“It is hard to be a woman. You must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl, and work like a horse.” ~Author Unknown
The “Chosen One”! A powerful, strong person chosen by fate to fulfill a certain destiny! And, the “Unrealistically Powerful”, someone that doesn’t make sense, is too powerful or knowledgeable for what they should be able to do/know. If you’ve realized by now that the “Chosen One” is generally male, and the “Unrealistically Powerful” is generally female, then I applaud you!
Sadly, this is a problem plaguing generations of female characters. The most recent example of this is clear if you spend too much time in the Star Wars fanbase. A lot of fans – mostly male, but I’m sure there are some females out there – are fairly upset because Rey was too knowledgeable in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, too strong. Setting aside the fact that this is ridiculous for a moment, no one thought that way of Luke in the original movies. Though, yes, Luke did have some training with Yoda by the second and third movies, there were certainly things that he did that made him an amazing man – which is exactly the problem. When a man – Luke – beats the odds and does something spectacular, he’s an extraordinary person influenced by fate.
When a woman – Rey – on the other hand, does something great, she’s not realistic. I’ll take two similar instances from Luke and Rey’s movies to show my point. In A New Hope, Luke takes down the Death Star, shooting torpedoes into a tiny hole by finding it with the force. This is an amazing feat! Luke has had practically no training, and yet is so force sensitive that he is able to make such a shot without his ship’s targeting system. Attributed to exactly that – his innate force sensitivity – Luke is praised as a hero. Then, in The Force Awakens, Rey uses the force to calm herself enough/give herself the power (depending which theory you believe) to overpower Kylo Ren in a lightsaber fight. Equally amazing, as Rey has had minimal training other than watching Kylo, the scene clearly is meant to show how powerful Rey really is, as Luke was, and as Kylo Ren mentioned to his leader a little while before – not to mention parallel Luke. Yet, many male fans were outraged by this, insisting that Rey shouldn’t have been able to overcome Kylo like that, or, more specifically, use the force with so little training. I use Rey and Luke because they’re easy parallels as the protagonists of two generations of Star Wars characters, and a recent example, but this isn’t a new problem. Men are constantly seen as able to do these grand feats, where women are not.
What brought this issue to my attention was that I recently finished the first new Tomb Raider game. As I was playing, I realized that I was kind of scoffing at the things Lara was able to do in the game – getting up from blows to the chest, the head, the back, that outside a video game might have caused massive damage.It was only until later that I had another realization – something like that had never occurred to me before. I had played countless video games, and I hadn’t before had that long-lasting realization. What was different? Tomb Raider features a female protagonist, through the entire game. This is brilliant, but it made me subconsciously underestimate Lara’s abilities. While, yes, the things she does in the game would probably not be possible to survive in the real world, I’ll make two points. 1) Men in video games pull these sorts of stunts all the time. 2) It’s a video game. Can you imagine how boring it would be if every time Lara Croft fell down something you had to go back to camp, patch yourself up, then wait a couple hours? We play video games to escape reality, not experience it second-hand.
So all of this made me think about the topic, and more importantly, how it’s become a subconscious thing. It kind of made me understand the people complaining about the “Unrealistically Powerful” women – not that I’m condoning them. However, it is becoming something that most of us probably don’t even realize we’re doing. A big chunk of this problem could be solved with something gaming women have been clamoring for for years – more female protags in video games. Which, absolutely, should happen, but if you’re not someone in the video game industry, there’s not much you can do. So something you as a person can do is try to get to that level of self-aware. If you’re watching, reading, or playing a female character, think about what she’s doing and ask yourself if it’s really unrealistic, or just 1) the industry trying to make gaming better, and/or 2) something that you’ve read, seen, or played a man doing. As always, education is the best thing, and educating yourself is no one’s responsibility but yours.