I’ve been vacillating about whether to include feminist/intersectional gaming blogs like The Border House and Go Make Me A Sandwich in my blog roll.
On the one hand, it’s important to keep up awareness of these issues.
On the other hands, a) most of their articles are about computer gaming, which is not my focus here; b) a lot of the content boils down to outrage at the latest example of dumb and obvious sexploitation in the industry, which is a bit like writing about Hooters and saying “Boy howdy does this place objectify women.”
I really appreciated, then, this recent post on Border House that breaks away from both molds. It’s a breakdown of how a lot of fantasy matriarchal societies are unrealistic reflections of patriarchal male fantasies, centering on that ever-popular Gygaxian invention, the Drow.
|The Underdark, as cast by Rick James.|
Zaewen's line of argument: a real society in which women hold the power wouldn’t have them dressing up all sexy in thongs and 1980’s pirate boots. Flaunting sexuality is soft power, on those occasions when it even constitutes power.
Which then raises the question, what would a more realistic society dominated by women look like? I think the answer to that question falls one of two ways depending on how much you want to incorporate la difference ... the biological differences between men and women ... as a part of this hypothetical female power.
Star Trek: The Next Generation ... well, tried, and failed famously, to flip la difference in the episode Angel One. It presented a society where women were big matronly amazons, men were little twinks, and everyone had feathered hair. Of course the whole setup ended up collapsing like a house of cards when some real men showed up, so the episode ended up being more regressive than progressive. But the squicky feeling at seeing those little guys with bare chests and earcuffs was a pretty good sign you weren’t just being treated to another Sexy Matriarchy.
Canadian writer and artist Dave Sim took another obvious tack when he created a feminist dystopia in the latter half of his decades-long Cerebus comic book. Instead of reversing the gradient of physical strength, he based supremacy in Cirinist society on women’s ability to bear children. We get a pretty credible, if caricatured, matriarchal society from this convert to Islam and admirer of Oscar Wilde who explicitly hates women with every shred of his being (except for those who in Sim’s estimation carry, instead of extinguish, the creative spark that he associates with men ... like, uh, Coco Chanel ... I can’t make this stuff up). Men who don’t submit to female authority and take part in family life are confined to the company of other such men and encouraged to drink their life away in bars. This of course has nothing, I mean everything, to do with Sim’s own personal history.
What these random examples show, perhaps, is that even the most imaginative writers prefer to see female reign as just as morally bad as male domination. And that stereotypes run deep. The Star Trek episode plays with the discomfort of reversed sex roles but eventually upholds the Federation perspective which turns out to be only as semi-enlightened as 1980’s America. Sim’s world only feels plausible because it’s built on such solid stereotypical bedrock, where women entrap men sexually into becoming dads while men oscillate between creative genius and drunken dissipation.
I hear Joanna Russ did a better job of this, so I really need to pick up The Female Man.