So I've been going about this lately on Twitter but I only recently came upon enough material for a blog post relation to Mass Effect.
Why are the asari women?
Don't get me wrong - the asari race is a really cool concept. They're a race of blue aliens that psychically link their nervous systems with their partners to reproduce, and often are encouraged (to the point of disgust at those that aren't born of a non-asari partner) to do so with as many species as possible. They're effeminate in speech, as well as facial/body structure, IE, wider hips, smaller waists, likely redundant breasts, and smooth skin. All of these are beautiful traits to humans, with the obvious exceptions of blue/teal color and the tail-heads, which of course everyone got used to forty years ago with Star Wars.
I was under the impression that asari were a ungendered race, and this is supported early on with Liara's own words, IE, "mono-gendered" and "not precisely a woman." But I started playing Mass Effect 2, and right under their section in the game's own codex, it says "all-female." Even if this weren't in here, they're obviously women. There's not even a good example to point out about how ridiculous this is, because genders are so specific. Too many concepts of femininity line up with the entire asari species traits for it to be anything other than a species of women.
Again, let me say that this is a very cool idea; like the Amazons if they were psychics instead of warriors. Amazons, however, were a nation of female warrios, where as this is an entire species. The entire concept of them needlessly being bisexual women, indeed the big Mass Effect selling point is getting Liara naked along with either manShep or femShep, enforces this ridiculous mindset of 'pretty lesbians are okay' via having the only viable gay relationship be an alien species that identifies as 'female' to human perceptions of beauty. You can sleep with Liara as a man, but it's obviously heterosexual.
My point is, why couldn't they be completely gender-ambiguous? They're aliens - they don't have sexes. The fluff even describes that asari have some sort of supernatural resonance that makes them attractive to all races. Mordin surmises 'neurochemical,' and I've had theories that it's a subconcious biotic power.
So here's my theory - make them androgynous. Take away the big hips and breasts, and smudge the facial features. Maybe keep the voices higher-pitched, but switch voice actors around so they aren't all women and some are just very high-pitched men. If you make them unisex you can still keep the origins and reproduction, and still have the relationship, but there's no big flaming honking sign that says HEY LESBIAN SEX THIS WAY, PICK FEMSHEP AND LIARA TO SEE SEXY BUTTS TOUCHING!!
I shouldn't be so uppity about this but it just smacks as more sexism/homophobia to consider pretty lesbians okay for absolutely no reason. It's nice to look at, therefore it's alright. I've known women to be more accepting and appreciative of female beauty but that's purely because of this kind of thing - you don't get that kind of reaction out of men these days. If a man observed another man's being attractive, most of the time he'll be called gay faster than you can say, 'Flamingly Homophobic Chestbump.' Enforcing and encouraging 'pretty lesbians' is just more disgusting homophobia; it all melts away the moment you have elderly lesbians, or overweight lesbians, or anything that doesn't fit this male-driven perception of 'sexy.'
It's the same kind of thing that's propagated in Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. VV, bless her wonderful heart, is bisexual. All the women you can pick up in bars are bisexual, to the point of where nobody even mentions that you, the protagonist, are a woman hitting on these random and all-too-willing ladies. The options for men seducing men, even with powers/Seduction skill are almost nil, to the point of where some men are given the seduction option and recoil in horror. Women seducing women is practically equaling that of hetero. More backwards-ass double standard bullshit.
It's especially ridiculous since turians are basically cricket humanoids with carapace skin and krogans are giant space hunchback lizard-orcs. You never even see females of either of these species, or salarians for that matter. What's with the underrepresentation of the ladies of other species? The only time I even hear about female turians is Garrus's fantastic story in Mass Effect 2. Why can't we get a female turian in ME3?
Now to be fair I'm not crying out sexism or homophobia in Mass Effect (okay, Miranda's blatant ass-shot in ME2, yes, most definite sexism). FemShep is probably my favorite version of Shepard and her voice actor rules. The relationship you can have with Garrus is brilliantly written, portraying him as an charming man and a total sweetheart. The relationship with Tali was fantastic, especially that subtle line of how she rambles 'since her face is always covered and people can't read facial expression.' Ashley, racism aside, was a great character to have a romantic fling with. But these are just small gender/sexism nitpicks that, while fine taken alone, continue to reflect a double-standard in our society's perception of homosexuality.
AFTEREDIT : I think there definitely is more sexism in Mass Effect upon closer inspection. I really shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss it just based on how ME is a good game series.