Jack and Miranda: Female Constructs in Mass EffectThursday, April 4, 2013
This article discusses the fictional characters Miranda Lawson and Jack from the Mass Effect series. It is part of a series on female representation in Mass Effect. The first article can be found here. You can also follow Cora on Twitter.
Let’s talk about Jack and Miranda from Mass Effect 2.
In my previous article, I discussed the need to distinguish between the meta that creates elements of a story and what those elements mean in the context of the story itself. In the case of the Asari, I felt as though their in-story context was more meaningful than their outer-story problematic elements. With Jack and Miranda, we have an example of characters where the two are closely entwined. I don’t think it’s possible to discuss Jack and Miranda’s meta-story without discussing their narrative. Or, at least, I think some interesting patterns emerge if you discuss them side-by-side.
Both Jack and Miranda, from a writing and design standpoint, are based on what men think women are like. Every inch of Miranda was created for the male gaze. She was designed to be the perfect woman by her father, just like she was created by the (presumably) male designers to appeal to male gamers. Jack is Miranda’s opposite. Where Miranda inhabits a number of traditionally feminine traits, Jack rejects them all. She wears her head shaved. She’s aggressive. She walks around nearly bare-chested and has a number of tattoos. Miranda was created, from before her conception, to be the perfect woman – a tool her father would use to gain dominance over his personal and business rivals with her intelligence and sex appeal. Jack was created to be the perfect biotic weapon, giving her handlers dominance on any field of battle.
It’s rare to see characters that are constructs both within and outside of their narratives. Either the writers are brilliant and Jack and Miranda’s very characters were intended to be commentaries on the way they were designed, or they were so absorbed in the idea of the kinds of females they were making that they didn’t realize their characters were commentaries on their own design. The first scenario is amazingly subversive; the second situation seems to be the result of the way female characters are treated in the video game industry and is subversion despite its own intentions.
Miranda is traditional femininity incarnate. Jack is a woman who was forced to become hyper-masculine in her childhood abusers’ quest for the perfect biotic warrior. If they were designed with these polarities in mind, what does it say about their conflict? Jack blames Cerberus—by extension, Miranda—for what was done to her and what she became. Miranda thinks Jack is a reckless threat.
Jack and Miranda are dark mirrors of each other.
To clarify: I think it’s brilliant that there are a variety of female characters in the Mass Effect games. I love that there’s a character like Miranda and a character like Jack and a character like Tali and a character like Samara in the same game. Mass Effect has done a great job of incorporating different kinds of women. With Jack and Miranda, I think the crux of my criticism hinges on their nearly irresolvable conflict. In creating these women who are polar opposites of each other, with similar backstories involving being shaped as children by forces beyond their control, and then bringing them into conflict, they represent the societal forces that put girls into boxes and then pit them against each other. It’s Miranda genetically modified to be put on a pedestal. It’s Jack forced to fight other children to the death. They are every girl who is told she’s prettier than the other girls and they are every girl who’s told being pretty is weak.
It is easier to resolve the conflict between Tali and Legion than it is to resolve the conflict between Jack and Miranda. It’s easier to solve a conflict between two members of warring species than it is to settle the differences between the spectrums of womanhood. I can’t decide if I’m more disturbed by the idea that that was intentional or the idea that it wasn’t.