The Victimization Of Lara Croft

I was hopeful. I saw the new take on Lara Croft way back when and thought, well, color me intrigued. The old Lara Croft never really spoke to me — comic book proportions, sassy British accent, short-shorts, whatever. No harm, no foul, but not the game for me. And then along comes this new reimagining — Lara Croft by way of John McClane. A rougher, tougher hero — kicked around but triumphant.

I was good with that.

I’m not so good with it now.

I refer you to this article: You’ll ‘Want To Protect’ The New, Less Curvy Lara Croft, at Kotaku.

From that article:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.

“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'”

So is she still the hero? I asked Rosenberg if we should expect to look at Lara a little bit differently than we have in the past.

“She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”

Well, sure. Because who could possibly relate to a — snerk, gasp — female protagonist? Better instead to assume that we’re just helping the poor dear along. Because if we don’t, well…

In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.

“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”

Ah! See, there it is. If we don’t act as her helper, we’ll “help” her get raped.

Aaaaaand then killed.

As a storyteller, this is troubling on a number of levels — that we humanize a female character by making her weak, by forcing her into the role of the victim. I’m not saying there’s not a mode for a story where a woman fights off brutal male attackers and triumphs against them. There is. I’m also not sure that Tomb Raider is it. Especially since we had a character who was shallow, yes, but she was also a wealthy confident ass-kicker who brooked no bullshit. She wasn’t a potential sexual bullseye for a bunch of island thugs. Is this our current idea of a strong female character? A bloodied victim? An abused teen girl? Is there no middle-ground between “super-bazoomed comic book heiress” and “survivor of torture porn island adventure?” Can’t we scuff her up but keep the rape out of it? And can’t we come to her being a strong relatable character not because she’s a woman, not despite the fact she’s a woman, but regardless of it?

As a human fucking being, this is troubling on one particular level: that all women can hope for is to get out alive and, y’know, unraped. We already approach rape in this culture like it’s a pothole in the road you need to avoid — as if the power to not get raped is solely in the hands of the woman. As if the onus of responsibility is not at all on the scum-fuck rapists. It always seems to be a message of How Not To Get Raped as opposed to How Not To Be A Shitty Fucking Rapist. Nobody’s saying women shouldn’t learn to be strong and protect themselves — but it’s not a woman’s responsibility not to get raped.

And yet, that’s what this Tomb Raider appears to be saying.

This doesn’t make her bad-ass.

It doesn’t make her or the situation “more real.”

(As if that’s what games like this need — a hard high dose of rapey reality.)

It doesn’t improve her or make her stronger.

It goes too far. It pushes too hard. It weakens her deeply.

We cannot “relate.” We need to “help” and “protect” her.

We turn her human by “literally” making her a “cornered animal?”

All this says some very scary things about how we look at women, I think.

(A caveat: this is based on this one article and some game footage. For all I know, the game will come out and not be this at all — but by all indications, we’re in for some trouble with this one.)

(Also check out this post by Kat Howard.)