This dominant narrative surrounding the inevitability of female objectification and victimhood is so powerful that it not only defines our concepts of reality but it even sets the parameters for how we think about entirely fictional worlds, even those taking place in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. It’s so normalized that when these elements are critiqued, the knee-jerk response I hear most often is that if these stories did not include the exploitation of women, then the game worlds would feel too “unrealistic” or “not historically accurate”. What does it say about our culture when games routinely bend or break the laws of physics and no one bats an eye? When dragons, ogres and magic are inserted into historically influenced settings without objection. We are perfectly willing to suspend our disbelief when it comes to multiple lives, superpowers, health regeneration and the ability to carry dozens of weapons and items in a massive invisible backpack. But somehow the idea of a world without sexual violence and exploitation is deemed too strange and too bizarre to be believable.
And even more telling. When people (guys) complain about ‘realism’ in games or movies, they are not really talking about literal realism. That’s not what they mean. The word they are reaching for is verisimilitude - in other words: that which breaks the illusion.
When we say of a piece of fiction that contains dragons, flying suits of armor, or aliens that it is ‘realistic’, what we really mean is that it feels real - that the characters reactions, the world built around the fantastical elements and how the non-fantastical elements interact with them seems “true” to us. We look at it and nod and say to ourselves inside “Yes, that is how someone would react to seeing a giant monster” or “Yes, that seems like how society would react to an alien invasion” - the world around the made-up stuff is carefully designed and seems thought-out enough that we buy it emotionally, even if we know that logically it is nonsense.
So when someone complains that a medieval fantasy world does not feel “realistic” without the ugly oppression, dehumanization, and violation of women as a standard background element, what they are saying is that those details feel right to them. That the world, without that misogyny, is not emotionally satisfying. They are saying they need that there for the world to make sense.
THIS. This so hard.