An Important Foreword
Before I begin I need to explicity state that, although this is an attempt to argue positively for Bayonetta and the character's representation of women in response to negative feedback the character has recently received, it is in no way associated with or supportive of the murky fog of misogyny and sexism that pervades GamerGate.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, especially on sensitive and important subjects surrounding gender politics and representation of women; I welcome all viewpoints as worthy of consideration and believe in respect and mature discussion. In other words, I'm doing the absolute bare minimum required of me to be a decent human being.
Second, I am at pains to point out that, as this is a subject that concerns women, they are best placed to have an informed opinion on this matter; please don't take this piece as a "feminism is this" article or a "sexism is not that" argument; my only aim with this is to say "here are some positive things I have noticed, I thought they were interesting". I am in no position to be telling the opposite sex what feminism is.
With all that said, I have one question for you:
You want to touch me?
It's not an invitation, it's a rhetorical question. In fact, it's barely a question; it's a statement, delivered with a sarcastic, domineering smirk; she already knows the answer.
A hulking great angelic thicko throwing fruitless haymakers eventually falls victim to his own vices, as Bayonetta combines witchcraft with striptease to summon a gargantuan, satanic accomplice. As the cherubic berk reaches for a lascivious handful, Bayonetta delivers a sharp slap to his gigantic stone knuckles, and his distracted ogling seals his fate as the brunch of an enormous hellspawn; it's Carry On Witching, except it's the women that are in control.
The Angels of Paradiso are Bayonetta's punching bags. She pummels waves after wave of them into a fine mist whilst they look on agog at her fabulous appearance. This captive audience, a congregation of sappy admirers, are in the palm of her hand; even the bosses spout empty, pathetic statements of admiration towards her like a clueless, single man with a Tinder account.
Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking the camera is operated by a lustful fourteen year old at times, as it swoops along Bayonetta's impossible curves and fills the screen with her leather-clad groin, and this is where people start to lose faith in the idea of her being a strong female character, giving way to complaints of over-sexualisation.
It's understandable that many feel this way, but the key difference between the scenes found in Bayonetta to those in other games lies in the character's consent.
Take Resident Evil 4's Ashley, for example: a helpless female character with very little personality, falling under the damsel in distress trope. She is of dubious age and dressed in a sexualised schoolgirl-like outfit. In the section of the game where you control Ashley, one technique available to you to is to trigger a QTE that sees her crawl under a table, putting space between her and the advancing dead. It is deemed of utmost importance that we follow her under every table, and the camera is pointed squarely at her bottom as she wriggles to safety. The voyeuristic tone to this section is in stark conrast to the celebrated and empowered sexuality of Bayonetta.
It's this key difference that brought me to thinking of analogues elsewhere: if moments like Ashley's unsolicited upskirt shot represent submissive objectification - the kind seen in wide-eyed, living doll, "Lads' mags" photography, then Bayonetta is the positive expression of sexuality seen in burlesque and neo-burlesque.
Similar misconceptions can be seen here, too; many misunderstand burlesque as exploitative tack, derogatory to the performer, often being lumped in with the likes of Page Three and Nuts magazine. I spoke to burlesque performer Miss Cairo about her feelings on sex in art, and the spirit and intentions of burlesque in the expression of sexuality. Here's what she had to say
[All images of Miss Cairo by Gareth Dutton]
" All art can tap into sexuality in any capacity it chooses as art is subversive, and relies on the viewers personal response. Sexuality is something that is felt, an emotion, an instinct, and is sometimes something that is evoked. Sexuality is fluid, and can be fleeting, and in a flash a person can question their sexuality. Burlesque is already playing with the theme of sexual desire in some capacity. It plays with kinks, fetishes, foreplay and intimacy. Within my work, I like to confuse people, being this feminine ideal, but still with a masculine energy. I like to make people fall in lust with me, then shock them, then reassure them that their feelings are ok because they are natural."
" I think a lot of burlesquers are perceived as uneducated, when in fact it’s the complete opposite. I know lawyers, doctors, accountants, entrepreneurs, teachers (for all ages, all subjects) and counsellors. There are people who make a living on being a self employed burlesque performer, having to do their own PR, accounting, costume making, insurance, which takes a lot of nerve and dedication to make that commitment. "
" [Burlesque is] political. It’s personal. It’s playful. It’s also extremely intimate, unless you don’t want it to be...there are a lot of strong women out there, taking newbie performers under their wing to protect them and equip them in fighting the oppression."
"Burlesque can be sexual objectification, as long as it’s consensual and both parties are in understanding of the unspoken contract between artist and audience. I would be interested to see a boylesque show," (an all male burlesque show) "which subverts objectification, and educates equality, consent and respect to the point of helping recognise the more subtle, everyday sexism against women. But that is why burlesque is more than sexual objectification. It is the crux of development, a breeding ground for discussion, and a chance for audiences to reconnect with themselves."
To me, Bayonetta is burlesque; she embodies its tenets of control, consent, power and personality, all running in tandem with her sexuality. We should not take a woman's sexuality away from her to solve the problem of objectification; the solution lies in giving her all the control, all the choice. Similarly, when creating a female character with a sexual element, if that character is in control of her sexuality, and is empowered by it; if she is presented as a person with character and personality as opposed to an object, then that can only be a positive thing.