Grand Theft Auto IV and issues of gender representation
John Berger in his highly influential book, Ways of Seeing, observed that ‘according to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome - men act and women appear’ (1972, pp. 45)
Such conventions of hetronormative gender representation can be seen in all areas of the mass media today, such as advertising and film. The representation of both male and female bodies within the medium of video games reflects understandings of gender and sexuality, and it is important that we as players are made aware of these representations and what they signify. I argue that Grand Theft Auto IV, through its framing of both female and male bodies, promotes hetronormative hierarchal distinctions between feminity and masculinity, by encouraging players to adopt and act out a hypermasculine role, and by presenting women as objects of the male gaze and thus positioning them as existing to please and benefit men.
The objectification of women has a long history within western society, as explored by John Berger. Berger studies the history of female portraiture in Western painting, and argues that beginning with European art of the Renaissance, women were depicted as being aware as the subject of a male spectator, and that paintings of female nudes reflected the submission of a woman to ‘the owner of both woman and painting’ (1972, pp. 52), as a part of a wider tradition of ‘representing women as properties that belong to men’ (Griffin 2004 pp. 230). Berger’s claim that women are ‘depicted in a different way to men - because the "ideal" spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him’ (1972, ...
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...sentations and what they signify. Grand Theft Auto IV promotes hetronormative hierarchical distinctions between feminity and masculinity through its framing of female and male bodies, its presentation of females as objects of the male gaze and its encouragement of players to adopt and act out a hypermasculine role. It is of vital importance that we do not exclude race, gender or sexuality from discussions of videogames, because as Leonard (2006, pp. 84) asserts, doing so ‘contributes to problematic, if not faulty, understandings of video games and their significant role in contemporary social, political, economic, and cultural organization.’ Instead as players we must engage in discussion regarding videogames and, as Jenkins writes, we must ‘find a way to move beyond our existing categories and to once again invent new kinds of virtual play spaces’ (1999, pp. 361)
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