, of course. See: any of the grazillion Baen covers featuring a woman in power armor with cleavage in front of an exploding spaceship.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:57 AM on July 1, 2011


Morrowind was actually pretty decent at having the male and female clothing and armor look about the same. I'm pretty sure the iron breastplate was the same regardless of gender. Oblivion on the other hand...
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:57 AM on July 1, 2011


I'm actually not sure that Frazetta is the game-winner here. First up, although there's a lot of Frazetta, he is but one man - it's not necessarily sustainable to use him as an example of all fantasy art.

Second up, if you look at the Google image search (possibly NSFW, unless your work is for Dethklok) for Frazetta that anonymisc has tendered as evidence, there are actually quite a few differences between his treatments of men and women. There are often both skimpily-clad, but the men are more likely to be armed. They are more likely to be _wearing pants_, whereas the women are often completely naked (and looking at the moon, for reasons that remain unclear to me). The women are often kneeling before or wound around the legs of the men, and not vice versa. And so on. Don't get me wrong - if you're looking for pictures of hot mancake, there's plenty on show - but the portrayal of male and female is not compositionally equal.

The near-ubiquitous imagery of males clad in a thick layer of steel, simulating and exaggerating the natural contours of the ideal human musculature while reflecting the Platonic ideal of the stoic man - An external representation of his inner emotional armor - Strikes me as no less unrealistic than metal-bikini-clad warrior princesses.


I think that if one is sexually excited by men in plate armor then this is an interesting position to adopt. However, there is a pretty well-established historical reference for men's plate armor, and most male plate armor follows the logic if not the design cues or metallurgy of that reference - cover the entire body in metal. That's not unrealistic in itself - it's historically supported, although if you start drawing everyday fighting plate with a six-pack and nipples you're getting into dangerous ground.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:07 AM on July 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand the 'men are drawn sexually too" argument -- does that mean that it's ok to draw the women sexually because men are too (or at least treated stereotypically), or do you think that both genders need to be treated with more respect?
posted by garlic at 8:11 AM on July 1, 2011


women are often completely naked (and looking at the moon, for reasons that remain unclear to me).

Really?
posted by Herodios at 8:11 AM on July 1, 2011


running order squabble fest: "(and looking at the moon, for reasons that remain unclear to me)"

That part is actually kind of cool. The moon is and has long been a powerful female symbol in many, many cultural traditions. Not really apropos to the criticism here, which I agree with, but it may be why he chose to do that so often.
posted by gilrain at 8:13 AM on July 1, 2011


Pla, I didn't argue that male characters aren't also eroticized. I argued that the eroticized treatment of male characters is not similar to the eroticized treatment of female characters. Because it's not the same. It does not happen in the same way or on the same scale.

I've absolutely noticed the muscle men in steel plate on book covers and game boxes. But in general I would say that male characters are generally depicted wearing a lot more clothing than female characters. Male characters in fantasy are generally shown wearing symbols of power -- heavy armor, royal tunics, swords, etc., while female characters are generally shown wearing, well, not very much.

The implication is that male characters can be powerful and sexy -- that their sexuality in fact stems from their power -- while female characters are sexiest when vulnerable -- uncovered, in need of protection.
posted by BlueJae at 8:17 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The female and male nudity in modern fantasy ur-texts -- Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, et al. is not just soft-core porn -- it also represented freedom from the constraints of post-victorian society, with a bit of post-colonial-malaise, closing-of-the-frontiers, eugenics, and social darwinianism on the side.

Yes, I've always gotten the impression that quite a bit of that early pulp sci-fi had some sort of vague connection to the romantic ideal of getting back to nature, mediated through early ideals of physical fitness and possibly the idealising of the classical Greeks. Also, in Robert E. Howard's case, a bit of Nietzsche and his valorization of the barbarian. All these things got debased by their association with fascism, but survived stripped of their origins in fantasy lit.

At the same time, I think it would be disingenuous to assume that this was all carried on on quite a high intellectual plane. To take another example, if you go into an art gallery that shows a lot of classical figurative art, the female nude is a recurrent theme - but that's not just because of a sense of the importance of nature.
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The implication is that male characters can be powerful and sexy -- that their sexuality in fact stems from their power -- while female characters are sexiest when vulnerable -- uncovered, in need of protection.

A more neutral interpretation is that the women are depicted more nude not to appear less powerful than men but to appear more available to men -- a fine distinction, perhaps, but one worth considering.
posted by Herodios at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


. . . getting back to nature, mediated through early ideals of physical fitness and possibly the idealising of the classical Greeks. Also, in Robert E. Howard's case, a bit of Nietzsche and his valorization of the barbarian. All these things got debased by their association with fascism, but survived stripped of their origins in fantasy lit.

Exactly.

Well, fascism and the mists of time.
posted by Herodios at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2011


I think I'm going to largely bow out of this discussion, though, because I think I'd rather listen than speak at this point.
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:25 AM on July 1, 2011


Herodios, if the women are meant to be available to men, but the men are not similarly attired to suggest availability to women, how is that not depicting the women as more vulnerable and less powerful than men?
posted by BlueJae at 8:26 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


garlic : I'm not sure I understand the 'men are drawn sexually too" argument -- does that mean that it's ok to draw the women sexually because men are too (or at least treated stereotypically), or do you think that both genders need to be treated with more respect?

Not quite sure exactly who you meant that for, but since I presented such an argument, I'll hazard an answer.

"Tu quoque", as a logical fallacy, depends on excusing an action because (literally), "you too" do the offending behavior. You may have taken my previous post as an example of this.

I would defend it as not a fallacy on the grounds that I didn't intend to defend the offending behavior, but rather, point out that the phenomenon under discussion counts as the norm, regardless of gender - It doesn't need defending, except possibly insofar as you may object to any acknowledgement of human sexuality in art (which I don't think we have, here).

That said, the point about most of Frazetta's women taking submissive stances, I have to agree with that, and didn't mean to hold him up as a role-model for depictions of gender equality; Rather, I only (re)mentioned him because (IMO) he sexualizes his males just as much (if in different roles) as his females.
posted by pla at 8:28 AM on July 1, 2011


The art may still be pretty sexist but the mechanics haven't been for a long time.

And the sexist art on the cover of new games gives me as a player no confidence that the insides are going to be any better than the games that came out in the 1980s, particularly when the games are retro-clone fantasy heartbreakers. I just had this discussion with an online gaming buddy about Lamentations of the Flame Princess: he was recommending it to me and my immediate impulse on seeing the art was "wow, way to go right back to the bad old days" because of the sexist art. To the extent that WOTC (ex-TSR) deserves a cookie and a pat on the head for eliminating actual stats discrimination back in the day, they can have it. But "girls can't be as strong as boys" is part of what the art evokes for at least some of us women who were there back in the day. If you deliberately evoke a retro feel in your game, part of what you evoke is retro sexism.

What I remember changing everything and welcoming women into the tabletop RPG fold was Vampire, which dealt with the problem by changing the playing field from sword and sorcery altogether. It's possible to write and play woman-centered S&S (see: 20+ years of the MZB-edited Sword and Sorceress anthologies) but to the extent that the art evokes women as objects--and none of the "social criticism" defense of Howard & Burroughs touches that--it's no surprise women are uncomfortable with it.

And the part that is really the same as 1988 is that it's mostly women complaining and eyerolling about the art and mostly men who are defending the art or saying nothing is wrong with it or it's just the same because Conan isn't wearing a shirt (or it's just the same as romance novels because having a shirt off is somehow different when it's aimed at women than when it's John Carter with his shirt off on the cover of a fantasy novel). That's not a place where we seem to have progressed much in the last 20-odd years, I'm sorry to say.
posted by immlass at 8:28 AM on July 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


That part is actually kind of cool. The moon is and has long been a powerful female symbol in many, many cultural traditions. Not really apropos to the criticism here, which I agree with, but it may be why he chose to do that so often.

That's very possible - there is of course a long association of the moon and goddess-worship, encompassing Ishtar, Selene, Diana, Bendis.

Also, the "looking at the moon on the distance" pose is a good one for drawing a naked woman from behind. Thus creating a sort of moon/moon thing.

Oh, come on. I can't have been the only one thinking that.

Really? Oh.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:28 AM on July 1, 2011


I stole this comment from another blog where they were talking about how women are drawn in superhero comics. I think it also applies to how woman are drawn in fantasy art.

Anyway, the difference between how male and female superheroes are portrayed is this: The males are drawn as the ideal that a hetero adolescent boy is supposed to want to be, while the females are drawn as what those boys are supposed to want to have.

Leaving aside the questions of whether we should be presenting those ideals, or how idealized we should be making them, what many women in the superhero-comics fan community are asking for is to have the characters they identify with presented as be-ideals (figures of agency) instead of have-ideals (objects of lust). Also, not to have them stuffed in fridges.

posted by nooneyouknow at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand the 'men are drawn sexually too" argument -- does that mean that it's ok to draw the women sexually because men are too (or at least treated stereotypically), or do you think that both genders need to be treated with more respect?

You're suggesting that it is inherently wrong for people to draw imaginary people sexually?
In a depiction of fantasy?

Silly, sure. Shallow, sure. Working against the interests of fantasy authors, annoying some of their customers, ensuring that many people struggle to have their work taken seriously, making some people feel inadequate, sure. But this idea that drawing people sexually is itself a problem... that smells of puritanism or baggage or other issues.
posted by anonymisc at 8:53 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the sexist art on the cover of new games gives me as a player no confidence that the insides are going to be any better than the games that came out in the 1980s

So, maybe don't judge a book by its cover? Even an RPG rulebook?

And the part that is really the same as 1988 is that it's mostly women complaining and eyerolling about the art and mostly men who are defending the art or saying nothing is wrong with it or it's just the same because Conan isn't wearing a shirt

"it's just the same" and "nothing is wrong" are not at all the same. I am saying one of these and not saying the other, and I'd love it if you didn't put words in my mouth, thanks!

(or it's just the same as romance novels because having a shirt off is somehow different when it's aimed at women than when it's John Carter with his shirt off on the cover of a fantasy novel)

Except the whole argument about the male gaze is that it's alienating and disempowering to be portrayed as object rather than subject; so yes, a shirtless guy on a cover that aims at depicting him as powerful hero is different than a shirtless guy on a cover aimed at depicting him as droolworthy beefcake. One is primarily a figure of agency and one is primarily an object of lust, to steal the language from that very eloquent post nooneyouknow quoted.

Romance covers and RPG covers both feel pretty solidly stuck in the 80s much of the time (except they use models other than Fabio now). Like anonymisc, I don't think sexual pictures are inherently a problem; I do think the alienating effect of aiming these things at only half of the population is a problem. I'd like to think it's possible to draw both fantasy covers and romance novel covers that have impossibly sexy people on them in ridiculously sexy situations yet are such that nobody feels uncomfortable picking one up, carrying it around or checking out what's between the covers.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's not only not that much of this going on here, but you've hit this thread with a statement that paints a pretty broad and vulgar brush over quite a diverse range of opinion.

He's right though. Sexist portrayal of women in games and fantasy art is so endemic that it is regarded as the norm. So much that seeing a woman in practical armor is comment-worthy.

He also has a point that there's a hell of a lot of intellectual bending over backward to deny that the sexism is actually sexism, and disingenuous word games to make it seem like the status quo isn't so bad.

Frankly, these arguments reveal how a lot of the men, including you, really feel about sexism; against it in theory, but given practical examples, you'll explain and defend it, possibly without even consciously acknowledging you're doing so.

If you took the same stance toward racism, you'd be explaining how fraternities doing "blackface parties" isn't quite classical racism because....
posted by happyroach at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fantasy sexism gets discussed a bit in the Post hot Modrons and the Palladium-est pics you got [TGD Art thread] over on SA -- here's the most recent crop of "not completely idiotic female armor" from Mike November.
posted by boo_radley at 9:18 AM on July 1, 2011


Herodios, if the women are meant to be available to men, but the men are not similarly attired to suggest availability to women, how is that not depicting the women as more vulnerable and less powerful than men?

If I could sum up my contribution here in brief, it is this:
Consider the possibility that not everything is best considered in light of power relationships.
posted by Herodios at 9:22 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh! I totally forgot about Women fighting beholders art challenge. Decided at some point in time that there wasn't enough meat to make a post out of it alone, but seems relevant here.
posted by boo_radley at 9:23 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look at this original cover illustration for the Game of Thrones.

Point of order; that's not the original cover illustration for A Game of Thrones. This is.
posted by Justinian at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2011


Game of Thrones is an interesting data bit to bring up here -- and not because I, like a third of the people on MetaFilter, will use any excuse to talk about it. For one thing, anecdotally, there are a fuck of a lot of women reading those books (contrary to that NYT dullard). And for another, Martin's take on women in this world is -- like so much else in his series -- informed by and in part a response to (nearly a parody of, in some cases) the way some prominent tropes have been deployed in sword and sorcery from (at least) Robert Howard on. But it's actually in the second book that we get his take on the Red Sonya archetype*...

...who is of course Brienne of Tarth, a tall and thick woman in full body armor. In A Clash of Kings, we see her from the point of view of Catelyn, a largely heroic highborn woman; Catelyn sees Brienne as naive but good-hearted, unfortunately homely but sweet, etc., and also? As pretty fucking powerful. Things get more interesting in the following volume, as our POV on Brienne becomes a male soldier who...basically sees her as an ugly pain in the ass. I don't know that Martin intended this contrast to mean as much outside the context of his books as it seems to me it does, but when you read the novels one after the other, it does leap out at you.

*An alternate take on this archetype is Arya Stark, but Arya's a little girl and so is, I think, more properly a response to the role of children in fantasy fiction. Her story is maybe best viewed through the prism of Narnia and Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time and the Phillip Pullman books and that sort of thing. Plus a little Huckleberry Finn. Or a lot.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:55 AM on July 1, 2011


Yes, the part that's unrealistic about a woman mounting her griffon with the help of her elven compatriots so that she can engage in mortal combat with a fire-breathing dragon as three blood-red moons rise in the west is that her enchanted armor is skimpy.

"X does not have to make sense because it's fantasy and nothing makes sense in fantasy" is a terrible argument. Fantastical elements in a world are exceptions to the usual rules; standard physical laws still apply unless the story specifically says otherwise. Why doesn't Frodo just teleport to Mt. Doom?

The existence of griffons and dragons in a world does not cause me to assume that swords no longer hurt when you get hit with them. If the three blood-red moons release some sort of lunar radiation that causes your skin to be tougher when exposed to the air, I would expect the book to explain that fairly early on.
posted by rifflesby at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I am saying one of these and not saying the other, and I'd love it if you didn't put words in my mouth, thanks!

Please consider that you are not the only person whose contributions to this discussion that I am addressing, thanks.

One is primarily a figure of agency and one is primarily an object of lust, to steal the language from that very eloquent post nooneyouknow quoted.

And I don't even disagree with that part, except where sexualizing women and reducing their agency has an entirely different context in American culture to the context of sexualizing men and reducing their agency. Yes, it sucks to be an object, and I am genuinely sorry that you feel discomfited by the romance aisle in the bookstore, but welcome to women's lives watching TV and seeing ads with women as objects, driving down the road and seeing billboards with them as objects, reading magazines with them as objects, etc., etc., etc.

I really understand that you want to enjoy your art with pretty mostly-naked girls without thinking about how women feel and how much better you think it is is than the Bad Old Days, but the truth is, sexist art is making real women in this thread who are coming forward and talking about their experiences uncomfortable and putting them off the genre. Either you're OK with that, or you're not and you want to fix it. And in the context of American culture and sexualization and agency yes, that generally means more care in how you represent women in fantasy art than in how you represent men. I'm sorry that's not what you want to hear but there it is.

Consider the possibility that not everything is best considered in light of power relationships.

Consider that to women who experience sexism in their daily lives and daily media consumption, awareness of sexism isn't always something we can turn off.
posted by immlass at 10:02 AM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


against it in theory, but given practical examples, you'll explain and defend it, possibly without even consciously acknowledging you're doing so.

happyroach: Please don't try and explain to me what I'm thinking or why I'm saying something.You don't know me. This is disingenuous at best, damaging at worst. Also, pulling race and blackface parties into the discussion looks like you're playing pokemon instead of arguing. (I play Race-or, with the +2 ability to make all privilege conceptually identical).

I'm not actually going to add anything more to this discussion til I've read that article that running order squabble fest pointed out to me, but when I get back, can we stop with personalised statements like "Frankly, these arguments reveal how a lot of the men, including you, really feel about sexism;"
posted by seanyboy at 10:17 AM on July 1, 2011


Just apropos of nothing, I want to say that the character of Brienne, in Martin's GAME OF THRONES series, is one of the features that best recommends it. She's unsexy, and really depicts how very difficult it is to go up against gender stereotypes, even if you're the best swordfighter in the realm.
posted by newdaddy at 10:20 AM on July 1, 2011


Odd that in a different sort of fantasy (but fantasy just the same) female characters in space-marine style armor are as fully enveloped in it as male characters are. If it were all about male gaze one wouldn't expect this difference, but there it is.

Actually a big component of the difference is down to nothing more than the historical conventions of different genres. Mencken: Ninety percent of all art is imitation of other art. Magical-fantasy art conventions have a very long history going back to the Classical world and beyond; sci-fi wish fulfillment fantasy not nearly so much (and so attudes of the modern era may be expected to be encountered more often.) Sculptural depictions of the goddess Athena/Minerva usually make do with spear and shield and some slight indication visually referencing body armor: East pediment of the temple of Aphaia (reconstruction). Another example with mail half-cape. Headgear yes, almost always, but also almost always either a half-helmet with crest or, if a full-coverage helm, worn pushed back--point in both cases being to avoid obscuring the subject's face, which artists tend not to want to do without good reason (e.g. you're painting Darth Vader.) N.b. the lack of good head protection for important characters in a piece of art isn't very good evidence for "male gaze" because it doesn't much divide along male/female lines. One thinks of Tom Cruse charging around all the battle scenes in The Last Samurai in samurai armor but without ever putting on a samurai helmet, as if he was sure he wasn't carrying any vital organs in his head (which made every historical re-enactor in the audience who ever had the least taste of SCA combat go MORON, PUT ON YOUR HAT!)

Classical era and later, powerful magical-fantasy women in their martial aspect were shown not in real battle armor but with just enough warlike attributes to get across the idea that messing with them is probably a really bad idea. Do gods and goddesses (or any magical beings, e.g. Dark Elves) actually need full armor when battling humans? Not hardly, so it seems safe to assume that armoring preference differences between magic-user males and magic-user females are well accounted for by nothing deeper than gender differences in fashion habits, as when women at after-six parties wear backless dresses but men wear dinner jackets or cutaways. By comparison, the historical and human Joan of Arc did wear full battle armor, and that is how (1., 2., 3., 4.) she is depicted.

(A rare Classical exception to the standard conventions, the Capitoline Minerva in full Roman-style battle gear. Hard to tell about the helmet.)

Neo-classical sculpture (Parliament building, Vienna) and graphic art (America Guided by Wisdom (John Barralet del., Benjamin Tanner engr.)) follow very much the same conventions. Renaissance and later painting also: Mantegna, Minerva expelling the vices from the garden of virtue. No boobs or butts (on the angry goddess anyway.) Not that any sort of art shrinks from showing boobs or butts. Bartholomaeus Spranger, Minerva's victory over Ignorance; Victor Wolfut, Hercules and Minerva expelling Mars; Franz von Stuck, Judgement of Paris.

Finally, there is the fact of actual observed gender differences in body display behavior and preferences in social situations not involving beaches or swimming but where dress strictures are relaxed and NSFW costumes are OK. Most any fantasy illustrator will have attended sci-fi/fantasy cons, comics cons, cosplay events, and so on and will have seen that the majority of the men there still appear to want to be fully dressed and macho-looking while a much higher proportion of the women like to show a little (or a lot) of T&A even where nobody is coercing them in the least.

My magic 8 ball (more verbose than most) parses the reasons for gender-specific garb in today's fantasy illos as follows:

Weight of 3K years of genre artistic conventions: 33%
Actual gender differences in body display preference: 33%
Notional Male Gaze: 33%


PS, noted in passing, neither fantasy nor anime artists invented the notion of beautiful but dangerous ladies carrying ginormous weapons.
posted by jfuller at 10:27 AM on July 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am genuinely sorry that you feel discomfited by the romance aisle in the bookstore...I really understand that you want to enjoy your art with pretty mostly-naked girls without thinking about how women feel and how much better you think it is is than the Bad Old Days

Ahh, right from putting words in my mouth to declaring you know what the thoughts in my head are! Nice. My mother published 9 romance novels over the course of my teenage years; and yes, when you're 15 year old boy and have to explain what your mother does for a living, it's "discomfiting". (By which I mean it pretty much immediately gets you labeled a fag and possibly verbally abused or worse.) But really all I care about is hawt pics of nekkid chicks in my fantasy! Because I am a drooling neanderthal man! Yeah, thanks for that.

Look, I'm not arguing there's no patriarchy; I'm not arguing there's no sexism towards women. You want to fight against the sexism in TV ads, roadside billboards, magazines, politics, etc., and I will be right there beside you.

All I am saying is that in the one specific arena of genre-specific fiction book covers, using sex to sell them isn't inherently problematic - but it could and should be done a lot more respectfully towards men and women both, and that the sexism varies based on who they're trying to sell the books to; when it's women, publishers break out the misandry just as fast. I'm also saying, sort of in passing, that RPGs are a lot less sexist than they used to be, and as someone who's done more than just look at the box art over the years I think I have some basis for saying that.

That's without even getting into the whole stigma factor. We're talking about fantasy - at its most misogynist it has also had the most stigma of people who consume it being virginal greasy nerds who will die alone and still virgins. In that sense, broader culture has been against sexism in fantasy for decades. It's only as it has gotten less misogynistic overall that it has become at all acceptable to admit you like fantasy; the misogyny and the stigma are pretty closely tied.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:45 AM on July 1, 2011


All I am saying is that in the one specific arena of genre-specific fiction book covers, using sex to sell them isn't inherently problematic - but it could and should be done a lot more respectfully towards men and women both, and that the sexism varies based on who they're trying to sell the books to; when it's women, publishers break out the misandry just as fast.

Yeah, but are these things really equal? I mean, male flesh is exposed on the covers of many romance novels, but the men tend to be rather clearly taking charge. I think the problem is that if you have a genre where the characters are meant to be heroes, then it's kind of disempowering for a woman to look at this book and see her fantasy avatar dressed like a chick you might find dancing to Motley Crue in some dank, cavernous strip pit someplace.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:01 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Consider the possibility that not everything is best considered in light of power relationships.

Immlass: Consider that to women who experience sexism in their daily lives and daily media consumption, awareness of sexism isn't always something we can turn off.


By quoting me, I assume you were attempting to respond to my proposition, and by mocking my sentence structure, I assume you believe that you were doing so in a devastatingly pithy way, but I don't see how your stating the truism that sometimes women can't help but be aware of sexism in media in any way addresses it, nor adds anything new to this discussion.

If on the other hand -- just in case!-- what you really wanted to do was cast this discussion as the Sexist Team vs the Anti-Sexist Team, and you we're simply looking for high-fives from your teammates, enjoy 'em! But please read what I have written and note that I am not playing that boring game.
posted by Herodios at 11:02 AM on July 1, 2011


Seanbaby: golly gosh, by "you" I didn't mean you personally, but rather an abstract "You" that represents a generic crypto-sexist of the sort that claims to be pro-feminism, while conducting specious logical arguments and rationalizations to defend the status quo. So there's no need for YOU to feel insulted or hurt.

See how well explanations and rationalizations work? Everything's A-OK and happy now! And I can go on calling "You" whatever I want, without you getting all bent out of shape, right?
posted by happyroach at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2011


this thread is really getting crypto-smarmy!!!
posted by boo_radley at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2011


RPGs are a lot less sexist than they used to be

Sure, but for whatever reason, I still find the whole "wearing a g-string and thigh-highs into battle" thing off-putting.

When we started dating, my boyfriend was in the middle of Final Fantasy XII. Most Saturdays, I'd wander out of the bedroom, plop down next to him on the couch, and watch him play while I ate breakfast. One of the main characters of FF XII is Fran, or as she's now known in our household, Boobie Bunny (thanks, Brad Neely).

Fran is a central character, and she's pretty powerful. And yet, she still ends up going to battle in elaborate underwear. Sure, the male characters aren't dressed appropriately for battle, but they're generally baring part of their chest and wearing pants, not leaving a two-inch patch of fabric between their junk and the outside world.

Fran bothered me for a couple reasons. First off, there's something really trite about her attire. ("I mean, that's what female characters wear, right?") Second, she's dressed like a sex object in a way that the male characters are not. Third, whenever I think of going into a fight dressed like that, my little mirror neurons start firing, and I have a visceral response, because Jesus Christ, if someone swung a blade near me, and I was only wearing a bathing suit, oh god, I don't even like getting into a cold pool quickly, this is nervous making, that is going to really hurt.

So, yeah. I'm not asking that all female fantasy characters be clad in giant steel burqas. But it'd be nice if more of them could wear pants.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see how your stating the truism that sometimes women can't help but be aware of sexism in media in any way addresses it, nor adds anything new to this discussion.

I'm saying that "don't feel that way about it" isn't a very helpful or useful contribution, and even if it is a new one for this particular version of this conversation, it's not new either.

(By which I mean it pretty much immediately gets you labeled a fag and possibly verbally abused or worse.)

Let's not get into oppression olympics here. I can tell you stories from the gaming table that will curl your hair. Again, I'm sorry you had a bad experience as a teenager with romance covers and feel stigmatized by them. That doesn't mean your experience as a man with romance covers somehow invalidates or trumps my experience with S&S art, or my experience in 25+ years playing rpgs about what it correlates with when rubber hits road. I don't think gamers suck; I met my husband at the D&D table. But my experience is what it is and even if your mileage varies, mine is not wrong.

All I am saying is that in the one specific arena of genre-specific fiction book covers, using sex to sell them isn't inherently problematic

And I'm saying that the way S&S retro art shows naked people it isn't using "sex" to sell, it's using "sexism" to sell. YMMV.
posted by immlass at 11:23 AM on July 1, 2011


Also, for the "But Howard and Frazetta!" people: the great Usenet poster Gharlaine of Eddore used to say nasty things about other posters' personal character way, way back on the beginning days of the public internet. Therefore it's an established tradition of this medium, so it shouldn't make you uncomfortable, right?
posted by happyroach at 11:29 AM on July 1, 2011


happyroach: "Gharlaine of Eddore "

Hah! That's going back. Gharlaine also was riotously funny and insightful. One out of three doesn't cut it.
posted by boo_radley at 11:42 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Odd that in a different sort of fantasy (but fantasy just the same) female characters in space-marine style armor are as fully enveloped in it as male characters are.

Yeahbut, on the cover art the woman's space-marine power armor is very likely to have separate armor enclosures for each massively-protruding boob. Because space marines don't wear the space-marine equivalent of boobsquisher sports bras to keep things out of the way, or have simple smooth breastplates with enough room for normal human boobs. Nope. Obviously, the people making power armor for space marines are going to make sure that their space-marine women are sporting space cleavage, or at least space-Batgirl-torpedoboobs.

"X does not have to make sense because it's fantasy and nothing makes sense in fantasy" is a terrible argument. Fantastical elements in a world are exceptions to the usual rules; standard physical laws still apply unless the story specifically says otherwise

Sure, but it's still a weird claim that the bikini armor isn't bad just because it's sexist, but because it's unrealistic.

Why doesn't Frodo just teleport to Mt. Doom?

The better question is why the big fucking birds don't take him there, or just take the ring there and drop it in from 20,000 feet. The answer being that plot hold be damned, that's not the story Tolkien wanted to tell.

The existence of griffons and dragons in a world does not cause me to assume that swords no longer hurt when you get hit with them.

Sure, but even in our dragon-less, griffon-less world where swords are very ouchy indeed, sword-based combat did not exclusively lean towards big plate armor or even the wearing of much armor at all. Real people went into actual sword combat in ordinary clothes, providing at most only slightly more protection than standard bikini armor. And ancient historians at least claim that some people, usually Celts, sometimes fought while naked.

The point being that even in the real world, standard fantasy male armor is not necessarily realistic, and lack of armor is not necessarily unrealistic, to whatever extent realism matters.

But bikini armor is still stupid and sexist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 AM on July 1, 2011


Yeah, but are these things really equal? I mean, male flesh is exposed on the covers of many romance novels, but the men tend to be rather clearly taking charge. I think the problem is that if you have a genre where the characters are meant to be heroes, then it's kind of disempowering for a woman to look at this book and see her fantasy avatar dressed like a chick you might find dancing to Motley Crue in some dank, cavernous strip pit someplace.

I'm kind of taking it as given that the fantasy art where this stuff crops up the most egregiously is fantasy written by guys and aimed at guys. Sure it's disempowering for a woman to go looking for a role model there (and yes, quite possibly even moreso than it is for a guy to go looking for a role model in the romance novel section of the bookstore, mainly because he has an easier time of it elsewhere - but that's more to do with the rest of our culture than the covers themselves) but I'm not totally sold on the idea that everyone needs to be able to find a positive role model for themselves everywhere they look.

Let's not get into oppression olympics here.

I wasn't out to compete for "most wronged", I was trying to make clear to you that you do not have any basis for telling me what I "really" think or want or where my experiences must come from. Don't make assumptions about me, that's all. In Oppression Olympics (awesome phrase btw), I'm pretty sure people arguing about book covers on the internet all lose.

And I'm saying that the way S&S retro art shows naked people it isn't using "sex" to sell, it's using "sexism" to sell. YMMV.

Okay, let's go at this from the other side: how would you like to see things looking? What's a good example of a cover that uses sex to sell a book mainly aimed at young men but isn't sexist? I can't think of good specific examples but I've got a few books kicking around that have some awfully form-fitting plate mail in evidence (how the hell do they get into and out of that?); is that better, or just the basically the same? Is just wearing pants enough, as evidenceofabsence suggests?
posted by mstokes650 at 11:47 AM on July 1, 2011


space-Batgirl-torpedoboobs

Ahahaha, awesome. But see, this is what I mean. Less sexist? More sexist? Fuckin' silly as hell? (Well, clearly.) Is it possible to have a book cover that has Space Marines on it, uses sex to sell the book to men, and isn't sexist? What would it look like?
posted by mstokes650 at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2011


I'm not totally sold on the idea that everyone needs to be able to find a positive role model for themselves everywhere they look.

I'm not either, and I'm certainly not saying that all books need to be intended for everyone -- the average romance novel is clearly intended for a female reader, for instance. (But why a default white female reader? But that's a different subject.) But what I am saying is that not only is there no reason to presume that the default fantasy reader is male -- in which case portraying women as straight-up sex objects would be, if not like totally awesome, at least explainable -- but there's good reason to presume that a huge chunk of your readership is female. I know plenty of women who are huge fans of LOTR, of George R.R. Martin...shit, I know women who have read Dragonlance. So I guess what I'm saying is that when we make women feel unwanted or squicked out or pissed off looking at this stuff, we're not just being sexist dicks...we're also being bad businessmen, because they might otherwise buy our books.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Terry English handmade the armor for Excalibur, mostly from aluminum. Boorman kept the Morgana breastplate, amongst other props. Many, many years later he ran into Helen Mirren and persuaded her to try it on. On the Excalibur commentary he practically purrs with satisfaction: "... and it still fit!" Which raises the question ...

When I was fascinated with armor and spent a good portion of seventh grade researching it, quite a bit of text was devoted to how a piece of armor deflects a blow or guides a blade. Would it be functionally advantageous to actually go ahead and make armor that closely follows the curvature of the breast? I'm not talking Batman and Robin rubber nipple relief, just a general shape. A positive curvature for armor is probably good for a crushing blow versus a flat surface. Certainly for blades, it makes sense so long as the edge isn't guided towards the sternum, which would be reinforced. I'm not sure how much difference it would make for plasma bolts or ray guns.
posted by adipocere at 12:03 PM on July 1, 2011


I don't see how your stating the truism that sometimes women can't help but be aware of sexism in media in any way addresses it, nor adds anything new to this discussion.

I'm saying that "don't feel that way about it" isn't a very helpful or useful contribution, and even if it is a new one for this particular version of this conversation, it's not new either.


"Consider the possibility that not everything is best considered in light of power relationships" is not telling you how to feel. It is pointing out that there's more in the toolkit than a hammer.

But you didn't consider my proposition at all. You saw "not about power-relationships" on the label, and put it in the big box marked "Sexist". Rather boring. Except that there are a lot of other wrongly accused statements in there to keep it company.

It is possible that I mixed some metaphors there. Sorry.
posted by Herodios at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2011


Back when I was studying illustration, I came to realize that most male illustrators dressed their fantasy females in battle bikinis because they really couldn't draw women's faces worth a damn, so in order to convey "this is a woman," they had to rely on hypersexualization. (Actually, my girlfriend pointed out that I was particularly bad at this, so when I started looking at my peer's work I noticed it was pretty common)

Yes, there's definitely male gaze at work, but I'd also argue that it's also just lazy. I'd guess that the artists in question picked up this trick when they were first learning their craft and never got past it as a crutch, even as their skill improved.
posted by lekvar at 12:10 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would it be functionally advantageous to actually go ahead and make armor that closely follows the curvature of the breast?

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. What would practical medieval grade armour for the female body actually be like? What did, for example Eleanor of Acquitaine or Boadiccea actually wear?

As I recall (I mean from history, punks!), Joan of Arc bound her breasts and wore boy's armour, rumours above notwithstanding.
posted by Herodios at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2011


A really interesting, somewhat related article about race and gender in Mass Effect:

When Brown Lady Shepard is rude, or curt, or dismissive, the reactions she receives from others are not to her gender or her race, but to her words. Why? Because the character was written with the expectation that most people will play it as a white dude

Because Shepard spends most of her time running around and laying waste to her enemies while wearing armor, the use of one set of animations for both male and female characters really only becomes apparent in two circumstances...Lady Shepard strides around a cocktail party with purpose and comes across, unsurprisingly, like a butch in a dress: she seems uncomfortable and out of place. I found her wide-legged lurching hilarious, charming, and quite appropriate, as Shepard the character would not have much reason to wear a dress, nor would I expect her to relish doing so even in the interest of her mission

posted by straight at 12:35 PM on July 1, 2011


I can't imagine a situation in which Eleanor of Acquitaine would wear armor, and Boudicca isn't medieval - she's a first century AD Briton. She wouldn't have worn any kind of plate armor.

Would it be functionally advantageous to actually go ahead and make armor that closely follows the curvature of the breast?

IANAblacksmith, but I can't see a lot of sense in having a dip in the middle of a breastplate that funnels blows inward to the chest and leaves the weapon in the perfect place to thrust upwards towards the neck. This is pretty much armor 101, right? So, women's armor with individual breast cups, not so logical (otherwise, why not give men giant metal falsies?). A curved breastplate, both logical and standard, transferring force outwards and away from the core.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:38 PM on July 1, 2011


Yes, the part that's unrealistic about a woman mounting her griffon with the help of her elven compatriots so that she can engage in mortal combat with a fire-breathing dragon as three blood-red moons rise in the west is that her enchanted armor is skimpy.

The premise of that story / game is "a world in which griffons, elves, and dragons exist."

If you're arguing that one of the premises is also "a world in which women wear fewer clothes than would be sensible" then that seems like the very definition of a story /game whose purpose is erotica or porn rather than just adventure.
posted by straight at 12:41 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


> IANAblacksmith, but I can't see a lot of sense in having a dip in the middle of a breastplate
> that funnels blows inward to the chest and leaves the weapon in the perfect place to thrust
> upwards towards the neck. This is pretty much armor 101, right?

If you can somehow know in advance what's coming at you and from what angle, it was often thought advantageous to use armor that doesn't follow any human form, male or female. Peascod breastplate for jousting, when you know it's going to be a pointed thingie coming from pretty much straight ahead.
posted by jfuller at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2011


Boudicca isn't medieval - she's a first century AD Briton. She wouldn't have worn any kind of plate armor.

Well, kiss me goodnight, Boadicea, and don't forget your toothbrush.

How could Roy Wood have got it so wrong.
posted by Herodios at 12:56 PM on July 1, 2011


Yes, I have seen the sternum-dip reinforced, or with an extra ridge in it. Some protuberances were also designed to "catch" a skidding blade, especially if the point was skidding towards the wearer's neck.

Giant metal dude falsies would be out (at least, for men who did not have some serious pectoral development) because they would either be hollow (and therefore without cushion) or filled (making them too heavy).

I think we would see sort of a uni-breast construction, mashing the breasts together, with diminished cleavage. Sort of a muscle cuirass. It wouldn't be comfortable, but armor rarely is.
posted by adipocere at 12:56 PM on July 1, 2011


The better question is why the big fucking birds don't take him there, or just take the ring there and drop it in from 20,000 feet. The answer being that plot hold be damned, that's not the story Tolkien wanted to tell.

It's pretty strongly implied that any such direct attempt to take the Ring to Mt. Doom would attract Saruron's attention. Under the direct gaze of Sauron's Eye, an eagle carrying the Ring would likely have found itself flying directly to Barad-dûr and laying it (or the Ringbearer) at his feet.
posted by straight at 1:20 PM on July 1, 2011


Again, not an expert, but would it be that uncomfortable? The "uni-breast" is pretty much what most plate armor had - cuirasses belled out at the front, either in an unbroken curve or with a seam at the front. With a reasonably constricting undergarment - binding or a tight singlet - I don't think most women would have a problem fitting into something pretty much like that.

Or, of course, depending on the setting and the social class of the female warrior, they could wear a brigandine, which would be pretty unisex, or a jack of plates. Both of those would provide some protection against a disembowelling strike at the stomach, which a steel bikini pretty clearly doesn't...
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:20 PM on July 1, 2011


It's a well known fact that females have a natural force field over vulnerable bits.

It's more that no gentleman would strike a lady's uncovered sternum, thigh, or midriff.
posted by straight at 1:25 PM on July 1, 2011


The female and male nudity in modern fantasy ur-texts -- Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, et al.

Burroughs and Howard aren't the modern fantasy ur-texts. They're sword-and-sorcery which is a vritually nonexistant genre these days. The ur-texts for modern fantasy are Tolkien followed by Donaldson/Brooks in the 70s. If you include fangfuckers aka paranormal romance as fantasy they make up the bulk of sales these days so you'd have to add Anne Rice followed by Laurell K. Hamilton. I do not include them. Because of the sheer awfulness.
posted by Justinian at 1:30 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


A uniboob shouldn't be problematic. That's about what a modern bulletproof vest for women has. (Here's the same manufacurer's generic vest for comparison.) There's no need for plate armor to "lift and separate."
posted by Karmakaze at 1:31 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Burroughs and Howard aren't the modern fantasy ur-texts. They're sword-and-sorcery which is a vritually nonexistant genre these days. The ur-texts for modern fantasy are Tolkien followed by Donaldson/Brooks in the 70s. .

By modern I meant not medieval. Tales that harken back to simpler times or simpler dimensions or planets, rather than harkening back to a mythic past that's basically the same as today. King Arthur and Robin Hood being the latter.

Fantasy literature as total escapism -- Mars! Center of the Earth! Land that Time Forgot! The Hyperborean Age! -- rather than adventure, foundation myth, and morality play, starts to take off in the late Victorian era. These authors predate the ones you cited, and even acknowledging the later near-universal appropriation of a mythic bestiary received via Tolkien -- Orcs, dorcs, halfwits, kobolds, acid blobs, and so on -- most of the elements under discussion here are present in these earlier works (I didn't cite Lovecraft because (cards on the table) I haven't read much of him, and didn't like what I did read).

Maybe "ur-text" was a silly and hyper-academic way to refer to them. But as there's not a lot of naked warrior princesses in Tolkien, and given what's in the OP, and the many references to Howard and Frazetta before I even weighed in, I stand by my claim.
posted by Herodios at 2:33 PM on July 1, 2011


By modern I meant not medieval. Tales that harken back to simpler times or simpler dimensions or planets, rather than harkening back to a mythic past that's basically the same as today. King Arthur and Robin Hood being the latter.

I know, right? The other day I was at my office, just trying to get some work done, and this knight came in and invited us to cut his head off. And I was, like, dude, I just want to get some shit done, here, but Steve had to be a dick and cut his head off. And then he picked it up and put it back on, and said he would be back in a year and a day to cut off Steve's head.

Joke was on him, though, because Steve got sacked for browsing porn at work, like, a week later. It was pretty brutal. Security made him throw his sword into a lake, where it was caught by a beautiful woman rising from the waves, and everything.

Why would I read about King Arthur? It's basically the same as today.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:08 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]



By modern I meant not medieval. Tales that harken back to simpler times or simpler dimensions or planets, rather than harkening back to a mythic past that's basically the same as today. King Arthur and Robin Hood being the latter.

Why would I read about King Arthur? It's basically the same as today


By "today" I meant the time period in which it was written.

Yes, I know the King Arthur stories were mainly written down in the 15th century about a figure who, if he lived, lived nearly a thousand years earlier. Have you read them? Other than fighting Saxons, the knights do all sorts of non-5th century things like live in castles, go on crusades, and visit the Pope in Rome.

Another more-like-15th-than-5th-century thing they did was to be knights in the first place.

In other words, for a 15th century reader, the tales take place in a semi-mythical past that is socially, culturally, and technologically more like their own "today" (the late middle ages) than it is to the time it is supposed to occur (Saxons invade Britain).
posted by Herodios at 3:50 PM on July 1, 2011


Fair enough - although what you are describing are cultural overlays on older stories, so it's a little like saying that Ten Things I Hate About You demonstrates that Shakespeare set The Taming of the Shrew in the present day. I've read a few stories - Sir G and the GW and La Morte, obviously, Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Arthurian tales in the Mabinogion, The Preiddau Annwn - and I think it's fair to say that most take place in a heightened fictional reality placing contemporary elements alongside elements from older folk traditions - much, in fact, as TH White did with the same material in the last century.

But what this has to do with the rights and wrongs of steel bikinis I am unsure - you seem to be defending your own interpretation of the word "fantasy", which, like "today", is ambiguous or unclear to others. I think we can agree that there was a genre of fantastic fiction primarily found in early 20th Century pulps and often called "low fantasy" or "sword and sorcery" which, as part of a complex relationship with empire and race, and to titillate the reader, often featured beloinclothed noble savages engaging in acts of derring-do*.

I think you can trace a line from the artists making those pulp covers to the commercial art of modern fantasy games and novels, even though the dominant mode of these games and novels is Tolkeinesque "high fantasy". However, I'm not sure whether your aim is to defend the ongoing tradition of the metal minikini in fantasy illustration, or to exonerate Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs from guilt by association with the modern metal minikini illustrator.

* Although, of course, an interesting sidenote there is that often a white European or American man arrives in the savage kingdom and turns out to be better at negotiating it than the locals.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:56 PM on July 1, 2011


That whole chainmial bikini thing... does it come with a super-strength underwire or something (localized levitation spell)? Wouldn't chainmail bikini tops smoosh boobs (unless they were artificial boobs) down like a sock with a toeful of mud?

Hence the whole tooled half-plate cantilevered lifts-and-separates "Princess Leia" top?
posted by porpoise at 8:48 PM on July 1, 2011


Wouldn't chainmail bikini tops smoosh boobs

It's never really been a problem in the ones I've made for friends. I'll usually just have them give me a regular bikini they're comfortable wearing and pattern it on that.
posted by the_artificer at 9:10 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Moorcock's stories, the men as well as the women get elaborate outfits described in loving detail.

Chainmail bikinis are sexist, obviously. But I think people recognize how hilariously sexist they are.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:28 PM on July 1, 2011



I'm kind of taking it as given that the fantasy art where this stuff crops up the most egregiously is fantasy written by guys and aimed at guys.


I don't think you're being specific enough. try: "is fantasy made by immature sexist twits for immature sexist twits, that immature sexist editors think, in spite of solid evidence to the contrary, comprises the whole of the audience."

Frankly, saying it's aimed at "guys" is pretty damn insulting to men in general, as there's a fairly large pool of men out there who don't conform to the sexist stereotype of MEN that the art direction promotes.

But then again, aren't we just really talking here about another excuse? One of the "Boys will be boys" category? And isn't the real conflict here really about people who are asking for some positive change, and others who are happy with the situation as it stands?
posted by happyroach at 11:50 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


mstokes650 writes "I can't, off-hand, think of a single modern, currently supported RPG system where females get minuses to their stats compared to men. (A few fairly obscure edge cases I can think of have girls getting, say, -1 strength but +1 con compared to guys. And I'm sure someone will trot out some obscure game system to 'gotcha' me.) I can't even think of one from the last 5 or 10 years. The art may still be pretty sexist but the mechanics haven't been for a long time. "

Which is great for reducing their sexism rating (yay!) but kind of idiotic from a realism -I know- point of view. I'm not aware of any strength based sport where women compete realistically with men at the top levels. I imagine the same is true for endurance sports or agility contests (as opposed to hand eye coordination) though with less confidence depending on what one considers to be be endurance/agility. Still. there are no women playing in the NFL/CFL (except kickers), NHL (except for a single Goalie), MLB. It makes even less sense where you have races that are actually sexist in the way mountain sheep or lions are in the real world.
posted by Mitheral at 3:47 AM on July 2, 2011


Which is great for reducing their sexism rating (yay!) but kind of idiotic from a realism -I know- point of view.

That's kind of back to the "three blood-red moons" thing, though, right? It's not logically consistent in a world where male and female skin is equally vulnerable to sword blows for women to wear thongs and bikinis and men to wear full plate armor - so it isn't within-the-world realistic.

Whereas gender not modifying stats can be perfectly within-the-world consistent in a fantasy world - you just say either that this is how gender works in this fantasy world, either for baseline humanity or for the self- or other-selected group of adventurers. In the game world, you change biological stats by changing humanoid race rather than by changing gender - that's just how it works, because with non-human races you can alter stats in a way that retains game balance and is not alienating or weird.*

Of course, you can amend your campaign rules to make women physically weaker, but if you don't want just to discourage players from playing women, you need to give back somewhere else. More charisma? More intelligence? More wisdom? More constitution? This is getting into difficult waters, because you are using very crude tools (numerical modifiers) to represent a personal conception of realism which also has to be tweaked away from your conception of realism so as not to break the game.

* You'd think, at least. When I played Daggerfall, for example, I wasn't old enough to really notice the oddness created by treating non-human races and human ethnicities in the same way during character creation, but looking at it now it's a bit strange that the Western European analogs are 20 points smarter than the dark-skinned people from a distant continent. Although, to be fair, they are also 20 points smarter than the Scandinavians. In general, women don't get a strength bonus if men of their race do, but if men of their race get a strength penalty they don't get any further penalty, because the maximum modifier is plus or minus 10 points. So, physically weaker races are oddly more gender-neutral, until you get to the intelligent, magical but weak Bretons, whose men and women are statistically indistinguishable.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:09 AM on July 2, 2011


Of course, you can amend your campaign rules to make women physically weaker, but if you don't want just to discourage players from playing women, you need to give back somewhere else. More charisma? More intelligence? More wisdom? More constitution? This is getting into difficult waters, because you are using very crude tools (numerical modifiers) to represent a personal conception of realism which also has to be tweaked away from your conception of realism so as not to break the game.

Out in the blue room, it's "able to bear and feed babies".

Which is why for the Norse, women who die in childbirth go to Valhalla,
along with the warriors who die in battle.
posted by Herodios at 6:56 AM on July 2, 2011


Which is great for reducing their sexism rating (yay!) but kind of idiotic from a realism -I know- point of view. I'm not aware of any strength based sport where women compete realistically with men at the top levels. I imagine the same is true for endurance sports or agility contests (as opposed to hand eye coordination) . . . .

We've only been dealing seriously with gender equality for a generation or two and only in a few places. Already women seem to be catching up with men (statistically) in height, weight, and in athletic performance.

My dentists says (US) kids born today will all be seven feet tall, live to be 100, and have perfect teeth forever.

By the time global warming and depletion of fossil fuels turns the earth into a real world RPG scenario, who knows?
posted by Herodios at 7:07 AM on July 2, 2011


I don't think you're being specific enough. try: "is fantasy made by immature sexist twits for immature sexist twits, that immature sexist editors think, in spite of solid evidence to the contrary, comprises the whole of the audience."

Frankly, saying it's aimed at "guys" is pretty damn insulting to men in general, as there's a fairly large pool of men out there who don't conform to the sexist stereotype of MEN that the art direction promotes.

But then again, aren't we just really talking here about another excuse? One of the "Boys will be boys" category? And isn't the real conflict here really about people who are asking for some positive change, and others who are happy with the situation as it stands?


Are romance novels made by sexist immature twits for sexist immature twits? (Or are those just "girls being girls"?) Does it make any difference what's in between the covers of the book? Is every guy who finds a chainmail bikini on an attractive women arousing automatically sexist in your view, regardless of anything else about them? I mean, far be it from me to get in the way of your raging oversimplifications but reality isn't always nicely and easily distilled down to black hats vs. white hats; that's what fantasy novels are for.

I haven't been pushing for "no change" in this thread at all; I've pushed for more respect for women and men both on all the various exploitative book covers we see. I'm just not entirely sure what that would look like, without taking sexuality off the table completely, which also doesn't seem reasonable to me. Here, let me repeat my un-answered question from earlier:

Is it possible to have a book cover that has Space Marines on it, uses sex to sell the book to men, and isn't sexist? What would it look like?

You want to rage on, then rage on. You want to just score points and win favorites and get reassured that your cause is righteous and just, hey, rock the fuck out. Me, I'd love to see some actual positive suggestions being made, some fixes and ideas for how, specifically, to make it better. So far the best I've seen, specifically, is evidenceofabsence's "Just give women pants occasionally." I don't know the answer; but once again, let me quote myself from earlier:

I'd like to think it's possible to draw both fantasy covers and romance novel covers that have impossibly sexy people on them in ridiculously sexy situations yet are such that nobody feels uncomfortable picking one up, carrying it around or checking out what's between the covers.


Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it's impossible. Maybe it's not the book covers but the rest of our culture that needs to change first. Or maybe there really are some ways to make it work. All of these questions are interesting things to discuss and explore IMO. If you want to oversimplify all of that down to a declaration that I'm not interested in changing things and I'm just saying "boys will be boys", I'm really not sure what you hope to achieve.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


And sorry to get in the way of the fighty shouty here (seriously, could people stop accusing each other of trying to get favorites? It's like an extra-nerdy, extra-whiny version of "arguing in bad faith") but that question:

Is it possible to have a book cover that has Space Marines on it, uses sex to sell the book to men, and isn't sexist? What would it look like?

has a sort of answer in the link about female Shepard in Mass Effect. I don't really know what "using sex to sell" means here - I'm guessing that it means has a picture of an attractive woman on it? And I'm not sure whether you're really getting your audience right if you're trying to sell a book about space marines with a sexy cover illustration involving a woman. Realistically, the kind of feeling space marine books tend to be sold on is a powerful homosociality - a quick image search shows lots of big men, on their own for the inspection of the reader or doing manly things with men.

But Commander Shepard (female, generic) is a woman, is (potentially) sexually active, wears armor which is roughly as sculpted as Commander Shepard (male), and is presumably attractive to the male audience of Mass Effect in some way. Wisely, Bioware have realised that putting her in a bikini and sticking her on the front of Mass Effect boxes on her knees in front of a gun-toting Earth Alliance trooper is not the way to market to their audience. That's an evolutionary step, I think, in terms of marketing.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:44 AM on July 2, 2011


Space Marines are just a handy example: substitute "knights", "barbarians", "pirates", "adventurers", or whatever, and the question still stands.

Wisely, Bioware have realised that putting her in a bikini and sticking her on the front of Mass Effect boxes on her knees in front of a gun-toting Earth Alliance trooper is not the way to market to their audience.

I haven't played Mass Effect, but I dunno - the actual box art for Mass Effect has got male Commander Sheperd front and center, flanked by a robot-lookin' person and a female alien in a skin-tight suit (well, I assume it's skin-tight, she's an alien so who knows, maybe she's got a tiny body in an attractive-human-female-shaped mech; that would be kind of awesome). It's not Beastmaster or anything, but it still feels pretty 80s to me. Is it enough of a step in the right direction?

And then there's the Mass Effect 2 cover...
posted by mstokes650 at 10:32 AM on July 2, 2011


My dentists says (US) kids born today will all be seven feet tall

No offense but your dentist is stupid.
posted by Justinian at 2:19 PM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mass Effect 3 marketing to feature more female Shepard. Jennifer Hale's voice acting is exemplary, and increasingly noticed. She's the non-whimsical Ellen McLain.

It's a process, as I say. For reference, I think the alien is Liara T'Soni, a notionally female alien able to procreate with males or females of a variety of other alien races. It all gets a bit 70s-Bowie in there.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:49 PM on July 2, 2011


(And the robot is also an alien - Garrus Vakarian, who is pretty much God's gift to fanfic. He has reach. And likes to calibrate.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:51 PM on July 2, 2011


Armor? Who needs armor?

(In case the clip gets pulled: it's a fight scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi.)
posted by russilwvong at 7:19 PM on July 2, 2011


Ridiculing sexism while padding your weak satire with blatant T&A is very postmodern.

Bad actors (her especially). I don't think that was the most important criteria in casting her role. Of course, I don't want to fall in the trap of assuming that beautiful women are not also talented but in this case at least it appears to be true.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 1:56 AM on July 3, 2011


Mass Effect is about 90% awesome when it comes to treatment of female characters and general goodness about that kind of thing, and a majority of the remaining 10% is Miranda Lawson.

The girl on the cover of ME1 is Ashley, I think, not a robot or alien. (Right? Liara can't wear the Phoenix armor, IIRC.)
posted by NoraReed at 2:18 AM on July 3, 2011


You're absolutely right, NoraReed - looking at a larger version of the picture, it is indeed Ashley (I bought Mass Effect by download, so don't have the box art), and Asari can't wear Phoenix Armor.

The Miranda stuff is a bit oversold, in exactly the way this thread started out - something I liked about Mass Effect which didn't survive to Mass Effect 2 was the armor management, which despite the occasionally ridiculous color schemes made your team look like soldiers, whereas Miranda's skintight, cleavage-windowed space siren outfit just seemed... unprofessional. I could do without the Asari strippers, for that matter. In general, though, I think Bioware do pretty well - and it's notable that in their big fantasy franchise, Dragon Age, armor looks the same on men and women.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:52 AM on July 3, 2011


BTW. In case people wondered. I read "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and that is one steaming pile of shit. Completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, overwrought piece of freudian nonsense. If this is what passes for feminism these days, then that's really bad.
posted by seanyboy at 10:28 PM on July 4, 2011


If this is what passes for feminism these days, then that's really bad.

Well, it was written in 1973; I wouldn't write off modern feminism on the strength of one article written nearly four decades ago. There has been plenty of discussion and criticism of the piece since, within and without feminism.

However, what it was supposed to be relevant to was not the topic at hand, but the male gaze. Mulvey brought the term into criticism of the visual arts. In effect, although Lacan originated the concept of the gaze, and posited women as eternal subject (woman as symptom), I think the male gaze as a specific phrase is from Mulvey.

So, I figured it might be useful for us to look at the motherlode before arguing about what the male gaze is and isn't, as you did here:

Male Gaze is usually expressed as a feature/byproduct/enforcer of "power asymmetry".

I thought it might be particularly useful because I suspected that the quote you used there - "power asymmetry" - was taken from the Wikipedia entry on the male gaze, which although a useful resource is not, I'd say, mature enough to be the core reference on this kind of issue.

There are certainly other texts deconstructing the gaze - Berger's Ways of Seeing might be the next logical step, and is a lot more user-friendly. But might it be a more profitable to go back to first principles? That is, is it possible not that you think that [example A] does not exemplify the male gaze, but rather that you don't actually see the male gaze, as it is constructed in feminist discourse, as a valid concept?
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:50 AM on July 5, 2011


The article was from a book published in 1999, so I assumed it was written more recently than it was. My mistake. That it was written in 1973 makes a lot more sense. It's still utter nonsense.
posted by seanyboy at 6:59 AM on July 5, 2011


OK, so you think that the article which pioneered the phrase "the male gaze" is utter nonsense. Fair enough.

So, and I realize that at this point all I'm really doing is asking you why you are hitting yourself, or more precisely whether you know that you are hitting yourself, did you start out by correcting others' use of the term "male gaze", when your understanding of it was based on looking it up on Wikipedia, you thought the text which coined the phrase, which you had never read or heard of before, was written in or around 1999 and... oh, never mind.

The odd thing is, I'm betting you still feel totally entitled and competent to make pronouncements both about the male gaze and about modern feminism, right? I mean, none of this alters your faith in your knowledge and authority at all?
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:18 AM on July 10, 2011


Ever since Something Awful's Erotic Monster Manual Contest, chainmail bikini's remind me of the gelatinous cube.
posted by homunculus at 11:01 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest: Not sure why I deserved that but heyho. ANGRY GRAR!

Couple of points:

- I may have missed it, but I didn't come across the phrase "male gaze" once in that article.
- I originally looked up the phrase "male gaze"on wikipedia as a refresher. But I kinda knew what it was already.
- Nothing you've said altered my faith in my knowledge and authority, no. Firstly because my faith in my knowledge and authority is thankfully pretty low, and secondly because you didn't really add too much to the conversation for me. (Other people did though, so I suspect it's not so much the subject matter but your approach that turns me off)

Here's the thing. I said something, and you said something different. You asked that I read some article from 1977 (no doubt showing off your superior feminist knowledge), which I did. I didn't like the article, and I didn't agree with how it framed it's arguments. But, I spent a couple of days applying its concepts to the films I saw, and ended up disagreeing with it even more. Also, I didn't get the sparkly realisation that I got from reading, say, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Finally, after paying a not unreasonable amount of time trying to give it it's due, I said it was rubbish in what was obviously too jokey a manner. You took it personally.
posted by seanyboy at 4:34 PM on July 11, 2011


Anyway - I like to check these things, so...

The phrase "Male Gaze" gets two hits on the aforementioned article. They weren't that significant to me being just mentions. In fact, it's easy to assume that the phrase was used in it's vernacular form. There's no forced definition of "male gaze" for example.

The reason I made the 1999 mistake was simply because the first page of the article you pointed me to said "Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP,
1999: 833-44."
.
posted by seanyboy at 4:44 PM on July 11, 2011


Heavy French armour gave England victory at Agincourt
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on July 20, 2011


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