The clever girl will want to know if you mean to wed
The dumb ones never think of looking that far ahead
That’s why the dumber they come, the better I like ‘em
‘Cause the dumb ones know how to make love
-Eddie Canter, Harry De Costa, and others (1924)
When the thrill wears off, I’ll leave and find a new toy. Until then, not too different than matrimony, come to think of it. Maybe the coliseum is my fourth husband, in a way.
-Mad Moxxi, Borderlands 1
The fact that Borderlands 2 is more progressive in its treatment of women when compared to its predecessor should not be terribly surprising. After all, the lead writer was none other than Anthony Burch, of Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’, a video series that deals extensively (if satirically) with women’s issues. His HAWP co-star (and sister), Ashly Burch, thinks about these issues quite a bit, and even voices a Borderlands 2 character.
The thing I find most interesting about the game, however, is how consciously female characters are given agency within the game world, and how this agency generally reveals itself in making the women smart (although the game does fail the Bechdel test, depending on how you view Maya’s “silent protagonist+” characterization). Even Ellie, the hickish mechanic, is acknowledged as being a genius with cars. Tiny Tina (Ashly’s character) is a child and explosives expert. Mad Moxxi (now Miss Moxxi, a bar-owner and bartender), who appeared in a B1 DLC as a cheesecake arena owner (and wife of General Knoxx) has received a personality upgrade.
But it is Moxxi who is perhaps the most interesting example, because she is both very smart and profoundly sexual.
Moxxi, it must be said, did not get a good showing in Borderlands 1. Although she only appeared in the DLC, she became highly advertized, mainly because of her ample cleavage and flirty demeanor. She is Scooter’s mother, a woman described as having “busted [...] girl parts,” apparently her just desserts for daring to be sexual in a game that explicitly made her a sexual being.
However, at least she’s depicted as having agency in who she sleeps with, unlike Eddie Cantor’s song. She chooses her husbands, she chooses her toys (either men or the arena). However, there’s not much to support a claim that she’s intelligent in the first game.
And then came Borderlands 2. And Moxxi was tweaked just so. Far from the malevolent sex kitten of the first game, the new Moxxi is a self-possessed mother of two (admittedly, two nearly-incestuous nutjobs) with a rags-to-riches tale of escaping the Hodunks. Her flirting seems more like a business choice now: a huge tip jar stares at you whenever you speak to her. A quest where someone gives you a mission to retrieve salacious photos of her results in her offering to take the photos off her hands, so she can sell them online.
It’s still problematic that Moxxi–and images of Moxxi–are treated as objects or as currency, and her daughter’s lack of self-hatred for being overweight is played for laughs, but at least it seems to be a character in it for herself this time. And that’s a step up, however slight.