Sunday, December 26, 2010

[Weekly Whimsy] The Skin Trade

[Welcome to Weekly Whimsy! Wishing your and yours wondrous winter warmth and winging wit on warrior women and what they wear.]

Red Sonja is awesome.- Dethtron


Really, what can I say? At some point, I have to go to the obvious material. I've been trying to avoid the topic for some time, hoping to come up with some wise & witty commentary regarding the elephant in the room: women in fantasy art.

Screw that noise.

I only have a few comments in regards to the De rigueur damsels en dishabillement. No, they're not terribly consistent or logical. I never said I was consistent; just opinionated.

I "Get" It.

Looking at sexy girls while playing out fantasies makes the fantastic BETTER.  As discussed in Dark Thoughts, I don't really have any issues with this sort of thing. I fully identify with wanting "play life" to be as awesome as possible. It simply makes sense to me. I'm not going to crush your fun over something so minor.

There is a trade off, though.

When you (generic, general "you", not personal "you, the guy reading this" you) have art like this featured on your book, your t-shirt, your Codex, your supplement or other easily visible feature of the game, it tells me somthing about you or the game. For me personally, what I learn from the art has a lot to do with how often it appears and where it is in the material. If a guy's just wearing a Dawn shirt, that's one thing. But when the only females in the book are wearing illogical or scanty clothing, that's another. If every woman pictured in the game is a nubile young thing or a toothless hag, I have learned a valuable lesson and I keep it in mind. Don't get mad when I use it to my advantage. 

  That's a Double "D" Standard, there.

If the art featured in a piece suggests armor (even illogical, ridiculous, titillating or otherwise eye candy) don't be surprised when I expect to be able to wear it or use it in game, regardless of my class or gender. This subject alone has soured me over D&D more than I can explain. Without getting into the (de)merits of D&D's class restrictive system, it's important to be aware that I expect that if a game shows it, the game should be willing to let players USE it. I'm paying good money, time or energy to sit down and give your product a chance- don't gyp me out just because I'm a girl.(Or your marketing department has no idea what your game is about, which is even more infuriating.)

The art is rarely the problem.

if a cover's got a girl in a chainmail bikini or something akin to that, it's not automatically "out". The art has nothing to do with whether I find the game or the people in/running it offensive or sexist. It's the people. Everyone's version of offensive is just a  little different. Mind is NOT "that of which I do not approve". It's far closer to "that which promotes disrespect and/or hate of others". 

A fine feature of the female form doesn't by nature disrespect women (to me). In fact, it appears more the contrary to me. I like looking at a great looking lady  just as much as I enjoy a well made man. I find most art depicting ladies in fantasy art to be portraying a high level of respect for the female form and the opportunity to look at without a lot of guilt. 

Very little art that I've seen truly conveys disrespect or hate. It's people that do the most damage.

Most of the damage I've experienced is unintended, which is a tough thing. In those cases, I usually find myself doing a furious internal debate of "show them the error of their ways" versus "get while the getting is good". It usually has a lot to do with who is behaving "badly", and how much I have invested in the game, the people, or the character in the game. Sometimes, though, I just don't have patience for it.

If I find myself in a game where the women are the milk maids or the matrons running the hospitals and not the folks making choices, actively pursuing adventure, or frickin' need rescuing, I cringe.

If the populace, government, power structure or other mechanisms for advancing in the game exclude females, I get downright worried. Even factoring in age of those playing the game, this sort of thing gives me serious pause.

If the women are fodder for babies and nothing else, I fond other people to play with. I have better things to do than perpetrate that kind of junk, and even a slaver campaign is more work than I want to do.

The "flip side"? The games where all the bad guys are girls. Evil queens, necromancer priestesses, warrior princesses with terrible agendas? Not so bad ON THEIR OWN.  When the whole gamut is nothing but bad girls that need a spanking, time for me to move on.

Some of you wonder why I wouldn't take the time to correct the folks in these examples. If it's such an affront, why not speak up?

To be perfectly honest, I've discovered through a LOT of experience, that even with an enlightened, forward thinking man, it takes a great deal of time and effort to fully explain just how their thinking is wrongheaded. Multiply it by 5 or 6 (the average size of a game group- and trust me, if I'm educating one, I'm educating them ALL) and I might as well be asking for a month of Sundays instead of enlightenment and better consideration towards women.

These are just the obvious examples. There are a lot more subtle, distracting, annoying and limiting perceptions that I haven't touched on- and many that I've yet to experience. I have a tough time already, being a woman in a male-dominated world; and the amount of work I still have to do for my personal self is staggering. I'm not always willing to be the torchbearer for the 'fun' world- usually, I just want to have a good time. Every now and then, the curse of not being taken seriously flares up, and I step up to the task of helping knock a guy's brain into the 21st century.

That job takes a lot of patience and a very good vocabulary. Good thing I'm up to the task!

and you, gentlemen... will you aid the cause? if so, thank you- and please share some thoughts on how to approach it.


  1. I'm not much for the chain-mail bikinis. It just looks dumb. For me that ruins the suspension of my disbelief.

    That said, most my games are set in quasi-historical settings, and it is a fact that womenfolk in the past didn't dominate politics or the battlefield. Even if the male/female ration in my current game is biased, I still think that women in the world of Argos has many more options than in our world, as recently as the 1960.

  2. I've read two sides to this, some women who actually enjoy playing the stereotype - but you're right that it says a lot about a game system if they're only way of portraying women is scantily clad busty babes and old hags - to be fair, however, many of those systems will portray men the same way, running around in a loin cloth.

    When it comes to gender roles though, that's often a case of a system trying to stay similar to real world history, totally ignoring that they're creating a fantasy world of their own. (But it's easier to base things off the past)

    I've never been much a fan of playing in worlds taken strictly from a book. All the GMs I've dealt with create their own worlds, which I think is a better approach.

    Generally, in a table-top setting, you're playing with people you know and enjoy spending time with because it'll be a smaller group of people. In a LARP setting, it's usually a larger group with an open invite, and who knows who you'll be playing with.

    If you choose to play in games with people and subject matter you don't like, you need to ask yourself why you're playing. I've seen plenty of people who just keep roleplaying for the sake of roleplaying.

  3. Great post. Not surprisingly I agree with pretty much everything, provisos being Harald's comment on anachronism and the possibility that all of the people in the group depicted may not have the same views, in this case that all women may not feel the same way on every point.

    I'm definitely glad you brought it up. If we're intelligent enough to play games with imagination, we ought to be wise enough to recognise our ability to affect real life as well, often in far more subtle ways. There's no harm in questioning our motivations and thinking, but plenty of potential good.

  4. Porky: I completely agree.

    I am well aware that other ladies may have totally differing viewpoints; and that's fine. I'm always open to discussion and hearing different opinions. This just happens to be mine. =)

  5. Dave: Maybe I'm just lucky, or maybe it's due to an active effort on my part to get to know more people outside my regular group, but I have been invited to plenty of games where I literally JUST met the GM and/or knew 1 person there.

    I've had some.....interesting.... results due to this.

  6. Our roleplaying landscape back in the day involved maybe 5 cliques, 8 or 9 DMs among them and everyone larped together.

    I got along with most people and tasted various styles of games/systems/storytelling, choosing those that I preferred to play with.

    We had randoms show up to LARP, though not many that DMed for us - there were a couple, but we didn't end up roleplaying with them long. (unimaginative gaming styles)

    Since then, I don't roleplay much anymore, so I can't say I've had much personal experience with GMs like that.

    Out of curiosity, you've mentioned before there's not many female gamers in your area - do your "interesting" results stem from the male GM who doesn't know how to deal with women PLAYERs?

  7. Dave-

    For my formative years, I was the ONLY girl in our entire circle. That was true for several years, and then for a while there were only 3 of us.

    However, in recent years, the girl population has exploded.

    There are no less than 15 lady gamers that I KNOW of in my -medium friendly to acquaintance circle. Of those, 2 are in my immediate circle of friends. There are 5 gals in the WOD game alone.

    [There are at least 10 more that I've seen or heard of but don't know directly in a big LARP group here in town as well.]

    I honestly think the interesting results is due to immaturity rather than anything else... but there's a lot of it.

  8. That's quite an angry post there. I feel a bit thorn about it to be honest. My guess is that we grew up in different places and you feel badly treated by guys (and your feelings sounds honest to me) and I have this cloud of senseless feminism hanging over me (grew up in Sweden). Because of this I find female empowerment to be tiring and often done in stupid ways.

    It's a delicate balance. Don't let the game world phase you. If there is a lack of interesting women in it, introduce one, your character. Be part of it and form it. Raining on someone's parade isn't going to help. Let me put it this way, imaging a DM working on something and when game day comes the focus ends up being something different than all that work put in. One couldn't help but feel disappointed. But if said DM goes away from that sessions and remembers the cool female hero, what's to say that won't change things a whole lot more than being educated?

    That's assuming the DM/players are worth gaming with in the first place. I wouldn't tolerate being disrespected as a person and the same goes for everyone else. I wouldn't treat you (the writer of the article) much different from a guy playing. Heck I don't much treat people different in the first place (CEO or just started, won't make a difference to me).

    And I think that might be the source of your anger. How people treat you. I'm going to let you in on a secret. Assholes are assholes. I'd probably wouldn't want to play with them either. :)

    And btw, why can't I be a monstrously large barbarian in a loin cloth with a huge sword running around in snow and being able to never be hit by scores of enemies rushing towards me? Fantasy is goofy:) (truth is, the women are probably more interesting than the men:)).

    And if you were woundering about my truthful 'mostly the same' above, I wouldn't punch you in the arm like I would a guy (unless you start it). Also I prefer the chance to play with gamer girls as I feel you tend to have a different take on things and coed is better anyways.

    Ever tried an all girl gaming session? Different?

  9. It makes sense that you would expect to be able to use the silly, but good looking, armor if it's featured in the world. Of course, it's possible that it's not worn all the time in some of these settings, and as such actually has the low/high (depending on whether it's ascending or descending) AC. The skin bikini in the last picture could be part of the annual wolf-running of the Tla'mxi people who live in the northern forests of Salnar, and is worn because it's a ritual dating back to the time before they started wearing a lot more than that. Still, I would assume the GM would have the merchant say something to the effect of "Huh. Wouldn't have pegged you for a wolf-runner", etc so that yuo were warned if the AC isn't clearly posted.

  10. Good post. Very good point--if they advertise it, then you should be able to use it. That just makes sense.