when did fallout’s women’s rights movement happen?

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MINOR WORLDBUILDING (NOT PLOT) SPOILERS FOR FALLOUT 4.

So, I have a question. If you’re playing Fallout 4, and you chose the woman to be your character, you are given a set background. You’re a lawyer. More precisely, you were a lawyer, and then you either served in the military directly or performed some other sort of government work–hence the Vault Tec salesman saying “in gratitude for your service to our country, you and your family have been put on a list…”–and are now, when the game opens, about to “dust off your law degree” (which you can see right there on the shelf in your living room, incidentally) and return to lawyering, possibly while your man remains a stay-at-home dad.

Nowhere during the Captain Exposition-esque conversation where these facts are revealed are there any implied negative connotations to this state of affairs. Neither your character nor her husband mention, for example, the neighbors judging these actions, or the law firm questioning your capabilities as a female lawyer, or anything of the sort. If such cultural bias existed, here would be a great place to note them–emphasizing the strength of your marital bond, for example, by using the external judgment of society as a foil for the lack of prejudice within the home. That sort of thing.

This, however, does not happen. Which leads us to assume that in the America of Fallout, circa October 2077, it is completely common and acceptable for women to hold professional positions like lawyer, doctor, etc. There’s just one problem with this assumption:

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None of the cultural depictions that survive from that time depict women as anything other than objects.

From sexy ladies posing with missiles on posters, to sexy ladies posing with trays of food in restaurant signs, to sexy ladies tugging children alongside them en route to the safety of a vault, all of the depictions of women from 2077 are deeply rooted in the 1950s cultural mythos we’ve come to expect from, and associate with, Fallout. But such cultural representations of women seem very much at odds with the pre-apocalypse societal acceptance of women in positions of power. It’s not that all these depictions should focus on aspects of the women other than their sexuality–since clearly, even in a world where there has been a women’s rights movement, objectification continues to exist. Rather, it’s that these are the only images out there. There are no portrayals, on posters or billboards or field manuals, of capable women (that I’ve found so far, anyway). Which suggests a history at odds with the perfectly-normal lawyerdom of our heroine in the beginning of Fallout 4.

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After the apocalypse, of course, it’s another ballgame–hell, if you’re alive and capable, people are going to need your skills, no matter how you identify. I’ve yet to see any pronounced dubiousness about women in power in the post-apocalypse. But before it? How do we account for the widespread cultural acceptance of women in positions of power, while simultaneously failing to represent them in any light other than that which objectifies?

One possibility is that the 1950s gender norms prevailed for quite some time, but as total war culled a great deal of the world’s male population, women had to step in and take up the roles there weren’t enough men to fill anymore–just as actually happened in the second world war. If, however, this change had happened rapidly, it would have been too fast to account for all the time necessary to acquire a law degree, practice law, leave for a time doing government work, and then plan on returning to law. If women had had to step in and take those positions in a handful of years, cultural bias would still be present. Someone would have said something about our character being the breadwinner in the family–and in a professional position, no less.

For the shift in power to have occurred more gradually, over decades, as the protracted pre-apocalypse war dragged on, there should be a reflection in this change in the portrayal of women in media. It just doesn’t make sense not to. If so many men are off dying fighting wars that, in this 1950s-esque sexist culture, “even women” have to step up and take those jobs that men once owned a monopoly on, who is left to titillate with your paintings of perfectly-coiffed and manicured size zeros sashaying into the vaults? What would be the point in painting women with an eye to the male gaze, if so many males aren’t even around to look anymore?

So, tell me. I’ve only played Fallout 3–again, I am much, much more a swords-and-sorcery person than a grim post apocalyptic future person–so if there were overt or implied explanations given in the earlier games, I wouldn’t have seen them. Is there an explanation somewhere? Some hint? I wanna know. Because, at the moment, it doesn’t quite make sense.

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2 comments

  1. Timothy Streasick · December 10, 2015

    It just dawned on me that another possibility (one that isn’t engaged in the game whatsoever) is that professions like being a lawyer transitioned (perhaps due to the war) to being feminine, much in the same way secretarial work did. I mean, we presume that being a lawyer is fancy shmancy (much in the same way that it is today), but it’s entirely conceivable that lawyering is a devalued profession viz a viz more masculine jobs, making it sensible to have women objectified AND your character be a lawyer. We could even chalk up the military service to being your standard bout of cognitive dissonance brought on by wartime draft necessity.

    Of course, what brings that down is the moderate gender parity among Vault Overseers throughout the series – you get the sense that female scientists were a common and accepted thing, and if there’s one profession that was clearly not devalued in the pre-apocalypse world, it was science-ing.

    • metaphlame · December 10, 2015

      Ohhhhh that is a very interesting hypothesis! One that I wish they’d explore more. It’s not that I want flashbacks or immersive videoscapes that’ll root us in that past–I didn’t sign up for an open-world 1950s functioning environment (heeg), but I am really curious about what led to this weird disconnect between how women are treated as people vs. how they’re treated as media objects (particularly for this character, since s/he’s from the actual past, vs. having absorbed a warped version of it in a vault). But the devaluing of the lawyer profession would explain at least that part. I’d love to know a history of law person who might be able to point to when/where/how this has happened before.

      Scientists, though, hmm. Yeah. What about the scienceing, Fallout? They didn’t even, like develop hypersexualized science outfits, to try and rationalize the idea of women scientists with this weird 50s culturefest. Lab coats’re lab coats. So did the pre-apocalypse culture just ignore women scientists? (Much like, uh, our culture, *coughcough*) Did they just pretend they didn’t exist?

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