I’m so pretty!

Welcome to another entry of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames.

The Minx series of comics has been recently canceled. I would seriously recommend you read Living Between Wednesdays’s take on the matter. Sound familiar? Now, this particular problem is a bit more specific than we find in games:

A new product line aimed at a new audience needs to experiment with new channels. You cannot put these books in comic shops and in the graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble and expect teen girls to find them. You need to get creative. You need to AT LEAST make and distribute display units. To promote something this different, you need to go balls out on it.

Finding videogames is pretty easy, and their selling points are much more prolific than comic books. So they may be in a different section, but at least they’re very visible (most comic sections of a Barnes & Noble make me weep, which is why I stick to my comic book store). We in games face this challenge as well, albeit in a slightly different manner. Among the problems are that some females are self conscious of going into these sections of the store–remember, girls don’t game nor are they tech-savvy. If they do, it’s that wimpy, non-hardcore Wii or DS that has piqued their interest.

Unfortunately, this problem, as with any of the gender/sex related issues I bring up here, is not something unique to videogames; instead, we see a larger trend in our society.

First, I will state I am not a gender essentialist (in case it has not been apparent before this). For those that may not be familiar with the phrase, I do not believe that women are endowed with inherent feminine qualities, nor men with essential masculine ones. This means I largely see gender as a performance (with which I gladly take on personae), something we are taught in society and we emulate to varying degrees depending on how we wish to fit into said society.

That being said, I look at the image to the left and shake my head. “But girls love Disney and being princesses!” They also love pink, playing with babies, and don’t like violence. At least, that’s what we, as a society tell them. So the marketing of games to appeal to women and girls makes me scratch my head. It’s a cyclical prophecy: girls want these games because they’re girly, these games are girly because girls like them. Really, it’s a quick buck.

My favorite color when I was five was pink; I attribute this to my love of bubblegum ice cream, which I’d first discovered at a Baskin Robbins upon my first visit to the States. Thankfully I was never told this was inappropriate. I eventually grew out of my like of the color pink (and now despise it), but I also wasn’t being presented with it very often in clothing options or interests I had. There was the journal I received for my ninth birthday that had a unicorn and was a pastel pink, but these were items that were not considered appropriate by society at large. While it never bothered me in particular, once I hit my grunge stage, pink was a no-go until I would take on the trappings of glam rock.

What I’m getting at is that we are stuck in a vicious marketing cycle that tells us what we can like based on how we identify. To appeal to young girls, videogames have largely pushed forward typical ‘girl’ interests: take care of a puppy; dress up this woman in gowns and makeup; oh em jee Snow White, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, and Ariel! Don’t think boys aren’t targeted either: from appealing to raging hormones to a supposed desire to kill and maim, males are fed a different marketing tactic. Unlike many cosmetic products, however, these games are usually not just the same product in different packaging.

Now, what I am not saying is that we need to cut out the sims (not just the title, but also the take care of animal, et cetera) games. They have their place. What I’d like to eventually see is a movement away from such blatant gender pandering. Of course, we’re still facing this problem in every day ads. Levi’s 501 encourages us males to Unbutton our Beast, we’re encouraging baby girls to don heels (they’re booties with the fashion consciousness of a runway model!), and do I even need to point out any Axe commercial?

So, what am I saying then? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. Much like Derrida, I can deconstruct this problem, but such theories are not great at proffering any reconstruction. The problem is that the type of people to read this blog are not the ones who will normally purchase such titles. Parents, peers, and lazy marketing executives are the ones perpetuating this gap in gender advertising. The thing is that there are a large number of younger girls playing videogames, and more and more older ones joining the array–I find it insulting that we throw these titles at them. However, this is probably seen as the easiest way to catch their eyes and reassure them that the videogame industry is not just one large sausage fest. Who knows, maybe some of them are decent. If so, let me know.

Now, there do exist games that are gender neutral, but they are normally given a child-like sheen, which creates problems for many males to then admit they enjoy these titles (see: Pokèmon and Animal Crossing). Basically, what I’m pointing out is that gaming is still very self-conscious. We’re very aware of what, when, and where we are seen playing (or so I read–I don’t much pay attention anymore). Much like some people blushing or being embarrassed by buying condoms, lube, tampons, and the like, we as gamers seem to be extremely aware of the packaging we bring to the check-out counters, which in turn means we have to be given gender appropriate packaging and games. I’m not crazy enough to call for a complete deconstruction of gender (at least, publically), but I do think we need to destigmatize ourselves at large.

Own your games: own your image.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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