Gender Roles Expire
Written by Guest Contributor Theresa Tyree
Editor’s note: With the announcement of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s DLC at the recent E3 conference last week, we’re hopeful that Aloy will continue to overthrow gender norms in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds. In this post, we are excited to feature Theresa Tyree’s examination of the strong female character in the original revolutionary release.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has everyone talking. Breaking ground as the first open-world game to exclusively feature a female main character, the game has thrown out the hugely expired trope of gender roles. If you’ve played through the game, you might be asking, “What the heck are you talking about? The Osram tribe is hugely patriarchal. The Carja had a civil war over different opinions about the treatment of women and outlanders. And Aloy’s tribe, the Nora, are matriarchal. Seems to me like there are definitely some gender roles happening!”
Now, everything you’ve just said, dear reader, is absolutely true. The different tribes found in the game do have very particular ideas about gender. Osram women leave their tribe because they find the rule of the Eldermen too restrictive. Carja tribespeople find themselves at odds with others of their tribe due to new, equality enforcing laws. The Nora honor their mothers as fathers have been honored in our own history. But allow me to pose another question to you: how do these ideas affect Aloy, our main character?
Aloy begins the game as an outcast of the Nora tribe. The reason she’s an outcast? No one knows who her parents are—and in a tribe like the Nora, having no mother is all it takes for supernatural suspicion to be thrown upon you. Aloy undergoes a trial to join the Nora, thinking they will know something about her mysterious origins. When the Nora don’t have the answers she’s looking for, she sets out into the world to find them. That might sound intimidating, but Aloy has been prepared. Raised by another outcast, Rost, Aloy has been nothing but encouraged and supported through her childhood and adolescence. The game destroys the stereotype that men can’t be good parents within the first hour of gameplay due to Rost’s example. As the game continues, Aloy is confronted with hunting lodge bullies, Carja sun priests who don’t believe a woman could ever rule them, and an entire tribe that thinks less of women.
Aloy, however, doesn’t venture down the well-traveled path of needing to prove herself to these people. While she takes on hunting lodge tasks, makes fun of the sun priests’ conviction in the sun’s male gender by saying she’d never noticed anything dangling off it, and helps the Osram deal with a machine infestation, Aloy never engages with the ideas that she is somehow lesser. She gives attention to Osram women who have established independant havens from their tribe. She aides the new Carja sun king, who believes in true equality and a genderless sun. She ascribes her achievements to her adoptive father Rost when the Nora would have her attribute everything she is to her unknown mother. And she lets the accusations and comments of those who try to use her gender to bring her low slide off her back with an air of indifference that pervades the entire game. In Horizon: Zero Dawn, Aloy’s gender isn’t an obstacle to overcome. It just is.