What Grand Theft Auto Online Taught Me About Being A Woman


As a feminist and a man, if not very good at either, I was annoyed that I couldn’t be a lady in GTAV. My general feeling on finishing GTAV was that it was rammed to the gunnels with glorious teenage kicks, but that far from HATING WOMENS it really didn’t hate women enough.



The male characters and the male existence is examined and dissected and insulted, perhaps not with devastating insight and depth, but from many angles and directions and with all manner of implements. Women are just a thing in that world. Castigated yes, as all objects in a GTA game are, but in a limp and narrow fashion. Women in GTAV are rarely just assholes and never interesting assholes - as they should be in a game about assholes being assholes - but simply sluts or greedy sluts or baby-obsessed, greedy sluts. 

As ever, the crime is one of omission. It’s not what GTAV says about women that’s the problem. It’s what it doesn’t say. That women are wonderfully charmingly, horribly flawed assholes. You know, like men. Catalina in GTAIII was a beautifully evil murdering torturer, a great/horrible character of exactly the sort that GTA games require. But there’s no such women in GTAV. 

It saddened me to see internet commentators suggesting that Franklin’s ex-girlfriend in GTAV is a good female character. She’s a Strong Black Woman who isn’t going to take Franklin’s childish shit any longer, and is marrying a Doctor. Not only does she have no flaws, or do anything stupid, her strong, sensible credentials are cemented by her marrying a Doctor. In GTAV, being a decent person is an insult. Defining a woman's worth by her husband's job is an insult everywhere.

Boy Toy

But online lets you be a lady! So I decided I would take the opportunity - as I have in every Saint’s Row game, including the wonderfully open/hateful Saint’s Row 2 where gender was on a damn slider - to play as a nice lady who wears suits and appears to work in a bank but actually kills people for a living. And when she’s killed those people, she walks (never runs) back to her car and goes shoe shopping. A sort of lady-Leon with the world’s most deftly chosen capsule wardrobe.

Its been revealing. Very revealing.



See when you join a race, there’s a screen where all the players are standing around looking at the cars. And the other players are on the other side of the car and you are on the near side. And they are always all men. And it looks like they are all staring at you. And it is not very nice at all.

I have now been on the other end of The Male Gaze. The game urgently needs more pants and tights. Mostly tights. There are lots of very short skirts, but no tights. I never understood tights. Not in real life. Like, fine if it’s cold, but legs! Legs are great! All that leg there, mmm legs! I actually thought that, in real life.

I don’t wear skirts or shorts if I’m playing with others. If I’m going into a multiplayer game, I actually go home and change into jeans or a pant suit. Maybe a pencil skirt, that seems fine. I think it’s my thighs I don’t want them to see. The irony of my refusal to wear shorts in real-life, because it makes me feel like I’m ten years old, is no longer lost on me.

The rest of my male friends are broadly also playing as women, for various reasons. Not, I should say, because they want to look at a sexy lady, mostly due to the excitement of choice and agency. But now that a few of my friends have turned up playing as male characters, it’s not taken long for the weirdness and threatening nature of that male presence to be pointed out. The jokes about how we should have women-only-Wednesdays, like at a swimming pool or a gym are jokes, sure. But also, just a little bit, they are not. And this is after twenty hours of play and barely any contact with other players.

Hey UR Hot ;)

 I’ve not been directly abused and I’ve only been directly propositioned once and that by a very sweet person who happily took no for an answer. I didn’t say I was a dude, I just said no thanks. And that was that.



I have had some indirect abuse. Mostly from the Scots, because the only English speaking people I’ve encountered have been Scottish. Maybe the French have been saying all kinds of crazy shit about me, but I’m none the wiser. You just got beat by a girl! That bitch won! And so on, and so fourth. But more Scottish. And never to me, just about me.

Then again, yesterday, a guy did start saying all kinds of horrible things about me being a bitch and threatened to shoot me in the face. Oh no, wait, that wasn’t me and it wasn’t GTA Online, it was my friend Sharna, at Brockley train station, in real life. 

I’ve learned something. I’ve learned nothing.


Thanks to ma laydees Jon, Dan and Benny for their inspiring and affirming images of life in Los Santos.