In the late stages of Dishonored, when protagonist Corvo Attano infiltrates the corrupt Lord Regent’s tower stronghold, there is a safe in the executive suite. Quite the bounty is to be found inside, including a taped confession wherein the Lord Regent admits to plotting the assassination of the Empress. The account is chilling, spoken by a man who feels wholly justified in what he has done—”She had to die, you see,” he explains fervently. “She had to die,”—with no hint of remorse. The idea of such a carefully calculated murder is disturbing enough, but it becomes even more unsettling when considering the Empress’ position: in a city packed with aristocrats and politicians, she is the only woman in Dunwall holding an office of esteem; it is also a largely male cohort that, deeming her unfit for rule, turns on her.
This is no coincidence: in a city where women are restricted from certain professions, accused of witchcraft for practicing mathematics, and are much more likely to be maids (or prostitutes) than Parliamentarians, the culture of Dunwall perpetuates a wide-reaching gender disparity where women hold little social power. (For those interested, Becky Chambers has an awesome essay on just this topic over at The Mary Sue.) But, as anyone who has played the game knows, there is another world to Dunwall: a dark, slimy world of organized crime and dark magic, existing in the abandoned factories, darkened alleyways, and hidden places of the city. In this underworld, where guardsmen and politicians tread at their own peril (and may lose a tongue, limb, or life for their efforts), an interesting thing happens: women rise to power. In Dishonored, feminine power thrives in the underworld, where women are able to assert authority and influence that is largely out of reach in “legitimate” society.