Strong female characters, or: Y U H8 LADIEZ, METZEN??

Strong female characters, or: Y U H8 LADIEZ, METZEN??

All right, folks. Time to pull up a chair, crack open a beer (for those of you sweltering in summer heat, might I suggest a nice crisp ale like New Belgium’s Mighty Arrow, or one of my personal favorites, Magic Hat’s #9?), and break out the popcorn, because Aro is gonna lay some nerdraeg on y’all. I am going to talk a little bit about women in Warcraft, and I will say this again: I am absolutely going to nerdraeg explosively all over the place. Please keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times.

ETA: the point about Garrosh being a dick is totally conceded. That’s cool, go on about your business. :)

Look, there are not many strong female characters in popular culture. This is an indisputable fact. However, what is up for debate most of the time isn’t even whether or not there should be more strong female characters (because there certainly should), but instead what a strong female character actually is.

For example, it has been presented to me quite seriously that Megan Fox in Transformers is a strong female character, because she lifts things and fixes cars and drives a tow-truck in reverse! That is totally strong! Missing entirely the fact that she still only exists as a sexual object for the male viewers, and anything “strong” she’s doing is done in a hot way designed and directed expressly to titillate. Which is partly okay! Titillation is totally cool, and that is not what I am here to nerdraeg about.


The raeg comes in when you consider that an attractive woman showing off her bits while she does traditionally masculine-roled tasks is not necessarily a strong female character, and assuming — and evangelizing — that such a thing is true is both dismissive and dishonest. So: instead of “strong female character,” which gives you the standard hoohah in the woowah, what we are instead looking for is “strong character , female.”

Got it? From a Women’s Studies perspective, what we’re looking for is a person who is awesome and strong and makes their own choices and just so happens to be female. Character first, female second. This is a big distinction, and it is unfortunately lost on many many people.

Fantasy in general and World of Warcraft in specific has a huge, huge problem with this. It makes me sad and tired.

Here are some specific examples of things that are fucked up and not okay and bother me all the time:

Sylvanas Windrunner

I am going to get the big one out of the way first, because this still hurts me.

Something that a man should never, ever get to say to a woman: Watch your clever mouth, bitch.

Especially a man who is supposed to be regarded as a hero, who is supposed to be emulated and idolized by half of the playerbase. Conceeded! Please ignore and continue. ♥

This whole scene — and everything they’ve done to Sylvanas in Cataclysm — is so wrong on so many levels that I can’t even deconstruct it coherently. It’s just … you don’t DO that. This is a great world leader, a woman so amazing and strong that she managed to break free of the strongest mental control in the universe all on her onesies and then manage to do the same for goddamn near everyone else in the same boat. She is a Peer of the Realm. She is a faction boss. She is mother-figure to an entire race. She deserves some motherfucking respect, is what I’m saying.

So … how did they think this was okay? In what world was writing (and editing, and recording, and…) that dialogue okay? I do not want to be in that world, and it troubles me that even after all of the foofooraw when this quest and its dialogue lines were datamined, no changes have been made and it remains as disgustingly slap-in-the-face as it started. It means that the powers that be think it’s totally valid to tell a woman who’s disagreeing with you that she’s being a bitch and she should shut up because mans are talking, and I really, really hope I should not need to discuss all of the ways in which that is completely and totally not okay.

Tiffin Wrynn

Did you know her name before the 4.0 Stormwind gave her a huge-ass memorial behind the Cathedral of Light? It’s okay, you can say no. Almost nobody did who didn’t obsessively read all of the tie-in stuff in their desperation to figure out where the missing king had buggered off to. Of course, the reason why no one knew her name is not as important for my raegery purposes as the reason for the reason: she was almost never mentioned by name because she serves no purpose outside of the traditional gender role as wife and mother. She has no agency. She is a dead cardboard cutout. Needless to say, this sucks.

Alexstrasza (and Ysera)

Why are you almost naked? Why can’t you put on some pants? What purpose does it serve for you to not be wearing pants? Why can’t Ysera be wearing the awesome druid robes she had on in Yogg-Saron’s vision? Please put on some pants. It makes me so sad that you are not wearing pants. You know what would make this okay? Any line, anywhere, even a quick throwaway line, about how dragons in mortal form need to be as naked as possible. That would be fine. Of course, then I would expect Daval Prestor to not wear any pants, either. Though not that this would be much of a change (just ask Calia Menethil).

Vanessa van Cleef

Vanessa is totally awesome. She runs a band of bandit pirate architect anarchists all on her own just like her dad, and is not nearly as pathetic a boss! She is such a badass chemist that she can create potions that cause full-body hallucinations! AND YET STILL CAN NOT FIND ANY GOD DAMNED PANTS.

Jaina Proudmoore

There are so many places to go here.

So very very many.

The first thing that bothers me is that in WC3 and the Frozen Throne, Jaina was awesome. This is a kid who had to make some ridiculously, painfully hard decisions — for example, she essentially executed her own father for treason — and she sucks it up and owns it. She’s in a bad place and, in fact, so ridiculously young at the time of the battle for Hyjal that Antonidas originally refused to let her go at all. Even in early WoW Jaina was awesome, and was for at least a while in vanilla marked as a faction boss. This was a great and powerful mage, a pretty decent tactician, and an excellent politician. She had an interesting enough backstory — she turned down two extremely powerful men and stood on her own, brokering peace for her people by being completely awesome. Hooray, a strong character who is also female!

And then Wrath hit, and everything went completely to hell.

The first problem: her coin in the lorefountain. The fuck is this shit? No. This is wrong. This is so very very wrong. What actually happened in the game that I played was that Arthas went bugfuck and started killing people and Jaina said “baby, you got real ugly,” and peaced out. The reason why this retcon — and her weepy, disgusting panty-throwing at the Lich King all through the Icecrown fivemans — bothers me so much is that her walking away from him is one of those Strong Character moments, those moments where she is not defined by a woman needing to have a man to complete her. It’s a really important feminist moment and then they just completely screw the pooch on it for no good reason.

And then. AND THEN. There is the aftermath of Deathbringer Saurfang.

“Jaina, why are you crying?” “I’m just proud of my king. ;_;” NO NO NO NO NO NO NO BAD WRONG STUPID BAD BAD BAD WRONG NO.

Let’s have a little breakydown time here: first, there is nothing wrong with displaying emotion, and implying that that’s exclusively feminine is not what I’m trying to say — but it needs to be said that Jaina had never before been portrayed as an especially emotional woman. When she told Kael that he was getting too up in her business, she said “That’s very nice, but I am here to study,” and left. When she peaced out with Arthas, she said “I don’t think I know you anymore, and I can’t be a part of this,” and left. Getting all weepy that King Broken McVengeancepants was actually not being a huge douchenozzle assbasket for once is not anything even remotely like what she should be doing, based on all of her previous character development.

But my favorite part, absolutely the best thing about how terribly terribly wrong that scene is: Varian Wrynn is not her king. Theramore is its own sovereign state, over which she governs. She is not his subject. She is not his subordinate. She is his peer. Why is she groveling at him and letting him tell her what to do all through Icecrown and the ridiculous nonsense of the Coliseum before it? Assumedly because whoever’s in charge of writing this stuff now has absolutely no idea that a woman can be in charge of anything. I mean hey, Sylvanas is a crazy bitch who needs to watch her clever mouth, so obviously Jaina was just waiting around for a new big strong man to pick her up and tell her what to do. Right? Right?

(See, I can talk more about Jaina than I can about Sylvanas because new weepy I Need A Man Jaina just befuddles and perplexes me whereas the way people treat Sylvanas now makes me actively angry.)


Aggra fills me with absolutely unholy rage because there are so many amazing things that they could have done with her and yet all they did was stick in a spunky-like-romcom-for-dudes love interest who serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to be a love interest. She’s just like Tiffin Wrynn only she hasn’t gotten beaten in the head with a rock …yet (sign me up). If Thrall did not exist, she would not exist. This is crap. This is not a strong character, and the fact that they keep pushing her as an example of one is making me completely fucking insane.

Shandris Feathermoon

“Wait, Aro,” I hear you now. “But Shandris Feathermoon is awesome! She’s a great general of the Kaldorei! She has lead armies and crushed demons and maintained her own spy network and was so completely awesome with a bow that it made everyone else jealous!” Yes. Yes, all of this is true, and she did it all without needing the motivation of making a boy like her, and this is awesome!

And then the writers inform us that yes yes, the badassery is fine, whatever, it fills the time, but what she really wants to do is plan weddings.

What the jesus.

In and of itself, planning weddings is not necessarily problematic. If you enjoy planning weddings, more power to you! But what is problematic is that the wedding planning thing is presented as her true calling, and she is sooooo tiiiiiired of the badassery thing and she just wants to relaaaaaax and be a laaaaaaaaadyyyyyyy.

And even this would be okay if just once, even once, the writers were all “Garrosh Hellscream was a badass orc with a terrible temper and a thirst for blood. But his true love was flower arranging, and he dreamed of the day he could set all of his Horde duties and war-hawking aside to spend some time with Thrall and ask him why he insisted on using baby’s breath as a filler when there were dozens more attractive varieties that would match so much better with the collection of ceramic vases he’d spent the whole year painstakingly painting and firing.”

Or even “Baine Bloodhoof loved to knit, and had a fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan.”


Seriously, anything.

I’m begging here.

Katrana Prestor

Actually, there is nothing wrong here, I just wanted to say hi. You are awesome and I love you. Thank you for not wearing black mageweave. I miss you in Stormwind. Sorry about the killing you in three different tiers thing. ♥, Aro