Chungking Espresso

Thoughts On Playing Female in Fallout 3

Posted in Game Analysis by Simon Ferrari on May 7, 2009

This is the first of my two-part series on Fallout 3 (the second will be specifically about the DLC).

Minor Broken Steel spoilers. Don’t read if you haven’t finished the original main quest.

I finished Broken Steel last night. Everybody knows by know what happens in the original ending, so I’m not giving anything away here: when you wake up at the beginning of Broken Steel, you are lying on a hospital bed across from the inert body of a female compatriot, Paladin Lyons. The strange thing is that, until this moment, I had largely forgotten that I had been playing the game as a female. On waking, Elder Lyons addressed me as “Sarah” (the name of my girlfriend, after whom I modeled my avatar). But he also referred to his comatose daughter (Paladin Lyons) by the forename “Sarah.” Was this a fluke of the way I had named my character or a glitch in how the dialogue was programmed, or does the game procedurally match her name to yours if you play a female? I’d like to leave this question as a personal mystery, instead of finding the answer from others… because, regardless of whether this was designed or not, it bound me to her. More on this further along.

L.B. Jeffries and I had a conversation in Savannah, while sipping Victory Prima Pils, about the difficulties of writing well about large, open-world games. How could we be sure that we were getting to the important stuff, that we were “playing it right?” I played it right, if doing so means min-maxing to such a degree that the game quickly becomes a sadly simple process of one-hitting any enemy I come across. One way to maximize your total damage output in Fallout 3 is to roll a female avatar and then select the Black Widow perk. This is only available to female avatars, and it does extra damage to male characters (males have a corresponding Perk called Lady Killer). The reason Black Widow maximizes potential damage is that there are numerically more male NPCs in the Capital Wasteland.

Here’s one question: was it slightly colonizing that I rolled a female avatar just because I knew that I would do more damage that way? Answer: yes! Follow-up: would I have been able to write this piece without doing so? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Laziness, Oversight
The most common complaints about Fallout 3 that I have found from female gamers (thanks to Jonathan Mills, Kateri, and Denis Farr for the links on related posts by Twyst and Heroine Sheik) is that the tailoring of graphics, dialogue, and sound effects to a female avatar have been handled poorly by Bethesda. No arguments here: NPCs shouted the word “Bitch!” during combat (I quickly selectively listened against this), clothing found on the ground is always in its “male” state, and there were frequent errors wherein an NPC would refer to me as “brother” or “man.” Also, in the original ending montage one screen will always mistakenly show you as a male. What these programming errors show, as explained by Brinstar in the Iris Network forums, is that Bethesda added the functionality of the female player character as an afterthought. My experience confirms this—although I was a male playing a female character, I forgot this fact over the course of my playthrough; this highlights the fact that Bethesda approached the subject of gender neutrality by ignoring gender altogether (which Others female players on a meta-level).


One note by Twyst finds her annoyed at the dialogue options (or lack of them) that the Black Widow perk opens up. Basically, if a female avatar with Black Widow speaks to certain male NPCs in the game world, she will have the option to instantly persuade them to perform an action unavailable to male player characters in the same position. Usually the characterization of the Black Widow dialogue option is that of seduction. Twyst doesn’t go into much detail as to the reason for her annoyance here, but I’d like to posit that there are at least two feminist reactions to the feature.

Naming the perk “Black Widow,” with its connotations of castration anxiety, is likely to aggravate across the board. A second wave feminist will probably find the Black Widow option to be colonial on the part of the game designers—basically this form of feminist thought would color the interaction as women being only able to interact with males based on a sexual model holding the woman as desirable object. This is a valid criticism; however, a third wave feminist or postfeminist (with the possible exception of the riot grrl) might see the Black Widow option as sex-positive and female-empowering—asserting that women have the right to use every means at their disposal to draw weak male minds out of their position of power. For instance, one such male holds the fate of the town of Megaton in his greedy hands; a Black Widow can persuade him to simply leave town on a false promise of possible sexual reciprocation.


Before I enter into a discussion of specific feminine paradigms explored by the game, I’d like to assert that the primary Others of Fallout 3 are the Ghouls and the Super Mutants. Ghouls are otherwise normal humans who have been exposed, over generations of incestual mating practices, to unhealthy doses of radiation—causing their skin to crack and peel from their bodies. At late stages of Ghoul transformation, the former humans become feral. Ferals are characterized as being completely not-human: they attack regular humans on sight (non-feral Ghouls are safe from this), they “screw like animals,” and at the latest stage they become radiation-manifest: the Glowing One. Regular Ghouls still carry visible signs of gender (including feminine names and breasts, despite the otherwise decrepit bodies), but feral ghouls—despite the assertion that they can mate—display no such signifiers. On the other hand, Super Mutants—or humans who have been purposefully exposed to the Forced Evolution Virus—are neuter, and can apparently only procreate through some unseen form of test tube growth.

Regular humans in the Fallout world despise Ghouls and Super Mutants in unequal amounts. Ghouls act as an oppressed minority that is regularly banished from cities and forced to live a meagre subsistence in areas of high radiation (encouraging their descent into feral form). Super Mutants have declared all-out-war on humanity, and they serve as the primary antagonists of the middle section of the game. The question is: are Ghouls a model for racial discrimination? This is a possible move (even though there are Ghouls of multiple human ethnicities), but it’s more interesting to look at them as a possible analogy to the HIV-positive community. While racist whites treat minorities as inferior in a variety of ways, members of almost every ethnic community fear the specter of the AIDS virus. Ghoul-ism is non-communicable, yet humans fear physical contact and proximity with Ghouls—much like people who irrationally fear that HIV will be spread to them through casual contact. Thus, throughout the 70s and through today (in most locations), the HIV-positive community has been ghettoed and left to die in silence; similarly, Fallout‘s Ghouls are practically forced into advanced stages of their disease by being pushed to irradiated areas in order to seek an isolated place to live and die in peace. Ghouls are angry, tired, and sometimes hateful creatures as a result of their mistreatment at the hands of regular humans (a conflict which climaxes in Roy’s brutal slaughter of the humans in Tenpenny Tower). One other group of people uniquely treated as Other in the wastes are children, and I leave it to someone with a particular interest (more knowledge than I have) in this subject to explore this fact elsewhere.

In contrast to the Ghouls, women in the Capital Wasteland live a (mostly) egalitarian existence. Despite its masculine name, women are largely treated as equals in the Brotherhood of Steel; however, there appear to be few in positions of leadership, and the primacy of Paladin Lyons can be written off as a result of her father’s nepotism. Likewise, women are given the same status as men in Raider and Slaver communities. In fact, the only women in the game who appear to be decidedly non-empowered are the Ghoul-hating, upper-class women of Tenpenny Tower. I say this because they appear greedy, frail, and dependent on their relationships with their husbands. Unlike the hardworking women of the wastes (good and evil), these anachronistic socialites are some of the most despicable characters in the game—of course, the husbands are just as awful. Their slaughter at the hands of Roy and the feral ghouls is simultaneously cathartic and unsettling according to many player accounts (and my own experience).

All of this strikes me as a unique move on the part of Bethesda: if they characterize the world of Fallout as one without law, then what is the likelihood that women would maintain nominal equality despite the fact that it took five thousand years for them to finally achieve legal equality? Here is one possible, positive answer: the women of the Capital Waste are hard-as-nails—as powerful, dangerous, and cunning as any man. Another, negative answer would be: Bethesda was too lazy to design a world that explored the many possible gender/sexual dynamics that might emerge in the event of an apocalypse. One would do well to remember that in humanity’s early years, women commonly held positions of power in tribal cultures. Patriarchal hegemony is an artificial construct developed over the course of thousands of years. It would have been truly enlightening to be able to navigate a Capital Waste that featured communities where women were the sole leaders or, alternatively, where they were treated as chattel. This would allow for an intriguing exploration of the processes by which how women might rise to power in a future tribal society or how misogynists might take the event of a nuclear apocalypse as an opportunity to once again strip women of their equal legal standing. For now we can only hope that such a game might come around on another console, in another decade.

3 Women
Three female NPCs stood out as particularly important to my experience in Fallout 3, shining examples of positive female paradigms in the Capital Wastes: Agatha, Leaf Mother Laurel, and Paladin Lyons.

Agatha is encountered in the quest named “Agatha’s Song.” She is an elderly woman living alone in a fairly uninhabited, dangerous section of the wastes. Some explanations for her ability to survive alone might be that she’s the most resilient woman in the realm, that her home is largely hidden from passersby by an outcrop of rocks, or that she wields a powerful revolver (the Blackhawk) bequeathed to her by her late husband. Agatha’s husband also built her a radio transmitter, with which she broadcasts her violin music throughout the wastes. This story is one of eternal and reciprocal conjugal love: her husband’s spirit—in the form of his sidearm—lingers to aid in Agatha’s protection. I’ve written before about the disruptive, female sound space constructed by Faye Wong in WKW’s Chungking Express, and for me the transmitter that Agatha’s husband built for her is a metaphor for his supportive expansion of one aspect of her femininity—a personal aural space. Agatha tames the wastes in the only ways she knows how: surviving alone and granting a dying world the gift of simple, classical beauty.

Players encounter Leaf Mother Laurel during the “Oasis” quest. In my opinion, this is the single most complex quest afforded by Fallout 3. A group of naturalists have established a community in a miraculous forest to the far north of the wastes, a forest gushing forth from the roots of a tree-man named Harold. One must decide whether to grant a tortured tree spirit/mutant his wish of assisted suicide, to limit his growth so as to hide his presence from the outside world, or to apply a salve to his heart that will increase both his growth and his pain many times over. Leaf Mother Laurel, contrary to her husband’s wishes (he wants the second option), gives you the special concoction that will bring the third choice about. I had no idea what to choose. Material gain had no bearing on the decision, and there was no straightforward good or evil choice. Harold was in pain, the High Priest wanted to keep his community safe from interlopers, and the Leaf Mother hoped that the Oasis would spread to rejuvenate the entire Capital Waste. I went with Mother Nature. I sacrificed the desires of one for the hope of the future, siding with a single female against the desires of two males. I didn’t do this because I was playing a female, but because the decision felt right to me: this is good design in the highest.

I close by revisiting the inert body of a female compatriot that opens the storyline of Broken Steel. I will not tell you if Paladin Sarah Lyons emerges from her coma or not. In the volatile bowels of Project Purity, she stood by me as I attempted to activate the water purifier. I awoke from the resulting purging of radiation after two weeks, but she was still lying there in that hospital bed. I could have chosen to let her turn on the machine herself—this was the more dangerous option, and self-preservation would have dictated that I let her take the job. But I didn’t. Why then was she punished? The path to purified water in the Capital Wastes is littered with the bodies of the selfless—my mother, my father, Paladin Lyons. At the end of the game, I realized that Lyons had been an almost constant presence throughout my main mission and growth in the wastes—evolving from a protector to a sister-in-arms. The fact that she and I worked together to activate the Eden machine, coupled by our sharing the name Sarah, was (for me) a ludic expression of Simone de Beauvoir’s thesis in The Blood of Others and The Ethics of Ambiguity—to be a woman is to be responsible for the well-being of other women. The ending of the game would have been painfully less profound if I’d played as a male, in which case my decision to go into the radiation chamber could likely be read as patriarchal chivalry.

Bethesda, despite all your faults and oversights: thank you for this experience.

Footnote: Readers, remember that “Freud is most interesting in his footnotes!” The discussions brought up in this post are fleshed out and clarified in the comments section. Thanks to Denis Farr, Nick LaLone, and Tom Cross for getting these comments going.

pictures courtesy of The Vault

30 Responses

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  1. Denis Farr said, on May 7, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Other thoughts that came to mind while I read this:

    The death of the mother. It is rather typical in our storytelling that the mother must be the one to die, whereas the father leaves a lasting legacy for the children. At the same time, she’s the key to the ending puzzle.

    The other two games seem startlingly more egalitarian in their treatment of women in positions of power.

    Also annoying is the fact that the one person with whom you can have sex (that I encountered, and from what I’ve read. If you lure the Megaton bomb-quest chap–whose name I forget–out to the desert, can you actually sleep with him?) is a female prostitute. You can be a heterosexual male or lesbian, feeding into male sexual fantasies.

    I plan on purchasing the DLC later this month when Cap’n Perkins and I can synch our playthroughs, so I imagine I’ll be writing about it again (he and I already planned out a series of talking points). You have me intrigued in approaching the question of children, particularly as I studied the treatment of children through the ages in various history courses (which becomes even more complicated when one looks at the history of slavery and childbearing).

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 7, 2009 at 9:45 pm

      Oh was the prostitute in that shady Pimp’s den? I think I purchased their freedom and then didn’t see them again. I forgot about that.

      • Denis Farr said, on May 7, 2009 at 9:54 pm

        Oh, no, I was speaking of the one in Megaton. The one in the inn.

  2. Simon Ferrari said, on May 7, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    @ Denis:

    On the mother, I agree with you that it is problematic to have the mother die first whether you play a male or a female. It is fitting, however, that the father dies pursuing a dream that he and his (apparently perfect) mate shared and died for. There’s also the fact that no matter which gender you play, the father abandons you to pursue the dream–he prefers the memory of his wife and her goals to the responsibility of taking care of his own child. Is death-in-childbirth a historical male fantasy of some kind? I need to look into that.

    On equality, I was hoping they would take a page from Thunderdom and have a tyrannical female leader. Ah well. Dr. Li is the only female leader to be found, which is sad.

    On the prostitute and the chap-whose-name-we-both-forgot, I didn’t encounter the prostitute and I didn’t want to have sex with evil corporate dude, so I didn’t explore this particular problem. The pitfalls of writing about open world games (even after 80+ hours)!

    On children, there’s something there. That is the single most striking world design choice they made in my opinion. Write it brother!

    • Denis Farr said, on May 7, 2009 at 9:51 pm

      Well, the abandonment of children certainly serves as a strong theme throughout the game. The possible exception is the relationship between the Overseer and his daughter (depending on which variables one instigates).

      It’s rather disheartening to read this all again, however. My first playthrough was as my childlike sniper mercenary trope character, who happens to be male. I’ve resolved to play a female, but it’s frustrating to note that my decision will still see me facing the world which is defaulted to male, which automatically casts the female to an othered status, just not one that is as poignantly explored as you noted with the ghouls.

      The asexual qualities of the super mutants also intrigue me, as the process to become a mutant essentially sterilizes male and female humans alike. At the same time, they do appear very male-presenting, which could be as much our own expectations as it could be just lazy characterization (then again, super mutants in this particular game in the series are far less characterized than in the previous games–excepting Fawkes).

      The correlation you draw between the Ghouls and AIDS is something that certainly strikes me, and reminds me that the only gay relationship we see outside of the possible instigation of a lesbian female protagonist (or bisexual, even) is that of the female ghouls who run the inn.

      • Simon Ferrari said, on May 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm

        @Denis – Most telling for me was the simple fact that I didn’t even remember I was playing female until weird things would break (the ending montage, already being super lame and short, was particularly disappointing to see a screw-up frame in). You could assert that the game is a finely tuned machine for making you forgot that gender is an issue (and, following Heidegger, you only realize that it is constructed as such until the illusion breaks through lazy design).

        I don’t really know what to think about the Super Mutants. To me they’re not necessarily male-presenting but simply a hulking androgynous non-human form. Their lack of gender, as well as their lack of reason, appears to be cause for humans to want them dead. You *could* say they’re an analogy for females as castration fear, since they signify a lack. But that’d be very Laura Mulvey/second wave, which I take with a grain of salt.

        I don’t know what to do with lesbian Ghoul innkeepers either. I didn’t encounter them, so I guess I should go find em and see how they act before I decide. From what I’d seen I wouldn’t necessarily lump the disease-fear with the fear of homosexuality, though it’s definitely a plausible connection considering the number of people who believe that AIDS is the Gay Disease.

        Funny story: Crazy Baptist guy was on my college campus with a sign listing the people who were going to Hell (Jews, feminists, queers, Catholics). He starts giving a lecture about AIDS being the Gay Disease. Straight male steps forward, asserts: “Everyone can get HIV.”

        Crazy Baptist reply: “Maybe you’re a fag.”

  3. Krystian Majewski said, on May 8, 2009 at 9:46 am

    After I’m done with Mass Effect, I have to try this one.

    Btw, in comparison, Mass Effect seems to be much better designed. Most of the dialogue remains the same as people address you with the second name (“Sheppard”). However, there are sometimes subtle details (for instance a “she” or “he”) where a separate line was recorded just to retain the compatibility to different gender choices. I thought that was Nice!

    I wouldn’t accuse them of having the gender thing as an “afterthought”. It’s just very difficult to come up with all those lines and plots and they just forgot. They could have considered it from the beginning but probably just lost track of it during production – especially if part of the plot was changed at some point. Of course, in a production of this magnitude, it’s a poor excuse.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 9:54 am

      The final sentence in your comment is one of the reasons the Iris forums were insulted by the production quality. Sure it’s hard to get female specific dialogue in there, but the project is already so effing massive that it’s painfully obvious that they cut corners where they didn’t think it mattered (and to feminist/female players, it matters).

      I hammered this out over the course of little over an hour with little editing (hence why it gets verbose at times) – I feel like it adequately reflects the fact that I was completely torn while playing it: loving it and hating it, being male and playing female, thinking it was egalitarian toward women one moment and then realizing how it was Othering the next. A truly complex psycho-physical experience.

  4. Nick LaLone said, on May 8, 2009 at 10:55 am

    After twittering about Race last night, I remembered a long forgotten paper I wanted to write that centered on GTA: Vice City. I think i’m going to actually pre-write this one as I think it’s important. Thanks for bringing that memory back!

    I also think whatever I was doing (procrastinating, avoiding thinking, or restructuring my arguments for the papers i’m writing at the moment) on twitter created what I needed to take the single most difficult paper i’ve ever written through to the finish line.

    So, thanks!

    I spent most of last semester writing about feminism. It’s a strange and wonderful topic and is in desperate need of more work that is free of the negative stereotype that keeps it from really doing a lot of good.

    Anyway, it sounds to me that the creators here were channeling the normal hegemonic stuff that all males (and most females) tend to do. Each of those females follow a typical role that females are stereotypically forced into (carrying the male’s role, nurturing, and helping / working together). It is nice that these things appear in a game though. Typically, women in video games seem to be men with large breasts and sexy bodies.

    The most difficult thing to think of (because it has never existed), is a gender equal world. We have scant glances of it through the untouched tribes, or primitive (a biased statement there) tribes in Africa. The unfortunate thing is that while things may look equal, further examination typically shows it’s just a different shade of the same color.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 11:14 am

      @ Nick: Same thing happened with this post. I wrote 200 words in 30 minutes, wasted time Twittering with you :), and then proceeded to hammer out 2000 more words in another 30 minutes. Probably the longest non-academic game review I’ve written, and it took the shortest amount of time. So thanks!

      I’ve got a few minor issues with your comment though, which I’ll point to for the sake of any female readers who might come in an get unnerved.

      Unless you’re a radical separatist feminist, then heterosexual marriage (the case of Agatha) isn’t an unalloyed evil. You could argue that monogamy is a product of hegemony, but it’s also equally as likely that we are biologically inclined toward it (there is in fact no way to know, but the complex emotions most humans feel on being cheated upon would supports this). Certainly there are unequal and abusive marriages, but the example of Agatha is one in which a woman is clearly strong enough to survive on her own yet simultaneously owes much to the memory of a husband who supported her aspirations in life and in death.

      As to the nurturing role, it is uniquely extreme second wave to deny the importance of a woman’s role as mother. All feminists hold that it is one woman’s prerogative to choose whether to become a mother or not, but very few would be inclined to see a woman’s choice to take a nurturing role as “stereotypical” (men take the role often as well). The “house wife” is of course a hegemonic construction, but nurturing is hard-coded and biological.

      And finally, I guess the idea of a female community is commonplace now, but in Beauvoir’s day it was still fairly revelatory (people remained solipsistic despite the insanity of WWI and II going on around them – for her it was a call to action similar to the suffrage movement). It is still unusual to see it pulled off well in a videogame, which is why I celebrate this case so prominently.

      Finally, as to a gender equal world or community. Following your examples of untouched tribes (primitive def not the right word), yeah there is always going to be unequal power relations in any group of people – I might be wrong, but this sounds like another biological fact (not hegemonical). The sign of a community in which patriarchal hegemony has been erased would be one, not in which all men and women were equal, but in which men and women would have an equal chance to gain positions of power. Call me on that if I’m wrong.

      • Nick LaLone said, on May 8, 2009 at 1:10 pm

        Oh man, my sociological brain is working over time. Sorry if I offend, it is not my intent. I am going to try and outline an argument that is decades old in just a few paragraphs.

        Your argument isn’t necessarily wrong…it’s a very right thing to acknowledge difference and try for a more equal footing for everyone. Where it strays is attributing certain things to the way things have to be because its how we are. A priori gender roles and actions indicate us being created with behavior. If a child is left with food and nothing else in terms of human contact, they will die.

        The stuff that feminism is mostly built on is where certain cultural rituals come from, where certain aspects of the idea of a female come from. Historical wrongs that become institutions don’t disappear over the 30 some year period (the recent law obama signed his first day in office is evidence that equality between men and women has a long way to go…also that women on average make about 70 cents to every male’s dollar).

        I’ll start at marriage as I think it illustrates a few points. Marriage, and I don’t remember sources but I can look through my binders if need be, comes from the need to solidify royal blood lines. They needed to force women to be bound to men and really make them as baby factories to keep royal lines going. Society mimicked this and it became the Christian ideal. This had to be done because kids didn’t usually live past 2 years, so they had to find a way to keep everything going (they being the church).

        Marriage, in this sense, typically creates a situation whereupon a male is dominant and the female is their servant. Femme Covet was the typical assumption within marriage,

        “A feme covert was not recognized as having legal rights and obligations distinct from those of her husband in most respects. Instead, through marriage a woman’s existence was incorporated into that of her husband, so that she had very few recognized individual rights of her own. As it has been pithily expressed, husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband.”

        So, marriage is this first and while women have been given equal rights under the law, these ideals are still present in the marriages that happened before the law and are mostly mimicked in the world today.

        A further point of interest is Adam’s first wife, Lilith who was driven from the garden of eden for basically denying her husband’s orders.

        Gender, the ideas of gender, are based on the ideas of marriage. Women are subservient to men and this idea comes part and parcel of the marriage idea. A woman is supposed to be nurturing, caring, work in teams, and are mostly supposed to be the ones that carry emotions. Men, on the other hand are supposed to be strong, in charge, emotionless, and cold.

        I’m talking in generalizations and am being brief so i’m sorry if this seems haphazard.

        Hegemony comes in the form of continuing the ideals outlined here and it’s hard to argue that these ideals haven’t been continued. My girlfriend and I have quite a few fights with my trying to force her to not do dishes or something like letting me clean or cook things while she goes off to play video games or relax. She is following her entire family’s way of doing things. Men watch sports during holidays while women cook and clean up after them.

        You can see more evidence of this sort of reasoning in that some companies are letting men take off for maternity leave while the woman goes back to work. Women don’t have to be mothers any more than men don’t have to be fathers. We’ll probably be seeing more of this is the years to come.

        I don’t know that you can really attribute gender to biology in that you can raise a woman as a man and they will act like men. Further, men can also be raised as women. Gender is socially created and maintained. Evidence of this can be seen throughout history in the changing status of gender (Queens had to act like Kings to be taken seriously, Men used to be emotional until the renaissance whereuponn they became cold hard scientist types)

        Likening behavior to biology opens the door to a huge amount of problems. Behavior modifying drugs are just one example of this. I mean, extreme example, you can make a woman act more womanly by giving them a medication to balance out the chemicals that are supposed to make them act the way that they do. However, this argument seems to be winning as prescription of these drugs is up some 400% in the past few years.

        I hope that I didn’t offend too much. I tried to make as much sense as I could but stuff like this is hard to get across. I also expect BS to be called on me for things!

      • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 1:23 pm

        I’m not going to call BS, because you raise a good point that it’s dangerous to associate hegemonic structures with biological determinants. I just don’t know if it’s what I’m doing (if I am, I’m glad you called BS on me!).

        Certainly the institution of marriage has been created and abused in human history, but I was talking more broadly about long-term monogamy, which can be observed in animals who have young that must be cared for over long periods (this is only 5% of all animals, but we are fairly unique and have a looooooooong maturation period on our young):

        So basically I’m saying that just because marriage was constructed and abused by men, I don’t think that it’s an irredeemably broken concept that should always be chocked up to a harmful stereotype (especially in the case of Agatha). Sure people can be inclined to avoid marriage, express non-hetero sexual preferences (and of course I hold that they should be given equal marriage rights), or any other variety of alternatives. But the basic idea of committed monogamy is not anti-feminist, simply often enforced as such by (stupid) men.

      • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm

        Ooh also of note Ian taught me something cool: the idea (and I know you were talking about the apocryphal Lillith) that Eve was made from Adam’s rib–which is used by patriarchal Jews, Christians, Muslims–to show that God holds women as beholden to men is actually a misinterpretation of the Hebrew in Genesis.

        Woman was not made from the rib of “Adam” (Man), but actually from the rib of “Ada” (Humankind), which means that women are actually equal in the eyes of the Hebrew God (at least in this passage from Genesis). Revisionist translators and male religious leaders mis-interpret the passage to control women.

  5. Nick LaLone said, on May 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Oh no, not at all. Marriage is a wonderful thing and if it wasn’t worth anything, it wouldn’t feel so wonderful to be in love in the first place (look at me attributing behavior to biology! HA!).

    The problem I was trying to raise was with the foundation that marriage is based on from the christian perspective. Feminism and critical theory (the greatest contribution of feminism) merely tries to call into question these things.

    The first feminist was Marx, and I think I should mention this because…Marx said that women basically began to be dominated by men when we began farming and we took over the means of production of the food (which until then was primarily women’s role).

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 2:50 pm

      Just want to add two notes, that I know you intended but left implicit, to keep the discussion from being too male-centric.

      Critical theory is “the greatest contribution of feminism” for men, for women I’d argue the greatest contribution would be the simple fact that it generally provides them with a framework to establish themselves as equals and combat patriarchy (though of course critical theory helps a lot there too).

      And while Marx may be a primary important critical theorist on the issue of patriarchy, I’d argue that Plato was much earlier when in the Symposium he recounts the discussion between Socrates and the Priestess Diotima of Mantinea. That would establish Diotima as the first feminist critical theorist in Western thought (since Socratic dialectic is an early form of Kant’s critical theory). I’d also note that Mary Wollestonecraft was way before Marx, and then there’s Sappho – who established radical separatist feminism and even achieved it as a politically stable community. This is all just in Western thought, I’m sure there’s even earlier stuff in Asian philosophy.

  6. deckard47 said, on May 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I feel like I always show up late to these posts :(
    Nice article Simon, I’ve played as a woman throughout my time with Fallout 3, didn’t take the Black Widow perk (but often female persuade options are sexual and “deceptive”), and I strangely never noticed the misnaming. Still, it’s not surprising: consider Oblivion, where Bethesda showed that they considered female characters fit for certain kinds of heroes.

    As I recall, they were stunted STR and AGI-wise, and thus had to be endurance/magic/persuade characters. It was dumb and meant I had to make characters as men or women specifically oriented around their class build, not however I wanted.

    Also, if either of you want an interesting discussion of cultural traditions, norms, and a whole lot of super-serious Marxist thought/problematization, check out Samuel Delaney’s 60s, 70s and 80s sci-fi books. It’s as if every single book Ursula LeGuin wrote was like the Dispossessed, only even more transparently concerned with issues of identity, culture-construction, and gender dynamics. Interesting and (like I said), hilariously transparent.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm

      You’re always late, but you always bring such juicy tidbits as well! I totally forgot that general persuade options were changed for female avatars. While I’m glad Bethesda didn’t ignore this, like you said it still falls heavily on deception and feminine sexual mystique, which second wave feminists might not like so much.

      As to the stats in Elder Scrolls games, I’ve been talking about it with Kateri and no-one-important on the Iris forums here:

      For a few races women are actually as physically strong as males, and in many they are mentally stronger. The biggest problem is race, where Redguards are heavily stereotyped against (statistically) and there are other issues such as too many white races to choose from and the fact that some minority ethnicities are converted into animal-people.

      Haven’t read LeGuin :(

      • deckard47 said, on May 12, 2009 at 12:44 am

        Re what you said about Oblivion + Race: yes, the Redgaurds are always very “athletic,” I guess my problem was always that if I wanted to min-max a character, I had to play them as a certain sex. What if I *wanted* to have a female Argonian thief (this is not a real example)? Too bad, males are better thieves.

        Oh, and there is no need to defend The Witcher’s cards, or the fact that *everyone* wants to have sex with you. I still think that as a ostentatious representation of post-war Europe it’s interesting, social from a racial and political perspective. You just have to see that alongside the fact that the only two important female characters are there to teach Geralt about family and himself. And that the *only* black character is a main villain who comes from a dusty, hot, scary place, and is prone to “bizarre,” “uncivilized” sexual appetites that scare even Geralt… Sigh.

      • Simon Ferrari said, on May 12, 2009 at 2:08 am

        Oh no I totally agree with you. It makes no sense to have gender and race influence your starting statistics. It basically gives men incentives to use female avatars just to min-max (like Fallout 3 does to a small degree, which I of course exploited because of my dominating playstyle), instead of making it about roleplaying. I think it’s okay to have racial differences if the races in your scifi or fantasy aren’t actual human races but rather completely different species, with the added note that you shouldn’t associate alien species with specifically ethnic voice acting.

        I’m definitely not playing The Witcher, ever. I thought about the console version, but now it’s not getting made. You’re the only person I know who actually enjoyed it :P

  7. Nick LaLone said, on May 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Oh man, Socrateased. It is true that I am pedantically trained in a subject that pulls from philosophy but manages to convince everyone that we are beyond philosophy. There are some assumptions I made here, let me express them.

    First, I start with Marx and feminism as he was the first to remark about the remarkable thing that was happening with industralization. This event created a huge amount of subjugation of females that was extremely noticable and Marx was the first to really comment on it there. I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that this was where I was coming from.

    Yes, critical theory is excellent for men but it rose out of feminism and as such, should be attributed to them. That it is by women for a man’s range of theory…I don’t know that I would really buy that given that sociologists had long been women, but mostly ignored by the male community. Critical theory was an excellent first step at trying to rectify that. We sort of talked about this same subject when talking about Jews and Race yesterday.

    Sometimes you have to be asked to sit at the table, sometimes you can’t sit at the table even if you yell about it, and sometimes you can just sit at the table because people want you there. The later was what happened with critical theory.

    Leguin’s Dispossessed is an amazing book. It was my introduction to social thinking. I really reccomend it more than I would almost any other book. In fact, I think I have a copy I could mail you if you like.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 3:29 pm

      On critical theory, I was simply saying that “what’s most important about feminism” (your 1st assertion) is different for men and women.

      Critical theory did not come out of Marx’s philosophy: Kant codified it, but many people before him expressed it.

  8. Nick LaLone said, on May 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Ah, I see we are talking about different similar things. It seems as though we agree with each other but our points are different enough to create disagreement! Marx’s critical theory, Kant’s critical theory, and feminism’s critical theory are separate in my mind for some reason. If I ever get to research why this is, I will try to make a more focused argument. Until then, I agree with you.

    In any case, all research would prove is that we’re both right with exception of the hair color or type of haircut of our argument.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 8, 2009 at 4:11 pm

      Totally agree that they’re different schools of thought, with the philosophy nerd caveat that the notion of critique–questioning a system by finding hidden assumptions–originates with Kant’s Three Critiques (and develops out of Socratic gadfly-ing). :P

  9. Nick LaLone said, on May 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Oh god, Twitter is down…what am I supposed to do when i don’t have anything to distract myself with? Might I actually have to work?

    By the way, have you tried

    AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity?

    Oh I know, I could actually try and make a banner for my damn site.

  10. GunBlade said, on May 11, 2009 at 5:41 am

    This was a great read! I have yet to play a female character in Fallout 3, I will sure to do so on my next playthrough. I have missed many of the larger sidequests, such as ‘Oasis’.

    Even if it was just a lazy move by Bethesda, I think it was a good choice to make most females in the game equivalent to males, even if there is no explanation. You could always think of it as something natural: Everyone in power that ever oppressed females is dead. After an apocalypse only the strong survived, and that includes males and females. If they are there, they are probably strong enough mentally and physically.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on May 11, 2009 at 1:40 pm

      I definitely agree that it was a smart move to make women have roughly equal standing in slaving and Brotherhood communities (though, remember, there are few to no women in leadership positions). I just wish they’d explored the morality of a lawless society a bit more in relation to male/female dynamics.

      However, it’s clear that female oppression still exists (lack of female leaders, there is a pimp, there are strong male leaders who clearly have pseudo-harems, etc.), but yeah, I think that’s a cool idea that in the event of an apocalypse you’d only have the most cunning men and women left alive.

  11. [...] as a femaleFellow bloggers have recently criticized Fallout 3 for not really supporting the playtrough as a female character. [...]

  12. VeronicaMoonlit said, on April 7, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    There’s some other interesting female NPC’s out there in the wastes:

    Star Paladin Cross, Seneschal of the BoS. Her backstory is that she was your fathers “bodyguard” and because she respected him so much she offers to serve you too, if you have good Karma. She’s third in command of the BoS, right behind Sentinel Sarah Lyons

    Knight Captain Dusk of Lyon’s Pride, she’s the sniper.

    Reilly of Reilly’s Rangers. Runs the merc group.

    Brick, the Vasquez-ish mini-gunner of Reilly’s Rangers

    Sydney the relic hunter

    Sally the “Newt-like” girl in Mothership Zeta.

    Somah in the same expansion.

    Lana Danvers, Harkness’s second in command at Rivet City Security. If he happens to “disappear” for some reason, she replaces him as “Chief Danvers”

    Madison Li, Janice Kaplinski, and Anna Holt, the three scientists in Rivet City.

    Moira Brown of Megaton.

    Sonora Cruz, head of the Regulators.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on April 7, 2010 at 7:49 pm

      Hi Veronica! Thanks for stopping by to revive a post that I’m still fond of but had thought long dead! That is a huge list, and yeah I can remember a significant number of them fondly. I didn’t mean to imply with this post that these were the *only* females worth connecting with, just that they were the ones I connected with during my playthrough :)

      Do you have any good stories about your relationship or interactions with any of these women you’ve listed in particular? Also, thanks for reading!

  13. Ronixis said, on November 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    It’s interesting that you mention chivalry. If you choose to send Sarah Lyons into the purifier, she says something like “So much for chivalry.” The particular point to note here is that if you are playing a woman, she still says this. Not only does this make no sense in terms of gender this way, but the other interpretation of ‘chivalry’ is the code of a knight – which she is and you aren’t.

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