Yeah, I usually fight in heels. You?
_I've been reading Derek Burrill's interesting book, Die Tryin': Videogames, Masculinity, Culture. And though I'm not finished yet, it's making me think more about gender performance and pop culture. One of Burrill's central arguments is that video games act as a fantasy arena of what he calls "digital boyhood." In order to succeed in the world of most video games, after all, a player has to beat up bad guys (often using creative weaponry and/or pre-programmed fighting skills), save women, etc. Video games are a space where boys are digitally sequestered off--in a space free from women, familial duties, and political commitments like feminism or equality, Burrill says. In playing video games, boys (and men) are often acting over and over to prove their masculinity in this weird, oddly pure, digital arena.
My point in bringing up Burrill isn't to say that video games are inherently evil, nor that the men and boys who play them are anti-feminist. Rather, video games strike me as one more setting in which masculinity is established as the baseline--the default--the backdrop against which other things are measured. Masculinity (that is, mainstream heterosexual male masculinity) is the norm, which makes anything a "deviation." (I think back to my own video-game-playing days, which centered around Super Nintendo. Even in the (very few) games that offered an option of a female main character, these main characters were usually overly feminized, often princesses, and even more often scantily clad. Check out this great blog post about the female characters in Mortal Kombat (one of whom is pictured left).
Makers of video games would probably argue that male characters sell. I'm sure movie producers and even authors of kids' books would say the same. Girls will watch movies with a male main character, but boys won't watch movies with a female main character. It's hard to imagine Harry Potter being as successful if she had been Harriet Potter. Why? Because boys wouldn't have watched it. As a kid, I remember wanting to be a boy. Not because I "felt" like a boy or wanted to kiss girls, but because it seemed like boys got to do all the cool, important stuff in the world, and I wanted to do cool, important stuff.
Masculinity (by which, again, I mean mainstream hegemonic masculinity) is the "default" or backdrop in hundreds of different realms. Another example is school mascots. Why are the men's teams "Bulldogs" or "Bobcats" but the women's teams are the "Lady Bulldogs" or "Lady Bobcats?" Why not have the women be the "Bobcats" and the men be the "Gentlemen Bobcats?" Have you ever heard of that happening? It's hard to imagine.
I don't know how to fix this. Maybe if little boys saw their fathers reading books with female main characters half of the time, or saw their big brothers play video games in which the main character was female, then this might all start to change. But it would either take a big shift on businesses' part (and what video game company is going to compromise their bottom line by being first to that party?), or on the part of people from whom little boys take their cues: parents, friends, older siblings. As it is, very early on in life, boys and girls learn that masculinity is a backdrop against which other things are measured. Eventually, this privilege comes to be taken for granted and seen as "natural." I suspect that this phenomenon has far-reaching consequences, and can't help but contribute to inequalities like the gender-wage gap and the fact that in virtually every industry, and in politics, at the highest levels of these arenas, men far outnumber women. What do you think?