I have a complicated relationship with Ada Wong.

My first impressions of her were embarrassingly Pavlovian. Ada, the undercover spy first introduced in Resident Evil 2 who also played a pivotal role in Resident Evil 4, is undeniably an attractive woman. OK, fine, she's a total fox. In her sleek bob and her backless red dress with the slit up to there, she's the femme fatale archetype given pixilated form. Men want to sleep with her, and women want to steal her shoes. As a self-professed and proud feminist, I instinctively recoiled from Ada when I first played RE2, thinking her obvious sensuality meant the developers, leaning on familiar and tired stereotypes, had once again objectified a powerful female character. It wasn't until I sat down to write this article that I realized I'd fallen into the trap of equating sexiness with sexism. Clearly, a woman's attractiveness to the opposite sex is not an indicator of her explicit surrender to gender-based oppression. Why couldn't a strong, feminist role model also be beautiful and sexual?

Which raises the question: Is Ada a strong, feminist role model?

Yes, I know, plowing through a lumbering mob of the undead with a flamethrower doesn't exactly call to mind bra-burning protests. But there's something about Ada, something curious that sticks with you long after you've finished the games. The Leon-Ashley interaction might be the impetus of RE4, but Ada is its soul, its raison d'etre. She's a different kind of heroine, if you can even call her that. Unlike Jill and Claire, whose cleverness and puzzle-solving skills were well-matched to intricate, booby-trapped mansions and police stations, Ada's character has been molded to fit the Leon scenarios' faster-paced, shooter-style gameplay. Even in RE2, she is a character explored entirely in sound bites: Charismatic. Single-minded. Cunning. Vixen. Mysterious. She's definitely the modern image of "girl power," but is that enough to make her an admirable feminist?

Feminist, yes. Admirable, I'm not so sure. She reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir's peculiar brand of French existentialism; which, I guess, is a good thing.

***

Like all great existentialists, Simone de Beauvoir's life was a soap opera of VH1 proportions. The late 20th century French philosopher, a mathematical and linguistic prodigy, is most famous for making a pact with her life-long partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, that allowed each party to have affairs outside their relationship as long as they told each other everything that had happened. Naturally, that led to some steamy exploits, especially one interlude in which Beauvoir's lover married the sister of Sartre's mistress (who Sartre had initially pursued, only to be rebuffed by Beauvoir, who wanted the underage student for herself). But aside from her sexual escapades, Beauvoir was also one hell of a philosopher, and by tying women's rights to the robust existentialist movement, she managed to greatly advance the cause of both.

In her 1949 work, The Second Sex, Beauvoir observed that all societies hinge upon an us vs. them mentality: That is, the group higher in the social hierarchy ("the One") inevitably stereotypes the group lower than them, assigning them the role of "the Other" in order to justify their respective rankings. It doesn't take a French existentialist to see ample support for her claim in race relations, class struggles, religious conflicts, even American Idol voting patterns. But nowhere, Beauvoir writes, does that One vs. the Other conflict occur with such frequency and consistency as between the sexes. Historically, she says, men in positions of power have assigned women a "false aura of mystery," a quality subtle, ill defined and - obviously - entirely made up. To Beauvoir, that mystique is an excuse for men to consciously ignore the thoughts, voices and opinions of women: Why should men work to understand women, when feminine traits are inherently incomprehensible to the male mind?

You have to admit: As far as justifications for oppression go, that one's pretty clever; and even better, it works like a charm. According to Beauvoir, that role as the Other is fundamental to women's oppression in society, and neither gender is blameless in the situation. Men may do the marginalization, but by allowing it to happen, women are complicit in the act.

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