Biologically speaking, it seems that there is no essential difference between the genders among pac-people. Both Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man share an identical body type. It is only markers worn by Ms. Pac-Man that signal the gender difference between the two, her bow and lipstick (well, there is also her mole, which may or may not be painted on a la Marilyn Monroe).
In this regard, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man share something in common with the typical silhouettes that represent the distinction between the men’s restroom and the women’s restroom. These individuals share an identical body type with only the female silhouette differentiated from the unadorned male silhouette by her triangular skirt.
Of course, none of these observations actually relate in any way to biology. Instead, the function of adornment as a marker of gender and the lack of adornment likewise being curiously marked by gender both presuppose an identification of the silhouette of humans and pac-people as (by default) male. In other words, the gender signification in Pac-Man tells us more about how people respond to identifications of gender and assumptions that are culturally shared about what the “default” body of a species must be in terms of its gender when it is unmarked. It seems that people assume that when stripped of any identifying biological or cultural emblems the human body is male. Frankly, they often do so with animals without obvious gender markings (like dogs as opposed to, say, lions) as well.
Such an assumption may in part explain the strange phenomenon of the monstrous new League of Legends champion pictured above, the creature known as Rek’Sai. Rek’Sai is female. After her release last December in one of the first few games that I played of League of Legends in which a player took on the role of Rek’Sai, many of my teammates were referring to Rek’Sai as “he” or “him”, including myself. Another player who identified herself as female complained about the use of the masculine pronoun in regards to the new champion, reminding us that “Just because she’s a monster doesn’t mean that she’s not a girl.”
Cassiopeia from League of Legends (Riot Games, 2010)
I certainly understood her irritation with us, as when Rek’Sai was first announced as a new champion, I was pretty excited by the choices made in her character design. Among its various character types, knights, pirates, and ninjas, League of Legends certainly also features monsters as characters, including female monsters. However, League of Legends‘s female monsters fall into a common western tradition of being monstrous but still obviously female, frequently because their sexuality is an important part of their monstrosity. From the Bride of Frankenstein to the brides of Dracula, from mermaids and sirens to Medusa, biologically or emblematically marking monsters in obvious ways as “feminine” is common in art, literature, and cinema, as is the tendency to see female monsters largely as seductive in nature. Indeed, the half-snake, half-human Cassiopeia in League of Legends is based, for example on the tradition of the Lamia, the seductive and child eating snake woman of Greek mythology.
As I said, I was excited about this variation in the standard monstrous female, whose identity was not connected so closely to her sexuality, while her body seemingly defied standard gender identifiers, since she is simply monstrous and grotesque, nothing more. I was irritated with myself that once Rek’Sai had been launched into the world of League of Legends that I suddenly defaulted to calling this monster a “he”. I had quickly forgotten because she “doesn’t look it” that she was female because (it would seem) I have grown up with male and female silhouettes on bathroom doors and Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man . I clearly default to the assumption a body is male unless otherwise marked.
I sort of feel especially guilty about this because I have two female dogs, and I often get annoyed when people meet them for the first time and refer to each of them as “he” or “him” and even continue to do so when politely corrected. Their identity as female seems somehow important to me as a part of their person and personality.
Cho’Gath from League of Legends (Riot Games, 2009)
League of Legends does contain monsters similar to Rek’Sai, whose gender should probably not be easily identifiable at a glance, like the insectoid creature Cho’Gath or the slug-like Kog’Maw, yet I presume the monstrous, the ugly, and the grotesque to somehow be, like a lack of adornment or emblem, a “masculine look.”
Now that Rek’Sai has been around for a couple of months, I have heard her more and more often referred to as “she”, and indeed, I believe that I have grown accustomed to “seeing” her that way myself. Following enough correction and familiarity with the character, most League of Legends players seem to have gotten into their heads that this hulking creature is female. However, at least for me, it took a little training to do so and a need to consciously think about what I was looking at and how I should identify it accurately, a curious little lesson in semiotics previously only considered while at the bathroom door.