How would female characters look if they weren’t pushed to periphery?

For thousands of years, in narratives females have been sidelined and marginalized. How would female characters look if they didn’t have a long history of being cast in the supporting roles? The minimal thing we should all be able to agree on is that we don’t know for sure.

I added Anita Sarkeesian’s latest video, Ms. Male, to my last post, but it’s so great that it deserves it’s own post. Check out the whole video, this is just one part of her message. Here’s how Ms. Pac-Man looks in games our children play.

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Sarkeesian points out:

 Because we live in a strongly male-identified society the idea of a Pac-Woman as the “unmarked” default and a Mr. Pac-Woman as the deviation “marked” with masculinizing gender signifiers feels strange and downright absurd. Meanwhile Pac-man and the deviation Ms. Pac-Man seems completely normal in our current cultural context.

 

Here’s how the game might look if male characters were always on the periphery.

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This same gender dynamic manifests in movies, TV, games, toys, and apps made for children. What are we teaching a new generation about who boys and girls really are?

7 thoughts on “How would female characters look if they weren’t pushed to periphery?

  1. So many female animal, monster, and alien characters have stereotypical feminizing gender signifiers distinguishing them from the male ones, but there are a few who don’t. Many of the few who don’t tend to be mistaken for male, but not all of them are.

    Female Animal Characters Without Feminizing Gender Signifiers
    1) Terk the gorilla and Sabor the leopard from Disney’s Tarzan
    2) Joanna the goanna monitor lizard and Marahute the eagle from The Rescuers Down Under
    3) Blue, Magenta, and Green Puppy from Blue’s Clues
    4) Chirp the robin from Peep and The Big Wide World
    5) Martha the dog from Marha Speaks
    6) Chi the kitten from Chi’s Sweet Home
    7) Matilda the White Bird from Angry Birds

    There is even a female alien character without any feminizing gender signifiers. Her name is Kodos and she is from The Simpsons. She not only has no feminizing gender signifiers distinguishing her from her brother Kang, she even looks the same as him. Kodos is not a “Ms Male Character” the way so many other female alien, animal, and monster characters are.

    Sadly, female animal, alien, and monster characters not distinguished from male characters by stereotypical feminizing gender markers are the exception rather than the rule.

    In Angry Birds, there is Female White Bird, who is basically White Bird, but with with feminizing gender markers (a bow on her head, eyelashes, and lipstick on her beak). But since the original White Bird is female, Female White Bird would be a “Ms Female Character” instead.

    • I think what annoys me about bows and eyelashes and lipstick is that they’re too easy for animators and creature designers and they underestimate the audience. Tell me that the male creatures of the species tend to be smaller and have these distinct markers or colorful plumage and I will believe you and carry that into my understanding of the story. I don’t mind the eyelashes as much as I think something like Lady and the Tramp actually shows a fair amount of restraint.

      • Two other female animal character without stereotypically feminine gender signifiers are Linny guinea pig from Wonder Pets, Tigress from Kung Fu Panda, and Mama Buzzard from the Looney Tunes cartoon “Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid.”

  2. I don’t mind signifiers if it’s somehow relevant to the plot or your understanding or appreciation of a property to know the gender of a character. But I agree with Lori. The last graphic really drives home the point. I look at the character on the left and think “But how do you know if it’s male or female”? Well, first of all I can’t see how gender is relevant to Pac-Man. But there should really be a neutral character and a character with female signifiers and a character with male signifiers. But too often because we see the male character as the default, he does not require signifiers. Why would he when there are so few female characters?

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