Female Protagonists are not a Feminist Conspiracy

When Nintendo confirmed this past week that, at least in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the character Link would remain strictly male, many people were understandably disappointed. The last few months had been full rumors suggesting there would at least be an option to play the game as a woman; even I not-so-secretly hoped the Internet Rumor Mill was right on this one. With so many conventions and tropes being thrown away for this new Legend of Zelda game, why not make the game even more inclusive to women by adding a female avatar? Some took the news as a slight against women, or further proof that Nintendo was still a “backwards” Japanese company; others – I think it’s fair to say – were indignant, even angry. Personally, I had the privilege to simply shrug my shoulders and say “maybe next time.”

However, those on the other side of this discussion were just as angry. In fact, they were furious at the very idea that Nintendo would – nay, should – let players flip the gender of a traditionally male (albeit very androgynous) videogame character. “Just another example of feminists trying to ram their beliefs down my throat,” they might say.

This attitude isn’t limited to just a few gamers either. You can see these angry anti-feminists pop up again on again on the internet, ranting about perceived slights against men in the latest movie, novel, videogame, or whatever. Just look at the reaction to the first Star Wars: Rogue One trailer. “Another female lead?” one person asked on Twitter. Is that even a serious question? For nearly 40 years, the Star Wars movies have only featured male protagonists. Each of the two trilogies had one major role for women – in the form of Princess Leia and her mother, Padme Amidala – and aside from those, the roles given to women have been either thankless or objectified. Heck, even Carrie Fisher got stuffed into a metal bikini by her third film. But all that doesn’t matter to these people. Two female leads in as many movies is enough to declare the “real” Star Wars dead, or the equivalent of Twilight.

Star Wars is far from dead though. If anything, it’s probably more vital now than ever before. Adding more female characters and characters of color helps expand the Star Wars fan base beyond the white men who grew up watching the original trilogy (myself included), which is exactly what Disney wants if they hope to recoup the $4 Billion they spent on Lucasfilm. On the creative side of things, these additions allow the filmmakers to tell new stories and show us characters we haven’t seen before, including a female Luke Skywalker, a black Stormtrooper, and the Star Wars equivalent of Katniss Everdeen. That should be exciting to Star Wars fans of all types, not something to write off as a feminist conspiracy.

These female protagonists aren’t for 20- or 30- or 40-something men anyway: they’re for the generation of girls growing up right now.

When I think back to my childhood and the games I played with my friends, I realize how easy things were simply because I was a boy. If we were all pretending to be superheroes or Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles or living in the Star Wars universe, I had a surfeit of male characters to choose from. I may not have always ending up with the “cool” character, but I was never forced into a role that wasn’t male. If we happened to have a girl among our group, however, they basically got the one “girl” role foisted upon them. They had no choice in the matter: They were Wonder Woman, or the Pink Ranger, or April O’Neill, or Princess Leia, or they simply didn’t play with us.

Yeah… boys suck. I’m sorry.

That was the early 1990s. It’s now 2016, and things are finally starting to get corrected. One day if I’m lucky I may have a daughter of my own, and I want her to have just as many pop culture icons as I did growing up. I had Luke Skywalker and Han Solo; she’ll have Rey and Jin Arso. I had Spider-Man, The Hulk, Wolverine, et al; she’ll have Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl and She-Hulk and Spider-Gwen and X-23 and so much more. And maybe one day, we’ll be able to share Link from The Legend of Zelda.

Dare to dream…