That’s a great article about “Femshep” and how Bioware accidentally created a great female character by not trying to create a female character (i.e. a character that they were specifically thinking of as female). I think it’s relevant because it dovetails with a lot of themes that this blog deals with such as the way female characters have to be “marked”, in clothing, or pose, or portrayal. They can’t just be heroes, they’re a woman first, and a hero second, and that means they need to be clothed, or posed in ways our society says “women” should be, like heels, or tube tops, or aiming a gun over their shoulder so we see their butt.
What I especially found interesting was that the article makes a compelling case at the end that had Bioware actually meant for her to be a “female hero” rather than a hero (i.e. default male) that they just gender flipped, she might have been very different, and not the awesome heroine we ended up accidentally getting (warts and all) because she would be thought of by the creators as a woman first, and therefore would likely be designed as being a potential virtual girlfriend or to be viewed sexually first and foremost by the niche of hetero men they assume will play their games.
And, I agree with the article, it’s unfortunate she’s commonly known as “femshep” because it is again saying that men are the default hero and women need to be marked, and creates the idea that it’s not two choices of gender, but Malshep is default and Femshep is just a bonus option.
I have mixed feelings about this kind of thing. I mean, it’s completely true both in the case of Mass Effect and in general that a lot of writers struggle to find a voice for female characters that isn’t tied up in objectification or othering tropes. I absolutely think that Shepard’s exceptional strength of character is born coincidentally from the combination of developmental neglect and Jennifer Hale’s extraordinary voice work. It’s a happy accident and I don’t really think accidents like this should be celebrated, although I would like other game developers to take notes. Which is basically what the article says - BioWare delivered us one of the greatest sci-fi/action heroines of our time, but you can’t really give them full credit for it. This is an interesting situation.
But man, reading this made me realize how much Shepard actually means to me as a female gamer. Like, I usually look at stories from the writer’s chair so while I am obviously capable of getting intensely emotionally invested, I have a hard time “relating” to characters or placing myself viscerally within the narrative in the way a lot of my fandom buddies seem able to. I said a while back that Mass Effect is really insidious in that department - it breaks down the player/game intimacy barrier more efficiently than anything I’ve played in a looong while. Or rather, at the very least, it does for me.
I don’t exactly relate to Shepard (my Shepard looks nothing like me, doesn’t share my particular skills and is not always played to my moral compass), but it has been a weird revelation to discover that things I would normally find trite or eye-roll inducing in a male character pump me the fuck up when coming out of a woman’s mouth. When Shepard spouts off these cheesy-ass action movie one liners, when she strides into a room and demands everyone do things her way or the highway, when the entire galaxy places an unrealistic amount of trust in her paternalistic guidance I just find myself nodding along saying: “Yes. Fuck yes.” It makes me feel awesome. I have always considered myself the kind of person who relates equally to male and female characters, but Shepard is the first time where I’ve honestly gone “Oh, I get it. This is what boys get in basically every game they play.”
Many women have subconsciously convinced themselves that they don’t want or deserve this experience. Some of us have actively convinced ourselves that indulging in the same kind of exceptionalist ubermenschian power fantasies that men do is ultimately harmful or reductive considering the inherently conservative subtext carried (often unintentionally) in such narratives. I often - hypocritically, considering my love of the genre - agree with the latter.
I just don’t know.
Because it felt pretty good man.
It felt pretty good.