Gender Inequality in the Final Fantasy Series

Or: Dammit! Now Everyone Thinks I’m A Feminist…

This article must be prefaced by two things. First, I am by no means a feminist. I like make-up, I don’t mind short skirts and I still believe that women generally make better homemakers than men. That being said, I’m still for gender rights and sexual equality. Second, I am a big fan of the Final Fantasy series. When FFVIII was released I dressed as Rinoa for Halloween and while unemployed, I spent almost a solid month playing FFXII. But enough about me, let’s get to it.

Made in Japan, Final Fantasy is one of the bestselling RPG series of all time. Japan is known to have a very traditional society in which it is acceptable for women to be viewed as meek, inexperienced and feeble. This has been the case for centuries and is still common today. As far-fetched as it may seem, the current governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has been quoted as saying, “Old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin.” That statement makes it all too clear to see how these games get a backward view on gender.

Also to be considered is that Final Fantasy is largely produced by men who have been conditioned since youth to accept said skewed ideas and have propagated them into every facet of their media and culture. It’s difficult to recall the last time I watched an anime or flipped through a manga where the females’ bodies weren’t of Barbie-esque proportions. When characters have an average body they are often ridiculed and at times even shamed for it. These characters are also often portrayed as considerably less intelligent. This is the case in most of their media outlets, even children’s, which works well to instill these ideas early on (Final Fantasy not excluded).

From FFVII straight through to FFXIII (excluding the failure that is FFXI), the player has been forced to go through the game as a male lead. On occasion you have the opportunity to play as one of the female characters, but this is only temporary, and the male lead is quickly restored. Female characters are almost always structured as one of three classes: a mage, a healer or a thief. Any Final Fantasy fan will know that these are also three of the most difficult classes to level up. As a result, when you have the opportunity to play as the most prominent female character, the battles are incredibly difficult. Unless diligently dedicating vast amounts of time to leveling, they never quite end up being in the same league as any of the warrior (read: male) classes.

There is a great mythology and history behind each game, and many of them have something of a medieval quality. This allows the creators to inject a damsel in distress story line. FFIX brings us Garnet, also known as Dagger, who is a princess. She is naive, shy and scared of her own abilities. FFXII gives us Ashe, also a princess (go figure), who is fueled by revenge over the death of her husband whom she mourned for two years!

In both of these characters we see that “damsel in distress.” They both easily fly off the handle, are highly inexperienced and subsequently, a “prince” of sorts saves them from themselves. It seems that they can only learn from men and never on their own terms.

It’s as if they shouted from the rooftops, “Female gamers, rejoice for now you can change your character’s clothes!”

Perhaps the worst of the worst is FFX-2. This was made as a spinoff of FFX, wherein two main characters from the original, Yuna and Rikku, go on their own adventures with a new character, Paine. Yuna receives a noticeably drastic costume change in this sequel of sorts. Previously she had been wearing an outfit clearly modeled after a summer style kimono. This is replaced with a much shorter skirt. It is suspected that they made this change to reflect a more carefree feel, but clearly that is not the case. This game is geared toward female players, illustrated by the edition of Dresspheres and the Garment Grid. A Dressphere determines your character’s abilities based solely on accessories. A Garment Grid is where you place said accessories to determine your character’s battle class. While I appreciate that you can do these sorts of things in the midst of a battle, it’s more insulting that their clothing literally changes each time you do so. It’s as if they shouted from the rooftops, “Female gamers, rejoice for now you can change your character’s clothes!” This unfortunately only furthers the idea instilled in players of the series from earlier editions that woman are meek, inexperienced and more interested in pretty clothing then plot. They tried and failed in instilling a Charlie’s Angels quality into the game.

Slowly but surely, female characters are coming up in the world of Final Fantasy. While I have yet to play FFXIII, in it we see our first female lead. So what’s next for the series? As far as culture is concerned, things have been looking up. In past years the Japanese government has worked toward banning rape in video games. While Final Fantasy has never had a rape storyline, perhaps this is the beginning of making things more gender friendly.

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  • Tracy

    I'm confused. You're "by no means a feminist" but you believe in gender rights and sexual equality? What do you think feminism is?

  • Cameron

    Apparently, feminism means not liking make-up and being bothered by short skirts.

  • Olivia Noel Davis

    I believe in the idea of feminism, but not so much the movement … and I never did much like the idea of lighting my bra on fire.

  • Olivia Noel Davis

    By the way, thanks for reading!

  • http://jackforbesportfolio.com Hebrewgod

    The feminist movement actually had a pretty rigid idea of what "equality" was. Basically they didn't want women to wear skirts or make up or be home makers. They essentially wanted men and women look, behave and be treated the same. It's that position that Olivia disagrees with and instead says that she embraces her femininity while rejecting many of their ideals.

  • Tracy

    I assume you're referring to the second-wave feminist movement of the 1970s, and while some participants in that movement held those beliefs, others didn't. Also, that was nearly 40 years ago, and the set of beliefs you refer to has been debated and critiqued ever since. The only essential qualification for being a feminist is believing in gender equality. How a person prefers to dress is not part of the definition, and I feel it's unfortunate that someone who wrote a "feminist critique" with many insightful observations chose to undermine her work by defining "feminism" along the limited lines of clothing, makeup, and opinions about housework.

    Actually I think the subheadline (which Olivia may or may not have written) bugs me more than anything. What the hell is wrong with having people think you're a feminist? God forbid! People might assume I don't wear makeup! They might even think I have short hair! … OK I'll stop now. You know I love you, Team Unwinnable, but damn!

  • Peter

    Tracy, I think you inadvertently hit the nail on the head when you brought up the notion of qualification. It seems that more often than not, any discussion regarding feminism becomes clouded by how either party measures up as a "feminist." and we all know that arguing semantics won't get us anywhere. Feminism, I believe, has fallen victim to itself insofar as its past incarnations are concerned. Regardless of how the philosophy and movement have progressed, the specter of the bra burners serves more to detract people from labeling themselves a feminist. Of course feminism is not the sole instance of this, but somehow it has managed to become the most glaring. It's a double-edged sword that has managed to cut through both the ideology and the discussion of it. It blows my mind, actually, that something so rich could be so affected by a misconception.

  • Tracy

    The problem of qualification is exactly the point I wanted to raise. I hate it when a discussion of feminism turns into "you're not a feminist if you do this"; "real feminists don't do that." Extremely unproductive, as you point out.

    As for the whole bra-burning thing and not wanting to identify with it … please. If one "moment" in a near-hundred-year movement keeps someone from calling him/herself a feminist, that's that individual's problem. I'm sitting here in this office today in small part because of loud, angry activists, so props to them.

    By the way, this is the first time I've ever commented on something on the internet – ever!! I really hope you run more pieces of this nature; it's such a fertile (ha, woman pun) ground for discussion in the world of comics and video games.

  • Olivia Noel Davis

    This article was not meant to be interpreted as a critique on the whole of feminism. It is simply my interpretation of the role that it plays in a series of video games. The statements I wrote on feminism in the first paragraph were chosen because they were the most straightforward and to the point things that came to mind. They were also written so that people reading the article would be able to have a rough idea of my opinion and background as I have never written anything for Unwinnable before.

    Peter is correct is saying that the specter of bra burners (or, second-wave feminists as you referred to them Tracy) probably plays a large part in deterring woman these days from wanting to label themselves as anything of the sort. While I do not agree with many of the actions of these "second-wavers" I can get on board with some of the core ideas that they put forth. Ultimately though, for me, I look at feminism and gender equality as the idea that a woman (or man) can do whatever and be whatever. No one needs to be forced into a role by someone else, be the other person a man OR a woman. This message has been burned up by the second-wavers, along with their undergarments. (Both of my bra burning comments here today have been meant as jokes. Har-har.)