The Problem with the "Ideal" Image

This article is a tangent off of the Special Address on misogyny and rape culture in the media world. Specifically, I aim to address views that I did not agree with in an article I read (there are links in the first part of my special address) that declared that video games promote misogyny. The article’s author based this declaration on the fact that women are depicted in a strong sexual manner in video games. I’m not going to waste time arguing that point because it is true. Anyone who doesn’t think women are sexualized, take a look below at Ivy:

 One of Ivy's costumes in Soul Calibur IV.
One of Ivy’s costumes in Soul Calibur IV.

Now Ivy is a character in the Soul Calibur fighting game series. Yeah, she wears that outfit when she’s in physical combat and yes, there are physics applied to her ample chest as she bounces around the screen. Characters like Ivy aren’t unique in video games, if anything they are the standard. It’s not just video games from the Japanese market either.

Samara from the Mass Effect Trilogy, a series that prides itself on its characters. My brothers and I had a nickname for her: Officer Side-Boob.
Samara from the Mass Effect Trilogy, a series that prides itself on its characters. My brothers and I had a nickname for her: Officer Side-Boob.

So yeah, not contending the point that video game women are highly sexualized. This issue, however, has nothing to do with any misogynistic intent on the part of video game developers or the video game community. It is a much larger issue that encompasses both genders and their portrayals in the media world. These video game aren’t being sexualized to reduce their integrity, they are being made in the “ideal” image of a woman (according to marketing). That is what needs to be changed.

Look online, open a magazine, watch a movie, play a video game. Everywhere you look you will see the “ideals” for both genders. Me, I just google-imaged the perfect woman, here’s what I got right on page one:

ny-post-perfect-woman

Apparently the perfect woman should be in a bathing suit, how else would you appreciate her body, right? Anyway, let’s see what google-image search returns for the ideal man:

Ladies, he irons his clothes.
Ladies, he irons his clothes.

So the problems exist for both. Really when you think about it, having an ideal image is always going to create problems. Why: because no one out there is “ideal”; it’s impossible to be so. Being perceived as perfect is just that, a perception. Everyone’s going to have it, it’s going to be different for everyone. There are clearly similarities in the “ideal image”, if people were too diverse on the issue then it couldn’t be marketed. Yet the goal remains a fantasy. No one will ever be “perfect” by society’s standard. Anyway, bit of a ramble but at least slightly relevant.

The concept itself is flawed and its application is even more so. Look at those two images, both are attractive (I guess, that Frankenstein-style face on the “perfect woman” honestly terrifies me) but in different ways. For the woman it’s all about the sex appeal and the pure beauty aspect. For the man, yes there is sex appeal but there is power too. He is in better shape. While the woman is merely skinny (yet with curves), the man is chiseled by muscle. So while the ideal image of a woman is only sexy and visually appealing, the ideal image of a man conveys strength. Is this the case in video games, absolutely. Perfect example:

The male version of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect Trilogy.
The male version of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect Trilogy.
Same game but with the female version. I included the criticism because I agree with it. Get that woman a sandwich.
Same game but with the female version. I included the criticism because I agree with it. Get that woman a sandwich.

Clearly Bioware (and the rest of the video game industry) do not exist in a bubble. They are part of the media machine. Is this “ideal” image of woman misogynist in itself: absolutely, she looks unhealthy. I am not backtracking on my initial point. Yes while the created image is misogynist, video games are not. They are simply using the tools that the media world has provided them. Commander Shepard (female version) is a strong character in every aspect outside her body. If the marketing perception of the “ideal” woman changes, expect video games to follow suit.

Not every video game will, there are some developers out there whom I would label as misogynist. I will address them soon, I promise: that second part is coming. However I’m a little tired of hearing video games slammed simply because they are the newest medium. They are a marketed media platform and not exempt from the rules created in our society. Will the perception change: it is constantly changing. Anyone who disagrees with that, check out this image:

An advertisement from the 1940s telling women to gain weight.
An advertisement from the 1940s telling women to gain weight.

Guess what though: there will still be a problem. When society tells an individual how he or she should look, there is a problem. Will they always do this: of course. And there will always be people who listen to them. The good thing about the world (educated nations at least) is that with a little knowledge, this manipulation can be understood and protected against. The marketing world exists to tell individuals that they need things, they will never, ever say that anyone is “just fine the way they are” without including a but immediately afterward.

Cheesy but ultimately true.
Cheesy but ultimately true.

Now, unfortunately society is not simple as my little inspirational cat friend there. There is enormous peer pressure on every individual, I don’t mean to discount that. Is the “ideal” image of woman currently worse than the “ideal” image of man: absolutely. It is incredibly stupid how thin women are being told they have to be, while still maintaining weight in the right places. This image does feed into the rape culture as well. It creates problems and it always will.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of it or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.

Further reading:

On women – http://newyorksociologist.org/11/Berberick2011.pdf

On men – http://www.public.iastate.edu/~cpb6666/pubs/Barlett%20Vowels%20%26%20Saucier.pdf

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