Hey there, you, yes you. Listen up, or don’t. I’m not that fussed. I do however have a few things troubling my mind, so if you bear with me as I expunge my brain onto the screen we will all get on much better.
So what is on my mind you ask? Well, a brief introduction to myself, if you weren’t already aware (fast forward two paragraphs if this scene setting is unnecessary) : I am James, I am a 29 year old male of european origin. I say european because thats probably the closest I can get to my ethnicity without starting to get into a long thought about national pride and how I have very little of it. I’ve already started down that road. Nip it in the bud, James.
I am a person who has grown up in England and Wales, I enjoy things like video games, music, creative stuff, I have a degree in Fine Art, I work in the third sector, I edit video freelance and I like coffee, running and the internet.
I’m also quite sick. I actually think we all are. This thought started rolling in my head whilst watching the second season of ‘House of Cards’. A scene plays out (no spoilers) where Frank’s right hand man Doug is offered a drink. He refuses. He was asked “you were an alcoholic?”, he shakes his head, replying “I am an alcoholic”. This is a statement familiar to many people, and it rings true through many streaks of our lives.
So, with this in mind, I turn to my daily Twitter feed and Feedly subscriptions. I enjoy reading about technology, video games, interviews with developers and creative types. What do I see, pumping through the columns of Tweetdeck? I see hate, I see people highlighting others arrogance and misinformed opinions. I see hostility and threats, I see untempered anger. It is hard to read, and everything moves so fast, it flows in waves as the retweets turn into blogs, turn into news stories which then become tweets that become retweets. The comments swing from abuse to defence to people trying to stay in the middle.
I could be talking about any issue really, its the same story of shock and awe and confusion. But what I am talking about today is FEMINISM. I’ll capitalise because its such a hot button issue. FEMINISM in GAMING and THE MEDIA.
So back to context. Let’s be clear about what Feminism actually is. It is not hard to find a good definition in this day and age, I’ve done what any other person with a point to make does, I asked Wikipedia:
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women
Simple isn’t it. Now this is a huge, huge, HUGE thing to understand and I’m not about to write a book. I’m going to take one theme out of that definition, which neatly sits with GAMING and THE MEDIA: Cultural rights for Women.
If you follow the gaming media/press/twitter scene you’ll no doubt understand that I’m going to be talking about Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency series of videos, and the discussions these have caused. These videos have become the nexus that the gaming discussions orbit, and each time one is released it is followed by the flurry of internet activity where people call out Anita for being ‘wrong’, twisting facts and posting threats. Example:
Warning: Bad language and such.
There is now a campaign flowing forth from forums, naming journalists who agree and have shared the Feminist Frequency videos, along with calls to boycott them and their publications for “wanting to ruin our hobby”. It is a puzzling and frustrating thing for me. The internet’s discussion slowly moves away from the actual content of the videos and their purpose to a campaign of fingers going into ears and people crying YES or NO. Understand that this is not a yes or no situation. Anita Kickstarted these videos and received over $100,000 to make them, well over her $6000 goal. Following the success of the Kickstarter in 2012, Anita spoke at TEDxWomen:
It remains clear, that in the two years that have passed, there are still huge issues. My mind boggles, I ask why? Why are people reacting like this is an attack on them?
So I do think. I try and think about the ‘sides’ in this argument. Anita, for campaigning for women’s rights in culture has become a figure of hate and ridicule to a huge number of online individuals, who claim she, and the people ‘brainwashed’ by her videos and theories. Yet, watching her videos, which are introduced as a feminist critique of both film and games, the discussion often revolves around how women are disempowered by either plot points, or how women are used in games as a goal or commodity.
Yes, Anita is telling you that the media you are consuming is sexist.
Is she wrong?
When you think about the vast field of media: gaming, movies, music. Is there not a significant difference in how women are portrayed when compared to men? You can splutter out a thousand “yes, but…”s at this point. Yes but that is marketing, yes but that is the story, yes but she later kills the guy, yes but the director was a woman… Does any of that actually matter when you compare the portrayal of men, when compared to women, in gaming?
This brings me back to Doug in House of Cards. He is an alcoholic. He might not be drinking, he might be sober, but he is an alcoholic. It is this understanding that allows him to control his urges to drink. To control himself. This tumbles around my brain and leads me to make this statement:
I’m James, I’m 29 years old, I’m a white european male and I am sexist. I am racist. I am an addict. I am violent. I am sick. I think we are all the same.
You see, I live in a culture that is sexist. I also live in a culture that is racist. I live in a culture that is full of addiction, violence and is ultimately sick. The culture that I live in allows for all of this and that, for no other reason of simply being my place of birth, makes me capable and inherently guilty of those terrible things. I have had to work on myself, and educate myself, and be guided by my upbringing, to control these aspects of all of our personalities.
To help us control these aspects of ourselves, we look to culture. Our culture guides us, gives us context, gives us our views. This is ultimately the point of Anita’s videos, to highlight that it is not ‘us’ who is at fault, but the culture in which we are allowed to let our personalities thrive. But we have a choice, we can change our culture. We have the ability to challenge deeply entrenched ideas and tropes. The simple comparison is that women in the UK can now vote. That is allowing women political equality. Yet only 1 in 5 MPs are women, when women make up 51% of the population. That is not political equality in any shape or form.
Recently it has been in the news that a new nail varnish that changes colour if it comes into contact with date-rape drugs has been developed. No-one will argue that this is not a good idea, however there is the underlying problem that this does not address the issue of the person feeling they live in a culture where they can place a drug into a persons drink with the intent of raping that individual.
To bring it to a personal level, this past weekend I enjoyed an evening with my friends, and when we were discussing the antics and whereabouts of people from our past, a tale was told of another friend who, when in the queue to one of Cardiff’s nightclubs, quietly unzipped himself, filmed himself rubbing his penis on the woman in front of him, finished, tapped the woman on the shoulder and played her back the video.
He is sexist. He is also a lot of other things. It’s ultimately clear however that we need to work on our culture.
When I see these online campaigns that threaten women for just challenging the idea that maybe there is something slightly sexist in having women as sex objects, or background decoration, or the prize to be won, my eyes want to roll into the back of my head to examine my own inner workings.
You are not being attacked! The games themselves are not the problem even, it is the culture in which they are written and developed that has to change. It has to change because without a culture that respects and places women above simply being objects and sees them as equals, we cannot work on other even more important issues. Without addressing something simple such as the ‘damsel in distress’ trope, that is prevalent across all forms of media, how do we expect to educate a society to respect women beyond something that is worked for, possessed or earned? Without examining the amount of abuse and violence directed towards women (and people of other races / religions / hairstyles) how do we expect to not live in a society where ones physical strength is enough to get what one wants?
I think people are a lot like the sliders that define personalities in The Sims. We are full of grey areas and we can swing between yes and no but also take a place in the atoms that separate them. I am James, I am 29 and yes I am sexist, racist and and addict. I’m also sick. So are you. But I believe we can push these aspects away, we can chose to educate ourselves and then help others be educated. We have to challenge ourselves and our surroundings, and if we do that enough, we will start to change our culture. As those cracks appear and the paint peels and falls, there will always be someone close at hand with plaster and a pot of magnolia to try and maintain the status quo. The status quo is sexist, racist and intolerant. They will not beat it. This is political correctness, this is the move towards equality. The more cracks that appear, the more the generations below with be educated by a culture that respects women and others.
They are not coming for your games, your games are safe. There is no sound argument against a want for a more equal and fair society other than fear. A fear of loss of power, but understand, if you think you have power. Power over women, power over others. You are wrong, you are sick.
I’m James, I’m 29, I like games, I like movies, I’m trying my best to not be sexist, racist or addicted. I’m trying my best to get better.