Metal Gear Solid and Gender Equality: Daughters of Liberty

How one gamer experienced positive reinforcement for women in the Metal Gear Solid series.

Konami’s Metal Gear Solid franchise holds a special place in my heart. Not just because of Hideo Kojima’s creative mind and skill for producing complicated, adaptable, and eerily self-aware games, but because of the ways in which the series works to shatter gender stereotypes. 

Admittedly, the previous statement might strike some as a bit of a reach. Metal Gear Solid titles have long been perceived outwardly (and often immediately) as masculine for their war environments, male protagonists, and sexualized themes.

But I’d argue time and again that they serve as positive reinforcement for women just as much as for men. It just requires a bit of additional study.  

It was 1999 when I first took up the gruff-voiced, nicotine-addicted mantle of Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake. I was eight years old. And, while some of the more subtle and sexual undertones of the game escaped me until my first full play through as an adult more than a decade later, I felt empowered from the start.  

Something I wouldn’t realize until later was that this empowerment wasn’t the product of shedding my own skin for Snake’s but was instead due to the ways in which the carefully crafted cast interacted with one another. Even at eight, Meryl Silverburgh, Naomi Hunter and Sniper Wolf struck me as unique secondary characters. 

All three are women defined by their gender without being imprisoned by it. In their field of work (war), their role as women is misinterpreted by men and then offset – if not completely overshadowed – by their skillset. 

This is displayed most noticeably in interactions between characters such as Johnny Sasaki, Solid Snake and Meryl. Near the beginning of the game, we witness Meryl’s escape from the prison cell she’s being held in for refusing to take part in FOXHOUND’s rebellion. 

Her plan isn’t a particularly strategic one: she makes a ruckus until Johnny, a seemingly unimportant (and dimwitted) guard who becomes a recurring character throughout the series, unlocks the cell door. She then overpowers him, steals his clothes and radio, and leaves him unconscious on the cold prison block floor. 

What this somewhat comedic scene illustrates so well is that men often erroneously underestimate women based off of gender. Johnny, who had already categorized Meryl as a “crush” or a mere object of lust, felt that an attractive woman couldn’t be a threat. So he surrendered his position of power and unlocked her prison cell. And Meryl, a soldier and the daughter of a colonel, replied by doing what any soldier would do given the situation. 

This scene repeats itself later in the game when the player, as Solid Snake, follows a disguised Meryl into the women’s restroom. Upon entering the room, cut-scene Snake takes over and finds himself swiftly out-stealthed by a girl. 

The dialogue that follows is nothing short of corny flirtation between the two. Meryl paints herself as youthful and naïve – and, thus, a flawed and more interesting character – which is not missed by Snake, who takes the opportunity to compliment Meryl’s assets. While Snake’s lewd praise is a touch distasteful, given the circumstance and her own developing feelings, Meryl moves past it. 

My love for Metal Gear Solid doesn’t stem from the fact that the women of the series are perfect. As I said, Meryl is naïve. She is also brash and emotional. But, in a display of gender equality, the men of the series are oftentimes just as naïve, brash, emotional or in possession of even worse imperfections.