Oppressed or Empowered? The Women of The Witcher

TrissW3

I’d been thinking for a while about a topic I thought would be good for Women’s History Month here at Nerdy But Flirty, and the other night, something came to mind as I was sifting through some games on Steam. I’m a big fan of the universe of The Witcher, and for anyone even vaguely familiar with the books or games, it should come as no surprise that the character of Triss Merigold is treated like trash or completely objectified by most everyone they encounter, often even by Geralt himself. This is, in fact, true of most women in that genre entirely, but this begs a question: are women like Triss in The Witcher and other games that portray them in these roles oppressed women to feel bad for, or are they empowered individuals working against the cultures they’re a part of?

I’m going to stick with The Witcher setting because I can speak more directly to it, though understand that I know this dilemma applies to all sorts of other gritty fantasy worlds and modern or futuristic settings as well. Believe me when I say I make no apologies for the behavior of men in the books or games in which Triss appears, but I will say that the way they behave and treat others is, in fact, very accurate to the overall setting of the franchise. Given that the games and books are set in a fantasy world in the equivalent of Earth’s 13th century, their marginalization of women is much to be expected. The attitudes, much like those in Game of Thrones or the books the show is based on, make the setting more realistic and, at least for me, realism is one of the things that draws me into something enough to stick with it.

Some people have decried The Witcher games for their supposedly gross treatment of women, but I like to take a less bleak look at things. I think that Triss Merigold, Phillipa Eilhart, and a few other major female characters aren’t so much living in an oppressed state as they are somewhat inspiring individuals who are standing up to the oppressive male-dominant culture in which they live. Triss, for example, often has a take-charge attitude and uses her womanly ways and softer spirit to talk people down from dangerous mistakes. Characters in the game who would have otherwise overlooked her are often taken aback when she speaks up and acts decisively, yet they also admire her spirit and often go along with the things she suggests. Phillipa, on the other hand, is a powerful sorceress whose cunning is perhaps even greater than that of any king or noble vying for control of the region during The Witcher 2.

Tw2_conceptart_Saskia

Saskia may be an even greater example, though. At first, she isn’t taken seriously by any of the major powers in Aedirn or Kaedwen. Her desire to form a state where non-humans could live in peace and coexist with those humans who were accepting was viewed as a farce, and given the disarray in Aedirn that began with the assassination of King Demavend, Kaedweni forces simply viewed this experiment by Saskia and her followers as a time in which Aedirn was ripe for the taking. Saskia, however, is a fierce and powerful leader. Depending on the player’s choices, she unites the non-humans (and many Aedirn nobles) to her cause, defeats Kaedwen and, after the Peace of Cintra, forces enemy forces out of the Pontar Valley and establishes the new free state of Upper Aedirn.

Of course, in a setting like The Witcher, the point could be made that women like Triss and Saskia are purely exceptions to the rule, and that things are bad for women living in these times. Most likely, that’s true. Yet, just as in the real world, it’s people like Saskia, Triss, and others who set an example that women can amount to something and that they can make a difference.

One more note from The Witcher I should leave with you is the fact that the Baroness de La Valette is very important as well. The conflict at the start of The Witcher 2 in which Redanian forces battle against the house of La Valette is important, because even though the barony is in rebellion against King Foltest’s forces, the king had an affair with the Baroness that produced two children. Being without an heir for himself, he was going to officially recognize them as his rightful children. While this certainly serves his political aims, it also shows the importance of the Baroness herself.

Often, I like to look at matters like this and give them further consideration. There are always multiple ways to look at them and, in the end, I celebrate the fact that the writers did include several strong women as characters for us to examine. There are other effectively minor characters who play a role in this story too. These are just a few examples of many, and I’d like to examine some more of these here on Nerdy But Flirty in the future, not just for Women’s History Month, but just in general because of the overall interest in the topic.

As always, hopefully you enjoyed this read, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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