Exploring Sexism in Fantasy Artwork

SEX·ISM /’sekˌsizəm/ noun
prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

If you haven’t come across this subject yet as a TCG (trading card game) player, consider yourself one of few. Sexism is a hot topic in the gaming world for two main reasons, the first being that it is a male-dominated market historically. Second, the imagery used in the fantasy genre is notorious for portraying scantly clad female characters. There are many avenues one can explore when discussing sexism in the gaming world. I have chosen to focus on the art in Force of Will and, what I believe, is a lack of sexism overall. Please note that this is an opinion-based article.

Biology is Free From Sexism

I am a science student studying to be a doctor, and while this concept may be obvious to me, I understand that it is not as clearly grasped by the community: showing breasts in art is not sexist. Body parts by themselves with no context are not sexist. As described in the definition that began this article, sexism requires action in the form of prejudice or discrimination. Simply showing human anatomy in art is not sexist. The context of the entire image may end up being sexist, but what the character pictured is wearing has little to do with it.

JinxI would like to take a moment to highlight another game that tackled this topic. League of Legends (LoL) has many female characters, most with similar anatomy. None of them are imagined with overly exaggerated breasts, but there is a fair amount of cleavage in LoL artwork. The character Jinx was introduced in 2013 and was the first LoL female character with A-cup sized breasts and no cleavage. Many fans applauded Riot Games for creating a “more-realistic” looking character. Jinx is considered the opposite of sexist imagery, and yet I propose that she falls into the same category, visually, as most Force of Will characters.

Little redA prime example that has already been the subject of controversy in the FOW community involves the art of Little Red, the True Fairy Tale. Many players have spoken out calling this card sexist and inappropriate because of the cleavage and large breast size of the character. When comparing this art to Jinx, they are exactly the same. Both characters are smiling, playful, and the focus of the image. Even their clothing is similar: the top garment has a deep v-neckline, the bottom garment is very short and both characters wear thigh-high stockings with garters. They even both have two ridiculously long braids!

It is astounding how one image is praised so highly for NOT being sexist, while the other is altered so it is “appropriate” for tournament play. The only difference between Little Red and Jinx is breast size: biology. There is absolutely nothing shameful or sexist about the female body. Breasts alone are not sexist: context is key.

Sexism in Body Position

How a character is positioned is where most sexism comes from. Force of Will has, in my opinion, avoided this controversy almost entirely (with one exception, shown at the end of this article). A male or female can be objectified in fantasy artwork using improper body position. It all comes down to context: what is the character’s meaning in the image, and how is that portrayed through body position? If the art does not line up with the character’s intentions, then the image can be considered sexist.

SpiderWoman1MiloManara-337x480A very popular example involves cover art for Marvel Comic’s Spider Woman in 2014. This cover was removed almost instantly, when the comic community scolded Marvel for releasing an image of a female in a highly submissive position, wearing nothing but what looks to be body paint. It was also suggested that Marvel should have “known better”, because the artist they hired was known for erotica in his art. Out of context, this appears to be textbook sexism.

My opinion? This art is not sexist. Spiderman himself has been illustrated in several awkwardly questionable positions, but that’s the point. These characters are supposed to be reminiscent of spiders. In the picture shown here, Spider Woman is creepy-crawly-crawling up the side of a building just like a spider would. In the context of the character and the story, this art does it’s job. I would question Marvel’s intention of using this as a cover image if women are the target audience. It is still important to realize that while an image may not be sexist, the general public will still perceive it as such.

Featuring Males and Females in the Same Art

Body position runs a fine line with being sexist when men and women are featured in the same image. In my opinion, Force of Will has done a fine job depicting men and women as equal in the art. Many players of Magic: the Gathering did not feel the same way during the release of Avacyn Restored. This set coincided with the storyline that pinned characters Liliana Vess and Garruk Wildspeaker against each other in epic battle. Each character had their own enchantment card featuring their triumph over the enemy.

TriumphofCrueltyLet’s first take a look at Liliana’s victory in Triumph of Cruelty. Focusing primarily on body position, this art is pretty tame in regards to being sexist. Liliana has defeated her nemesis Garruk as her zombie servants drag him into the foreground. In context Liliana is the victor, Garruk was overthrown, and both characters are in a position that portrays exactly that, and nothing more.

TriumphofFerocityIn opposition is Garruk’s victory, Triumph of Ferocity. Initially this art caused much controversy as players considered the image perpetuating rape culture. Liliana is being completely dominated by Garruk which does follow the context of the story, but the male figure is holding her down in violent dominance; her legs spread apart. Many players believed that a true “triumph” would picture the end of the battle over an obviously male-dominated mid-battle image. The idea here is that the “triumph” is in a male being stronger than a woman, rather that in defeating an enemy.

My goal in bringing these two images into the conversation is not to spark discussion about if Triumph of Ferocity is actually sexist. Rather this is a good example of how position plays a stronger role in determining if a picture is sexist than exposed body parts. The violence in the Triumph images is warranted as in the context of the story. Ask yourself, is it necessary that the characters be positioned this way in order to portray their battle? Are there other options that would still fit the context of story, yet leave the idea of “man vs woman” out of the frame?

Does Gender Bending Solve Sexism?

There is a new trend in the fantasy world to re-imagine male characters as women, and vise versa. The idea is that simply switching the gender alleviates the possibility of  artwork being sexist. This is of course assuming that the viewer knows that the character is “gender bent”. Force of Will explored this concept with the release of the Vingolf: Engage Knights set. This set featured many strong male historical characters gender bent as female.

Vingolf

Personally, I don’t think gender bending frees art from being sexist, but it does introduce an important truth that gender is an identity. Men and women can be equally offended by an image, even if their gender is not the one pictured. Gender bending ensures equality between the sexes, and reinforces that it is okay to identify with either gender. Playing devil’s advocate, one can also pose that the Vingolf rulers are sexist towards men, suggesting that a historically strong male figure is not interesting enough for a fantasy card game: sex sells over historical accuracy.

Bringing It All Together

Let’s take the time to dissect some art pieces from Force of Will cards and determine if they are sexist. Keep in mind the topics we’ve discussed: is the character pictured in a context that is relevant and makes sense to the story? Is the characters position one that is appropriate? Are the body parts shown simply that, body parts?

jeanneUp first is Jeanne d’Arc, the Flame of Hatred. This character is deep in battle fighting for her cause. She is a ruler and thus the main feature of the image. Her body position is facing forward, ready to fight and eye sight is focused front. Her hands are holding weapons relevant to the battle (rather than fiddling with her hair or with a finger in her mouth). This character is posed and ready to strike, and gets an A+ from me: this image is not sexist.

Next up is a selection of questionable Vingolf characters. These alternate art variants aren’t wearing much clothing, suggesting that maybe the characters have little to offer aside from sexuality, but are they sexist?

Vin

Similar to Jeanne, all three characters are facing forward with eyes on anyone who could engage battle. Both feet are planted on the ground and all three characters are fully capable of defending themselves. The clothing seems questionable as far as appropriateness. Being that the theme is fantasy, it is difficult to say what a musketeer would “typically wear” to battle. Let’s rule this one A-: probably not sexist.

cat2As you can see, the main focus when judging if fantasy artwork is sexist has much more to do with body position than anything else. With that in mind, lets take a look at the worst offender in Force of Will: Cheshire Cat, the Grinning Remnant. This character is facing away from on-coming assault, but there is nothing wrong with an in-action pose. The truly questionable part of the image is Cheshire’s rear-end. It is positioned in a way that is unnatural, and much more provocative than expected from a warrior that is ready to block oncoming attacks. You can see how this card’s image is more ambiguous than the others, and could be considered sexist. The twist? Cheshire Cat is a male character, as noted by the original artist. I’ll give this kitty a passing grade of B-: could be considered sexist by the viewer, but not the artist’s intention.

Why Does Sexism Matter?

In relation to the trading card game community, it is very important that you stay alert to possible sexism in artwork. Growing your local community is the most important thing in a game’s survival and fruition. Being sensitive to how new players perceive the game will help grow your player base. I’m not suggesting that cards be censored, or that we ban cards with sexist imagery. Simply understand that your opponent may be sensitive or uncomfortable with the artwork, and show them other options that they may be happier playing in their deck. Respecting your opponent is just as important as practicing for the next big event.

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