Lara Croft: Product of sexism?

Photo 7

You KNEW this image was going to be used again.

I’m making good on my promise from my review of 2013’s Tomb Raider: I’m finally going to give my opinions on why I believe Lara Croft is an excellent female video game character. With so much social justice and feminism hullabaloo suddenly surrounding video games (WHY?! They’re supposed to be fun), it’s hard to look at any female character in a video game without analyzing her as not only a character, but as a representative of an entire gender.

This doesn’t apply to male characters because any “harmful” image of a man in video games is obviously a fantasy that only serves to empower men. With such few female characters present in games, let alone playable in games, game creators will continue to be criticized for the way in which they portray this gender.

Lara Croft was one of the first great female characters who could take on any of her male counterparts in a variety of areas. Even now, she still is. She’s smart, independent, agile, adept at combat, curious, and much more. She isn’t merely a male character in a female body. She’s actually her own person.

So that should be enough to not upset women who both play and analyze video games, right? 

Photo 1

These change everything. And you know exactly what I mean when I say “these.”

It doesn’t matter how amazing Lara is at everything she does. What matters is she’s attractive.

At least according to those who criticize her.

So what does that even mean? The way I see it, Lara has remained relatively the same over many video games, movies, comics, and other media. She’s always been a young British archaeologist. She’s always been quite tough, fearing little and overcoming any obstacle in her path. Recent games have made her more human, showing her errors and chronicling how she’s become the woman most know her as. She wasn’t always the fearless adventurer we’ve seen her as, and this is greatly explored in 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot.

But none of that matters because she looks good. She has nice hair, a pretty face, a slim figure, and a large bust. These completely negate any other positive trait she possesses. More than 15 years worth of adventures, and all that can be said about Lara is she has an unrealistic body.

What’s up with that? Why is she automatically considered a bad character because she looks good? Do we suddenly live in a world where attractive women are bad? Or is it because she was designed by male game developers? I see where this comes from now. A female as portrayed by a man is inherently sexist and therefore bad.

Photo 2

So sexist. Women shouldn’t have to fight tigers. Disgusting.

Now I’m overreacting. There’s no way people actually think that. She’s a strong independent female who don’t need no man. Isn’t that the kind of character people want? She’s really good at everything she does but she also has flaws. She occasionally gets captured but she rarely needs someone to rescue her. She gives help and receives it almost equally but she still does very well on her own. It really sounds like we’ve got a good character on our hands here.

Wait. No. Breasts. Forgot about those. Those ruin her character because they’re too big for her character. Never in the history of people has a woman had both a slim figure and a large bust. Never.

But it’s not just that. Again, I’m relying too much on both sarcasm and hyperbole. Oh, and I sound bitter. It’s hard, though, given the subject. The point I’m trying to make is it’s not her image that’s the problem. Not once in any of the games do I recall unhealthy amounts of attention being drawn to Lara’s looks. Sure, some outfits may have been a bit too revealing, but they still had a purpose.

It’s the advertising that has largely been the problem.

Photo 3

Imagine this was a cover for one of the games. Not a good idea now, eh?

Images like the above one were commonplace in different advertising campaigns for the Tomb Raider games. Look at that. Is that a tomb? Where are the guns? No more deadly tigers? THIS is definitely sexism. I’m not one to hop on the current bandwagon about female portrayal in video games, an entertainment medium that was and continues to be dominated by men. But that’s just ridiculous.

Anyone who buys their video games based on the sex appeal of the lead character is an idiot, plain and simple. I love looking at pictures of hot half-naked women as much as the next heterosexual guy, but I don’t need to look at video game characters dressed (or undressed) like that in an advertisement for the game. I buy games based mostly on gameplay. Show me a Lara Croft shooting up baddies. Show me a Lara Croft solving puzzles inside dark tombs. Show me a Lara Croft navigating a forest only to find abandoned ruins.

But don’t show me a Lara Croft in nothing but her underwear surrounded by candles.

The advertisements do a lot to ruin her character. Even I agree with that. But if we just ignore the advertisements, then Lara Croft is still a great character. Sure, she still has an uncommon body type (though not impossible), but she avoids many of the tropes people like Anita Sarkeesian criticize. Especially in the latest entry in the franchise, Lara is portrayed as a multidimensional character.

And that’s something every video game character, regardless of race or gender or sexuality, should be.

Photo 4

The actual in-game models aren’t as bad as advertisements or other promotional shots.

Lara Croft is not a product of sexism. Her actual character was never meant to offend women, both gamers and non-gamers alike. It just so happened sales were better when ads and promos focused more on Lara’s looks and less on her skills and abilities. There are a few moments in the games where Lara may slip into something more revealing or a joke may be made about her good looks, but more recent titles shy away from this, focusing solely on developing her character.

She’s always been a strong character on her own but she also acts as a representative of her entire gender because there are still so many few female video game characters. But a lack of female representation is not the fault of Lara’s creators. Overall, they’ve done a great job developing a multidimensional character. Yes, she’s sexy. That shouldn’t negate every other aspect of her. There are people out there, men and women alike, who are very attractive but also very competent at everything they do. It isn’t entirely impossible.

So let’s leave Lara alone. She’s been picked on enough and the developers know that. The latest game did a great job shying away from sexist marketing and it’s almost a given the next game will do the same.

Part of me wants to say it’s time people stopped complaining so much about female portrayals in games, but at the same time I understand the frustration. But let’s not get mad at characters like Lara Croft. She’s always been a well-written character in her games, despite what marketing has done. The new direction her character is heading is even better as it builds on established ideas while tweaking her just enough to be even better.

I’m happy with the character. And it’s high time more people became happy with Lara Croft.

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15 Comments

Filed under Opinion

15 responses to “Lara Croft: Product of sexism?

  1. I really liked this article. It’s a refreshing perspective on a much-talked about subject. Lara has actually always been a strong female figure in my books. She was introduced to us, in a way where we assumed she was awesome at everything, something that pop culture does with men all the time (John McClane, James Bond), but never a woman. Yes, she is attractive, but she never needs a male figure (ignoring the movies, which don’t count). In some ways, she is my template for further strong female characters in games (and fiction, in general).

    • Thank you! And well said. I still think some of the advertisements and other promotional shots play up her sexiness a little more than what’s necessary, but overall she’s been seen as a multidimensional character first and an attractive female second. Or at least that’s how it should be, in my opinion. I’m not crazy about this “we need more women in games!” trend. I’m very indifferent towards it, though I understand where it’s coming from. But like you said, she’s a great template for further strong female characters in games.

  2. Oh perfect…

    For some reason, this post reminds me of the video to a song called “Men Are Pigs.” Here’s a link:

  3. Thanks for this excellent article. As a female fan of the Tomb Raider series (been a fan since 1996), I really don’t get why other women (and even some men) refuse to see Lara as a positive role model. Granted, she’s a little too trigger-happy and has gunned down too many endangered animals for my taste but she’s always struck me as a confident, strong female character. So what if she’s attractive? Can a woman not be attractive *and* intelligent? Her male counterparts Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake are not typical of most men so why should Lara be singled out for criticism? 😉

    Yes, she has a fairly impressive bust but she’s a highly capable, highly skilled and determined woman who doesn’t need a man (or anyone else) to get things done. That was my main complaint with the Tomb Raider films. The producers were too eager to try and pair her up with a male love interest. In my eyes, Lara has always been somewhat asexual, far too busy making a name for herself and pushing herself to the limit to find a boyfriend (or a girlfriend, for that matter). And I agree with your point about the games’ marketing. Promotional images often place a lot more emphasis on her “assets” than the actual games do. I know a lot of female fans who have no qualms with the games themselves but felt the marketing was geared solely towards the male teenage demographic. With images like the one you highlighted above, it’s little wonder that it’s taken women so long to get into the Tomb Raider series.

    So thanks for this refreshing view on Ms Croft. I’d choose Lara as a role model over a trashy reality TV “star” any day. 🙂

    • Wow, thank you so much for the kind words and for reblogging this post to your site! I really appreciate that. Your blog and some of the guest posts really helped me figure out how to articulate the way I feel about Lara as a character, so I suppose this is your article, in a way.

      Thanks again and I’m glad my thoughts aren’t too “out there” when it comes to seeing Lara as a not-as-sexist-as-you-think sort of character.

  4. Reblogged this on The Archaeology of Tomb Raider and commented:
    Easily one of the best Tomb Raider-related articles I’ve read in a while. It’s good to see that there are people who can see beyond Ms Croft’s impressive bust and realize that she is a strong, complex female character. After all, one should never judge a book by its cover. 😉

  5. puppydogpalace

    I don’t think anyone would call Lara Croft as a character sexist, it’s more how she’s portrayed sometimes that bugs some people. I mean, it’s like you pointed out with the promotional picture where she’s not wearing a whole lot. It has very little to do with the game itself and the content of it, but instead of marketing her like the kick-ass lady that she is, they had her pose naked.

    Lara isn’t what people are upset about, they’re mad that she’s not advertised as more than her bust.

    Lara deserves no hate, she’s way above that.

  6. I argued the exact same thing in an article I wrote about her. Most of the people that attack the game for sexism just look at how advertising portrays her, but then never actually take time to play the game and realise that her appearance is hardly, if ever commented on. I mean look at all the male action heroes you could easily argue they all have unrealistic body ideals for men, I mean how many guys are usually all that buff? The thing that makes Lara unique is that she broke away and made her own mould. The fact that she is a woman but no one ever questions her ability, like many women unfortunately are subject to, only goes to show her character has created a positive role model for not only women but men as well.

    Great article!

  7. Reblogged this on lemoitribune and commented:
    Great article about the one and only.

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