How Charming : Nymphs and Hags
Part of the problem with fixing a sexist subculture is digging up sexist roots that are embedded in thousands of years of human history. Folklore and mythology are full of the idea that somewhere out there in the woods or the water or the air are hot supernatural ladies just waiting for mortal men to bone and/or murder. In the world of art history “But it’s just classical mythology” has been used for centuries to justify sculpting and painting hot naked women and showing them off in polite society.
Fantasy games often turn to mythology for their first source of inspiration, so it’s no surprise that these nubile nymphs, sirens, dryads, nereids, sylphs, rusalkas, selkies, glaistigs, and all their dangerous yet frolicksome kin were easily embraced into the fold of expected fantasy monsters. Their casual nudity presents a definite appeal, as does the ability to texture a female character model green and claim that it’s a whole new species. Their descriptions run together in the mind, eternally young, graceful, alluring, far more beautiful than any mortal woman. Being an all-female species make them favorably inclined towards handsome male adventurers, and you don’t have to go into much depth to get some players imagination going with that idea. Their differences seem to derive solely from their natural environment and just how much their beauty might drive you insane.
Because despite their graceful airs and potential for woodland orgies, the nymph archetype also reflects a dark thought by men about women.
The nymph archetype is created as an object of heterosexual masculine longing. But even as heterosexual men long to have her, they fear being controlled by her. The nymph, this graceful perfect plaything has the power to blind a man who looks at her or circumvent their will. Her spiritual sisters all possess charms as well, in the forms of both spells and manipulation.
This stereotype emerges in real life as well: the trope that men become stupid around beautiful women. The concept of the ‘ball and chain’ or the ‘pussy-whipped’ man. And the femme fatale concept emerges again as well, the dangerous sexual woman. Sirens might drown you. Dryads might make you fertilizer. The man makes himself vulnerable by engaging their sexuality and effectively puts himself at their mercy. They can be treated like magical playboy playmates, down for impromptu bubblebath orgies, but at the core of their identity they are made of sexual anxiety. This desired beauty becomes a threat, the lure to a trap.
Nymphs are another archetype that I feel has its place but is currently overused. If you pick up a random monster manual and flip through it there’s a good chance the only women will be beautiful yet suspicious fae creatures or succubi. If you populate a videogame with monsters and only think to put the sultry nymph-types in for females, you’re perpetuating an unfortunate trend.
But everyone loves beautiful sultry ladymonsters, right? That’s why there’s so many! There isn’t an even darker, more problematic counterpart to the nymphs…
Oh hello there.
The hags. They all stand as a miniature pantheon reflecting the assorted nymphs. We got hot sea bitches, we got ugly sea bitches. We got ugly nature bitches, we got hot nature bitches! The ugly ones hate beauty and the beautiful ones hate ugliness. I don’t think I need to tell you which ones are super evil. But the Nighthags have a similar unpleasant twist: they’re also monogendered. They have to find a man from another race to fuck, which they accomplish through the means of shapeshifting into a hottie. Sometimes they kill the man after mating. (Hi there black widow archetype!) Then they usually dump the kid on a foster mother and show up when their daughter starts menstruating to turn her into a hag too in the worst version of puberty imaginable.
Hags echo the same fear as the nymphs, that women who want to have sex with you will manipulate and control you, but Hags don’t even have the decency to be actually physically attractive. So now we’ve got a disproportionate number of hot lady-monsters who want to bone you, except half of them are secretly ugly and tricked you with magical beer goggles.