Posted by: markfender | June 26, 2012

Lara vs. Korra

Maybe you’ve seen the new Tomb Raider trailer? You know, the one where she gets sexually assaulted.

This prequel is supposedly telling the story of how Lara Croft, Tomb Raider and general all-around bad ass, became that bad ass. And, surprise surprise, she’s a tough survivor because she was raped.


Why isn’t there any other way for a fictional female character to demonstrate how tough she is? What if her parents were killed, like Bruce Wayne’s? Maybe her friends could betray her, like Edmund Dantes? Maybe her beloved uncle could be gunned down in the street by a low-life criminal she failed to stop, like Peter Parker? Or maybe she could fall into the that other trap for female characters, protecting her son like Sarah Conner? Or maybe, just maybe, she could just be a bad ass because she raids mother-fucking tombs for a living?

Now, I’m all for the “realification” of Lara Croft. Hell, this version looks like more of a real person than Angelina Jolie does. And the rest of the game looks fine – a little too torture-porn for my tastes but at least its environmental torture porn that can apply equally to males and females. But do we have to trivialize her “realification” by raping her?

Conversely, let’s look at another recent tough heroine, Korra.

Korra is, like Lara Croft, a bad ass. She solves all her problems by punching them. She’s a tough survivor…because she’s a survivor. No elaborate rape back story needed. She can be tough because that’s her character.

Bryan Konietzko, co-creator of The Legend of Korra, was quoted by NPR as saying that Nickelodeon was worried that boys wouldn’t relate to Korra because she’s a girl. During test screenings, though, boys said they didn’t care that Korra was a girl. They just said she was awesome.

See how easy that is? Make an awesome character and people will like her. There’s no need to pull out the very tired cliche of having survived a traumatic experience in order to give “depth” to your female character. But, the creators of Lara Croft don’t get that. In fact, producer Ron Rosenberg has been quoted as saying that when gamers play as Lara, “…they don’t really project themselves into the character. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.”

You know, Ron, if you weren’t so busy having her raped, she wouldn’t need protection from me. She could just go about her happy existence as a wealthy, privileged British rogue archeologist. She could be someone that inspires people because of who she is, not how she got that way. To quote Bolin in regards to Korra, “You’re the smartest, funniest, toughest, buffest, talented incrediblest girl in the world.” At no point during that list of her talents did he use the phrase “for a girl.” Because that doesn’t matter. She is who she is. And that’s good enough.

Why isn’t that good enough for Lara?


  1. Any time a man has a woman physically restrained and drags her somewhere, he’s raping her? People sure are eager to read sex crime into everything. It’s like our culture has slid back to the 1950’s, but with the red menace re-skinned to institutional misogyny. I have it on good authority that there are no less than 153 woman-haters and rape-culture sympathists currently working in the U.S. State Department, and call for immediate congressional investigation!

    • You’ve got a lovely strawman there.

  2. It’s not a strawman, it’s an analogy. It would be a strawman if you hadn’t posted that Lara Croft was raped in her backstory. I addressed a point you actually raised, not a fabricated weaker point.

    • You addressed my point by dismissing it and then creating some sort of false premise that you then could go off on a tirade about. The “problem” isn’t that everything a man does to a woman is now construed as rape, the problem is that Lara Croft doesn’t need a trite “writing a story about a women – how can I make her tough?” rape back story integrated, since she’s demonstrated for over a decade that she’s already tough. It’s lazy writing and problematic when you consider the stance of the developer that a woman can’t be the protagonist of a story unless there’s a man there to “protect her.”

      • Of course I dismissed it; that was the point of my initial reply. There’s no rape there.

        If you want to tell a story about somebody making a transition from a life of privilege to being a total badass, you generally show that character facing and overcoming some harrowing situations. If you just go straight from “rich british girl” to “badass pistol-packing action archaeologist” you’ve done something highly lame. With Indiana Jones they gave him daddy issues (the mother of all tired “I want to make my character look deep” trope), with Croft they’re having her go through a disaster/survival scenario.

        That being said, I’m generally against “how my awesome mary sue got awesome” stories and superhero origins. Finding the right balance between “well really she was always awesome since conception” and wallowing in the pre-awesome lameness is something rare.

  3. “If you want to tell a story about somebody making a transition from a life of privilege to being a total badass, you generally show that character facing and overcoming some harrowing situations.”

    Yup. But because she’s female, one of those harrowing situations has to be some icky sex stuff. It couldn’t just be the environment – you know, from the character that pretty much defined “explore a 3-D environment” gameplay?

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