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Is GTA V Sexist?

A Collection of Viewpoints
Grand Theft Auto V is designed deliberately to degrade women
Grand Theft Auto V's treatment of women aims to make its audience uncomfortable. But do enough of my fellow
male players feel that way, asks Tom Hoggins.
Grand Theft Auto V has been out for just over two weeks. It has more than $1bn in sales, becoming the fastest
selling entertainment product of all time. It has garnered critical praise, registering a staggering 98/100 average on
review aggregate site Metacritic. It is a video game that transcends its medium to become a bona fide cultural
behemoth, attracting the kind of mainstream attention usually reserved for only the biggest cinematic or literary
In my opinion, the reverie is earned. GTAV is a sensational video game and a marvellous feat of technical
engineering. However, as always with Grand Theft Auto, controversy has not been far behind the adulation.
The series penchant for carnage and violence is well known, as you may expect from an open-world game about
criminality that gives players carte blanche to cause havoc in its facsimile of the United States. Set in Los Santos, a
twisted vision of Los Angeles, V is Grand Theft Auto at its most barbaric; torture, cannibalism and murder featuring
in its nihilistic milieu.
There has also been much discussion about how GTAV treats women. That GTAV is misogynistic is a defensible
position. Women in the game are either bit-part players or set dressing: strippers to throw money at, prostitutes to
pick up.
There are three lead characters that players can control in the game: all male. The women characters are often
leered at or cast as nags. One of the player characters daughters has skank tattooed across her back, one mission
has you chaperoning a paparazzo as he tries to photograph an aging actresss low-hanging muff.
At one stage during my play-through of the game, I had a barrage of these aspects which made me feel deeply
uncomfortable. I commented to a friend that I was concerned about the treatment of women within the game, that
there were few female characters drawn with any depth and that it felt a deliberate decision to avoid an attempt to
do so. I couldnt understand why this was the case.
As I continued on in the game, I started to make my mind up on that reason. As you may have noticed from the
byline picture, I am a white bloke. A straight white bloke, which is, as John Scalzi astutely puts it, lifes genetic
equivalent of playing a video game on the easy setting. What, you may reasonably ask, do I have to say of any worth
on this issue? How could I know what its like to be sidelined in the manner GTAV seems to do to women?
Truth is I dont. I couldnt. But what I do know is how wretched I felt as the game often coerced me into actions that
degraded women. I felt dirty driving around that paparazzo; the idea of a mini-game that effectively asks you to
grope a stripper repels me, I began to feel suffocated by a testosterone-addled life of deviancy.
And that, I think, was the point. Grand Theft Auto V is relentlessly misanthropic, holding up a skewed mirror to our
entertainment and industries and asking us to peer into the ugly reflection. Nearly all the characters in Los Santos
are portrayed as awful people, women are shallow and sidelined, and the men front-and-centre are heartless,
psychotic, money-obsessed, philandering bastards. A much-discussed torture scene is one such element that brings
player culpability into question, asking are you comfortable with this? To my mind, at least, Rockstar are asking
similar questions about the treatment of women in our culture. And, no, I'm not comfortable with it.
However, perhaps the great tragedy of GTAV is that too much of its audience is comfortable with it. The satirical
barbs at its target demographic are too heavy-handed, the industry too much in its adolescence, which leads to
many of its male players to revel in its frat-boy humour, rather than feel repelled by it. The video games industry is
one that struggles deeply with the treatment of women. Just a brief glance at the Twitter hashtag #onereasonwhy,
which details the struggles women have had in breaking through in the industry, will give you an idea. Though
prepare to be thoroughly depressed.
The simple fact seems to be that many video game players are simply not ready to be part of that discussion. In an
otherwise positive review, GameSpots Carolyn Petit called Grand Theft Auto V politically muddled and profoundly
misogynistic, which is a strong, justifiable stance to take. This was greeted by over 20,000 user comments, a large
proportion of which were unequivocally misogynistic and abusive themselves. Petit was called, amongst other
things, a "moron", while another said there was no point in giving GTA to a woman to review. Their input is
How pathetic that women are still treated this way. How sad that many people playing video games are desperate to
try and shut critical discussion of this type down. This is a vibrant, exciting, emerging interactive medium, yet all too
often is stifled by the idiotic braying of its more vocal audience. Games will not be able to take its much coveted
place in mainstream culture while these type of people get to dictate anything. Good riddance to them when they
are finally cast off.
While Grand Theft Auto Vs almost relentless bitterness isnt always to the games benefit, that it dares to try and
make its audience uncomfortable is one of the many reasons I admire it.
However, I still believe that it would have been an even better game had one of the main characters been a woman.
It would have offered another fascinating viewpoint on the brilliantly awful world Rockstar has built and made a
statement in the process.
GTAVs lead writer Dan Houser has said that this games story needed to be masculine, which is, of course, his
and Rockstars prerogative. One of the wonderful things about modern video games is that new stories can be told
through downloadable content. Now their masculine story has been told, Rockstar has the chance to take a fresh
look at Los Santos through a womans eyes. I hope they take it.
Ever since I heard the first whispers of sexism-related controversy pertaining to GTA 5, this was a post I knew I was
going to be writing eventually. It wouldnt be Grand Theft Auto without some sort of drama, and as the initial GTA
has you torture issue has been covered here already, its time to focus on what I feel is the more interesting and
complex issue, how GTA 5 portrays women, or rather, doesnt portray them.
This first started really being talked about in force when Gamespot writer Carolyn Petit addressed the apparent
misogyny of GTA 5 in her 9/10 review of the game. Naturally, despite the high score, she took a lot of hate and abuse
for her views, and probably five times the normal amount because shes transgender.
The treatment of Carolyn Petit is not up for debate here. The response to her review was obviously reprehensible,
and theres not much more to say about it than that. Sadly, we deal with these sort of bullying issues all the time in
the gaming community, and this was yet another example of readers needing to separate their disagreement with
someones opinions from their inexplicable need to shock and hurt someone via a comment thread.
Rather, I want to discuss the points Petit actually made in her review. Expecting to see some not-so-nice
characterizations of women going into the game, I started keeping a tally of all the female characters I came across.
Minor spoilers follow.
Things werent looking good right off the bat. As errand boy gangster Franklin you quickly meet Tonya, a crackhead
who offers you sexual services to cover for her boyfriend by towing cars (services which you dont accept). Theres
also Franklins aunt who goes on powerwalks with other middle-aged women where they run and chant I am
woman, hear me roar! The implication seems to be for the player to think Hah, look how silly women are when
they think theyre empowered!
The ladies in the life of Michael, the retired bank robber, arent much better. Theres his wife, an ex-stripper who
does literally nothing but scream at him every time shes onscreen, and cheats on him frequently off-screen. And
theres his daughter, tramp-stamped and permanently in a revealing one-piece, obsessed with nothing but making
it big on the reality show Shame or Fame.
As time goes on you continue meeting psychotic women, like Mary-Ann, the fitness-addicted side-quest giver who
you race as all three characters while she laments being 39 and childless. And of course theres the funhouse full of
strippers you can ogle as any of the three male leads, and if youre charming enough, you can actually take them
Honestly, with 67 out of 69 missions complete, the only normal women Ive met in the game so far have been the
extremely nice wife of a Mexican cartel leader who I had to meet when I kidnapped her as Trevor, or a random
Indian woman whose purse I retrieved from a mugger as Franklin, who wrote me a nice email a week later and
delivered a suit from her familys clothing company to my house.
So does this make Petit right? Yes and no. Yes, overwhelmingly the game has a terribly negative portrayal of
women. But I think were missing the other side of the coin here. The game has a terribly negative portrayal of men
too. Really, the characters of Grand Theft Auto are all pretty awful people, no matter their gender. GTA 5 is no
Take Jimmy De Santa, Michaels son who does nothing but play video games all day and mooch off his father. Or
the eventual villains of the game, rich billionaire douchebag Devin and FIB douchebag Steven, corrupted by money
and power. Or perhaps youd prefer Wade, Trevors mentally impaired Juggalo friend, Simon, the scamming car
dealership owner, Beverly, the creeping paparazzo or Floyd, the castrated pushover.

And of course there are the three lead characters themselves. Michael is a liar, cheat, murderer, traitor and terrible
father and husband. Trevor is a psychopath who would have little issue with abducting a hitchhiker and eating
them. Franklinwell, Franklin is alright I suppose, but is hardly a shining pillar of the community when he starts
contract killing to make various stock prices go up and down. In short, neither gender comes off terribly well in
Rockstars San Andreas. This is a universe of stereotypes and very bad people.
But an examination of the three male protagonists leads into the second gender debate concerning GTA 5. With
three lead characters, why couldnt Rockstar made one of them a woman?
Looking back across the entirety of the Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead and Max Payne series, Rockstar has never had a
female lead in those games (though that may be tricky in the last case when their game is named after the hero). It is
worth examining though, should Rockstar have switched it up and at least tried to have a woman as one of their
three new leads in GTA V?
Should is a tricky word here. The fact is, Rockstar has crafted a great narrative here with its three male leads. All
are pretty fantastic characters, perhaps Trevor and Michael more than Franklin, but all are likable despite their faults
and Ive loved following their adventures for the last forty hours or so.
But this is the problem. Even though each character is a mass murderer, as a lead, theyre given enough time to
develop into well-rounded individuals. Franklin struggles with his old neighborhood thinking hes a sell-out for
wanting to move up in the world. Michael works hard to keep his family together which can be heartbreaking to
watch. Even Trevor, a guy who kills as casually as breathing, is portrayed as someone who is neither racist (as seen
when he kills a pair of Latino-harassing border patrol minutemen) or misogynistic (as seen when he constantly
treats women better than anyone else in the game).
All the side characters of both genders are crazy and one-dimensional in GTA 5. The fact that there isnt a female
lead means that theres really no chance for a female character to be both a ruthless killer and criminal like the
guys, and likable as we learn more about her and find her redeeming qualities. Rather than should Rockstar have
had a female lead the operative thought is could they? And of course they could have. Even though the current story
works with the three guys, it feels like they missed a real opportunity to prove their critics wrong.
Games like Saints Row solve this problem by allowing players to make their own lead character, which can be of any
race or gender. But this is kind of cheating, as the dialogue is virtually the same no matter what. Rather, I think it
would be a real challenge for Rockstar to write a female character in a game like this, making her fit in the universe
and also balancing out her depravity and her humanity like they do with their male leads. Its not that Rockstar was
wrong to not have a woman as a playable lead, its just that it feels like they took the easy way out.
So while Gamespots Carolyn Petit is right to say that the women in the game are strippers, prostitutes, long-
suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists were meant to laugh at, I thinks shes leaving
out its because theyre one-dimensional supporting characters. The males in that same role are perverts, assholes,
abusers, racists or lazy good-for-nothings. All sub-characters in GTA games are exaggerated parodies of weirdos in
real life.
The problem is that by not making a woman one of the leads, theres almost no chance to have a female character in
the game who has redeeming qualities or a more involved persona than a simple one-dimensional stereotype.
GTA 5 is a great game and I wouldnt change much about it. But I think if Rockstar wants to challenge themselves and
peoples perception of them in the future, they would be wise to consider a female lead at some point, even if its
not something we can necessarily demand of them.
Calling out Grand Theft Auto V for its portrayal of women is perhaps shooting at low hanging fruit. After all, the
series is sort of infamous for allowing you to have sex with a prostitute and then kill her to collect the money, so it's
not like GTA has a history of being politically correct.
It's hard to talk about Grand Theft Auto V and misogyny without, y'know, having a Change.org petition created to
encourage your company to fire you. Carolyn Petit, whose review by the way still called GTA V superb and gave the
game 9 out of 10, called out Rockstars' flagship series for being "politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic."
This was apparently a "extreme feminist view."
First of all, a solid definition of misogyny. I bring this up not because of pretension or knocks at your own
intelligence, but rather so we're all on the same page. What is misogyny? Wikipedia defines misogyny as:
The hatred and dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual
discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.
So, is GTA V misogynistic?
For starters, this is the first Grand Theft Auto game to feature three protagonists. Yet, despite having THREE main
characters, there evidently wasn't room for Rockstar to even attempt a female lead. Forbes writer Paul Tassi made a
solid point about the problems with this;

All the side characters of both genders are crazy and one-dimensional in GTA V. The fact that there isn't a female lead
means that there's really no chance for a female character to be both a ruthless killer and criminal like the guys, and
likeable as we learn more about her and find her redeeming qualities.
I would disagree to an extent with the point that Tassi is making. For one, while all of the side characters lack
dimension, it is the women that we find the most egregious stereotypes and lack of agency. Who are the women you
encounter in Los Santos?
Well, without getting into too many spoilers, there's a few stand outs early on. The meth-head Trevor has sex with in
one of his opening scenes, the crack addict Tonya, who offers Franklin sex to help her, or MIchael's nagging, cheating
wife? Sure, Michael's son is a waste of space and Franklin's friend Lamar isn't a genius, but I hated every female
character in the game. And I would argue that you're meant to. You feel bad for Michael's son, but I wanted to
choke his screaming, blonde, bubblegum daughter. You're not allowed to feel for the female characters in GTA V,
you're not allowed to connect with them, because they're paper cutouts of real people.
Tracey, Michael's aforementioned daughter, is probably one of the least likeable characters in the game, and your
interactions with her are some of the worst. Tracey is treated as having about the same agency and intelligence as a
toy poodle, and must always be "saved" from her poor decisions, specifically involving hanging out with porn
directors. You, the man (her father), must save her from her perceived lack of purity. Jon Hamlin, of Culture Mass
wrote; "Amanda [Michaels' wife] and Tracey are objectified and represented as powerless, naive, spiteful and
untrustworthy women. Not people. But women."
Tracey and Amanda are probably two of the characters that pop up the most of their gender, and they're little more
than belittled stereotypes. They are characters that operate solely out of spite and vengeance, whose sexuality is a
weapon to be wielded against Michael. It's disheartening that they are the portrayal of women we get from
In her Gamespot review, Petit wrote;
GTA V has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless
girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we're meant to laugh at.
Take a side quest from GTA V, where you are supposed to race against a woman named Mary-Ann. You race against
her as all three characters, but the one that really stands out to me is when you race her as Michael.
Michael is, at this point, characterized as way past his prime, old and beat up and incredibly out of shape. Mary-Ann,
in contrast, is shown as being pretty in shape, a fitness nut. Oh, and she's psychotic. But not just psychotic, she is
one-dimensional, childless and 39, man-less and proud (but really not) of it. Here's the thing. You shouldn't be able
to beat her. But you must. And I know it's a game, I know that in games you win. But maybe it's because of Michael's
jeering throughout the race, maybe it's the fact that when you beat her you give her your phone number, but it feels
like you have to win because you're a man.
It's jarring to play as a woman because the game is actually quite fun. There was an absolute picturesque moment
where I was driving down the highway with the sun setting and a beautiful car, with old school country music a
steady thrum to the background noise of the world. It was picturesque. But then, "a voice comes on the radio that
talks about using a woman as a urinal," and the moment feels lost and empty.
A Kotaku piece by Stephen Totilo makes a good point about GTA V. In game, you can meet a getaway driver, through
chance, named Taliana Martinez. She is one of the few truly strong female characters in the game, a "low-level,
rough edged crook... like the Franklin I had started to playing 40 hours earlier," and her appearance shows the
potential for a more even-keeled GTA V experience. But your interaction with her is fleeting and quickly over.

Grand Theft Auto V is probably the best produced game of its generation. For production value alone, it stands
apart. There are buttons and modes for every player. You can get a coke from a machine, you can take Lamar out to
a club and get drunk, you can feel up strippers at the bar.
But it's like the game forgot about half of the population, except through the lens of a middle school boy. So, is GTA
V misogynistic?
Rockstar can continue to hide behind the veil of satire, to pretend that the women and men in its games are
presented in an even light, but when it comes down to it, that's not the case.
If you're driving north, up the west coast of Grand Theft Auto V, as I did in the 40th hour I was playing the game, you
might spot a crashed car smoldering in the long ditch between the northbound and southbound lanes. The car
doesn't appear there every time. The man who was in the car appears to be dead. A woman lies nearby, presumably
thrown from the vehicle. She's alive, but she's hurt. She is asking for help. She's one of GTA V's strongest female
characters, though in this game, she only gets a handful of lines.
The woman's name is Taliana Martinez. You learn this as you slow down enough to help her out. She'll get in your
car, after which you'll be able to drive her to a clinic to get medical attention. Along the way, she'll tell you her story.
Of the three GTA protagonists, I was playing as Franklin when I met Taliana. The conversation was between the two
of them.
Taliana was the getaway driver for a crew of crooks who screwed up. One of them got caught. She blamed herself, to
some extent, but she didn't blame herself for the crash. The guy who was in the car with herher remaining
partnerhad pulled a knife on her. They crashed. He got what was coming to him.
Taliana is a low-level, rough-edged crook. In that way, she was like the Franklin I had started playing 40 hours earlier.
In the 40 hours since, Franklin had met another of GTA V's playable protagonists, Michael, who became his mentor.
In the scene with Taliana, the now-seasoned Franklin is, however briefly Michael to this new, young criminal's
The Taliana scene seems to occur somewhat randomly. I'd driven past the part of the
highway where she had crashed before. I'm not sure why it was there in my 40th hour.
By that time, I only had one major heist left available to me in the game. So, when I
dropped Taliana off to get medical attention and saw that this activated her as an
available driver for any future heists, I decided I'd add her to my crew. A few minutes
later, while planning the game's big final heist, I chose Taliana. That action amounted
to virtually pinning her black and white photo to a planning board.
I noticed that Taliana's statsher grades as a henchmanwere high. But the portion of
the take she was asking for from this big heist was low.
Michael was at the planning scene. As I lingered on Taliana's picture, he said
something. "This girl, Taliana, she's supposed to be good, and she'll work for way less
than she's worth, if you'll believe that."
Taliana: a talented woman who will work for less money. Social commentary, folks. Or maybe it was just a signal
from the game's designers that choosing her was the most cost-efficient option for this decision in the game. You're
trying to get the most skilled help for the least amount of money to maximize Michael, Franklin and Trevor's profits
and progress in the game, after all. Taliana's not playable. Her progress doesn't count.
And that's pretty much it. Taliana is a good driver. She performs her part of the heist without any problems, at least
in the version of the game's grand, final robbery that I played.
And, yes, that's what amounts to a respectable female character in Grand Theft Auto V. Of the dozens of characters
with speaking roles in the game, of the many women featured as bit players in Rockstar's new epic, Taliana Martinez
is the rare woman in the game who isn't the butt of a joke. She's the rare example of a female character you'd feel
good about rooting for.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how Grand Theft Auto games treat women.
It's come up in several of the major reviews for GTA V. In an otherwise glowing review,GameSpot's critic labeled the
new game as "profoundly misogynistic," charging that the game presents "exaggerations of misogynistic
undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones. With nothing in the narrative to underscore how insane and
wrong this is, all the game does is reinforce and celebrate sexism."
Similarly, The New York Times' GTA V reviewer criticized the game's "lack of interest in women as something other
than lustful airheads."
GTA V's treatment of women came up before the reviews, in essays about the lack of playable female characters in
the storyline campaign of this GTA and in the 10 or so GTAs before it.
It's come up in an interview with the game's lead writer, Dan Houser, who told The Guardianthat GTA V's expanded
cast of three playable characters lacks a woman because "the concept of being masculine was so key to this story."
I'm torn about all of this. Torn because there's so much I like about Grand Theft Auto V that I'd like to like everything
about it.
Torn because the role and depiction of playable protagonists is so different from those of the series' supporting cast
that to wish for respectable female protagonists feels like something radically different than to simply wish for a
more enlightened GTA worldview.
Torn because some of the old criticisms about being able to sleep with prostitutes and then kill them to get your
money back felt off-base to me.
Torn because I'm an optimist and want to believe that there are more Taliana Martinezes in the game and think that
a GTA V with more Taliana Martinezes is something possible.
She's the kind of character who seems like she could have had a whole GTA all about her. Think about how she
enters this game,
Picture the mission that introduced her that I described at the start of this piece. Picture the events she described
that led her into that ditch. Imagine if those events were part of this otherGTA V and that we played them as Taliana.
Imagine that she is who you're playing as when she meets with Franklin. Franklin's just some sidequest guy.
Picture Taliana as the star. I can imagine her violent entry into GTA V as some sort of crashing through from this
alternate GTA V. In that version of the game, the three playable protagonists include two men and a womanher.
They meet early on, and in their 40th hour of play time, they try to rob a bank or something.
The heist goes wrong, and we're forced to play as Taliana, flooring it in the getaway car, streaming up the west coast
of a fictional California. Then the other surviving main character pulls a knife on her.
We swerve.
We crash into a ditch that lies between the northbound and southbound traffic. The knife guy dies.
And, in the surprise coda, we survive, picked up off the side of the road by a criminal named Franklin who gives us a
chanceone last real chanceto help a crew pull off a final score. Whatever happens next could match the real
ending of the GTA V we have (no, I'm not going to spoil that for you.)
I'd play that. I hope Rockstar would make that. I'd never think about a GTA the same way again.

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