• Final Fantasy Sexism Part I: Why It Matters



    The accuracy of the common mantra “sex sells” is apparent in all forms of media: from movies and TV shows to magazines to video games. Sexy, scantily clad female characters in video games are widely celebrated, from Lara Croft to, well, the entire Dead or Alive cast. If you were to ask gamers who the most well-known Final Fantasy woman was, the buxom Tifa Lockhart would undoubtedly be a popular response. But these characters have also received criticism for their appearance.


    Commonly, a female character’s outfit or pose is not out of any practical reason such as protection, comfort, or ease of movement, but to arouse the viewer. If video games were to be believed, skin-tight and revealing clothing is the most comfortable and practical clothing available for all circumstances, and that bending over sexily is the most natural position for a woman to be in. But if the male characters tried to similarly show themselves off, the results would be patently silly. Why is this any more tolerable coming from women?


    If the men posed like the women in comics. "HULK GROPE!"

    A common response to these points is that the game developers are simply giving the audience what they want, and that men enjoy looking at women. And there’s nothing wrong with that, by itself. But the sexist portrayal of women goes deeper than that. It’s not just the aesthetics by themselves, but the entire way women are portrayed in video games, from their appearance to their personality to their role in the story, that is sexist. The biggest problem being that this is not just in video games; this attitude towards women is indicative of a real-world sexism that pervades our entire culture.

    I want to highlight two other types of sexism to you that are readily apparent in video games, and the Final Fantasy series in particular: the overwhelming use of stereotypical gender roles for female characters, and the common dependence that female characters have on more central, male characters to their relevance in the game.

    As far as gender roles go, there are a handful of molds that Square-Enix has used for many of its female main characters. Women are typically seen as weaker and more nurturing than men. Is it any surprise then that women tend to be the physically weak healers and magic users in the games? The characters’ personalities are also commonly cookie-cutter: the demanding princess, the whiny brat, the damsel in distress, the passionate love interest.


    The dependence on male characters is a more subtle sign of sexism, but equally important and just as pervasive. The Bechdel Test for measuring sexism in movies requires that there be two named women in the movie who talk to each other about something other than a man. A shocking number of movies do not pass this simple test, because too many women are either token female characters or their roles are almost entirely dependent on a more primary male character (such as the typical love interest).

    Why do these matter? Because these types of sexism still exist in the real world. While society has improved a lot, women are still commonly viewed only as family-oriented nurturers who should prioritize having a family and raising children. Women are still underrepresented in many of the most respected professions such as doctors and scientists, and are culturally discouraged from putting forth the effort of seeking them. If you have any doubt that this is still a serious issue, just read this embarrassingly bad article about how women shouldn’t “compete” with men. Female representations in video games may be a pretty small issue regarding sexism in the scheme of things, but the larger issues cannot be combated until we recognize how sexism is guiding our culture.

    To see how our cultural views of women pervade our entertainment, just think: how many stereotypically feminine male video game characters can you think of? It is generally acceptable in modern times for women to act stereotypically “masculine” and be strong fighters, but how many lead characters are feminine men? In this same vein, it is generally accepted in real life for women to be “masculine” and do male things, but it is still commonly taboo for men to act “feminine.” Only what is considered for men is an acceptable goal for everyone.


    In the next part of this series, I will start going through the Final Fantasy games and highlighting some examples of sexism. Final Fantasy is certainly not immune from the types of sexism I outlined above, and some of the games in the Playstation 1 and 2 era were particularly bad examples of sexist portrayals of women. But not all of the games were bad, and I think some Final Fantasy games even deserve praise for their treatment of women characters.

    Before I get into the specific games, I will close with a brief disclaimer. I am a Final Fantasy fan, and I enjoyed playing many of these games, even ones which are some of the worst offenders when it comes to blatant sexism. This article series is not about gameplay or plot or how fun a game is, but exclusively about how women have been portrayed among the playable characters throughout the main Final Fantasy series.

    So what were the worst examples of sexism in Final Fantasy? Is the series now better or worse? Is sexism in video games even a problem? My overview of the Final Fantasy series will begin in two weeks, but feel free to discuss your thoughts in the meantime.


    Other parts in this series:

    Part I
    Part II
    Part III
    Part IV
    Part V
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Final Fantasy Sexism Part I: Why It Matters started by Raistlin View original post
    Comments 76 Comments
    1. The Man's Avatar
      The Man -
      Your image attachments are broken :<

      Good piece though.
    1. Raistlin's Avatar
      Raistlin -
      Huh? All of the images work for me.

      EDIT: Oh, hah, I figured out what happened. I tried to be fancy and link some of the images back to their source, which included using the attached image's URL. This apparently does not count as "using" a newly-attached image, so the link was broken after the post was actually made (but still showed up in my cache). Fixed.
    1. Formalhaut's Avatar
      Formalhaut -
      Now that the images are fixed, I'm very looking forward to it! You should do another follow-up series on Racism in Final Fantasy.
    1. Freya's Avatar
      Freya -
      This is really well written!
    1. Aulayna's Avatar
      Aulayna -
      I look forward to reading the rest of it before I interject with any thoughts on this as I daresay the ones I will raise will be covered in the next part. If it's anything like this one it should be a very decent read!
    1. Dr. rydrum2112's Avatar
      Dr. rydrum2112 -
      You should judge a game in its social milieu. In this case the whole environment around video games has changed (a good thing), it isn't where it should be (hope it gets there) but something that was socially progressive in the 1960s can be seen as blatantly racist/classist in 2013.

      It is not entirely fair to judge a game from the late 80s by standards today- you wouldn't really compare the graphics of FF1 with FF13 directly, the more fair comparison is FF1's graphics (and portrayal of women) vs 1987 games' graphics (and portrayal of women) and FF13's portrayal of women vs how women in games are portrayed in 2010.

      You also did not touch on what is culturally influenced and was is innate- will this be mentioned at all?
    1. Freya's Avatar
      Freya -
      I think he plans on having 3-5 articles about it ranging from 1-13 or something so I'm sure he'll most likely cover it all!
    1. kotora's Avatar
      kotora -
      I'm with Dr. rydrum on this one. Final Fantasy are Japanese cultural products. You can't just apply a western-originated approach to them.
      I'm not saying you're wrong on the sexism issue - Japan's society is even worse and more backwards on the sexism front and that's something that should be dealt with. But it's going to take a closer look at other facets of Japanese culture and their influence on the FF games to get a bigger picture, rather than using an approach focusing on specific elements (ie portrayal of women in this case) in the same way you would with an american piece of media, to get a perspective of what exactly is going on.
    1. NeoCracker's Avatar
      NeoCracker -
      Just throwing this out there, we all saw what happens to FF with a leading female with no love interest and who wasn't a typical girly female lead

      *Cough*XIII*Cough*
    1. Night Fury's Avatar
      Night Fury -
      Just throwing this out there, we all saw what happens to FF with a leading female with no love interest and who wasn't a typical girly female lead

      *Cough*XIII*Cough*
      She was criticised for it!

      I really enjoyed this piece Raistlin, and I do hope you'll write some more. I'm going to be writing another character spotlight for January on a lead female character and this has given me some ideas.

      Also, as a side note. HOW PRETTY IS THE ARTICLES SECTION RIGHT NOW I COULD JUST DIE!

    1. Huckleberry Quin's Avatar
      Huckleberry Quin -
      Great article, Raist. I'm looking forward to reading the others.

      FFXII 4 lyf
    1. Moondawg1984's Avatar
      Moondawg1984 -
      This is probly the first time I've ever commented on something. Love the article. Also yuna gave me a boner in X-2. I'm not lying.
    1. Huckleberry Quin's Avatar
      Huckleberry Quin -
      Well, that quickly took a turn for the worse.
    1. Raistlin's Avatar
      Raistlin -
      Thanks for the compliments, everyone. FYI, I expect this series to last maybe 3 more articles (subject to change), and I'll be trying to get them out every two weeks until it's over.

      Quote Originally Posted by Formalhaut View Post
      Now that the images are fixed, I'm very looking forward to it! You should do another follow-up series on Racism in Final Fantasy.
      This is something I thought of, actually. There's nothing definite planned yet, and I still have a couple of months of this series to get through, but it's a consideration. I'll see how I feel after this series is over.

      Quote Originally Posted by Dr. rydrum2112 View Post
      You should judge a game in its social milieu. In this case the whole environment around video games has changed (a good thing), it isn't where it should be (hope it gets there) but something that was socially progressive in the 1960s can be seen as blatantly racist/classist in 2013.

      It is not entirely fair to judge a game from the late 80s by standards today- you wouldn't really compare the graphics of FF1 with FF13 directly, the more fair comparison is FF1's graphics (and portrayal of women) vs 1987 games' graphics (and portrayal of women) and FF13's portrayal of women vs how women in games are portrayed in 2010.
      I'm a little confused by this criticism, as I have not yet mentioned anything that could be considered a contrary point. Regardless, most of the games I will discuss in this series came out in the '90s and 2000s. Those were not entirely different times. Sexism from 10-20 years ago may be a little more excusable but it is certainly not entirely forgivable and immune from criticism. Additionally, the main point of this article is not to hammer on the games for being sexist, but to make people more aware of sexist portrays of women -- recognition of sexism in those games, rather than just a critique of the games in question.

      You also did not touch on what is culturally influenced and was is innate- will this be mentioned at all?
      This is a subject I'm personally very interested in, but I'm trying to keep the rest of this series FF-centric -- explaining how some of the female characters fit into stereotypes/gender roles, but not really delving into the issue of cultural vs. genetics regarding these roles and differences between the sexes (which is worthy of its own series somewhere). My own long-held position is that gender roles and gender-oriented personality stereotypes are largely cultural inventions. This has been supported by modern cultural shifts, where more women are being raised to be independent and encouraged to pursue previously male-dominated careers, and more and more women are doing exactly that.

      Quote Originally Posted by kotora View Post
      I'm with Dr. rydrum on this one. Final Fantasy are Japanese cultural products. You can't just apply a western-originated approach to them.
      I'm not saying you're wrong on the sexism issue - Japan's society is even worse and more backwards on the sexism front and that's something that should be dealt with. But it's going to take a closer look at other facets of Japanese culture and their influence on the FF games to get a bigger picture, rather than using an approach focusing on specific elements (ie portrayal of women in this case) in the same way you would with an american piece of media, to get a perspective of what exactly is going on.
      An analysis/criticism of Japanese culture could be an entirely different series in its own right. I'm trying to make this a bit manageable length; the only concession I gave myself was this introduction, to try to rebut some more common counterarguments when accusations of sexism in media are brought up (plus I wanted the excuse to use the awesome comics). The main point of this article is recognition of sexism and why it's sexist, not an analysis on why a Japanese company included it in its games. This is equally relevant to Western societies as well, where some similar sexist prejudices are commonly held. The FF series, for example, has been widely played in Western societies, and I would say most people do not even realize how sexist some of the female portrayals are, and even if they did, likely did not consider it anything bad or worth criticizing. That sort of thinking is what I'm trying to address.
    1. Axem Titanium's Avatar
      Axem Titanium -
      Quote Originally Posted by Raistlin View Post
      I'm a little confused by this criticism, as I have not yet mentioned anything that could be considered a contrary point.
      Congratulations, Raistlin! You now know a tiny sliver of a fraction of how Anita Sarkeesian feels, a woman who was attacked, abused, and the subject of an internet hate campaign for merely suggesting that sexism/feminism should be talked about in reference to video games and before she had even said anything substantive about it!

      Also, I'm really excited for the rest of this article series. Looking forward to it!
    1. Dr. rydrum2112's Avatar
      Dr. rydrum2112 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Raistlin View Post
      I'm a little confused by this criticism, as I have not yet mentioned anything that could be considered a contrary point. Regardless, most of the games I will discuss in this series came out in the '90s and 2000s. Those were not entirely different times. Sexism from 10-20 years ago may be a little more excusable but it is certainly not entirely forgivable and immune from criticism. Additionally, the main point of this article is not to hammer on the games for being sexist, but to make people more aware of sexist portrays of women -- recognition of sexism in those games, rather than just a critique of the games in question.
      and @Axem

      I have not seen any criticism in the comments. I simply pointed out that people often judge things on an absolute scale, and this is not always fair. And Kotora points out a similar aspect in terms of culture. And I should also say that I think its a good idea this is talked about.

      As for the cultural influence: I guess from my point of view, stating a role or character trait is sexist because it is traditionally affiliated with one sex does not mean it is. [Clearly, I am not talking about the obvious a la female super hero outfits]. I am a feminist, but I am also a scientist and the truth matters to me. To say that a portraying females as more nurturing is sexist because it is due to culture is bs. Women are on average more nurturing than men (to lazy to find the Buss citation). So I will be interested in how you will discuss sexist stereotypical gender roles, and am sure you will do a good job.

      As for the science thing, it is a shame there is not more women in the field and I wish more women were pushed in that direction (in my graduate experience I would say that the 3 smartest students I knew were all female), but that doesn't mean that devoid of cultural influence scientists would be 50% male and 50%. And I don't really see anything wrong with that, as long as people get a fair chance at doing what they want.

      So bottom line- I was not criticizing you, or what you are going to write about - just offering an opinion on comparisons.
    1. Freya's Avatar
      Freya -
      Quote Originally Posted by Axem Titanium View Post
      Congratulations, Raistlin! You now know a tiny sliver of a fraction of how Anita Sarkeesian feels, a woman who was attacked, abused, and the subject of an internet hate campaign for merely suggesting that sexism/feminism should be talked about in reference to video games and before she had even said anything substantive about it!
      You mean the same woman who took kickstarter donations and never applied it to anything or has anything to show from it but is now making a living off of how "attacked by sexist trolls" she was by going to various places and "talking" about? Please, as a woman, Anita Sarkeesian can shove it. You can't say "i'ma make this!" then not make it and just live off the royalties of getting bullied. Sure you got bullied, whoopdie do. It is a problem, it is an issue but finish what the ef you said you would do. It was June when the kickstarter ended JUNE. It's a whole new year and you have nothing to show for it but TEDx talks and the like about how bullied you were over the project/ (which tedx isn't even TED, it's privately funded stuff so it's really not even worth much as TED doesn't directly support it. Anyone can host a TEDx talk) argh. Stop talking about how bullied you were and work on your damn project. That woman. /rant over

      Fun fact: Freya does not like Anita Sarkeesian
    1. Huckleberry Quin's Avatar
      Huckleberry Quin -
      Raistlin, will you be discussing the socio-political history of Japan, and how its neighbouring countries - in particular, China - may have effected its development in that regard? Any word on whether you'll be looking into the effects American brutality during the aftermath of WW2 may have had some effect on Japanese gaming development? Do you think if Subotai, Khan's greatest general, had marched east towards Japan, that would have stifled or accelerated the gaming industry's progress?
    1. Dr. rydrum2112's Avatar
      Dr. rydrum2112 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Quinter Wonderland View Post
      Raistlin, will you be discussing the socio-political history of Japan, and how its neighbouring countries - in particular, China - may have effected its development in that regard? Any word on whether you'll be looking into the effects American brutality during the aftermath of WW2 may have had some effect on Japanese gaming development? Do you think if Subotai, Khan's greatest general, had marched east towards Japan, that would have stifled or accelerated the gaming industry's progress?
      what about Sherman's march to the sea?
    1. Huckleberry Quin's Avatar
      Huckleberry Quin -
      Not relevant. Nobody named Sherman could ever have an effect on women.
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