Sunday, 10 Dec 2023

Stop Being Weird About The Women In The Last Of Us

Once again, people on the internet have decided to be weird about the shape of women’s bodies – specifically, Melanie Lynskey’s, in her role as Kathleen in The Last of Us. Kathleen, a rebel leader in Kansas City, first appears in episode four of the show. To accusations that her body said ‘life of luxury’ more than it did ‘apocalyptic warlord’, Lynskey rightly replied, “I am supposed to be SMART, ma'am. I don’t need to be muscly. That’s what henchmen are for”.

Melanie Lynskey isn’t the only victim of the game’s fans. Lead actress Bella Ramsey, playing Ellie, has come under fire from weirdo fans of the game. They seem to have no issue with her performance of the character – naturally, as she’s done a great job so far. However, search her name on Twitter and you’ll find a barrage of tweets saying she ‘looks nothing like Ellie’, is ‘too ugly’, and, for some reason, that she isn’t sexy. Weird take, given Ellie is 14 years old in the show’s first season.

Not to rehash old debates, but we’ve seen this kind of rhetoric with the video games as well. When The Last of Us Part 2 came out, there was a huge backlash towards Abby’s character design, with many fans saying that Abby’s physical build was unrealistic for a woman. This is despite the fact that she was modelled on a real person, bodybuilder and CrossFit athlete Colleen Fotsch. As a powerlifter, I do not look at Abby and go “no way”, I look at her and say “God, I wish I was that jacked”.

We saw a similar issue with the backlash to Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West. Because she was older, slightly sunburnt and had a rounder face, fans of the original Horizon Zero Dawn had a fit. She was never designed to be sexy, but making her look less ‘conventionally feminine’ (read: she aged a little) drew a firestorm of people zooming in on her peach fuzz in-game and, again, calling her unrealistic.

It’s not news that female characters face increased scrutiny in the media, which journalists have covered far more in the last few years. The issue here seems to be that many of the show’s fans don’t seem to know what women look like or how they naturally exist in the world. Whether they’re too curvy, too ripped, or not pretty enough, any state in which a woman exists in a game or show seems to be unrealistic and detracting somehow from the content. If unsexualised female characters are always unrealistic, do women get to be in media at all if they don’t cater to the male gaze?

Indie developers were, for a while, frontrunners when it came to well-developed female protagonists but from the looks of it, we’re getting more female-fronted games than ever. The Last of Us was a first step in getting complex female characters in front of gamers, but if we’re ever to get any further, maybe we should stop saying every unsexualised female character ever is unrealistic and go touch some grass.

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