October 25th, 2007

I don’t know how many times I can say it: I need to get posts written when they’re fresh–and not when they’ve fallen to the bottom of the blogging pile. These tidbits on sex and gender in Bioshock were supposed to be part of a piece for The Village Voice online. Then I moved to France and got all confuddled. (Yeah, I said “confuddled.” Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?) Bad, bad Bonnie. Anyways, let it all be done. The Bioshock musings, that is:

So we already talked about the Little Sisters, how they can be “used” by the male protagonist, how they’ve got super phallic needles, etc. Then there’s the sheer number (a decent 50%) of female enemies in the game. Long time Heroine Sheik readers know they’re in the presence of a total woman monster dork here. As we’ve seen in other survival horror-y titles, the female enemies in Bioshock are often creepier than their male counterparts. My first instinct is to say that’s because they have more personality. They coo over baby carriages which turn out to contain guns and scream things like, “Tell me you love me. Let me hear you say it!”

To be honest though, the male enemies in Bioshock have a whole lot of personality, too. Maybe the reason the women seem scarier then is that their personalities are tied to their femininity. They aren’t just queered as human beings (because all the Bioschock enemies walk that fine and eerie line between people and full-blown zombies), they’re specifically queered as women–that is, as mothers, or lovers, or beauties. Their particularly brand of horror is somehow inherent in their gender–as if femininity itself, viewed in the right light, might just be horrific.

That is, after all, the basic message of Bioshock: everything we obsess about, including the perfections of the “fairer sex,” can go horribly awry. “Change your look, your sex,” proclaims Rapture propaganda. “It’s yours to change, nobody else’s.” Do we see characters who have changed their sex? Possibly not. But the game seems to be reminding us that this is one more element of life we can alter, as volatile as hair color or a plastic surgery nose.

P.S. No, this image from the Bioshock art book has absolutely nothing to do with sex and/or gender. Yes, there would have been far more appropriate choices. I don’t care. I like the fishies.

Tags: bad Bonnie, gender, sex/gender imagery

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