This post contains spoilers for the Batman: Arkham Origins video game.
It's surprisingly easy, even in a male-dominated story, to depict women fairly. That is to say, you don't have to have a female protagonist, or a lot of female characters, in order to write women well. I dare say, if a writer thinks that the presence of female characters is, itself, enough to count as treating women well, they obviously haven't seen Sucker Punch.
I feel a lot is made of the "strong female character" archetype. The Buffy. The Zoe Washburn. The Sarah Connor. But there's more than one way to be strong, and more than one way to write great women. Sometimes strength, and agency, can come from small moments.
There's one such small moment in Arkham Origins.
The previous game, Arkham City, was criticized for its sexism, particularly with regard to the treatment of Catwoman. Arkham Origins, at least, doesn't have characters on every corner casually implying they'd like to rape someone.
Here be spoilers:
One of the early investigations Batman conducts in the game is a very nicely put together sequence of events surrounding the disappearance of the crime boss Black Mask. So far, it's been my favourite section of the game, showing not only how Batman is a great detective, but also how he has to contend with (and battle) a corrupt police force and still has to build up the intelligence network he has access to in the previous games.
In particular, Batman has to break into the Gotham Police Department so he can hack into the National Criminal Database. We always think of Batman having instant access to/knowledge of any criminal file he needs, so the fact that Batman needed to do some extra legwork here was a very nice touch.
While in the GCPD, Batman meets Barbara Gordon, the girl who will one day become Oracle, who he comes to rely on for her computer hacking skills. She comments that, in order to gain remote access to the GCPD network, he'll have to get into their telecommunications hub. She tells him he can get into them through an old sewer line.
In just one short cutscene, Barbara Gordon has gone from a bystander cameo to someone who has given Batman valuable information that will be essential, not only to solving his current case, but to his continued work fighting crime in Gotham. See? Easy.
Unfortunately, that empowerment is just as easily taken away.
Moments after he leaves the room, Batman contacts Alfred to tell him that he needs to get the the GCPD's telecommunications hub, and Alfred advises him that he'll need to use an old sewer line to gain access. Literally the exact same information Barbara gave him in the previous scene. She may as well have said nothing. But for a side mission she later provides, to track down weapons that have been stolen from the GCPD, Barbara may as well not have appeared.
Female empowerment. So easy to include in a writer's work, and so easy to completely undermine.
Even from a non-feminist angle, this represents poor writing. If you have one character provide valuable information or assistance, don't then reveal that the protagonist didn't need it, after all.
Can any of you think of other cases where a character's importance is undermined by the writer?