By Obscure 0 Comments
This article is a response to this one written by Carolyn Petit.
A lot of people, including, of particular note, a lot of women, have said that Bayonetta is a feminist sort of character – an empowered, powerful woman in control of her sexuality. I find this deeply confusing, because, by all appearances, she’s a generic sex object, made noteworthy perhaps only because she’s such an extreme example thereof that she might be a satire (but she ain’t).
When Bayonetta the first arrived on the scene, I was treated to this analysis by Bob Chipman (a dude). Chipman seems weirdly unaware of the objectification that permeates his own analysis, but his point is salient nevertheless: Bayonetta is sexually aggressive or intimidating, but is not sexually submissive, nor sexually unavailable. This seems like a superb, pro-sex alternative to the traditional sex kitten, ice queen, or vamp archetypes.
Except: while she may not exactly be a factory-fresh clone of every other sex object in gaming, she’s still a sex object.
More recently, another male Escapist writer, Yahtzee, made a ramble-y, naive article in which he eventually (the first 7 paragraphs can and should be skipped) points out that
[…]Bayonetta never employs sexuality in the context of a relationship or seducing a special friend - it’s only ever used as part of combat[…]
which is the most crucial piece of evidence throughout this whole affair. It’s something Yahtzee also discusses in an earlier article in more general terms, and while in that one he also claims that vulnerability and intimacy are prerequisites for sex (not really), he at least manages to identify Bayonetta as a sex object, and even connects sexual objectification to general sex-negativity (“prudishness” in his words).
Bayonetta doesn’t have sex. She doesn’t have intimate relationships, either. She might be powerful and confident (or arrogant?), even, but I find it hard to regard her as a “sex-positive” character when, as Petit points out, she’s still so obviously there only to titillate a presumed straight-male player, and not to be her own person, nor even to do both at once.
It seems almost, to me, like the positive perception of Bayonetta by female audiences is just a happy coincidence, rather than a feminist success. And here Petit puts the last nail in the coffin:
Sadly, Bayonetta seems to lack any real sexual desire or sexual agency of her own. From the opening shot in which the camera caresses her body to the pole dance set to “Moon River” while the credits roll at the end, Bayonetta 2 joins the mountain of other games that only serve to reinforce for the uncritical straight male player the idea that women’s bodies and women’s sexuality exist not for women, but are the property of men.
At the end of the day, if the heterosexual males playing Bayonetta still regard her as a sex object, then that is all that she can be as far as the broader culture is concerned.