Silent Screams: The voiceless Women of WoW

This began as a comment on the Godmother’s blog in response to this post. Then it grew and grew and grew, taking on a life of it’s own.

I come from a long line of Matriarchs, women whose character was forged through necessity. Widowed by war, by illness, they did more than just get by. I look at WoW and the closest images there are to my female role models are Magatha Grimtotem, a minor but compelling villain, one who might not reappear in the narrative at all and Therazane who does very little in terms of plot. As for the rest, it’s dead, dying or having babies. I’m not stamping my tiny feet and demanding that women take over the World of Warcraft, far from it but having one or two female characters written in such a way that the women playing this game could take inspiration from them isn’t much to ask. Films, books, tv series and computer games, we sink into their worlds because we’re shown versions of ourselves, the people that in a different set of circumstances we might have been. The characters you can identify with on one level or another are always the strongest but what does WoW offer? The age old stereotypes of women placed on pedestals or biers. Voiceless, their tales are only told as part of someone else’s story.

Azeroth mirrors our world in so many ways apart from one. Men have a far higher survival rate than women, it doesn’t matter if you go off to war with a huge sword, the odds are, that it will be your wife who dies whilst “safely” at home. Child birth seems to be a particularly nasty killer even though there are so many healers running around raising people from (near) death. We can save someone who has been garroted or eviscerated but child birth defeats our magic, or perhaps in the eyes of the story writers these pesky females have done their jobs by giving birth to the next generation of heroes and villains and it’s easier to kill them off. Character development 101, he went bad because his mother died horribly or he became a sterling example of the Light because no one bothered saving his dear old mum. The fact that it’s rather lazy storytelling doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Look at the faction leaders, so many single parent families. Cairne had to bring up Baine by himself although no one seems to know what happened to Mrs Cairne. What happened to Moira Bronzebeard’s mother? No takers, well what do we know about Jaina’s mother or the Lich King’s? Where is Garrosh’s mother and Saurfang’s wife? The common theme appears to be that they are mostly dead or just not written into the story.

I think it’s hugely telling that perhaps the most famous woman in WoW, at least from a Barrens Chat perspective would be Mankrik’s wife, a woman who didn’t even warrant a name until Cataclysm and who has been dead for the entire narrative. Yes, she’s the Warcraft version of Helen of Troy, with more than 1000 adventurer’s launched in her name but she’s the ultimate passive female. Without going to WoWhead, just how many of you can name her? How many have been to see her memorial in the Barrens? It’s a common theme, Tiffin Wyrnn…. nothing more than a huge marble monument in Stormwind Graveyard and a story telling device to help cement the fractured relationship of father and son together. When I hit 84 and got those quests to escort Anduin around, I misread one of them, thinking he was asking to see the graves and for a brief second I thought that’s sweet, a quest to take him to see his mother’s tomb and perhaps put flowers there but no, he just wanted to visit the harbour and chat to person called Graves.

Then there is poor little Tilloa, mentioned only in passing quest text.

However the elder daughter, Tilloa, seems exceptionally smart.  I couldn’t help but to notice her captivating beauty as well.  She is on the cusp of womanhood now.  Supposedly the Lord has arranged her marriage for next year.

(from the Legend of Stalvan)

She’s dead long before we the players get involved, just the same as Eliza (the reason behind us letting Stitches loose on the good people of Darkshire). We get to avenge her but not because we care, not because we know anything about her other than Stalvan’s jealous ravings but for gold and blues. With her fragmented mention in his diaries, we learn everything we need to know about her and like the differences between Petrarch’s writings about Laura and the woman she actually was, all that matters is how he tells it. The final insult, the spit on the grave, is that her lasting memorial will be written by her killer.

So we come to Taretha Foxton and that quest chain in Caverns of Time: Durnolde Keep which always leaves me frustrated. The good old Queen’s gambit, sacrifice the woman to save the Orc. Not only does the story imply that she’s a victim of sexual violence but in the end she’s executed to make a point and of course help Thrall become the Warchief he was destined to be. Next there is Elysa, linked to Taretha not only by their shared possession of Thrall’s necklace but also by their status as forced mistresses.

The pendant? Of course you can have it… Take it! I want no memory of him… just please, please leave in peace…

(from Taretha’s Gift).

It doesn’t exactly sound like a happy relationship does it. In order to make the bad guys look bad, certain boxes need ticking and cruelty towards women seems to be an easy choice.

It’s not just playable races that suffer either, we can’t forget Keristrazsa. The dragon who my questing characters now leave trapped in her bubble because ultimately she’s better there than becoming the broken creature we end up facing in the Nexus.

Aggro: Preserve? Why? There’s no truth in it! No, no, no… *laughs* Only in the taking. I see that now.
Frost Nova: Stay! Enjoy your final moments.
Death: Dragon Queen… Life-binder… preserve me…
Enrage: Finish it! FINISH IT! Kill me or I swear by the Dragon Queen you’ll never see daylight again.
Kill: Now we’ve come to the truth!

If that’s not bad enough, we even got to loot her broken heart with it’s disturbing flavour text just to make sure the message got through.

“A tragic end to a sad tale. If only Malygos’s abuse of Keristrasza hadn’t driven her insane.”

Yes, I couldn’t wait to breach the Eye of Eternity and slaughter Malygos but I’d have felt the same if he was breathing fire on kittens or trampling on the goldclover. Keristrazsa’s not the only female sacrificed in the process of making sure the entire player base knew that the leader of Blue Dragonflight was a little mad, bad and dangerous to know either. Let’s not forget poor Emmy either or our hand in the death of both her and Keristrasza.

Finally we have the women who aren’t dead only missing like Mia Greymane and her daughter. Last seen during the fall of Gilneas, we have to assume they survived but that Blizzard just didn’t bother putting them in game either in Darnassus with the other refugees or in Stormwind with their husband/father. I thought perhaps they might appear during the Hallows End festival, especially as it’s been somewhat taken over by the Gilneans but nothing.

Now I’m not denying that there are men who fall into these categories too, necessary sacrifices in order to keep the plot boiling along (Liam Greymane would be a prime example) but they tend not to be the victims of sexual violence and kidnapping in the process. So in conclusion, this is partly why I was taken a back by people who couldn’t believe that we were complaining about the lack of female characters in the MoP cinematic. It’s not that I want the female characters to outnumber the male but more that I want future generations of girls to grow up playing games, reading books and being inspired by the women they find on their screens and within those pages. To understand that they don’t have to be a footnote or a victim but if they want to be up there, wielding the metaphorical equivalent of a claymore…. then good for them. Also perhaps if little Vanessa Van Cleef had a mother, then Old Blanchy wouldn’t have had to die!

Personally I have high hopes of Sky Admiral Rogers but the cynical side of my brain fears that she will either fizzle out, letting the “men” do all the dirty work or will go slightly more psychotic and become a caricature of the woman she could be.

We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way back

to this scene carrying a knife,

a camera a book of myths

in which

our names do not appear.

(From Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich)

One thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want my nieces and god-daughters growing up and asking why their names do not appear. Oh and female Ogres wouldn’t go amiss either.

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8 Responses

  1. Ah, once again Erinys, you have deeply inspired me. Thank you.

  2. wonderful reading Erinys. And now, like Matty, I want to write something too.

  3. Thank you for this fantastic read. The title is so powerful. Like Matty and Navi, I now feel inspired to write.

  4. […] on blogs about women, wow and their representation. I saw this post by Alternative and then Eriny’s feelings. Those posts and the ideas that they raised have been mulling over in my head but then I […]

  5. @Matty, @Navi and @Saya Thanks :)

  6. I have no clue if it helps, but Tilloa had another memorial, a flower named after her. It grew in the field by Stalven’s homestead in Duskwood.
    Warlocks used that and another flower to make a poison to kill off some noble in SW back before they redid all the quest lines. That bit probably doesn’t help.

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