For me, “feminism” was kind of a bad word for a while. Most of the feminists I knew were angry, lonely women ranting on Twitter about how men are trash and that we should overthrow the patriarchy. They made me feel as though I had no intrinsic value just because I’m a man. It kind of put a bad taste in my mouth.
Thanks to some calmer feminist friends down the line, I grew to understand that I’ve kind of been a feminist all along. It’s not about making men step aside and letting women take over. It’s about equality. A man and a woman doing the same job should be paid the same. A woman can lead any organization as well as a man. Women can do most anything a man can do just like a man can do most anything a woman can do. I thought this was common sense because we’re all just people, but I guess it’s not among some individuals.
That being said, something struck me as I was playing Skyrim recently. Men and women in Skyrim have nearly no differing social expectations. They serve the same functions in society all up and down the hierarchical totem pole. For this reason, I think Skyrim might be the most feminist-friendly RPG I’ve played.
Let me elaborate and you guys can tell me if I’m way off base here.
1. Women often serve in prominent societal positions
This might be the biggest one. It’s not uncommon to see women own farms, keep inns, serve as guards, or even run entire cities.
Let’s talk about the businesses first. Loads of shops around Skyrim are owned and run by women: Warmaiden’s in Whiterun, Angeline’s Aromatics in Solitude, Haelga’s Bunkhouse in Riften, and a host of others that I just can’t remember right now. My personal favorite is Warmaiden’s. You can always see the owner, Adrianne Avenicci, forging weapons out front while her husband, Ulfberth, mans the counter inside. She even gives you a quest to deliver a sword to her father and you get some gold for your trouble.
And how about them Jarls, though? Jarls (pronounced “yarlz”) are like the mayors of prominent Skyrim cities. A good chunk of them are women, including Ingrod Ravencrone of Morthal, Laila Law-Giver of Riften, and Elisif the Fair of Solitude. Although Morthal and Riften can be seen as a little trashy, Solitude is hands down the cleanest, wealthiest, and most influential hold in the Empire.
Wherever you go in Skyrim, whether it be a new city, farm, inn, or shop, there’s about a 50-50 chance that it’ll be run by a woman.
2. No sexualization
There’s basically no objectification of people in Skyrim. Seriously. Everyone wears armor that’s functional and practical and hardly ever revealing. And in the rare occasions that you see a man or a woman in less clothing/armor, it’s never sexualized (i.e. Aela the Huntress). Because there’s nothing sexy about running into a fight with insufficient armor. That’s how you die.
This is one of the things that was most surprising to me when I started playing. Despite “sexual themes” contributing to the M rating, there’s very little sexuality in this game at all. In my 150+ hours of playing, I think I’ve come across one conversation where someone implies a woman might be servicing a “base need” of yours. But that’s it. No skimpy armor. No bouncing titty physics. Nothing.
Unless you’re a lonely, thirsty contributor to the modding community. But you have to go looking for that stuff outside of the game. It wasn’t developed with that in mind.
3. The main character can be a woman
Aside from the different races available to play, you also have the choice to play as a man or a woman. The dialogue in the game is written in such a way that it makes no difference whether you defeat the evil dragon Alduin as a man or a woman.
Because women can be butt-kicking heroes, too! Just ask Charlize Theron in literally every movie she’s been in.
4. No helpless damsels
As a teller of stories, I hate damsels in distress. Unless it’s 1926 and you’re shooting a silent film, I don’t think you should have one. And even then. They’re boring and lame and nothing but a plot device. Capable characters with flaws are far more interesting.
Overall, I’ve found the women of Skyrim to be very able and strong. There’s never any “Help! Please save me! Sigh, my hero!” And thank goodness for that. Ugh.
5. There’s a goddess dedicated to women
Dibella. There’s a temple for her in the westernmost city of Markarth. In the temple, only women are allowed to serve as priestesses, but you as the Dragonborn get some sidequests from them and they reward you.
Granted, there are Nine Divines in the world of Skyrim and only three of them are goddesses, but as far as I know, Dibella is the only one that only allows women to serve as priestesses. I think that’s fair, considering the other six Divines are dudes.
Look, I’m no Skyrim scholar and I’m definitely no feminist expert, but according to my limited observations, men and women are treated the same in Bethesda’s best-selling RPG. Whether you’re a Jarl or a shopkeeper or the Dragonborn itself, both men and women are on the same playing field in terms of capabilities, expectations, and potential. And isn’t that feminism? Equal treatment for all? For that reason, I think Skyrim might be the most feminist-friendly RPG I’ve played.