Skin-tight clothes that leave nothing to the imagination. High caliber high heels. Sexy librarian glasses, appropriately decorated with butterflies. Hair drenched in ribbons and wrapped tight in fierce dominance. Belts and straps for days. Legs right up to her neck. Bayonetta, the gun-toting witch adorned in strands of her own magical hair, is a walking fetish dream strutting through a fantasy land filled with bondage-inspired angels. Sexuality made flesh.
Surely the very thing that good, right and true feminist thinkers and lovers of equality are fighting against. Or at least trying ignore for the sake of greater art. But to dismiss Bayonetta as nothing but a cynically-packaged fantasy girl for gentlemen and ladies to think about in the shower is selling her short. She is a fantasy, of course, only an idiot would say otherwise; the woman strips naked to attack, and provides an extensive demonstration of pole dancing technique as the credits roll. That in and of itself isn’t something to condemn, however. She defines what real feminism should be about. Not that necessary, but terribly dull, ‘equality’ business. She shows us why women are amazing.
I’m a big believer in having more women in video games. At the moment my collection of a few hundred titles has a paltry dozen or so with female leads. Less if you remove the silent and those custom crafted by me. We cry out for more women, as developers shove more and more well-muscled men with brown hair in our faces. And not just for the sake of civil rights, as even the most staunch supporter of a woman’s right to make sandwiches and shut the hell up would admit that variety isn’t something the games industry is overflowing with these days.
We have had some admirable ladies in gaming’s short history, although not many more than can fill an internet top 10 list. Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is a popular choice, as is Half-Life 2’s Alyx Vance. Samus Aran and Princess Zelda also get mentions. Their skills at saving the day and wearing practical outfits are undisputed, but personality-wise they’re about as interesting as a cup of tea with an old lady in a brown, windowless room. The main characters on lists of great women are little more than vessels in many cases. Good and true and right and hero-styled character shells for the player to imprint themselves into. Personalities need not apply.
Now look at Bayonetta. A bayonet is a sword strapped to a gun, while Bayonetta has guns strapped to her feet. That means Bayonetta is a sword strapped to a gun, with more guns strapped to that. With boobs. This is a woman that could have put on a sensible coat, but decided to wrap herself in her own magical hair and strut around like she’s the best damn thing on Planet Cool. She dressed up as a nun just so that she could spin kick angels in the face. She rides around in convertibles with her feet up, and barely reacts when aeroplanes crash land inches from her face because she has a death wish. While others might simply and effectively dispatch the enemy, she creates gigantic fists, guillotines and suspiciously sexy torture racks. Why? Because it’s fun.
As for the sex, you’re damn right she’s sexy. And there’s no reason a woman shouldn’t be. People have been so busy trying to manufacture positive portrayals of women that they’ve forgotten to make them even resemble women. The examples I listed above could be transmogrified into male characters and change virtually nothing. Apart from Gordon Freeman feeling just a little bit gay.
Bayonetta is clearly a person who revels in her own sexuality, which is something to be admired. Rather than presenting her as a character that has to use sex to get what she wants, or one forced into compromising positions by powerful male characters, Bayonetta is just sexy because she wants to be. The game’s plot and functions aren’t affected by it one way or another, it’s simply part of her character. And it’s not a sexiness that is supposed to be taken seriously. Her crotch thrusts, angel spankings and naked summonings are a caricature of sexual behaviour, more likely to illicit laughter than turn you on. She coyly winks at the player as you take note of minute-by-minute vaginal displays, as if there’s any way to avoid them. Add to that her ridiculous body, which is more neck and legs than T&A. More power to her if she wants to use her magnificent lady parts to have a good time. It’s never a show put on for anyone but herself.
Which dovetails neatly into the other great thing about Bayonetta: she isn’t at the beck and call of any character, male or female. Not only does she run her own business, but she has a bumbling male subordinate to boss around. Rodin, the demonic black man who runs the bar-slash-armoury, never treats her as anything but a worthy colleague. And her real equal is Jeanne, a fellow witch and woman. These two ladies manage, against all odds, to have no interest whatsoever in fighting over a man. Madness, I know. The very idea that women could care about anything else. They fight over ideals and because of a difference in perspective.
The primary male character in the game, Luka, is constantly chasing after Bayonetta, and his cause is not romance but revenge. Bayonetta runs rings around Luka, consistently making a fool of him and remaining completely in control at all times. Beyond that, men are sidelined for most of the game, something women are already quite used to.
The road to fictional womanhood is paved with stereotypes. Women are caring. Women are nurturers. Women are the emotional ones. Fuck you, says Bayonetta, as she confidently strides into battle without a thought for the consequences. Not only does she kick ass on a constant basis, she does so with a smug smile, relishing the chance to fight and win. Even as the story unfolds and shocking twists are flung at her, she gets down to business without blubbering or stopping to caress any feelings. When Bayonetta meets a helpless child part way through the game, her reaction is not motherly care and concern but a general desire for the kid to bugger off and a tiny bit of vomit in her mouth at the idea of motherhood.
You can keep your well-mannered, sensibly dressed and heroic heroines. Bayonetta manages to embody so much of the strength and confidence that should make up a good female character without losing the interesting differences. Women are great problem solvers, fighters and leaders, but they also have breasts and vaginas and curves where curves should be. Bayonetta likes to flaunt her body, suck on lollipops and flip around like a ninja stripper. Good for her, I say. Fictional characters shouldn’t be looked down upon for being interested in sex or for being confident in themselves any more than real people. And characters, both male and female, should aspire to be half as interesting as a woman who can stand proudly nude at the centre of a hair tornado while a magical dragon bites the heads off a herd of angels.