A Rite of Memorial
Crossing the River
Living life from a Druid's perspective
I love playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is where I first came across the term, "Druid". In the Forgotten Realms series, there was a Druid whose concern was in the balance, in keeping encroaching man out of the wilderness, and who could shapechange into a white hawk, summon insects to harangue enemy spellcasters, throw down lightning bolts and other such things. I left the Druids in the realm of fantasy until much later in life, when I found out that Druidry is a reality, albeit a little different to the fantasy novel character…
I roleplay in a D&D system fairly regularly. Last night, my character died (a fighter monk) and I was now left with finding a new character. I decided to try playing a Druid type character, thinking how fun it would be to mix the fantasy and the reality. I began to look for a suitable miniature figurine for the board, and soon became utterly depressed.
Many people have said that the gaming community consists of a male majority. Indeed, the artwork would seem to suggest that it is aimed towards the male gaze. I began looking through page after page of fantasy artwork based on Druids and Rangers (think Aragorn from LOTR) and I started to have a real sinking feeling. The images made me uncomfortable where before I had not been. Why?
Well, for starters I had just seen this little French movie about how it would be if the gender tables were turned, and a man spends a horrific day as a woman. This movie contains swearing and scenes of violence. A French Film showing men what being a woman feels like. I had also read an article in the Guardian the day before about rape culture - Rape Culture and the Damage it Does. Looking through images of women in D&D on the internet, trying to find inspiration for my character after seeing that movie and reading that article made me sick to my stomach.
The vast majority of women in fantasy roleplay artwork are entirely sexualised for absolutely no reason. Women who wanted to play female characters have to look at pictures in the rulebooks of scantily clad, anatomically impossible women whose sole purpose in the artwork seemed to be seducing whoever it was that was looking at them, and not the role/type of character that they portayed. The miniatures (figurines used on the board) weren't all that different. There was the occasional decent image of a fighter or a ranger who was in appropriate clothing for the job, but these were few and far between. There is a little more success with fighter/paladin types, but still the majority of female figurines were completely sexist. Here are some examples that I found:
I thought back to the books that I read as a teenager, the fantasy books that had female paladins fighting for the good of the realms in full plate, or half-elven assassins who were the best of the best and who insisted on wearing comfortable clothing (The Deed of Paksenarrion, Elfshadow "Arilyn Moonblade" series). The images of these women on the front cover were what I assumed female characters in a medieval fantasy system would look like. Maybe it was the story that I was drawn to that reflected dignity in the artwork - all I can say is that I'm glad I was drawn to these books and not some others…
The books that I read were about empowering women, and women being treated equally. I have done a few live-action roleplaying systems where women were supposed to be treated equally as well, but patriarchal overtones did indeed creep in (you can't do/be that, that's a man thing, or "not in this system you can't, because you're a woman" or the testosterone-fuelled person who shouts the loudest leads the faction and the battles). Even though there are more and more women playing these roleplaying games, there is still a heavy overtone of sexism throughout. I know plenty of female roleplayers out there who fight that image with the type of character they play and how they look, act and react to situations within the game. Then again, there is a ton of corseted women out there whose boobs are so squished upwards they're nearly choking on them.
After seeing that film and reading the article about the rising rape culture, when I think back on my RPG days and the current images in RPG books and over the internet, I can see how it can contribute to the rape culture. Artists or writers who portray women as nothing more than sexual objects are indeed a part of rape culture. They are saying "that's what women are for - looking at, looking sexy and making me horny". I'm not saying that women should cover up, or that they shouldn't wear corsets - heck, women should be able to wear whatever they like. What I am saying is that the over-sexualisation of the female within the media of these systems is a part of the problem. I have known full plate armour wearing female knights in live-action roleplaying systems, bucking the trend in what most people think when they think of a female fantasy character. What I am saying is that it shouldn't be bucking the trend at all; like my first forays into the medieval fantasy realm, it should be filled with female characters who are strong in themselves, in a world where women can do whatever they like - a world where there is no patriarchy or matriarchy but equality, plain and simple.
If we can't get it in this world, maybe we can find it there. I'm not holding my breath, but in the meantime I read and reread my favourite fantasy books, enjoying the beautiful cover artwork and remembering the days when I was young and impressionable, thinking "that could be me….". I'm just so glad that I chose these books with these images, all things considered.
The first thing that usually happens when I comment on the sexist artwork and portrayal of women in fantasy roleplaying games is "Oh, you know that's just how it is" - it is this complicitness in the game that I find so terribly frustrating - and also a little frightening. Whether you are being subject to catcalls or wolf whistles, sexual remarks and proposals in "real life", in a field of live-action roleplayers, or in a game, can we not change the culture into one where all genders are treated with honour and respect?
In the meantime, wish me luck on finding a Druid figurine that isn't in high-heeled boots and skintight leathers, with enormous boobs that would make shooting a bow impossible…
A Rite of Memorial
Crossing the River