Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Queer Icon (Part 2)

Part 2:
Lara and the ladies

So evidently an old euphemism for lesbians was “female adventurer.” Who, in the whole of Popular Culture, is more of a poster child for those two words than Lara Croft? Disregarding her own mysterious sexual orientation (to be covered in Part 4 of this blog post), no wonder she is an icon for queer women.

On a more serious note, it would be easy to dismiss Lara’s appeal to ladies who like ladies as simply a mirror of her appeal to heterosexual men. In other words, it’s purely about sexual attraction. Whichever version of the character is your favourite, Lara is intimidatingly intelligent, gorgeous, and sports a smokin’ hot body.

So queer women just want to get into Lara’s shorts. Right? Uh, no.

Evidently, even if queer women are sexually attracted to Lara Croft, admiration trumps objectification every time. As already mentioned (in Part 1), Lara Croft is held in high esteem by fans for the qualities she embodies as opposed to her many undeniably impressive physical attributes. Her attractiveness – her sexiness – more than anything else, lies in her strength of character.

Time and time again, when queer fans, female and male, were interviewed, they mentioned how Classic Lara was the first time they were exposed to a “badass” female character in a video game – and how hard that simple fact hit them.

AE Dooland, Australia:
Back in 1996, it was very rare for a computer game to have non-stereotypical female characters (prior to Lara, the last female characters I'd been exposed to at that point were the prostitutes you could have sex with in Leisure Suit Larry). So naturally, having this strong, independent female character who was totally badass and wasn't just an accessory to the men in the game was the main drawcard for me.
Bella Eve, UK:
…The main thing I remember was seeing one the very first cut-scenes (the one where Lara enters the caves, with the wolves and poncho and stuff) and being amazed by it! (I was like age 5/6 at this time). It was the whole idea of this amazing, attractive woman, throwing off a poncho, revealing minimal clothing and absolutely kicking butt! Since then she's been like an idol to me. I like the fact she's independent, strong, and obviously beautiful…
Anonymous, Italy:
I became an obsessed fan when I first played Tomb Raider III on my prehistorical pc back in 1998. I was around 9 years old. I’ve always been a real tomboy, I couldn’t stand girly games (like taking care of fake babies, doing housework...), I liked to feel like a superhero, playing with guns, treasure hunting, being a boss… When I discovered Tomb Raider, I thought I had found America: a strong badass woman, with brown hair and eyes (“just like me!” I thought), Aquarius (“just like me!”), a wonderful videogame full of adventure, mystery, GUNS and weapons (“hell yeah!”)… Lara, since then, has accompanied me through my life, inspiring me a lot, to be strong.
As pretty much every female respondent said, Lara Croft is the epitome of a strong, independent woman.

In addition, her accomplishments are not at the expense of her femininity. Given her idealised physical appearance, well, the womanly nature of Lara Croft is impossible to overlook. This point may explain part of her appeal for transgender women as well.

Helena, in Germany, explains:
She was the first badass and strong female character I came in contact with in my life. I have always admired her for being courageous, intelligent, determined, standing her ground at all times, fighting the most dangerous opponents and always getting what she wants. I love how unconventional, daring and rebellious she is and how she is perfectly capable of using a wide variety of firearms to defend herself. Of course, her looks (facial features, athletic body, the braid, the sunglasses, the holsters, the backpack) and wardrobe never ceased to amaze me either and are just as iconic as her adventurous nature.
It’s worthwhile mentioning at this point – and this is more pronounced with well-endowed Classic Lara – that the character exhibits zero shame over her curvaceous, amply endowed body, and refuses to let her sex hold her back or make her feel insecure. It’s impossible to shake her on this point, as AE Dooland remarks:
This was a very important lesson to a teenager - Lara's value didn't lie in how she looked. Sure, she looked great, but that wasn't where her value lay. To Lara, her value lay solely in her ability to endure through hardships and pursue her goals.
With Reboot Lara, her gender traits are more pronounced in her behaviour as well. Whereas Classic Lara is an aloof ice queen, arguably more traditionally masculine in her attitude, her “new self” is generally more compassionate, values her friendships and is fiercely protective of her companions. Oh, and she’s not adverse to a little Jaffa Cake splurge.

In short, Lara Croft establishes that it’s okay to be a hero and a woman at the same time. In Reboot Lara’s case especially, the message is that you don’t have to squash the traditionally feminine aspects of your personality to succeed. Being physically weaker, smaller and caring about others does not mean you are inferior; nor is it a reason to think that you are.

Another crux point that may help explain her queer women appeal is Lara’s dissociation from men. Let’s make this clear upfront: the daredevil archaeologist doesn’t hate men. She has close friendships with many male characters, as well as male mentors. Since Crystal Dynamics have been developing the Tomb Raider games, the pivotal figures in Lara’s life have been men – her father, archaeologist Richard Croft, and treasure hunter Conrad Roth.

However, despite numerous male associations and alliances, Lara demonstrates no romantic or sexual interest in the opposite sex (if you ignore the old comics and movies). She doesn’t really need men, and she never expects them to save her. She does that herself, as Anonymous in Italy explains:
I admire her because of her intellect, for the “homo faber fortunae suae” attitude, she doesn’t need anybody’s help, she doesn’t need a man to guide her. She’s a woman who can survive with her own choices and strengths, doing what she loves.
Crystal, in South Africa, adds:
Lara is a symbol of female strength. Reboot or Classic, she portrays an independent woman, who is capable of saving herself and is driven to get what she wants.
If I think about it, as a shy teenager with low self-esteem, Classic Lara appealed to me because her strength and her femininity was glamorous, she was completely self-reliant and strong, all the things I hoped I would become.
Now of course these are pretty much the same reasons straight women could consider Lara a role model. It is very easy to make the claim that she is a feminist icon – if you look at how she is depicted, as opposed to how she has been marketed.

Strong, self-reliant and wilful, Lara Croft refuses to stick to Western society’s definition of what it is to be a lady. Or Lady in her case. As a British aristocrat, she should, in theory, embody all the qualities that women traditionally are supposed to aspire towards. She should be demure. Genteel. Unassuming. Well-mannered, well-groomed and well behaved.

Of course this Queen of Unconventionality is anything but.

Lara Croft sneers at convention. She alternates snark and plain cheek. She never suppresses her opinion. She wears the pants (or shorts); and refuses to back down from a fight. No boyfriends or babies or settling down for the Countess of Abbingdon. Instead, she explores some of the most remote, dangerous places in the world; on her own, without any thought for what’s appropriate or lady-like... Hence Hillary dropping his tea tray at the sight of her in a sundress at the end of the first Tomb Raider movie. And a petulant Lara muttering that she’s going to show her headmistress how a proper English girl behaves in Pre-Teen Raider, the animated short scripted by Gail Simone.

Lara Croft may not be short on female attributes – physical and otherwise – but the last thing you can call her is conventionally “girlie.” In fact, the Classic version of the character is something of a representational oddity: on one hand very womanly, and on the other, very unwomanly (at least in terms of behavioural expectation for females).

In turn, her rule breaking, her unconventionality, is very reassuring for queer women as they too "go off script"in terms of what society insists they should be like as the fairer sex.

As Kelly, in South Africa, says:
I've always hated being told "you can't do that because you're a girl". I was raised mostly by my Dad and I wanted to be able to do anything he could, and I did… I feel that Lara really proved to me that a woman can do anything, she isn't just meant to "floof" about in fairy dresses and obsess over clothes and make-up.

As for queer female fans and Lara Croft’s impact on their sexuality, anyone looking for comments along the lines of “Lara’s hot; that’s why I’m gay!” will be sorely disappointed. Typically, those interviewed for this post stressed that their strong feelings for Lara were more like a confirmation of what they already suspected about themselves. Alternatively, they realised this with hindsight.

Like Gee, in England:
Honestly it's something I should have realised sooner. I had a huge crush on Angelina Jolie playing Lara that's for sure.
There were also two interviewees who consider Lara Croft as being a trigger for personal realisation in a slightly different way.

Helena, in Germany, provides a trans account:
Lara hasn't been an influence on my sexuality but she has had a huge impact on my gender. Growing up, I always wondered why I was so drawn to everything about her. Every time I heard the name "Lara Croft", something inside of me reacted. Over the years I had a lot of different theories. As a kid, I thought I just really liked the video game itself, not Lara in particular. Around the time I hit puberty, I figured I found her sexually attractive. A few years after that I found out none of that was true and instead, I had always wanted to be like her. That's when I realized I was transgender. So I guess, in a way you could say I found out thanks to Lara.
Anonymous, in Italy, links her lesbianism to Lara in a roundabout way that mirrors my own personal story:
Well, I’ve always been attracted to her, even if I wasn’t still aware of my sexuality. She had an impact on me after the reboot: I was really caught by her relationship with Sam, I thought they were cute and so caring towards each other. I felt something untold was going on between those two, and I liked it a bit too much, I thought (I wondered why I had butterflies in my stomach when watching them inter-act). I didn’t understand why, though.

So I started reading few fanfictions, and I totally identified with girl-on-girl action moments, frowning at my reaction. I’ve never felt that way before towards heterosexual kissing scenes and stuff, and I started thinking about my past experiences with boys: why did I feel nothing when kissing my ex-boyfriends? ... I really thought I was asexual or something like that. Everything was so mechanical, I was worried about myself. When hearing the word “boyfriend” I used to freeze and feel uncomfortable…

I had many signals I was kinda attracted to girls, even dreams, but I did ignore them. That time, I couldn’t let myself ignore them, so I opened my heart to the quest for answers, I needed answers, like Lara said at the end of the game.

After this discovery, I also felt so much comfortable with my body and started training hard for cosplay sake (and for feeling more attractive for girls! Concerning boys, at the time, I didn’t actually care to get fit or look sexy, I was kinda close and shy about it). So yeah, Lara Croft made me discover my true sexuality. God bless her…
Mostly though, the female fans of Lara Croft – no matter where they fall on the identification spectrum – seem to reflect the sentiments of Gisele in New Zealand:
[Lara] is the epitome of a strong sexy woman and as a young girl wanting to become a woman myself, she was a perfect inspiration for me and she still is to this day and she will continue to.

Next up: 
Part 3: Lara’s draw for queer men

Also read:
Part 1: “You become who you’re meant to be.”


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