I must talk about video games again, and I’ll have you know that while researching this post, I passed up an article called “Art and Death in the Middle Ages.” The sacrifices I make!
Last week an article titled “Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits” caught my attention. Ryan (no last name?), the author, discusses the utter ridiculousness of female costumes in fantasy and gaming. If you are a female or an even ever so slightly progressive male and like games, you know this is a major point of contention. My favorite characters are some amazing women, but their clothes often reduce conversation to their physical beauty. For example, take Celes Chere from Final Fantasy VI in her Amano concept art:
And what her in-game sprite wears:
Most female characters in the series (and in rpgs at large) are physically weak white mages, Celes is a former general. So while she can use magic, she’s also a powerful attacker. The imperial soldiers in the game wear full armor, but Celes gets a sexy (?) leotard. Now, I know the Amano costume isn’t the most practical either, but Celes is much more covered without losing any of her beauty. The same phenomenon occurs in Final Fantasy IX. The male soldiers wear a full suit of armor, where the female force and general wear revealing clothes. Beatrix of Alexandria is an awesome character, and I think she would be just as powerful (and beautiful) in practical armor. There are far fewer examples of highly objectify-able male warriors in fantasy. The Dothraki horsemen are pretty nifty and favor agility over protection, and I think Michael Fassbender was shirtless for most of 300, but female fighters usually get the short end of the armor stick.
The aforementioned article was inspired by an addictive Tumblr, Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor. Both sources point out the historical basis for both practical and flexible armor. Medieval Norse culture had a tradition of “shieldmaidens,” usually noble women who participated in armed conflict. The eighth century Veborg fought for the Scandinavian king Harald. This legendary warrior was valuable in battle, even cutting off her army’s opponent’s jaw before her death. The painting at the top of the page shows a romanticized version of a shieldmaiden. While her clothes are still feminine, she is fully covered and wears chain mail.
There are other examples of real life women fighters. Joan of Arc, the obvious example, wears armor almost identical to men’s armor in drawings. Jeanne de Penthièvre of Brittany was said to wear armor into battle and while defending her home after her husband died. To me, these women are no less feminine or beautiful for wearing traditionally masculine costume. Creating more female characters with practical armor would not only help us girl gamers feel less pigeonholed, but hopefully teach all gamers that allure can come from a personality just as much as a sexy costume.