Villainous Vixens: Rebutting the “mad maidens” principle

(See WoW Insider’s “Open Letter to Jaina Proudmoore” for backstory. Be warned of 5.4 spoilers!)

If it comes as a surprise to anyone that I love ladies behaving badly in Warcraft (and other storytelling mediums), then I invite you to take a gander at my two Blizzard Story contest entries, where I think about Blood Queen Lana’thel and Leyara’s histories, respectively.

It’s hard being Alliance for all your WoW-playing career and having a fascination with villainy, because they tend to either be a part of the Horde (Sylvanas) or quest/dungeon/raid bosses (Keristrasza, Leyara, BQL, ad nauseum).  The Blizzard Story contest is, at the moment, defunct, but I had been planning exploring a Sylvanas story after reading Dave Kosak’s short story, Edge of Night, because I did find it very interesting that she wasn’t present at Arthas’ death.

A lot of this is born out of my frustration that women in Warcraft tend to be pushed to their limits by the storylines, and then callously abandoned to their fate (often death, at the hands of us “heroes”) when they’re deemed irredeemable. Keristrasza was captured, abused and forced to be Malygos’ consort after she murdered his previous one, and you have to kill her in the Nexus, an act which the wiki entry for her states “a sad, but necessary end.”

so much dragon rape in this game!

so much dragon rape in this game!

Lana’thel is forced into service for the Lich King when she faced him at Northrend, armed with her former friend’s blade Quel’delar, which she was overwhelmed by Frostmourne, and forced to serve him. (Sensing a theme?) Leyara’s grief and anger at the Horde, and her father-in-law’s madness leads her to ally with the minions of Ragnaros because she doesn’t feel she has anything left to live for (and she doesn’t even make it into the dungeons, you kill her during a quest chain.)

This female madness issue didn’t start with Wrath, nor end in Cata.  In Pandaria, where strong emotions are made physically manifest in the Sha, both Suna Silentstrike and Liu Flameheart become infested with Sha, and the players are forced to kill them. It would not be so very telling if not for the fact that Tarah Zhu, leader of the Shado-Pan, is similarly affected, but in the dungeon where you encounter him, all the player needs to do is drive the Sha out of his body, and defeat it.

If that’s the case, why did Suna and Liu have to die? Their grief and doubt – at the loss of a beloved husband, the fear of failing your god – are perfectly reasonable within the context of their stories, which were created by the writers and quest developers. Why do the women of Warcraft only get one chance at redemption, and then only through death?

What’s even more fascinating is that this is a narrative that’s not just played out in the game and supplemental materials, but also in the fan base. Jaina factors into this because like Suna and Leyara, she’s lost loved ones, people she was a leader to. Her story has always been one of courage and of loss.  SPOILERS for 5.4 to follow the cut:

In “Dear Jaina,” Jaina is mad as a hornet about everything that’s led up to Garrosh’ dethroning.  The lives lost in Theramore, the land taken from the night elves, each wound cutting into the flesh of the Alliance – and of his own Horde, given Vol’jin’s actions in the Barrens and Lore’themar on the Isle of Thunder. The destruction of Orgrimmar and its Warchief, which she sought after the bomb fell on Theramore (and was talked out of once before) has finally been achieved.  Why, the question appears to be, is she still so gotdanged MAD? Someone who handheld Varian through his worst temper tantrums, and taught Anduin, Thrall and Baine the merits of diplomacy?

Because of WoW’s history with female characters, especially female leaders, the answer MUST lie elsewhere. It must be Wrathion’s influence (a baby of two years!), it must be the Old Gods, it must be the Legion, it must, it must, it must.

I don’t want Jaina to be a villain but such an evolution would make sense. I do want her to be angry. I don’t want it to because her anger made a hole where the demons got in. I want her anger to be Jaina’s anger. Not Wrathion’s plan. Not Old God Madness. Hers, and hers alone.  If it is anyone else’s, then Jaina is no more than Suna, or Leyara, or Maeiv.

I’m excited about this possibility because it would be perhaps the first time we have had a woman who is cold and manipulative and rational since Katrana Prestor and Sylvanas before Garrosh ground her down into her own form of madness. I’d grieve for sweet, scholarly Jaina, but the world has changed for her. A similar change in herself would only make sense. It gives the Alliance fresh conflict going forward internally, and against the Horde.  Remember at Blizzcon 2011 when they said tensions between Horde and Alliance were escalating? That’s not exactly what happened, since Alliance and non-Garrosh led Horde allied together yet again. But perhaps what they meant was long-term, and aggressions will be preserved going forward due to Jaina’s obstinacy and fierce protectiveness of her people.

yeah girl, frost mages 5eva

yeah girl, frost mages 5eva

I’m tired of killing female characters in WoW because it’s the only way they can be ‘saved’.  It’s insulting, for the many reasons Anita Sarkeesian outlines in part 2 of her Damsels in DIstress series. It proves that the community can be led by its nose regarding the usefulness of characters, because I remember a time when everyone and their grandmother hated how “soft” Jaina was in Wrath. She hardened up! She did! Actively. It was a choice.  If we want choices for female characters to matter, if we want to stamp down on the madness narrative that implies all women are hugging feely-healers who just want to breastfeed their tanks, then that involves acknowledging that women can make bad choices, villainous ones, hard ones, through their own lens of experiences, and not because a Sha is perched in her brain, or a baby dragon whispering in her ear.

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