I laughed, I cried. It was much better than Cats. If you haven’t seen this video of Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy yet, watch it now. So refreshing!

After listening to Joss, I have to make the connection between his comment that strong women characters are valuable for men as well as women, and the phenomenon of men taking on female avatars when they are gaming. For some reason, research shows that women gamers rarely switch genders when gaming. Because games are so populated by male avatars, women frequently play games with male avatars , but when given the choice they rarely choose gender bending. This doesn’t bode well for Dr. Freud. As a fan of Jung’s writings, I have to say that I think gaming and other virtual spaces provide a situation in which men can express and work with their animas.

While many male gamers come up with convoluted reasons for gender bending online, many admit to not consciously knowing we they chose to play a female. Male to female gender bending is still a serious taboo for heterosexual men in our culture and online games provide a space in which men can unconsciously explore the feminine aspects of their psyche without fear of (much) ridicule or violence.

Considering the amount of harassment and sexual attention female characters get in many online games, it seems hard to believe that men would choose to play female characters simply for the voyeuristic pleasure watching a female body as they claim. As Joss stated in his speech, strong female characters are certainly sexy and part of men’s pleasure in playing a female avatar must indeed be voyeuristic, but if having a view of a female body was all that was desired, most of these men would choose options in which they could control the female body without identifying with the character. For example, in WOW, if a man wants to have a sexy female side-kick he can play a warlock, and summon up a succubus.

In most online games any female avatar is by definition strong, since female and male characters have exactly the same abilities and are able to progress through the games in an equal fashion. This fact also contributes to making online gaming a safe space for men to explore their feminine qualities since they will not face negative consequences in terms of in game ‘career’ development. Similarly, Joss’s strong female characters, are in some sense safe for men to identify with since they are not weak and yet they are highly feminine.

Our hyper-masculinized culture allows (and at times encourages) women to explore the more masculine aspects of their personalities. Women, particularly in work spaces, must negotiate their identities in situations where masculinity is the norm. Men rarely get the opportunity to similarly explore their feminine aspects. It is only in the highly removed and fictional worlds of gaming and science fiction that men are permitted these sorts of explorations.