A popular topic of discussion that has made its way around the internet as of late is the idea of gender bending many of our favorite characters. More to the point, the idea of taking male characters and turning them into female equivalents. The idea has been applied to many types of media, notably a well received episode of Adventure Time which swapped the genders of many characters. The most popular incantation of this idea, at least that I can think of, is representing Link as a girl in the next Legend of Zelda game. I myself was at one point a proponent of this idea. But I’ve had a change of heart over the past few months and now, to be quite frank, I hate the idea.
Now let me be upfront and clear about this, I want more representation of women in games. I want all sorts of underrepresented groups to star in games. I want black people that aren’t gangsters, I want Russians that aren’t mobsters, I want women with a sense of agency, and LGBT characters with more going on than being rainbow children. What I don’t want is looking at white male characters and deciding “that’s a problem, it needs to be fixed.” There is always space for more characters and more stories to be told, we do not need to remove one character to replace it with another to create diversity. This is one reason I do not like the idea of turning Link into a girl, or Thor into a woman, etc. I don’t want a female character that needs to be a walking reference to a male character in order to have some importance, she should have it all her own. And yes, those two I mentioned in the last sentence are walking references.
It says it all in the title: Girl Link, Female Thor. These aren’t original characters standing on their own, acting as new female role models or interesting female characters to point to. They are references to their male counterparts. They require investment in their male counterparts to be relevant and/or interesting. That’s all. It is the modern day “pink bow” characterization, masquerading as diversity.
“This is the female Link.”
“Oh what is she like?”
“She’s like Link.”
It’s not a female character. For all intents and purposes of diversity, as understandable and well meant as they are, these are male characters with their own characterizations that have been given sex changes. Not female characters.
As I said before, I want diversity, and I want to see female characters in a starring role. I would like original female characters who do not need to stand on the history of a male character to be appealing. And this is the problem I have with the ‘female Link” or when people decide to dress up Zelda in Link’s tunic and write “MAKE IT HAPPEN NINTENDO” and believe this is diversity. How strong of a female character is this really if she needs to wear a male character’s clothing to be identified as the hero? Are we really going to act like the only reason we recognize Link as the hero/protagonist is because he wears the garbs that (in some games) says that the hero will wear? Instead, how about a Legend of Zelda game starring Zelda? As in, the actual Zelda, not Zelda pretending to be Link? Have her use her magic, transform into Sheik, the whole shabang? Having a Legend of Zelda game labeled as “NINTENDO GET’S IT RIGHT! GIVES ZELDA THE LEAD!” is just not truthful if all she is doing is wearing a tunic, swinging the Master Sword, and riding Epona. I’m still playing as Link. The only difference is Link doesn’t have a flat chest anymore.
The great draw of diversity in games (other than attempting to make minorities feel more represented) is that having a diverse palette of characters can give artists a wide variety of angles and aspects to create stories from. But this isn’t that. This is using different brushes to paint the same color instead of using a different hue, yet calling it revolutionary art. It’s insisting that blue is now green because you used a lighter shade of blue. Give us green! And purple, and red, and black and white. Just stop dressing those colors up as blue and insisting it’s a better shade of blue.
I know many people make these suggestions simply because they mean well, and want to see the medium move forward. And keep on keeping on! Hell, a number of people that suggested it probably just want to see a female Link, without inspirations of diversity involved at all. But what really irritates me are articles that label people that have any problems with a female Link, Thor or whatever as inherently sexist. That the only reason anyone could argue against turning these men into women is because they hate seeing women in leading roles and want gaming or comics to remain a “boy’s club.” These arguments are juvenile, and aggravating. They use diversity as a defense to any constructive criticism and surf on self righteous justification as a means to forward their own creative ideas, while pushing anyone who disagrees with them back. We can not expand minority characters if we are not willing to have intellectual discussions about when and when not to have them.
I’m not saying every female character needs to represent the concepts and interests of women specifically. Not every female character needs to be “OVARIES IN ACTION!” (catchy a title though that may be). We can have women who are just women, and their sex or gender completely irrelevant to what is going on. I’m not arguing against that. I am against retroactively applying social justice onto (exclusively) white male characters for the sole reason of diversity, without any context or reasoning for the change other than because “so he could be a woman.” Make more female characters. Give them their own histories, their own triumphs and failures, their own goals. Have her fight for what she believes in, because she believes in it, not because the male version believed in it. At the end of the day an interesting character is interesting because they are interesting, not because they have been gender swapped. Changing sexes and genders, and mixing some things up, only tells me you are too afraid to put your faith in a woman to lead her own story, and instead she has to borrow one of the men’s stories, because that’s where you felt safe putting your artistic skill and creative risks into.
What do you think of turning male characters into women? Do you think it helps further women’s representations in media? Do you think it harms women to be relying on male characters to fill out their back stories? Do you (more likely) have a non-polarized view of this? Tell me what you think in the comments, and I promise, I won’t label you a bigot if you disagree with me.