For me, Street Fighter has always existed at the periphery of my experience as a gamer. One of my best friends plays semi-competitively, and his passion has made me much more aware of the game than I used to be. Street Fighter is a stalwart of the gaming community; since its premiere in the late 1980s, each new iteration has featured a cast with a relatively high level of diversity. With a thirty-year legacy and Street Fighter V due to release next year, the new roster could not be more highly anticipated. Speculation as to which beloved characters will make the cut abounds, as do heated arguments about who deserves to be included. To generate publicity and excitement for the title, Street Fighter developer Capcom is leaking the character list one-by-one at major FGC tournaments and industry events.
And that’s where Rainbow Mika comes in.
Rainbow Mika—frequently abbreviated as R. Mika—is one of the fourteen characters currently confirmed for Street Fighter V. She’s the fourth character who is a woman to be confirmed for the game and, as an accomplished pro wrestler, was the game’s first full grappler to be announced. While most other women in the game must rely more on defensive or fast-moving play styles to compensate for their lower health points and attack strength, R. Mika’s arsenal is full of powerful bodyslams, suplexes, and piledrivers. She also comes with a lady tag-team partner—Nadeshiko—and a lady manager, Yoko Harmageddon. All in all, she’s a forceful addition to the roster, and I’m personally excited to see her completely wreck some people’s lives.
So, what’s the problem exactly? Well, the short answer is: her outfit. The long answer is: the way gamers interface with problematic, sexist features in the games they love most.
The Outrage: A Brief Summary
Since the announcement was made, R. Mika has come under an aggressive scrutiny from a multitude of groups. Many are critical of R. Mika’s inclusion in the game on a mechanical level; R. Mika was introduced in Street Fighter Alpha 3 as a relatively weak character—a rookie wrestler that occupied a low tier—and has had her power boosted in V to reflect her new status as an experienced professional.
But almost no one who critiques R. Mika’s inclusion critiques her on a purely mechanical level. Though that may be a part of comments lobbed her way, the vast majority are critiques of her outfit and appearance. R. Mika’s large breasts, provocative outfit, and iconic butt-smash have several critics up in arms. Some criticisms are clearly, insidiously gross, insinuating that R. Mika has been included solely for the sake of fanservice, and that only a nose-breathing pervert could possibly harbor any love for the character at all. Others are more on the ball, and come from the same heroes who are always tasked with asking the time-weathered question: “How the heck does she fight in that?”
The response from fans has been passionate and defensive, no doubt as a direct result of the breadth and intensity of the criticism itself. R. Mika’s outfit is goofy and over-the-top, just like the outfits of most real-world women wrestlers! Just like a real woman, she’s entitled to wear whatever she feels comfortable in! After all, Zangief’s only wearing a Speedo, and you don’t see anyone complaining about that! And there are real-life women who don’t have any problem with R. Mika at all! That proves that there’s no real problem here and people should shut up.
Now, I don’t think either of these camps are necessarily completely wrong or completely right. In many ways, this feels like sexism paintball—everybody’s wielding the same weapons, spraying the same sexist-tainted vitriol, just in pursuit of opposite goals. But, ultimately, I feel like it’s the latter argument that demands meaningful dissection, because it gets so close to true, meaningful discourse. Defense of R. Mika is well-meaning, I think, and done in the right spirit, which is exactly why I feel so compelled to deconstruct how much nonsense is involved in the most common arguments people use to do it. Not because I think R. Mika isn’t a character worth defending—she’s a wonderful character, and I’m looking forward to seeing her (and maybe even playing her) in Street Fighter V. But these defenses miss the mark in a profound way, and silence perfectly valid critiques in the pursuit of eliminating crude, ridiculous ones. And that’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.
Narrative Justification Is Straight Malarkey
Between R. Mika and Metal Gear Solid’s Quiet, I could write an entire article on how having a narrative justification for sexist nonsense does not, in any way, make it less sexist or less nonsense. It’s all well and good to say there’s a reason for it—R. Mika is a wrestler! Real women wrestlers wear skimpy outfits, right?—but ultimately, these “reasons” are just excuses for choices that were made in service of a sexist vision.
It’s true that wrestlers who are women frequently bare their midriffs, arms, and thighs in outrageous, eye-grabbing outfits. But these outfits are structurally supportive—most of the tops are sports bras, designed to minimize breast movement and provide additional support during exercise, while the bottoms are boy shorts, designed to allow maximum range of leg movement while simultaneously preventing wedgies and chafing. Both sports bras and boy shorts are designed to be comfortable and functional, and to provide full coverage while a person is active.
In comparison, R. Mika’s bra top is an ill-fitting pushup bra with half cups that have no underwire, no band, and off-the-shoulder straps. It’s too tight—her breasts threaten to spill over the top of the cup. Even assuming her outfit is a constricting material (which it certainly appears to be), her top is minimally supportive and allows for a full range of breast movement—great for utilizing Street Fighter’s formidable jiggle physics, but very uncomfortable for vigorous exercise. The bottom of her outfit is a bikini-cut thong that bites into her hips and rides up between her butt cheeks—great for showcasing her nice, round booty, but terrible for avoiding wedgies or chafing. If the argument is that R. Mika is scantily clad so that she looks like a real wrestler, you’d think her outfit would have the same focus on support and practicality that the outfits of real wrestlers do.
You’d also think—if the designers were confident that this was the true reasoning behind her outfit—that her partner, Nadeshiko, would be wearing something nearly identical. But she isn’t. Nadeshiko (pictured above) wears a one-piece swimsuit with thick straps that completely covers her chest and midriff. Though the bottom half has the same issues as R. Mika’s, Nadeshiko’s outfit has enough coverage to allow for a supportive bra, and generally looks much more similar to the outfits of real-world wrestlers. This is all without even beginning to discuss aspects of sexism that already exist in real-world wrestling, which absolutely ties in to the discussion at hand.
The fact of the matter is, while R. Mika’s outfit takes some inspiration from reality, it is designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Its bright cyan color instantly grabs the eye and contrasts well with her bright yellow hair. Its frills bring an amount of childish naïveté and femininity that is central to R. Mika’s character. Its cut highlights her hourglass shape, the generous curves of her breasts and her butt, the strong muscles of her thighs. It’s designed to titillate, to showcase the sexual attractiveness of the character. And to be fair, that’s true to form for Street Fighter. Of the other women characters announced for the game so far—Cammy, Chun-Li, Karin, and Laura—three out of four bare a hefty amount of skin, be it their butts, legs, or breasts.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Characters being sexually attractive isn’t, in itself, a huge problem, and people who are titillated by R. Mika’s design don’t need to castigate themselves. But when “sexual attractiveness” is prioritized above everything else in the creation and design of women characters, and not prioritized at all in the creation and design of characters who are men, it becomes symptomatic of a larger problem, and indicative of sexism and misogyny in the development process.
Saying the Right Words in the Wrong Way
But critiquing R. Mika’s outfit—the amount of skin it bares, the reactions it evokes in a heterosexual audience of men, how practical or impractical it is—is pretty sexist in and of itself, isn’t it? R. Mika’s a grown woman. She’s allowed to wear whatever she wants. It’s her body, her clothes, and her choice. Right?
Nope. Wrong. But thanks for playing.
I’ve seen this argument get tossed around a lot for a lot of different characters—mostly video game and comic book heroines—and it’s just straight-up moldy potatoes. It uses all of the right words with all the right levels of emphasis, but at the end of the day it’s just nonsense. R. Mika isn’t capable of making decisions about her wardrobe. She isn’t capable of making decisions at all. She isn’t a real person with agency; she’s a fictional character whose entire personality and appearance was determined by others. Someone else decided what R. Mika would wear and what narrative justification would be provided for it. Someone else decided how R. Mika would feel about her outfit and how she would look and move in it. In critiquing R. Mika’s outfit, we aren’t shaming the character; we’re shaming her creators.
And while we’re on the subject of arguments that use all the right words but are fundamentally bunk, claiming that the inclusion of a Speedo-clad Zangief nullifies the problem is just absurd. People are quick to equate Zangief and R. Mika, as though they’re both equally objectified. But, as Jim Sterling so eloquently puts it in his video, “OBJECTIFICATION AND… MEN?”
“Objectification is the reduction of a human being to a thing, an item, a something to possess. This is what’s meant when we say women are objectified … [They’re] an objective, a goal, a THING for the male hero to go after. This is not what happens with male characters. They’re presented as tall, muscular, heroic and brave, and most importantly they’re not supposed to be THINGS WE WANT TO OWN … Women are objectified, they’re supposed to be things men want. Men are idealized, they’re heroes men are supposed to want to be.”
R. Mika and Zangief are not equally objectified. R. Mika is objectified; she is depicted as classically attractive with an hourglass figure and a cute feminine face. She is appropriately well-muscled, but not overly so. Despite the physicality of her moveset, she’s depicted as girly and fun-loving. Everything about her is designed to titillate, but not intimidate. She’s goofy and powerful, but not in a way that’s unattractive or threatening to anyone’s masculinity. She’s been designed as a sexual object by heterosexual men explicitly for heterosexual enjoyment by men. After all, as Infiltration recently put it in an interview with Core-A Gaming, “Who doesn’t like big butts and boobs?”
Zangief, on the other hand, is idealized. He’s depicted as well-muscled, scarred, hairy, and aggressive. He’s large, powerful, and quintessentially masculine—not in a way that’s intended to be sexually attractive (though it may be to some), but in a way that’s intended to be a masculine ideal. Zangief isn’t scantily clad to showcase his assets. He’s scantily clad to showcase his huge musculature. His Speedo emphasizes his masculinity, rather than objectifying him, and that is a crucial difference. He’s someone gamers are supposed to want to be, rather than someone gamers are supposed to want to bone.
Shutting Down the Conversation
On August 29th, two days after R. Mika was announced for Street Fight V, d3v, a moderator on Shoryuken, the largest fighting game community on the web, posted a link to an article I’ve referenced above, titled “Street Fighter V’s Rainbow Mika: A Force for Women in Video Games?” Amidst controversy, he wrote:
“For the next time people bring up her ‘ridiculous’ costume and complain about ‘sexism’. http://www.usgamer.net/articles/street-fighter-vs-rainbow-mika-a-force-for-women-in-games”
The article, written by Nadia Oxford for USgamer, was a somewhat confused endorsement of R. Mika’s inclusion in the game. And although it literally contains the words, “I can’t speak for my gender as a whole,” much of the FGC took it as a universal sign-off on the character by all womankind. The debate was finally over. Anyone could look upon the internet and know the truth: R. Mika was a feminist icon, an inspiration to women everywhere, and anyone who contested that was to be drawn and quartered. Disregard the fact that, in her article, Oxford outright encourages and welcomes debate of her opinion on the character, describing representation of women in games as a “complicated, multi-faceted topic” that she wants to see people explore in greater detail. With her article, Oxford became an unintended hall monitor, signing thousands of permission slips for people to continue on as they had before without any critical thought or introspection.
This incident is an example of something that is frighteningly common in morally fraught spaces online—people who are perceived as representatives for a marginalized group (usually simply by benefit of being a member of said group) are approached by others and asked to validate their words, thoughts, or actions towards that marginalized group. People utilize this method to justify all sorts of problematic behavior. It’s “my marginalized friend’s cool with it” logic—your black friend lets you say the n-word, your girlfriend agrees with your sexist opinions of certain women, your gay friend doesn’t mind when you ask invasive questions about their sexuality, your Jewish friend laughs at your Holocaust jokes. What you’re doing can’t possibly be gross or harmful towards the marginalized group that friend is part of, because otherwise they wouldn’t sign off on your behavior. Right?
The thing of it is, when someone approaches a member of a marginalized group and asks for validation of their opinion, it betrays an inherent understanding that their opinion may be incorrect, flawed, or otherwise in need of such validation. People weren’t specifically looking for women to validate their opinion of R. Mika just because they wanted more like-minded people on their side; they were looking for permission to ignore the voice in their head that said maybe there are a few problems with the way R. Mika is represented. Maybe the people complaining about the sexism in R. Mika’s design aren’t being oversensitive killjoys; maybe, just maybe, they have a legitimate point.
No one woman can “okay” R. Mika’s presentation—no one woman can sign off on it, thus invalidating all discussion of it thereafter. And if you truly love Street Fighter, you should be happy about that. Yeah, you heard me: happy. Lively debate keeps series living. It introduces new people to the franchise and invigorates old fans. Shutting down discussions like these is childish, and ultimately prevents video games from evolving and improving as a medium.
I’ve talked about this before at length, but the automatic inclination of so many to shut down meaningful conversation about problematic elements in the things they love isn’t just immature. It’s cowardly, short-sighted, narrow-minded, and unhelpful. Some may claim that criticism of R. Mika’s design is indicative that a person doesn’t really like Street Fighter or doesn’t get it somehow. But as my best friend has shown me over and over, loving something uncritically isn’t loving it for what it truly is. True love should be able to endure criticism; heck, it should breed criticism. When you’re passionate about something, you should be acutely aware of its flaws as part of your comprehensive, unrivaled understanding of it. Being aware of its flaws is essential to figuring out how it can improve, and become something you love even more.
Sexism isn’t over just yet—and discussions of sexism in SFV aren’t either. And that’s good! That’s the kind of attention and scrutiny that things you care about deserve. R. Mika deserves discussion. Street Fighter V deserves discussion. Representation of women in games deserves discussion, dissection, and debate. Not because anyone’s trying to ruin anything for anyone else; but because we all love video games, and we’re trying to help make them better. So sit down, be brave, and accept the idea that maybe the feminists are right … and maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.