Sexism and miniatures

In the digital gaming world misogyny and the treatment of women is the hot topic right now. I think it’s time we wargamers and miniature painters had a little talk as well.

First things first. This post has been a long time coming. I’ve rewritten it several times and cut large portions of it away. It threatened to end up as a link-fest to a large number of educational feminist articles, which made for a boring read since I didn’t really have anything to add to the discussion. Then it struck me what the core issue for us, the wargaming and painting community is:

The male gaze.

Simply put,
the male gaze is the phenomenon of heterosexual men being the default audience for media and art. This is a big problem in geek culture. It alienates women and primes men to see women as objects, sexualized or otherwise. Mainstream superhero comics are suffering from it badly, and have been for a long, long time. The most obvious ways male gaze can manifest is as a number of tropes that you’re likely familiar with. Damsel in distress, seductive villainess, innocent and sexy sidekick … the list goes on.

Sex, sexiness and nudity are not the issues here. The issues are how representations – miniatures and background stories, in our case – of both males and females are tailored specifically for heterosexual men, and how those representations influence how we view women, and how other people view our hobby. Our pastime is already seen as immature by many. You don’t want to be called out for juvenile sexism as well, do you?

I’m going to give you a couple of examples in a minute. First we’re going to make a few things very clear.

  • I’m not singling the two miniature manufacturers out as ”good and bad”. The minis here just happen to show the difference between an object and a subject very well.
  • I’m not against sexiness. See above.
  • I’m not sure that the minigaming community’s male gaze is a problem. Yet. My point is that our hobby’s aesthetics are influenced by geek culture at large. Since the male gaze is discussed in everything from comics to movies to videogames it’s only fair that we also think about what values permeate our hobby’s core: the miniatures.

To the left we have Valeria from Soda Pop Miniatures, on the right is Zeeona from Studio McVey. I chose them because they’re similar in both painting scheme and amount of skin showing. They’re both sexy, and they know it. There is, however, an obvious difference. Valeria wants to be looked at. She’s presented as vulnerable and passive. She’s there for you – this is reinforced by the promo illustration that shows both her butt and her breasts.

Zeeona, on the other hand, has agency. Connotations of tentacle rape notwithstanding, she’s attacking the monster, her eyes fixated on what she’s doing.

Again, I’m not saying that Valeria is a misogynistic mini and Zeeona is not. I’m just saying that one is different from the other, and that the difference is interesting and something to think about and discuss. Because I don’t want us to end up where superhero comics and AAA videogaming are right now. It’s a bad place to be, knee-deep in dumb.

Thanks for reading
all the way through. I’ll leave you with some bullet points to reflect on.

  • Why did the designer and the sculptor choose to depict Zeeona firing at the the tentacled monster?
  • What does the way Valeria is looking at us say about us? Does that make us want to buy the mini?
  • Are the choices made when designing the minis conscious or the effect of male gaze in other media?