Is Bayonetta empowered through her sexuality?
When I started playing Bayonetta, I absolutely no idea what it was about. I was very pleasantly surprised for sure, especially towards the ends of the first scene when Bayonetta’s clothes get torn in three very convenient places: the side of her leg, her butt, and her chest. Each tear was accompanied by a very sexual noise. My immediate thought was “Oh no, another game where the female character is overly sexualized.” As I continued to play the game, I realized I cannot really pinpoint my exact feelings on her as a representation for female characters.
I found Tiff Chow’s blog post talking about whether Bayonetta’s strong sexuality is decoration or celebration and it has definitely helped me start processing my thoughts. Chow references Leigh Alexander’s article (which unfortunately has been taking down and I have not been able to find) which claims that in Bayonetta, “Bayonetta takes the video game sexy woman stereotype from object to subject, and it’s tremendously empowering” but Chow counters this by saying that “Bayonetta is pure camp” which explains “the extremities of everything from her disproportionate body to her saucy one-liner dialogue.” I do feel a bit inclined to agree that the campiness of the entire game and her movement do take something away from the argument that Bayonetta is empowering. There is one scene towards the end of Chapter 6, where two Bayonettas have a model off. They both take turns to do poses and honestly, it felt like a big joke and was added for comedy. Her character seems to be the idea of extreme femininity. The “exaggeration” of her sexuality through her character design is challenging to talk about because of the fact that Mari Shimazaki, one of Bayonetta’s character designer, said that, “When a female character appears in an action game, her limbs often seem thin and short. That is why I tried to make her more appealing as an action game character by adjusting her proportions and extending her limbs.” Shimazaki believes she designed a strong female character. But on the other hand, Kenichiro Yoshimura, the modeler for Bayonetta, said, “I really wanted to get Bayonetta’s backside perfect. I guess I am into that sort of thing…” This quote to me makes me think that there is definitely some objectification to Bayonetta’s character that is not meant to be empowering, especially considering that modeler and animator are males, which are the most exaggerated parts of her. And I think that may be partially what makes me still struggle on how to feel about Bayonetta.
There is a lot of things to consider when trying to answer the question I have proposed. In the perspective Bayonetta, she seems to be confident and knows exactly what she is doing. She doesn’t really care what other characters think of her. She owns it. If a character is in a way self-aware of their sexuality (aka it’s their personality), it is important not to dismiss that, which may be what most people do. Can a character be empowered while the players are not? I do like the idea of using sexuality as a way for females to empowered because, in real life, female sexuality is still struggling to be seen as something positive and not taboo. This fact may also be one of the reasons that people do not find Bayonetta to be a good representation. There are many ways for females to be represented and be deemed as a strong character and not everyone will always agree. There is no one correct way. Mostly, because to be female does not necessarily always mean to be feminine and vice versa.
How is the fact that the cinematic shots “are more often than not jaw-droppingly exploitative” and done my males add to the whole conversation? Perhaps Bayonetta is strong and powerful but does the camera work does take away from that? These questions and thoughts make me want to explore the idea of ‘male gaze’ further in the context of Bayonetta.
Another thought I had:
Why are default characteristics for good representation of strong characters usually masculine? Why do people think femininity and being strong cannot coexist in a person?