The new Tomb Raider trailer has been generating some discussion online about how appropriate it is to show female characters getting beaten to a pulp and then nearly raped. You know, the usual light video game fare. Ben Kuchera of The Penny Arcade Report reported on it here, and I posted a comment. I can't link directly to it so I'll paste it here.
One of the reasons I hated this trailer, and their explanation for it, is that this is the ultimate in lazy back story creation for strong female characters. "Hmm, we need to make her strong. How do we do it? "I know! Beat her and rape her -- INSTANT STRENGTH."
It's lazy, and it's the predominant back story, it seems, for most strong female characters in movies and games. She's not able to become strong through solving hard problems or any kind of complex situation -- in fact, she can't become as strong as she possibly can without men around to break her in. That's the message young female gamers get from a game and story like this. If you're the father of a daughter, is that the path you want your daughter to see as the only route to a strong character?
I'm not opposed to this being a part of a story when it comes to developing strong female characters -- take the rape scene in the movie G.I. Jane. So much of the importance of the movie's message was contained in that very short scene. Perfectly done.
But I dislike that it's the go-to back story for any strong female character. A friend recently told me about a strong female character he was writing for a game, and when he began to tell me about her back story, I stopped him and said, "lemme guess: domestic violence victim, sexually molested as a small girl, or rape victim?"
He was shocked. (It was domestic violence.) I implored him to please find some other thing besides violence to make her strong. I'd like my son to grow up and not have it reinforced that the only way a woman can be strong is if she's a quivering little molested girl deep inside who's built a hardened shell around her. It's insulting to those of us who ARE strong and capable and never "needed" to be beaten or raped to get there.
It seems that violence and rape have become the default back story modes for so many of the leading female characters in games, movies, and geek culture. Can we get past this, please, and start branching out?