Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Anita Sarkeesian and the Feminist Frequency Fail

Sorry for the long wait since the last blog, everyone. I've been working a few ideas and wasn't entirely sure which one to go with for this blog. One of the reasons I created this blog was in response to several articles about sexism on gaming websites, including one on Gamespot about Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency. For those of you who don't know, Sarkeesian is the woman who used Kickstarter to fund a project analysing misogyny against women in video games, which she claims will be very in-depth and comprehensive.

I'm unconvinced. I have no doubt that Sarkeesian provides in-depth analysis in as much as, say, she wants to prove that women are objectified in games, so she holds up a picture of Catwoman from Arkham City, maybe watches a video of her provocative hip-wiggling walk and then says, "there, that's an example". However, that's not giving the full picture of the game or the character or her role, as we discussed in the previous post. Why do I think that's what Sarkeesian would do? Well a while ago, she made a video all about examples of poor female characters in video games and one of the examples she included was Nariko from Heavenly Sword. Now, I don't begrudge the character's inclusion at all but for Sarkeesian's use of the character gives a very biased view of Heavenly Sword. For her, it's just another example to bolster her case of misogyny but in actual fact, it's nowhere near as one-sided as that. See "The Violence Double Standard" for more.

So writing a blog post about Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency is what I've settled on. Both being fans of TV Tropes, I think I can provide the flipside to her viewpoint. While she wishes to showcase tropes such as "Distressed Damsel", there's a smorgasboard of tropes about the discrimination against men in the media, from violence and rape double standards to "disappeared dads" and "the sitcom trinity" ("The Unfair Sex", "Women Are Wiser" and "Closer To Earth"). Seriously, if you haven't visited TV Tropes before, you're missing out! It's a wonderful site and the only "mainstream" site that actually acknowledges sexism against men.

Naturally, I'd have to wait for more of Sarkeesian's videos to be released before I can critique her arguments. I'd like to think I wouldn't have to but looking down her list of planned videos, I'm not too hopeful:
  • Damsel in Distress - Video #1
  • The Fighting F#@k Toy - Video #2
  • The Sexy Sidekick - Video #3
  • The Sexy Villainess - Video #4
  • Background Decoration - Video #5
  • Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress - Video #6
  • Women as Reward - Video #7
  • Mrs. Male Character - Video #8
  • Unattractive Equals Evil - Video #9
  • Man with Boobs - Video #10
  • Positive Female Characters! - Video #11
  • Video #12 - Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games
There are a couple of those videos that stand out to me. Firstly, "Man with Boobs". One of the things I've noticed about Sarkeesian's work is her tendency to sort characteristics into "male" and "female". For example, male qualities are "independent", "decisive" and "violent" (of course) while female qualities include "shy", "weak" and "hysterical". You've probably spotted a flaw here already; by categorising these traits as "masculine" and "feminine", Sarkeesian is enforcing the gender roles that she should be combating. So why isn't she? Well, it makes it easier to prove the argument she's trying to make. Obviously, these traits aren't inherently masculine or feminine -- there are plenty of shy men and violent women, just as an example -- and Sarkeesian assigned sexes to them herself. So by categorising "weak" as a "feminine" trait, Sarkeesian can use all the examples of weak women in video games, television shows and movies to prove a trend of institutionalised misogyny while ignoring the weak male characters.

Give this video by Instig8iveJournalism a watch. The first couple of minutes gives a visual demonstration but watch the whole thing. It's an interesting insight into Sarkeesian's idea of "in-depth" analysis:

Basically, the flipside of the paragraph above and the point, I'm guessing, of the "Man with Boobs" video, is that while men with feminine traits (or negative masculine traits, which don't exist according to Sarkeesian's table of traits) are ignored by Sarkeesian, women with masculine traits will be part of her analysis. However, while female characters who display characteristics such as strength, self-confidence, decisiveness and independence would be praised by other people who enjoy strong female characters, Sarkeesian's view is different; as those are all "masculine" traits, any women who show these traits are actually just adopting male traits and are therefore not strong female characters. So can we expect to see Nariko, Lara Croft and every woman from a fighting game in Sarkeesian's "Man with Boobs" video? Time will tell.

This is the second part of Instig8iveJournalism's piece on Anita Sarkeesian. I don't have much to say about this other than I find her methods for earning more money to be highly disturbing:

To sum up that video, Anita was moderating the comments on the first video posted on this blog but she let some of the more misogynist ones through. Why? To stir the pot, use them as proof of a misogynistic trend in video games and then claim the sympathy card in a high-and-mighty response on her blog. It paid off, to the tune of twenty-five times the amount of money she asked for on her Kickstarter. I'm not saying it was all due to the comments but I know the feeling of disagreeing so strongly with someone that you want to do something just to rub their faces in their failure. The trolls on IMDB were the reason I bought Scott Pilgrim Vs The World on DVD ...

I'd like to point out that I don't support misogynistic comments but you know what? Sarkeesian was moderating every comment on her video. She could've done something about them if she actually felt they were morally wrong and not just a method of earning more cash.

Back to her planned videos: it's the final one in the series that irritates me most. "Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games". I'm a member of a comic book forum, amongst others, and I rarely visit there any more because every other thread is about the portrayal of women in comics and more diversity on superhero teams. The issue, however, is a certain image that was going around a few years ago that you can see here, if you can stand the straw feminism at work:

They've added links to why each square is "considered ridiculous or insulting" since I last saw it but if anything, that just makes it even more ridiculous. The typical attempts to justify and trivialise objectification of men while claiming that it oppresses women. Read this excerpt, as an example:

"If your reaction is “But I like it and therefore it cannot possibly be sexist!” then you need to check out the concepts of “male privilege” and “patriarchy”. In your own time, please, but some good places to start are listed at the end of this column."

So does that mean that the women writing that blog who accept bumbling dads, expendable males and violence against men in the media without complaint are admitting to female privilege and a matriarchy at work? I have to wonder. It also implicitly states "anything I denounce as sexist IS sexist and you can't possibly say otherwise". Because you have privilege.

Anyway, that's going off-topic and I don't have time to counter every arrogant "nope, you're wrong!" point they make. The point is that presumably, the writers of that blog added the explanations because they were running into the exact same argument that I was making when I first saw that image; pre-empting an argument with the points made by the opposition is NOT a valid substitution for a counter-argument. What would happen whenever I ran into that image was there'd be a debate somewhere on the forum about the objectification of women in comic books. Someone would point out that men are drawn unrealistically too. Someone would show that image. The first person would then say, "uhh ... but men are drawn unrealistically too". The second person would show that image again. Basically, they figured it acted as some ultimate trump card to any argument while, in actual fact, it just showed the second person was incapable of debating properly. Either that or they believed that because something was written on a mock-up bingo card, it was somehow a fact and that meant it wasn't up for discussion.

What I'm concerned about is that Sarkeesian's "Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games" will be exactly the same thing. Not points to be debated but silly subjective statements that she believes prove her correct. In fact, I've seen articles with titles like that before, notably on Cracked. If that was anything to go by, Sarkeesian will miss the point and fail to realise that people in blogs, her comments section and wherever else aren't defending sexism in games, they're criticising her for failing to accurately represent sexism in games, i.e. against men as well as women. After all, it's much easier to claim that these people are defending misogyny rather than admit that misandry might exist in games too.

I'd like to leave you with another short article on Anita Sarkeesian from AVoiceForMen. I'm not a close follower of AVfM but I have to thank them for A) introducing me to the two Instig8iveJournalism videos used in this blog post and B) this fantastic article. It actually affected me quite deeply and I've never been so ashamed to be a gamer as when I finished that article. Thank you to Dean Esmay for writing it and make sure to watch the two videos by women embedded in that article. They're both very good, one giving a far more succinct criticism of Sarkeesian than I have and the other criticising the attitude towards women in video games by other female gamers/bloggers.

As always, if you have any suggestions for the subjects of future blog posts, leave it in the comments or send me a message at