Battered avatars – feminist statement or misogynist pandering?

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2009

"Battle Royale" Second Life avatar skinWith its ability to allow us to take on new forms, appearances and identities, the metaverse is opening up as a whole new arena for discussions about cultural perceptions. Here’s a fresh example: a Second Life avatar skin designer released a collection of skins named “Battle Royale” on to the market, which would make the female avatar wearing them look like they’d been in a pretty serious brawl – black eyes, bruises and grazes, that sort of thing. Cue angry protest from commentators decrying the skins as a potential glorification of domestic violence. [image borrowed from JuicyBomb]

As the designer made plain, there was no such intent – but offence is in the eye of the beholder in such incidents, and domestic abuse is a deservedly sensitive topic. SL fashionista Iris Ophelia makes the point that hardly anyone would consider making a fuss about the already numerous male avatar skins that portray a similarly battered appearance, despite the largely unreported incidences of male-victim domestic violence, and hypothesises that the incident actually underlines a less-observed double standard in our attitudes to abuse. She also sees battered avatars as a potentially feminist statement, a subversion of the perfect and unruffled female characters from combat-based computer games, for example.

Whichever side of that debate you favour, it’s interesting to consider the potential of the metaverse as a place where this sort if discussion can be had slightly more safely and comfortably than in “reality”; given the theoretical anonymity of each avatar, it may be easier to speak out as a victim of real-world abuse while spending time in a virtual space. But of course, anonymity works both ways[nsfw], as anyone who’s spent more than five minutes on the web already knows…

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One Response to “Battered avatars – feminist statement or misogynist pandering?”

  1. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    I suspect the debate would be a lot less heated if the avatars presented didn’t look sexy, fragile, and helpless to begin with. I think it’s actually the eyes — they’re heavily made up and have a wide-eyed innocence that evokes those awful big-eyed children paintings. But some of the other avatars pictured also have very large and “perky” breasts and a sexy tilt to their heads. “Victim” is the first thing that comes to my mind when I see someone who’s been beat up and is still trying like hell to look sexy.
    I’m a martial artist, and I know from personal experience that women with fighting injuries are just as inclined to brag about them as men are. (Wanna see my finger that was dislocated and won’t go straight anymore?) I wouldn’t mind female avatars showing a few scars if they actually looked like they’d been in a real fight, instead of looking like they’d been some man’s punching bag and were trying to act sexy so he wouldn’t hit them again.