Images of Women in 4E D&D Art

So in the past few weeks a lot of the blogs and podcasts I frequent have exploded with the topic of sexism in RPG art and how they really don’t depict women in an ideal manner. I think it is an issue. I think with some entertainment industries (especially video games) folks could have a legitimate argument that they represent women in a sexist manner. However I want to take a look at D&D. In particular the art for the newest edition. More importantly I think there is a trend in the art that shows a far more empowering image of women despite the amount of clothing they are wearing.

Big disclaimer. I have not had any semblance of advance education in women’s studies, modern feminism, psychology or sociology. What you are getting here is an completely ignorant, uneducated, rambling of some random guy-on-the-street opinion. Despise what I say? Just rack it up to me being a big idiot (a more accurate descriptor would be a big fat idiot). I’m no expert. I’m not pretending to be. The following is an internet jackass opinion.

Above are some beautiful works from Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. I’d say they are some classic depictions of fantasy art with women and men as both the subjects of the paintings. Now you can go back and forth about what the women are wearing, and if it would be considered sexist wearing such skimpy clothing. You might go off on how the women are very curvy , maybe a few even a little top heavy. The deal is folks could go back and forth about this and I think neither side could really claim any ground.

As much as some women will say the outfits (or lack of) are a sexist depiction, I think you could say the same for the men. And then you get into the entire argument whether nudity is sexism. Still, I expect some women would find the above paintings objectionable based on the lack of attire the females are wearing, that it is demeaning and disgraceful. I’m certain there are some men that would claim the same thing and state it would be far better if they were wearing a full length burqa. I don’t think you can get a lot of mileage with some people on the lack of clothing being an indicator of sexism.

But let’s look at these images again. What does it say about men? Let’s look at the stances they depict. Powerful? Martial prowess? Fit? Strong? Protective? You could say they are fairly positive attributes. Now what does these paintings say about women?

Submissive? Incapable? Fragile? Weak? Dare we even say maybe as an object? See a lot of guys can completely wave off the lack of clothing bit. You can stand behind the opinion it is simply showing people’s bodies in their glory and natural beauty. There is nothing shameful about it. Yet, when you look harder at their stances. How the women are in relation to the men in the paintings. You really can’t say it depicts men and women equally.

Let’s take a peek at some of the art from the 4E PHB. The first book that came out with all the 4E goodness of D&D (okay, you grognards bite your tongue on the ‘goodness’ bit and just agree this is the recent stuff from WotC).

You don’t see women cowering behind men. I guess you might quibble about the eladrin getting stomped on by a white dragon (although I think you’ve got a woman warrior to the left ready to deal out some whoop ass). Still as a grab bag of dynamic action scenes, you see the women in these images engaging, competent, and on equal footing with the men.

Let’s look at some of the lone depictions of women….

I think even the leather bikini babe is taking an engaging and proactive stance. They are not cowering in some submissive pose. They are striking, imposing figures, or having a watchful stance. They are not quivering on their knees waiting to be saved by someone. I think at least for WotC and the art now in D&D, you’ve got a lot more positive images of women.

This does get murky. Google Lara Croft or Bayonetta and I’m certain you’ll get an eyeful. While they are strong, capable women, they are still depicted in an overly sexualized way. However, I think that aspect is the most important. The characters are empowered. They are effective, strong, proactive, and most importantly aren’t crying for men to save them.

For D&D right now, I think it does a lot to push that image of women in their game art. Women are not fragile, submissive objects. They are standing right alongside the men, ready for adventure. I think that is the most important part. Something I feel is wonderful about this game and especially for little girls. You can be a hero. You can be strong, smart, and powerful. And most importantly, you can be just as good (or even better) than the boys.

(Note: I picked out some of the more objectified images of women from Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo’s works. Each have produced works of art with women in far more stronger stances than what I used here. I freely admit taking some of the more controversial images to make a point about classic fantasy art. On that note, I’ll offend even more people and end with one of my favorite pics of scantly clad superhero women.)

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