Misogyny Has a New Game: Bioshock

Oct 08 2007

That’s right. Hiding underneath all the accolades and slick marketing lies something much more sinister within — misogyny. Unlike most nefarious games, Bioshock starts off relatively benign. Only when your character acquires new weapons; called “plasmids”, does the misogynistic world of Rapture become embarrassingly obvious. You see, every plasmid comes with a tutorial demonstrating its abilities. In each video, players are treated to watching a poor innocent woman being eviscerated by a patriarchal, plasmid-wielding woman-hater.

References alluding to male privilege are laced throughout; the victim is always dressed as a housewife (misogynists love their women subservient) and overtly feminine, the male assailant is always seen with a smug grin of satisfaction as he overpowers the “uppity” woman. Even the presentation is done in a stylized 1940’s manner, referring to an era in which women were seen as property.

The poor thing. She never had a chance.

Later on in the game, you’ll cross paths with Bridgette Tenenbaum, the only female character in the game. She’s given very little screen time and is quickly relinquished as a babysitter for the children of Rapture, dubbed as “Little Sister’s”.  It’s disappointing to see a strong woman reduced to servitude but not surprisingly unexpected.

After playing Bioshock, I can only ask what kind of depraved individual could come up with such trash in today’s modern, gender-blind society? Kev Levine, Bioshock’s designer has often cited the philosophy of Objectivism as a major influence in his life and from this confession, I’ve been given the explanation for Bioshock’s sexism.

Misogynist extraordinaire, Ken Levine

Objectivism, created by Ayn Rand, is an archaic philosophy with many anti-feminist overtones. Her work often promoted something she called “hero worship” which she described as “the essence of femininity is hero worship — the desire to look up to man” and that “an ideal woman is a man-worshiper, and an ideal man is the highest symbol of mankind.”  Fancy words for a degrading type of relationship where women are seen as breeding stock for male pleasure.

Don’t believe me? When former lover of Ayn Rand’s, Nathaniel Branden was asked to clarify hero worship he was quoted “man experiences the essence of his masculinity in the act of romantic dominance; woman experiences the essence of her femininity in the act of romantic surrender.” Male dominance? True femininity equals complete submission to a man? Need I say more? Violence against women is another recurring theme found within Objectivism. The most famous example can be found by just flicking through the pages of The Fountainhead. Written in 1943 by Rand, it contains a graphic description of a rape between the female protagonist and her male counterpart:

He had thrown her down on the bed and she felt the blood beating in her throat, in her eyes, the hatred, the helpless terror in her blood. She felt the hatred and his hands; his hands moving over her body, the hands that broke granite. She fought in a last convulsion. Then the sudden pain shot up, through her body, to her throat, and she screamed. Then she lay still.It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt, as a symbol of humiliation and conquest. It could be the act of a lover or the act of a soldier violating an enemy woman. He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement.

The frequent depictions of violence against women in Bioshock are no mere accident but the product of a person indoctrinated by anti-feminist rhetoric. Ken Levine may remain irreversibly ignorant but that doesn’t mean we should sit idly by.  As the philosopher Edmund Burke wisely said “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing”.   It is our moral duty; an imperative requirement — for all good men and women to actively refuse and fight back against such sexism whenever it reveals its ugly head, whatever the medium.


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