Games and women in wars

A little over a year ago the long anticipated Halo: Reach was published. I was ridiculously happy to finally be able to not only play a female character but have a female member of the team. I love FPS games mostly as they are, but there’s always that part of myself that I have to shut down in order to enjoy them. And unfortunately for me Halo:Reach was no different. I mean come on, they threw the only permanent female member in a damn refrigerator. And for those of you who don’t get what’s wrong with that; it happens to basically every single female character in geekish pursuits (comics, games, that sort of stuff) at some point of their career.

So when I started playing Gears of War 3 last week I was trying hard not to get my hopes up. And I found myself positively surprised. The women on the teams were considered as equals. I really liked the waspish banter between Baird and Sam because it reminded me of the conversations I have with some of my own male friends. Bernie and Hoffman seemed to have a real partnership in a time of conflict and there was no “The old ball and chain” type of idiosyncrasies so popular in any kind of entertainment. There were some odd things like when the team is looking for fuel and Sam asks Marcus whether he’s all right, you know, emotionally. I mean sure, it’s the kind of thing you’d ask a friend, but NOT while running around in known enemy territory, trying to move from one firefight to another. So for me personally Gears of War 3 was a highly satisfying gaming experience for the biggest part because of the women.

There are however people who think that the inclusion of women in combat for that kind of game is just plain wrong. Women don’t belong in combat, Anya should be in the kitchen, making Marcus a sammich. But you just know that that’s just plain wrong.

Although the US has pretty much always denied women combat status at the very least, women have been in combat throughout its history, most of the time in drag just like Disney’s Mulan, often for reasons similar to Mulan’s. And the US isn’t even the only country where this has happened and is happening. Most Northern European countries have opened all military positions up to women as long as they meet the same physical requirements as the men applying to the job. Needless to say most applicants – male and female – do not meet those criteria and end up in infantry. There are some women however who do get in and train to become divers or fighter pilots and serve with the same distinction as their male peers.

The argument that most gets used by the people saying that women don’t belong in combat is that women just aren’t as physical biologically speaking as men. And that’s true, but we have no idea. The encouragement for boys to be more physical starts at around the time children are 11-months old, when there are no actual motor skill related differences. Parents routinely overestimate the ability of boys and underestimate the ability of girls (http://www.psych.nyu.edu/adolph/PDFs/MondscheinAdolphTamisLeMonda2000GenderBiasInMothers.pdf). This early advantage might be more significant than we assume. Compare it to Canadian hockey players; most of the succesfull Canadian hockey players are born in the beginning of the year. Does that mean that mostly people who were born in the beginning of the year have talent in hockey? Hardly. The system just supports hockey players born just after the cut-off date for junior leagues (for more, read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers a very interesting read all over) more than players born throughout the rest of the year.

The point I’m making is this; science-fiction and many games roughly related to the genre take place hundreds of years in the future. We shouldn’t assume the same social structures that we have now, especially when it comes to gender-equality. Only 140 years women weren’t even allowed to go to the university in Finland and now they make up a little over half the student body and a quarter of the professors. 140 years ago it was thought that women weren’t biologically equipped to handle University life and we’ve found it to be wrong. When women were allowed access to the army in Finland (1995) it was said widely that women simply weren’t biologically equipped to handle army life. I think it a bit presumptuous to say that in a hundred or two hundred years anyone will think the same way.

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