Assassin’s Creed fail reveals how sexist animation standards are failing real women,
This is the same gorgeously animated, acclaimed franchise that devotes an entire subset of game play to tree-climbing. Swinging from limb to limb high above the incredibly detailed world? High on the priority list of Assassin’s Creed features. Putting a single woman into an active role in the game? Nah.
Earlier this year, the lead animator of Frozen protested that Disney's 3-D animation software literally didn’t possess the ability to make women’s faces look distinguishable from one another.
This is the same studio that employed a visual effects team of over 40 people in order to design the unique properties of snowflakes. Literally, the women of Tangled and Frozen were less distinguishable to Disney animation software than a pile of snow.
The tangle of issues and layers of sexism that contribute to this situation is overwhelming, but at the core is the fundamentally flawed way women are portrayed in comics, animation, and gaming: a feedback loop of sexual objectification and industry complacence.
When you perpetuate the idea, across various art-based mediums, that women in drawn art, comics, and animation must and should look and move with flowy, exaggerated gestures, graceful movements, and hips, chest, and ass thrust forward in order to pander to the male gaze at all times, then you make it easier, later on, to use your own sexist animation and art standards as an excuse for why you don’t have more women.
We take you on a visual walk-through of the gaming industry and animation culture’s resistance to making women look, act, and move like human beings.
I know that this argument is done to death and this article makes a lot of claims I take issue with (the “faces of the women in Frozen” point is completely skewing the original quote it’s working with but that’s not a debate I want to get into right now), but I think a lot of people who defend the way women are consistently portrayed in absurd, posed, sexualized ways don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes.
The arguments always seem to be “That’s her personality, that’s the way she likes to dress, it’s physically possible for a woman to move like that if she wanted to, women just move differently than men” and so on and so on. And that’s true to a degree -BUT- the thing they conveniently forget is that everything they’re seeing on screen is a conscious decision made, approved, executed, and revised by an entire team of artists and marketing personnel. In many cases women aren’t portrayed the way they are out of a deep respect for the carefully constructed personality of the character, it’s because that’s how the people making it think women are supposed to act and look to make them as appealing as possible.
I’ve been in this industry for more than half a decade now, and I consistently see so much more control placed on how we’re allowed to portray women than men in most cases. They are not allowed to show the full emotional spectrum male characters are, in particular they’re not allowed to be angry and expressions of anger are revised to be sad, placid, or flirty. We’re not supposed to distort their features the same way we do with male characters. They have smaller, tighter, more restrictive outfits with stricter rules about how much of their body we’re allowed to see and how they have to hold their legs, so they’re given a much more restricted range of motion. It can feel like being handed a tool kit with half of the contents missing, we aren’t given the opportunity to make the female characters as fun and endearing as the male ones because we’re only allowed to make them a fraction as emotional and active so that they don’t alienate the audience that only wants to see the same sexy, depersonalized women they’ve been trained to expect.
And this isn’t just me saying this, it’s a fairly common complaint I see with character designers and other artists in that area. I remember attending a character design panel at FanExpo one year, I forget who was running it but he was kind of a gruff, grumpy bikery-looking video game design guy. At one point he just flat-out said “I’m so sick for drawing women in chainmail bikinis”. Everyone seemed kind of surprised to hear a remark like that because hey, that sounds like living the dream. But it’s true, it just feels like reinventing the wheel over and over because every client wants the same thing.