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22 February 2008 @ 10:55 pm
They're not Lara Croft, but... they're okay  

I've heard it said that FF females are weak and one-dimensional. While I see their reasoning, I'd like to point out some of my observations on the former. I'm only going to refer to females from Final Fantasies 7 through 12, because they're the fandoms I'm most familiar with. I've only just begun playing 3 and 6, and haven't formed an opinion about their characters yet. These are only opinions, although I will try to present evidence from the games to justify them. I welcome any discussion, regardless of whether you agree or disagree.

Female characters have a lot of expectations pressed upon them by the fan community. I can't speak for males, but females seem to want to relate to and admire the female characters. FF is produced by Square-Enix, a Japanese company, and so their female characters are influenced by the traditions and beliefs of Japanese society, although they also want to appeal to a worldwide fanbase. When discussing female characters, several people seem to define them in two groups: dominant and submissive. According to them, the dominant types are women who are masculine in their ways, physical, and aggressive in personality or actions. The submissive types are meek, emotional, and maternal. Luckily, the majority of FF female characters do not seem to fit into either of these categories but are more realistic and complex, though they still do not achieve the complexities of the male characters. Forcing them into categories such as Fighter and Healer does not recognize their true potential as characters.

This brings me to my second point: physical strength as opposed to emotional strength. Now, I enjoy characters who can compete with the guys on a physical level, but female characters don't need to be butt-kicking Lara Crofts to be acceptable role models for girls. Several FF characters are dismissed as weak while still possessing emotional strength (strong conviction, determination, a positive outlook, etc). Also, some strong female characters are emotionally undecisive. To further illustrate this concept, I will show examples of female characters from each of the games.

FF7
Tifa -- physically strong. Emotionally insecure but brave. Connections to a male character. Sexualized.

Aerith -- physically weak. Has a strong resolve. Protected by a male character.

Yuffie -- physically strong. Emotionally immature.

FF8
Quistis -- physically strong. Intelligent and fairly emotionally healthy, yet insecure. Her emotions are affected by a male character. Stands up to a male character. Sexualized.

Rinoa -- physically neutral. Emotionally immature but has strength of will. Romantic relationship with a male character.

Edea -- physically weak. Has great mental powers. Needs a male knight.

Selphie -- physically neutral. Immature but confident and self-assured, except where romance is concerned.

FF9
Garnet -- physically weak. Emotionally mature and courageous. Romantic relationship with a male character.

Beatrix -- physically strong but cold in personality. Sexualized. Romantic relationship with a male character.

Freya -- Physically strong and emotionally mature. Sadness arises from feelings for a male character.

FF10/10-2
Yuna -- Physically weak (in first game). Emotionally mature and has strength of will, although it could be argued she is determined to finish her pilgrimage due to the brainwashing of Yevon. Romantic feelings for a male character and in a position of weakness due to a male character. In second game, gains physical abilities and becomes sexualized.

Lulu -- Physically weak. Emotionally mature and confident, but feels sorrow because of a male character.

Rikku -- Physically neutral and emotionally well-developed. Feelings for a male character.

Lucil -- Physically and emotionally strong. Becomes subordinate of male character in X-2.

Paine -- Physically strong but has emotional scars due to feelings for a male character.

FF12
Ashe -- Physically neutral. Has determination but motivation arises partly from past relationship with a male character. Receives protection from a male.

Penelo -- Physically neutral. Emotionally strong and confident. Maternal feelings for a male character.

Fran -- Physically and emotionally strong. Connections to a male character.

Drace -- Physically and emotionally strong. Connections to a male character.

As you can see, the female characters who exist above have certain common similarities. Women who are physically strong are made sexually attractive, yet they still retain a sense of innocence and self-doubt, and have an emotional connection to a male character. Those women who are weak physically are stronger emotionally, though they also have connections with a male character. This shows that just having physical strength is often not enough. However, having relationships with a male does not make them weak. This brings me to my next issue.

Yes, the females of FF are closely associated with males. Being emotionally reliant on another person is not necessarily weak. As long as the relationship is healthy and equal, emotional connections with others shows the emotional depth of that character. The exceptions of this are Tifa, Paine, and Quistis, whose emotional attachments are possibly needy and until they learn to let go of those attachments they will not fully be confident.

In terms of personality, a character does not have to be fiery and aggressive or a stoic ice queen to have strength of character. Having qualities such as kindness, sensitivity, and optimism (typically considered feminine traits) does not make the character stereotypical or weak. Yuna and Penelo have these qualities, and yet they are some of the most emotionally mature and healthy characters in their respective games. Yuna has compassion for others, but also has a firm resolve and possesses great courage. Penelo cares for Vaan in a brotherly way, yet pointedly tells Basch in the Sandsea that she is not as weak as she looks. She's brave and calm and one of the most balanced characters. Lulu and Fran are emotionally strong, but their chilly personalities isolate others.

A woman should not have to possess masculine traits to be considered strong. Lucil is one of my favorite female characters because she is a leader but also has compassion for those under her command and treats them with kindness. This is a contrast to Beatrix, whose sense of duty is admirable but leads her to blindly follow her queen, and Ashe, who recklessly goes on even while her actions may cause suffering for others.

In terms of appearance, characters seem to be overtly sexual when physically strong (Tifa, Quistis, Beatrix, Fran), more innocent when weak (Yuna, Rinoa, Penelo), and childish when emotionally immature (Yuffie, Rikku). The sexualized characters obviously are meant to attract the male fanbase, and perhaps the reasoning is that men will not accept a strong female character (a threat) unless she is physically attactive and therefore a sex object. The more innocent types seem to appeal to females, demonstrating the virtues of emotional fortitude and dedication. However, I don't believe it's bad that the characters are sexualized. Square-Enix does it with the male characters too, so they just want to create attractive characters in general.

In summary, Square-Enix's characters could be worse. There are some characters who are admirable in their physical and emotional strengths (Lucil, Drace). Just because a character is physically strong does not mean she is emotionally confident, yet her process of development makes her more interesting and by no means implies that she is a flat character. Neither is it a bad thing if she is physically attractive. Having feminine traits such as kindness does not make a female character weak, nor do her relationships with men. For instance, Rinoa is immature, but she has the ability to form healthy relationships with others and possesses confidence in herself despite her undeveloped understanding of the world.

In the end, your experiences and beliefs will affect how you see the characters, and so certain combinations of virtues and flaws will either appeal to you or repel you. In short, give the FF females a chance and appreciate them for the positive qualities that they do have.


Inspired by a previous post on this community, regarding female characters being defined by romance and why I don't think it makes them less valid.
 
 
 
intradependencyintradependency on February 24th, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
(hi sarasa!)

On masculine traits - yes. They shouldn't be necessary. Lucil is a good example of female leadership - Ashe, I'd hesitate, is perhaps a bad one (whilst still a good leader). Feminism wasn't about women having the freedom to be like men, because men are trapped in their own string of expectation/weakness. Feminism wanted women to have liberty from any imposed constraint or expectation.

Ashe ultimately is a Ruler - and this meant her character conforms to certain male expectations of rulership. Men such as Basch can only define themselves through her if she meets this expectation of certain masculine traits. (Think about how much Basch detests the thought of using the stone - does magick=feminine?) Ashe is, perhaps, the 'weakest' female character in FFXII because she has so little about her that is female. (She completely misses Balthier's interest? ;) - or am I getting into headcanon now?)

Fran, on the other hand, freed herself of the expectations firstly of the wood-viera, defying her role there. Then she entered the world, and defied the role of 'world-viera', aloof, cold, alone, by pairing up with Balthier. And then, just when we think she's still some kind of cold character, she contradicts even Balthier's expectations of her and strongly hints at loving him. A typical female role, perhaps, but with the enough freedom to have chosen such?

And, again on the whole maturation of FFXII along these lines, we as players have the ability to customise the whole party as we will, and without the constraints of FFX's sphere grid. I get kicks out of Penelo and Basch as my tanks; Balthier and Ashe as mages, Fran and Vaan as healers. All (apart from Basch) completely not their typical roles. ;)
Bethanyeuphonious_glow on February 24th, 2008 03:27 am (UTC)
I've noticed that magick does seem to be typically a feminine trait as far as FF is concerned. The only exceptions to this are Vivi and Arc. Perhaps this is because magick=mystery, and females are considered more mysterious and spiritual than males. Ashe does seem to rebel against her feminine aspects. Maybe she sees feminity as weakness, or gained that view from living with the Resistance for so long. Or she may feel that she must be masculine so men will admire her, because leaders who show feminine qualities are not considered as capable. Perhaps by adopting masculine traits she is renouncing her role as a sex object, so that she will gain respect. It's easier to be "one of the guys" when they no longer see you as sexually desirable (though I still believe the words masculine and feminine are obsolete because I don't feel the sexes are born with inherent traits).

Fran is quite wonderful, and I think it shows strength of character that she loves a hume, when the viera are so arrogant and proud. She broke free from her race's expectations and did what she wanted with her life.
Viera Lynn sings of Calico Thingsvieralynn on February 24th, 2008 05:19 am (UTC)
Yes, and it is interesting that Vivi isn't very human looking either. Instead, his appearance is very cute, small, and childlike.

I definitely think Ashe sees femininity as a weakness (more about that in a comment below). I'm not sure that adopting masculine traits is something she did to renounce her role as a sex object. Heck, some of those men strike me as sex objects from my female point of view. Basch, either button your shirt or start dancing as you strip! ;)

I think that Ashe decided that being "feminine" is a weakness. When the game opens, she is presented in a very feminine light: a beautiful glowing bride dressed in soft, light colors and her facial expressions are very sweet and soft. After Rasler died, her father died, and her kingdom fell she might have decided that everything about being feminine was bad and weak. In doing such, she tossed out both the weak and strong parts of femininity.
Viera Lynn sings of Calico Things: Fran_flowersvieralynn on February 24th, 2008 05:03 am (UTC)
Alright! Interesting discussion going on!! :)

Going well beyond the FF series and games in general, I think it would be pretty easy to make a case that modern media (TV, movies) are more likely to attribute magical powers to women and physical powers to men. We know that trend exists in the FF series. That said, I'm not entirely convinced that the stones in FFXII can be fairly categorized as "feminine/magick." Based purely on the storyline, the stones were cut by the Dynast King (male) and passed down through royal lines (presumably men and women). Perhaps we can say that the stones are still cryptically a feminine symbol because male characters (Vayne, Ghis) want the stones so they can gain their magick powers and that they fail miserably at using the stones correctly. Yet, for hundreds of years, male (and presumably female) descendants of the Dynast King kept peace with the stones. I worry that equating the stones with feminine/magick (or not) gets into circular reasoning that isn't easily resolved.

I'd argue that Basch detests the idea of using the stone not because it is against his masculine nature but because of his desire to prevent war and his belief that bitter enemies can become friends. If we want to align that with gendered stereotypes, Basch's desire to be reconciliatory and promote peace is a more of a feminine trait. Does that make him represent the healthy femininity that Ashe lacks?

Yes, good points about Ashe and leadership. I'm not even sure I consider her a good leader because she is often fueled by desire for revenge and she often seems blind to what her people need or want. She does present as a strong ruler (ruling over people, making decisions for them) but not necessarily a leader (leading people toward what they want or need).

As evidence of Ashe's leadership problems and Basch's reconciliatory, peace-driven behavior, here's some of the script from the Ozmone Plain when Ashe was considering if she should create an alliance between Dalmasca & Archades:

Ashe: And you can just accept this, can you?

Basch: After Vayne’s ruse I had abandoned hope for honor… Yet never did I forget my knightly vows. If I could protect but one person from war’s horror…then I would bear any shame. I would bear it proudly. I could not defend my home. What is shame to me?

[Brief pause as Ashe starts to walk away…]

Ashe: My people hate the Empire. They will not accept this.

Basch: There is hope.

[The camera shows Vaan, Penelo and Larsa talking.]

Basch: Hope for a future where we can join hands as brothers.


----

I agree that as far as having a health feminine side, Ashe is one of the "weakest" female characters in the FF series and in FFXII in particular purely because she seems so terribly uncomfortable with the idea of ever displaying any feminine traits. Vossler says it all:

Vossler: Her Majesty cannot abide weakness, least of all in herself. We must
make her confront the reality of our plight.
intradependencyintradependency on February 25th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
Excellent quote. Basch and Vossler are even vaguely feminine in their 'sacrificial' saviour roles. Even with the side-play of Vossler's being seduced to the 'dark side'...

Ohhh, so many topics that need seriously constructive research and referencing. It's been years since I've had to construct a logical argument. Right now I'm talking too much off the cuff. I'll get back to this.

One of the more interesting things I've read was a gender switch, with Ashe as a male prince and Basch and Vossler as female knights. Very psychological an' all. ;)
Viera Lynn sings of Calico Things: Basch_desatvieralynn on February 25th, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
For someone who is billed as the manly heroic knight in shining armor, Basch is Mr. Sacrificial. My guess is that he buried his ego somewhere in the squalid dirt floors of Nablina dungeon. Out of the entire FF series (which I have nothing but love and more love for), FFXII really caught my imagination because I thought the script did interesting things with gender roles and bending certain character class stereotypes (the princess who is a hard ass and is never saved by her knight, etc.).


OOOOOH! Psychological gender switch fic?! Sounds very interesting. Can you post a link to it?
intradependency: this is sadintradependency on February 25th, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)
...it's one of the authors in my favourites list on fanfiction.net.

And I totally can't find it. Gah. It was in quite a formal style too.