Thursday, 15 November 2012

Natural Nudity, Lewd Clothing

Following up the previous post, let's take history forward from the 1970's to now. In comparing the old controversy about the nudity in D&D art with more recent controversies about sexualization in D&D art, a few signal differences emerge.

The naked or topless females in OD&D and AD&D are mostly monsters, demons, or goddesses, like the harpy from last time or the memorable Loviatar. There's a certain amount of "realism" behind the nudity - how ridiculous does this foul carrion bird from 4th edition look in a smock?
Yes, she eats rotten flesh, befouls the food of others, lures men to their graves, but her only crime against decorum is daring to wear a brown breastplate with a blue skirt. (At the same time, it is notable that a lot of opportunities for male monster-nudity get passed over in those books, unlike the equal opportunity monsters of the present-day Otherworld miniatures line.)

But isn't it odd that the female adventurer pictures in old D&D are mostly reasonably clad and mostly not sexualized?
I have to grin a little because this generalization is based on a grand total of two female adventurers depicted in the 1st edition AD&D player handbook, and one more inside the DM Guide (though her and her party's adventures take up several illustrations). And feel free to point out the glaring exception: the metal-bikini Fay Wray on the DMG's cover.

Since those days, it seems that the "artistic nudity" or "realistic nudity" loopholes in mainstream gaming art have been sutured firmly shut. And yet, although more women are represented, their sexualization - particularly in player character representations - is even more evident. The difference between female and male representations, now as then, assumes that woman, not man, is the proper object of visual erotic delight.

I am reminded of Roland Barthes' essay which begins, "Striptease--at least Parisian striptease--is based on a contradiction: Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked." Eve, nude, has the possibility of being innocent; Eve, in pasties and G-string (or costumed with a cleavage window and thigh slits), does not. The covering of nipples and pubis satisfies the letter of the obscenity law, but sexuality is not a mere matter of obscenity. Going back to the infamous succubus from the AD&D Monster Manual, what's striking in light of adolescent memories is how covered up she actually is, by hair and pose and strategically placed limbs:


 Can you really say Pathfinder's present-day iconic character, Seoni, is much more covered up (except by tattoo ink)?
 
And those leggings and bustle/skirt/train call to mind Barthes' observation: "The end of the striptease is[...]  to signify, through the shedding of an incongruous and artificial clothing, nakedness as a natural vesture of woman, which amounts in the end to regaining a perfectly chaste state of the flesh." Except we never get to the innocent state of nudity here. Yes, we have many more female characters now than in AD&D1, but when so many of them look like this (and almost no male characters look like Riker in "Angel One"), is this really progress?

A real matriarchy would have him in short-shorts, too.

Next and last post in the series: What these issues mean to players today, and why the endless three-way flame war over sex, gender and art can be reduced to false premises.

21 comments:

  1. I'm sorry, but women don't sit around looking at pictures of William Riker in a smoking jacket in order to get turned on. While many women can enjoy a six pack or a well muscled butt, that's really secondary.

    Go read 50 shades of grey. It's by women and for women and it reveals that (just as it's been throughout history) women dig wealthy men with lots of status that know just how to dominate them. With that in mind, a powerful warrior that slays a dragon, has loads of bling bling, and becomes king of the land-- *that's* the female equivalent of the succubus picture.

    Or take an example from an older piece of female emotional porn: Heathcliff was a dangerous and exciting dude. When he became rich, he started turning the heads of even the "respectable" ladies-- and they would risk everything to have him.

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    1. @jeffro

      Sexualized men are not just for women.

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    2. 50 Shades of Grey is a primer on how women think? You're really going with that?

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    3. It's an extreme, but recent example. Also so kinky as to be absurd. My wife wouldn't read it. It is enough of a trend to be relevant to the discussion.

      Out of all the stuff that's reduced her to a puddle of goo, the Pride and Prejudice movie and BBC's North & South (with Thorin aka Richard Artitage) are the best, most effective examples.

      The Doctor Who show had enough romantic stuff in it to get her to watch. She hates superhero movies, but Thor was ruggedly good looking enough for her to jokingly drool over him. But that dudes chest doesn't have the near same effect on her that North & South did.

      (Admittedly, my wife is just one person, but she's the only female that I've had the opportunity to observe closely.)

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    4. Jeffro, I think you've talked yourself into a reductio ad absurdum. If the ideal sex symbol for women in roleplaying is actually a strong, dominant man who slays evil beasts and becomes king by his own hand there would be a hell of a lot more female Conan fans. Naturally there are many women who are into dominance and submission fantasies, just as there are many men - the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is no more indicative of a larger trend for women to want to be dominated than the popularity of sexy cop strippers or the dominatrix look means that men want to be dominated.

      (50 Shades of Grey is actually pretty tame stuff by today's standards, certainly not "absurdly kinky.")

      Moreover, 50 Shades is only one of two superpopular by-women-for-women literary trends at the moment, the other one being Twilight - the main love interest of which is a waiflike, prudish, self-effacing pretty-boy vampire who has none of the casual dominance of Christian Grey, despite being the basis for the latter. (Fanfic authors aren't known for their consistent characterization)

      In general it seems like you're just trying to justify the status quo as evenhanded in the degree to which it sexualizes men and women. It's clear to just about any outside observer that this isn't the case.

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    5. Also, the poor but virtuous blue-collar man versus the domineering rich jerk is a romance trope as old as dirt.

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  2. I have a problem when introducing female spellcasters as NPC's because I just can't find elderly female mages. It all boils down to old hags or never-aging beaties. It seems the first spell they research is Avon's Super Anti Wrinkle...

    Will you write about the lack of black african characters in games? Even the egyptians are often portrayed as light skinned people!

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    1. @Thiago

      Why do you need a picture? Can't you just describe an elderly female mage?

      Also, I believe many historical north African peoples were actually of lighter skin, being part of the Mediterranean basin (though I am far from an expert on this).

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    2. That would be true for the Lower Egypt, but the upper half, being closer to Nubia, would have darker skin.

      And when I said I have a problem introducing a NPC, it was not to mean I haven't, but it just isn't brought to the gaming table with the same level of eye candy as other spellcasters.

      However, I feel there is a general lack of old women (that look like old women) as magic users, except for ugly witches, in modules.

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  3. That Riker picture is not a good example of an objectified man.

    Perhaps some Frazetta would be a better choice?

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    1. It would have been funnier if the women of Angel One put him in Sean Connery's outfit form the movie Zardoz, with loud drag-queen makeup on, and tell him "Don't strut around like an Lumberjack! Its unmanly-like. Walk around all sexy-like, baby. Oh yeah, put more hips into it!" Oh god, that moment would have made the first season a little more bearable (but not by much). LOL

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  4. At the same time, it is notable that a lot of opportunities for male monster-nudity get passed over in those books, unlike the equal opportunity monsters of the present-day Otherworld miniatures line.

    Not true. There's at least as much male nudity in the Monster Manual as female nudity, pretty much any way you slice it (if we're just counting nip slips, it's 50/50 only if you include the weretiger). What aren't portrayed are genitals of either sex.

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    1. It's tough to equate male and female nudity purely anatomically though. The bare female chest is more rude than the male, and roughly speaking female boobs are more equivalent to bare male buttocks. However, it's the reverse where genitals are concerned; male junk is hard to miss and so acceptable as part of artistic nudity, whereas female parts were not even depicted in the Western art tradition until Courbet caused a scandal with his anatomical close-up. I don't recall too many male buttocks in the MM but maybe I wasn't looking too hard for them ;)

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    2. That's all very subjective. My cultural background differs slightly from yours on this, for example, judging by the above. How would you like to judge it, if not anatomically?

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  5. Striptease--at least Parisian striptease--is based on a contradiction: Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.

    I think this quote is perhaps missing some other context? Because otherwise it would seem to argue that porn is desexualization, which seems to be a reductio ad absurdum.

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    1. Well, it's at least half a troll on his part (kind of like when I said "D&D is not a Roleplaying Game") but Barthes' meaning is that the final form of nudity, at least as practiced in Parisian striptease, can be seen as an innocent and natural state, which is reached by shedding layers of clothing that are either cumbersome or intimately sexualized. I'm sure a form of striptease that ended in a naked and *lewd* pose would not be subject to such an interpretation ...

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    2. Your experience may differ, but I find most porn involves g-strings, stockings, and high heels (not to mention other accessories) for a significant portion (sometimes entirety). Kinda exactly Barthe's point.

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  6. I've just installed iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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