Jun 14, 2012

The One Where Sexism & Misogyny Runs Amok On the Internet

Preface to this piece: I spent a good five minutes trying to cram various key phrases in the headline to convey what is going on, with no luck.  Apparently headlines are not meant to be paragraphs long.  So I settled on the above title, which is of course a play off of the episode title structures of the series "Friends" which always was "The One Where....".  I always liked that, even if I didn't always like the show.   Silver lining and all.

Now on with the show!

So I was on twitter earlier tonight and I saw that Jay Smooth, someone who I respect tremendously, had commented that he was going to discuss something in more detail tomorrow.  In true Twitter fashion I started reading the timeline backwards like I was Leonard Shelby, and began to get the bigger picture.

So Anita Sarkeesian, a female video game enthusiast had set up a Kickstarter to fund a webseries in which she would delve into the topic of Sexism in Games.  More to the point of how women are portrayed in video games.   The following is from her Kickstarter page explaining her project:

I love playing video games but I’m regularly disappointed in the limited and limiting ways women are represented.  This video project will explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games.  The series will highlight the larger recurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders.  I’m going to need your help to make it happen!

As a gamer, a pop culture critic and a fan, I’m always working to balance my enjoyment of media while simultaneously being critical of problematic gender representations. With my video web series Feminist Frequency,  I look at the way women are portrayed in mass media and the impact they have on our culture and society.

So there you have it.  Plain and simple, cut and dried what she is seeking to do and the direction she is headed.  You wouldn't really think this would be that big of a deal right?   Whether you agree with her views or not, you would not imagine that it would be that controversial.  I mean there are videos all over the internet spouting a lot more controversial beliefs than this, which is not hurting anyone or anything.


You would be wrong though.   Apparently Hell hath no fury like a male gamer scorned.   Soon after this began came the nasty comments, the threats of death, sexual assault, rape and whatnot with the occasional frathouse humor thrown in for seasoning, all pretty much fueling the idea that Anita has that the Gaming industry marginalizes and sexualizes the female characters.  Perhaps these gamers are simply repeating what they have been exposed to for all these years, right?

Now I'm going to be upfront and honest with you, readers of this article.  I don't know that much about this topic, and I am sure that Ms. Sarkeesian has done a lot of research into this.  That said, I'm not sure how much of it is sexism (which there's CLEARLY sexism, misogyny and the over sexualization of women in video games...Bayonetta anyone?) I wonder how much of the stereotypes and cliches are a byproduct of true sexist intent (or even passive subconsciously) and how much is simply lazy writing and the game studios not really taking chances?

There are a few games that have come out in recent years, and some that are coming out soon, that feature strong female roles with Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain)'s new IP "Beyond: Two Souls" starring Ellen Page as the protagonist looking to be one of the strongest female characters that are non sexualized in ...ever?

But I get the point.  Even the strong characters such as Lara Croft are sexed up for mass appeal for the young teen male audience.  Even the fairly strong female supporting roles such as Uncharted 2's Elena Fisher (Emily Rose) or Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black) are either given miniscule roles or just seem to "be there" to be there.

And the fact that the only singularly strong female representative that wasn't over sexed or cliche ridden is a game that won't be out until next year perhaps says a lot.  And this isn't even getting into the whole "Booth Babes" thing at the various conventions, and how the female hosts of the various gaming shows are supposed to be these uber sexy flirtatious and hyper sexualized beings (Olivia Munn as a prime example).  I mean the hot girl gamer is a big selling point for many of these shows.   You never see average looking female gamers on those shows do you?

But as has been pointed out, in a much less mature fashion, there are a lot of negatively cliched stereotypical male roles as well, however the comparison doesn't really hold up because the sample size of male main roles as opposed to female is through the roof, and also much of the truly multi-dimensional characters are male.

Yes Kratos is seemingly a one dimensional one track minded guy out to just destroy everything in his path until he gets what he wants, but it also goes back and shows his back story and what made him the way he was.  What point turned him from a normal warrior to the souless zombie almost that is Hell bent (literally) on revenge.

There are many men that fit into stereotypes of brutish warrior, comic sidekick, etc, but more times than not, those characters are fleshed out a lot more than their female counterpoints.   Often, the women are simply eye candy.

Seriously is there more than five female characters in the entire God of War Saga (encompassing five games so far) that does not feature at least one bare breast?   I noticed that while playing God of War III that seemingly every woman I came across, whether God or mortal was half naked, either a plaything for the Gods, or a female God that still was all about showing off her body.

The attacks on Ms. Sarkeesian though go beyond the pale, and I've attached the youtube screencap that she took of her video that highlights some of the truly atrocious comments that she's been subjected to.  It's a huge list of comments, so that'll be at the very bottom of this post.

As I said before, I'm not 100% sure exactly where I fall on her arguments, and whether it's true sexism or just lazy writing, but for her to be subjected to these neanderthalic throwback assholes that want to silence her and go so far as to flag her youtube video as "terrorism" and try to get her Kickstarter project banned/defunded, is so far gone that it defies justification.

So whether or not I agree with you, Ms. Sarkeesian, I salute your bravery and courage in the face of these misanthropes, and I am so happy to see that your project is such a massive success.   I only wish I had discovered it sooner so I could have contributed some money to it just as a middle finger to everyone that would shut you up.

I look forward to seeing your project and will gladly post it up here.

EDIT: And here is Jay Smooth's eloquent appeal for reason in the face of such unreasonableness.

And now here's the decidedly not safe for work screenshot of the various threats and sexist remarks thrown at her for her simply having the unmitigated GALL to want to discuss a topic like this.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Gary,

    I don't play video games, so I was pretty clueless about this landscape. But what really blows me away is the venom aimed at this woman who is just passing the hat. Wow. Lots of angry men out there.

    Thanks, Gary.


    Antonia M.


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