The Silent 17%

It’s 1947. Hollywood, California is thriving–WITH CRIME! Lots and lots of crime. You are Cole Phelps, recently returned home from WWII and new member of the LAPD. You and your fellow male officers solve traffic, homicide, vice, and arson cases. There are no women on the force because it is 1947 and they all went peacefully back to the kitchen after working in the factories while you were away fighting for your country.

Wait a moment.

According to Cara Ellison in her article on Past Magazine, the first woman police officer in the US, Alice Stebbins, was appointed in 1910 in the LAPD. According to Ellison, women take up only 17% of the roles we see on stage and screen. She cited a report from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California that said only 28% of last year’s speaking roles in movies we female. Ellison references an NPR interview with Geena Davis explaining that media vastly under represents females.  Davis quoted a study that found “if there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33 percent women, the men percieve that as there being more more in the room than men.”

I’ve played LA Noire, the main game which Ellison’s article analyzes. LA Noire was not devoid of female parts. Well–actually–looking back–there weren’t a lot of speaking female roles. There were some witnesses–who I was usually done talking to within a minute or two. I have racked my brain trying to think of all the main female characters. There was Elsa Lichtman–but she’s a morphine addict, sex symbol, mistress, and doesn’t have many lines outside of shaking her hips. I recalled other names like Jessica Hamilton, a 15 year old rape victim, who, in terms of the total dialogue for the case–doesn’t say much; Deirdre Moller, who is dead when you meet her so not much talking there either; Julia Randall, dead; Evelyn Summers, dead; Candy Edwards, eventually dead.

Emma Boyes, in her article on IGN, says that as a woman, playing LA Noire is like “walking into a bar and realizing you’re the sole female in the establishment” and now that I think back on the game I have to agree. Boyes also points out that the main female role is that of the often mutilated corpse and that “breathing women aren’t absent from the game completely, but they’re under represented to say the least.” She also notes that not a single female character has any power, nor are they truly essential to the story.

It’s odd. The game is centered in a time period which was essential for the end of gender inequality, as Boyes points out. Boyes points out that “it’s interesting that films and games now choosing to re-create that era also choose to marginalize women more than those made at that time.” (The emphasis is mine and not the authors)

In the same article, Boyes explains that “LA Noire’s touchstone LA Confidential… set in the 50s, the women are… relegated to the roles of prostitutes, victims of domestic violence and corpses” and cites the fact that the staff who work on such games are predominantly male as the reason that these games sexualize women.

Advertisements