Street Fighting Women

With the upcoming release of Super Street Fighter 4, I'm looking forward to a chance to be able to play Makoto, my character of choice from 3rd Strike, since I had some difficulty fully supporting the aesthetic of any of the newer Street Fighter 4 characters. (Rufus? Really? If I work up one morning and discovered I had designed a character like that, I would split my time between confused remorse, and desperately trying to plan how to live the rest of my life with that fact, not unlike as if I had gotten an awful face tattoo after a night of binge drinking)

But I can't decide if I should be glad that I'm leaning towards possibly the only reasonable female character in Super Street Fighter 4, or I should be sad that she's basically just tacking “Tomboy” onto the long list of stereotypes that Female Street Fighter characters belong to: No-nonsense Female Cop, Female Cop with Attitude, Schoolgirl, Wise Woman, Kunoichi, and Sexpot Martial Artist. (That's Chun Li/Cammy, C. Viper, Sakura, Rose, Ibuki, and Juri.

If you look at the basic archetypes (or stereotypes, depending on how generous you're feeling) of fighting game characters, particularly low fantasy ones like Street Fighter, you realize that female characters usually belong to archetypes that necessitate being female: the schoolgirl, the tomboy, the sexpot. Male character, on the other hand, usually belong to archetypes that are gender neutral: the bitter rival, the dirty fighter, the villain, the grappler (unless you expand “grappler” to mean “gigantic gay bear wrestler”).

I'm no gender studies expert, but there's GOT to be a name for the unfortunate tendency of female presence in a traditionally male dominated activity to be something that needs to be actively accounted for.

And yes, Zangief is totally gay. Get over it.


Malgayne said...

I think it would be an interesting experiment for an artist to create a series of intentionally reversed character designs. Try to cover all of the existing archetypes, except whenever a character would normally be masculine or gender neutral, make them female, and whenever they would normally be feminine, make them male.

I wonder if it would be possible to do this smoothly enough that it was not immediately labelled as a gimmicky role reversal.

Maggie said...

The word you're looking for, as overused and meaningless as it's become in modern discourse, is patriarchy. Another term for it is anxious masculinity, which also explains why face wash has to come in a black bottle that says "MEN" on it, otherwise (apparently) men won't want to do something as girly as hygiene.

Basically, where these two things intersect with what you're talking about is in that women inhabit a certain sphere in the collective consciousness, and that sphere doesn't include kicking the crap out of dudes. So in order to compensate for doing something manly like fighting or eating a burger, women must either become hyper-sexy or completely androgynous (read: minimally masculine, hence the Tomboy). They have to leave the sphere of "good girl." For, you see, no "good girl" would do a thing like roundhouse a dude or stuff her face.

William said...

It's kind of funny. Chun Li is probably the most gender neutral of all of the female contestants. The earnest interPol agent who's in over her head, but really trying to do the right thing, is a pretty gender neutral stereotype.

And yet, I have a really difficult time describing anyone with thighs like that as NOT inheirently sexual.

Maggie said...

Except you rarely see a MALE earnest InterPol agent in over his head. At least not in a fighting game.

Sestren said...

I couldn't help but notice the cover art for Armored Princess, which depicts a stereotype not yet used in Street Fighter.

Natalie said...

To be fair, I don't think Chun Li's aesthetic really started out as "earnest Interpol agent in over her head." That's been her backstory since more or less the beginning, but she was introduced early enough that her character design needed to be titillating. Look at the earliest-introduced SF women, and how they draw attention to the hips, butt, and bikini area. Contrast that with the later-introduced SF women, who are certainly drawn as sexy, but whose costumes are a lot subtler - or at least more congruent with their backstories - than "Bet you can't hit pause fast enough to get a crotch shot!"

I mean, look at Crimson Viper, one of the very late SF women. Her costume is sexualized, but it's a sexualized version of a stereotyped spy suit. Visually, it says, "I am a sexy spy." A lot of thought went into the symbolism of Chun-Li's costume, but "I am an Interpol agent in over my head" is not among the many things it says.

Alison T-dove said...

H.T. Parnell: As the token "doesn't play video games but reads this blog to chime in about gender issues" reader, here's the stereotype that comes to my mind on seeing each of those character designs:
Makoto: karate kid
Rufus: bearlike fighter
Chun Li: dancer/graceful fighter
Cammy: dunno (swimsuit + combat boots? well, I guess she's "got attitude")
C. Viper: professional
Sakura: schoolgirl
Rose: sorceress
Ibuki: ninja/wizard
Juri: harem girl
MaleCharacter #1: boxer
MaleCharacter #2: jailbird
MaleCharacter #3: military officer/Nazi
MaleCharacter #4: musclebound hulk

Did you notice that you sort the female characters (and decide their degree of "reasonableness") mostly based on the things blatantly advertised by their character design stereotype, whereas the categories you described for the males are things you could only know about them by knowing their backstories? (Except the grappler, that guy totally grapples, no doubt about it.) Even if all it means is that in the game the women's backstories are that much more shallow (their appearance=the whole story), it's still worth thinking about. Also, why IS Makoto is "the only reasonable one"?

Maggie: Excellent comments, I totally agree.

Natalie: Interesting point about the game's evolution.

William said...

Alison: I think you've stumbled upon a much more succinct way of saying what I was stumbling around trying to get at all along, or at least part of it:

The male characters generally seem to be much more nuanced archetypes, because, when creating a character, the designers have a mental budget for the total number of descriptive characteristics. "Female" represents a large chunk of their descriptor budget, so other aspects of the character tend to become simpler.

Also, Maggie: While you see male earnest interPol agents over their head all the time, you almost never see a male one in over their head, and a female one who is generally on top of the situation.

a sexist bastard said...

Here's something else of interest regarding the female characters: Every single female character in the game has lower health compared to most of the male characters, regardless of whether or not their gameplay style calls for such a handicap. For example, the way that Makoto plays (high risk, needs to take a few hits to get in, etc), she should actually have as much health as Honda or Balrog. Just thought I'd point that out.