Make Up is for Boys and Video Games are for Girls

2016 seems to be the year of breaking glass ceilings, from the possibility of America’s first female president right down to Covergirl’s first male representative. A recent Buzzfeed article discusses the announcement of seventeen-year-old James Charles as the new face of Covergirl.

Charles garnered thousands of followers and support between his Youtube channel and Instagram account where he shows off his immaculate talent with makeup. Charles is not the first of his gender to make a name for himself in the make up industry, however. Other notable names are makeup artists Manny MUA and Patrick Starr, While I am all for males breaking the glass ceiling in a female centric industry, I took a moment to think of how that shattered glass ceiling looks from the other side.

As Gayle Rubin discusses in her work, The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of sex, gender identity and sexual desires are byproducts of capitalism, and to understand how these social constructs function in our own lives we need to think of them in terms of how gender identity relates to productivity; how products are marketed and distributed to us is a huge factor. Let’s take Covergirl for instance. They reinforce the gender binary because they show women using their products and therefore pressure other women into thinking their gender’s needs will be met by purchasing their products. So then the fact that Covergirl has a male face as their brand representative should completely shatter Rubin’s idea, shouldn’t it? Not exactly.

If we go based on this idea that capitalism’s goal is to reinforce a gender need, and assume that without this gender need it essentially collapses (because why else would capitalism divide the genders if not to keep people slaved to their own insecurities and patriarchy), then something within the make up industry needs to change in order to maintain the capitalistic status quo. In much the same way hygienic products feel the need to distinguish themselves from male and female products (i.e. men’s shampoo and women’s shampoo), there is no guarantee the make up industry will not do the same. It is also crucial to remember that despite there being a male on the cover of a popular makeup brand, the target audience is still the same. Even if the attempt is to let men know it’s okay to wear make up, that make up is for anyone who wants to use it, that is not the message they are sending out with the image of Charles. It portrays a feminine male using feminine products; and if we bring back the name of Manny MUA (a gay male using make up) then isn’t the make up industry just furthering the gender binary by lumping together the feminine males and gay males into the female binary?

This tactic is also used in the video game industry. The stigma behind girl gamers is heavily reinforced by the video game industries themselves. A popular instance of this occurred at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), where popular video game company, Ubisoft announced they were not including female characters in the competitive mode of their popular game, Assassin’s Creed Unity. The studio claimed it was “double the animations, double the voices, all that stuff, double the visual assets — especially because [they] have customizable assassins,” that would make “extra production work,” the studio could not afford.

But if we examine video games in the past, other industries had no problem including female characters. Granted, they were all damsels in distress where the only playable character was a male protagonist that came to the rescue and in the end won the princess’s heart by slaying the monster. In video games, women have always been the prize. This is seen in a lot of games such as the famous Super Mario franchise and Grand Theft Auto, to name a more recent title. Sticking with this mentality when developing video games tells me that industries do not think of women players when creating these games. In result, women are easily shamed for playing games because the prize of winning isn’t geared towards them.

In the last few months, I have played nothing but a popular video game that released over the summer titled Overwatch. There is a wide range of characters to choose from in this online multi-player game, several of them female. Two specific characters, however, received some recent adjustments to their voice lines in the game. In a recent patch, the game developers removed two lines that established a strong connection, and some argue a romantic one, between these two female characters. The senior developer claims it was an unintentional deactivation of these lines and that they should be fixed in a later patch. However, it still seems a little suspicious to “unintentionally” remove dialogue in a game. It reiterates the point that female characters in video games are in place for the male gaze. If these two female characters were to be confirmed gay or at least not heterosexual characters, then they become irrelevant to the male gaze and therefore undesirable. Perhaps it’s a stretch to assume, but when video games have always catered to the male gaze, and certain industries think animating a female character is just too much work, it really isn’t that far of a stretch.

It makes you wonder just what glass ceiling are we shattering, if one at all. Maybe we’re only building another glass ceiling.