A while back I read an article that covered how some people have complained that "The Last of Us" a game for the Playstation 3 set in a zombie apocalyptic, is sexist. Having played the game, I found that accusation to be completely stupid, so I didn't bother looking up why people were saying that. While browsing today, I ended up reading an article which elaborated on their reasoning. As I suspected, the reason behind the claims that The Last of Us is sexist are so nonsensical that I'm still having trouble comprehending the fact that there are otherwise thinking, rational people out there who buy into such obvious bullshit.
Unfortunately I cannot elaborate further without going into some spoilers of the game's story, so if you have plans to play this game, I suggest you stop reading here.
Ready? Okay. From this point on, there will be spoilers.
The game stars two protagonists: a grizzled 40-something survivor named Joel and a no-nonsense, determined 14 year-old girl named Ellie. It's Joel's job to escort Ellie across the country because Ellie is somehow immune to the zombie infection that's threatening to wipe out humanity. By helping Ellie reach the right people, it's hoped that Ellie's immunity can be passed on, thus saving the human race.
Ellie is a very tough girl for her age, and proves on more than one occasion that she is perfectly capable of holding her own. At one point in the game Joel is severely wounded, and Ellie saves him from that situation. From that point on, the player takes control of Ellie directly. The next scene has her hunting deer in the wilderness to provide food for Joel, who is still recovering from his grievous injury. It's here that Ellie meets a couple of survivors and barters the deer she just killed in exchange for antibiotics.
After Ellie fends off a zombie attack with the help of one of the strangers, it's learned that the strangers are from a group of cannibals who have a personal vendetta against Ellie and Joel. Ellie then single-handedly takes on the cannibals, leading them away from Joel. After killing at least a dozen of them all by herself, she is eventually captured and locked in a cage.
Ellie manages to escape and sneaks through their compound, where she is eventually trapped in a building and cornered by the cannibal leader. That confrontation plays out as a game of cat and mouse, with each vying to gain the upper hand. Ellie succeeds and ends up stabbing the man to death.
Now, here's where the accusation of sexism comes in. At that moment Joel enters the room and has to stop Ellie, who has gone berserk and is furiously stabbing the cannibal leader. Once Ellie comes to her senses she breaks down in tears. Joel comforts her.
That's it. That's the "sexist" part. Because Ellie cried, and there was a man present when she did so, people are saying this makes her a sexist caricature.
I just have to ask: do the people making this accusation have emotions? At all? Or did they honestly expect a 14 year-old (of either gender) to be able to go through all that without all that trauma reaching a breaking point? She's a 14 year-old kid, not the fucking Terminator. Of course she cried. Any human being who is not a sociopath would cry in such circumstances. It would have been highly unrealistic for her not to cry after what she went through.
What we have here is a form of reverse-sexism. The assumption that a woman can never show weakness or emotions, especially around a man, or that automatically makes her a sexist portrayal of women. So unless a female character has a heart of stone and can stand atop a mountain of corpses with a cold, unfeeling look in her eyes, she can't be counted as a feminine character. In the case of The Last of Us the fact that Ellie had an emotional breakdown after her horrific experience somehow completely negates everything she'd done up to that point, including facing the cannibals by herself, fending off the zombies, and saving Joel's life.
What makes the accusation itself sexist is also the underlying assumption that Ellie crying is a female reaction; that if Ellie had been a 14 year-old boy he would have been too manly to cry. It's sexist because it takes a highly emotional situation and makes it entirely about gender. In their blind zeal, the accusers do not see the scene for what it is: a human reaction, not a male or female reaction.
These people are seriously confused about what real strength is. They see it in terms of action hero cliches. In their minds, Ellie was strong because she wielded a gun and killed a bunch of people and monsters, and she became weak when she allowed herself to vent her emotions. No, it's the opposite that is true. Ellie is not strong because she can use a gun and knife a man to death. Ellie is strong because she is willing to stand up and face the perils that lay before her. Even if she never so much as looked at a gun in this game, she'd have still been just as strong.
When faced with overwhelming odds, she did not run away. She put her life on the line to protect someone she cared about, when she could just as easily have abandoned Joel to his fate. That is her true strength. Yes, she cried in the end, but that does not in any way diminish her strength. It merely shows that no one is invincible. It shows that no matter how tough you try to be, eventually it all catches up with you. When Ellie cried, I didn't think she did so because she's a woman, but because she's a human being.
To strip this scene of all context and reduce it to matters of gender is not only gravely missing the point, it also sets an unfair standard. The accusers are basically saying that it's never okay to cry, under any circumstances. That it automatically makes you weak, and if a woman happens to cry, for any reason, it makes her a sexist character. In other words, the argument either devalues or denies the existence of human emotions, while viewing the ability to kill without feeling or remorse, a trait of serial killers, as the true measure of strength. Perhaps this says something about the video game medium, where killing hundreds of people in such a manner is not only common practice, but often rewarded with achievement points.
It's rare for a video game to portray the kind of emotional strain such violence can have on a normal human being. Perhaps that's what makes Ellie's tearful scene so striking. Gamers are not used to this kind of thing, and so they judge Ellie by the standard of ultra-violence they're used to. By that standard, Ellie is weak because she's not like one of the many stoic video game protagonists for whom killing a dozen people counts as a slow day.
There are many, many, many many many examples of sexist portrayals of women in video games, but Ellie is not one of them.