Princess Peach, Sparrow and the new no-holds barred gender equality
Today I took a break in the afternoon to hang out in the family room with my 11 and 12-year old boys. As it was cold and gloomy, they were enjoying some rare daytime Wii play, which they chose to spend with a dubious game Michael had picked out as an Easter gift for the younger. It’s called Facebreaker K.O. Party, selected over my protest of its T rating. “Comic Mischief and Violence?” scoffed Michael. “Really, how could it be worse than Super Smash Brothers Brawl?”
The latter is a game that features major characters from all the Nintendo games throughout time. It’s a wacky romp through amusement park-type scenes where the object of the game is to knock other cartoon characters off the screen using such amazing powers as being sucked in by Yoshi’s super-long tongue and pooped out as an egg. I acquiesced to Facebreaker under the pressures of a tight shopping schedule and a mounting household campaign against my perceived over-protection of the kids.
I came bearing popcorn and juice and took a seat on the sofa. I was just in time – the boys were setting up for a fresh match of Punch-o-matic, where their characters were chosen randomly for them. Harry’s was a thick man called Steve, a video game freak with pecs (and belly) the size of Rhode Island. Jesse, the one more fearful of being labeled “soft” in any way, drew Sparrow, a very buff but extremely feminine (and sexy) pugilist with wispy blonde hair and a surprisingly long reach. “No fair!” exclaimed Harry. “You always get Sparrow!”
Super Smash Brothers Brawl
“It’s not on purpose,” retorted Jesse, “and besides, you’re pretty good. You might still be able to beat me.”
This was a little unexpected, so I sat up straighter and gave the screen my full attention. The boys were ruthless. Harry threw Steve’s considerable weight behind every punch, while Jesse had Sparrow hang back until Steve was winded. Then she came in for the kill, jabbing fast and hard. Though it made me a little sick to my stomach to see the glaze of bloodlust in the boys’ eyes, I have to admit I was rooting for Sparrow just a little. After all, Steve was a huge dumb guy and Sparrow was like a cross between Lara Croft and Cat Woman. Who can resist that?
In the end, though, Harry’s superior skill won out. With a two-punch move, Steve lofted Sparrow across the ring. She hit the mat hard and as soon as she staggered to her feet Steve finished her off, messing up her face for good measure. The boys were strangely gleeful, delighting in Sparrow’s purple bruises and split lip, shown in close-up as Sparrow panted, head down but eyes looking up in defiance. I made them turn it off and go play Legos in the basement.
It got me thinking about the nature of war and the invisible threads that hold civilized society together. Distilled all the way down to its essence, countries go to war for three reasons: Land, gold and women. Ultimately, the three represent one idea: the hunger for resources that create wealth and ensure propagation. Growing up in the mid/late 20th century, I observed by example (and much to the dismay of Gloria Steinem followers) that women seemed especially suited for such cultural roles as peace maker, upholder of family tradition, moral compass and unflinching ally of friends and family members. It’s an amazing amount of responsibility, but there’s a sanctity to it that can be deeply satisfying for all, if not abused by any.
So what happens when women become kick-ass brawlers, fair game for a sound beat-down?
When the soldier fighting beside you in Fallujah is named Jessica and she just saved your ass from getting shot off, are you as inclined to have mercy on the woman crouching in the corner when you break down the next door? How do you know she’s not just pretending to be terrified while she waits for an opening to slit your throat? What about the old man cowering beside her, or the two adolescent children crouching behind her?
It all comes back to a question that’s been a central theme of my ever-evolving adult perspective: How much “equality” is too much, and what lines need to remain in place? If there is no consideration of gender in defining societal mores, what can we replace it with that resonates so close to the core of our beings? What if nobody idolizes his grandmother, holds the door for his sweetheart or discourages her guy from fighting at the bar? What will hold the world together? And don’t speculate that general self-restraint is an option – history is rife with examples of how things work out when we rely primarily on self-determination. The latest global economic meltdown comes immediately to mind.
I’m not convinced that I’m just rapidly developing a bad case of fossilitis. “Women and children first” is an ageless adage, one that has long guided the morality of nations, in peace and at war. And while it is no more acceptable to entertain the idea of banning women from equal opportunity than it is to racially segregate schools, I fear for what all this might mean. I’m still puzzling it out myself, and I welcome your thoughts.
Ed Note: DJ Hostettler responds.