Saturday, 23 November 2013

Ms. Male Character - Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games

The next Tropes Vs Women video is up, so let's take a look at it:

In this episode, Anita talks about three particular tropes that she feels are harmful towards women:
  • The Distaff Counterpart - A character that is basically the female equivalent of an existing male character.
  • The Smurfette Principle - When there is only a single female character in an otherwise all-male cast.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics - Female characters have characteristics or items that indicate that they are female -- such as bows in their hair or makeup -- while male characters have none.
Funnily enough, I've actually been critical of the Distaff Counterpart on comic book forums before, just because I think it diminishes any real creativity. I think original female characters are more interesting and having unique powers (in the case of superheroes) is a greater incentive for a new audience to pick up the book than simply using a "name" character. In all honesty, that's probably not the case and is just a personal preference because otherwise, why would Distaff Counterparts/legacy characters exist if not to sell more products? That's the reason in comic books and it's more or less stated in Anita's own video that it was also the reason for Ms. Pac-Man.

However, in spite of the fact that I have a personal distaste for Distaff Counterparts, I find that Anita's representation of them in her video doesn't paint a fair picture. In fact, for once, I feel like I'm being critical of Anita because I want her to do better when critiquing a subject I dislike, rather than being critical of her because I disagree. I've noticed other supporters of better female portrayals in video games take this stance so it's interesting to find myself in the same boat.

I think several points Anita makes at the end of her video point out one of the pitfalls that she fell into during her damsel in distress videos; either failing or refusing to acknowledge the differences in gaming between retro games and the modern era. In the case of the damsel in distress, it was praising games like The Secret Of Monkey Island without pointing out that games with Monkey Island's clever writing and narrative were the exception, rather than the rule. Game developers at the time didn't have the luxury of being able to create complex stories in every single game. Using the damsel in distress plot device gave the player a simple and understandable idea of why the character they played as was on their quest.

In this case, Anita does not acknowledge the reasons behind the female characters she praises being free of "gender signifiers" -- her term for Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, as well as a term that I actually prefer -- and the (usually) retro ones she criticises for having them. Let's use Ms. Pac-Man as an example; unlike TowerFall, Ms. Pac-Man didn't have the freedom to create female characters in a brand new setting. She was created because Midway wanted a follow-up to Pac-Man, which Anita mentioned herself. Therefore, she was limited in the designs that could be used and still remain recognisably part of the Pac-Man universe. Plus, unlike Thomas Was Alone -- another game Anita praised for featuring a positive female character without any gender signifiers -- Ms. Pac-Man didn't have a narrative that would allow for the development of a deep female character, much like Elaine in The Secret Of Monkey Island compared to other, more "regressive", examples of the damsel in distress.

Basically, there were limitations to making a female character in 1982 who was intended to be a successor to the most popular game character in the world (at that time). There's only so much you can change when the character has to be as recognisable as Pac-Man himself and with both the storytelling and graphic limitations of the time period. I don't feel that's highlighted in the video above.

It's a similar story with other games Anita mentions, such as Ice Climber (1985), Bubble Bobble (1986) and Adventures Of Lolo (1989). Another aspect that stood out to me was the divide between examples used from Japanese games and Western games. When it comes to the heavy focus on Japanese games, I'm not saying that the cultural differences excuse poorer representations of women or any other group. However, to avoid mentioning those cultural differences is to refuse to paint the whole picture. In previous episodes, Anita has singled out Shigeru Miyamoto and, in Pac-Man's case, it's Toru Iwatani's turn to be painted with the sexist brush. Here's Iwatani's quote that Anita took issue with:
"When you think about things women like, you think about fashion, or fortune-telling, or food or dating boyfriends. So I decided to theme the game around “eating” — after eating dinner, women like to have dessert."
It's understandable that Anita would dislike the blanket stereotyping but the cultural differences between the West and Japan aren't delved into. In fact, it's glossed over in a sentence by being described as, "Iwatani's regressive personal or cultural notions about women". I can't help but feel like this dumbs down what was, in fact, a major attempt to garner a female audience for video games. Iwatani reached out rather than pushed away. Isn't that something Anita wants?

And make no mistake, it worked. Pac-Man's success and popularity amongst female gamers was one of the reasons why a female character was the protagonist in Ms. Pac-Man, according to Midway employee Stan Jarocki.

Electronic Games Magazine (May 1982). Left-click for larger view.
"Pac-Man was the first commercial videogame to involve large numbers of women as players," says Jarocki. "It expanded our customer base and made Pac-Man a hit. Now we're producing this new game, Ms. Pac-Man, as our way of thanking all those lady arcaders who have played and enjoyed Pac-Man."
In spite of my own feelings about Distaff Counterparts, there is a reason they exist; they work. They can be hugely popular in their own right, earning the ability to stand on their own two feet. To use superheroes as an example, Marvel's Carol Danvers -- better known as Captain Marvel, formerly Ms. Marvel -- is a far more prominent hero than her male predecessor, also known as Captain Marvel. In the case of Ms. Pac-Man, she was as capable as Pac-Man when it came to eating dots and ghosts and in an enormously popular game herself, to the point that she either matches Pac-Man's cultural relevance or is ridiculously close. So to have Ms. Pac-Man so passively dismissed and her contributions diminished with the following quote is only disheartening to see, regardless of Anita's claim that, "it’s entirely possible to be critical of some aspects of a piece of media while still finding other parts valuable or enjoyable":
"Ms. Pac-Man’s visual properties are simply an extension of Pac-Man’s original design; she actually kind of is just Pac-Man with a bow. Her simple narrative reinforces the fact that she really only exists in relationship to Pac-Man. She is both his love interest and also the mother of his child."
Later on, Anita also provides this statement:
"Ms. Male Characters typically aren’t given their own distinctive identities and are prevented from being fully realized characters who exist on their own terms. This has the, perhaps unintended, effect of devaluing these characters and often relegating them to a subordinate or secondary status inside their respective media franchises, even when they are, on rare occasions, given a starring role in a spin-off or sequel."
I don't know about anyone else but I feel like the only person devaluing characters such as Ms. Pac-Man is Anita. Prior to that particular quote, Anita was talking about Dixie Kong, star of Donkey Kong Country 3 and a playable character in fifteen games, and it's clear that the quote is aimed at characters such as her and Ms. Pac-Man. Dixie Kong was the start of her own title, having to save two male characters who were damsels in distress and why exactly is she receiving criticism? Because she wears pink. Because she has a ponytail. Because she's a Distaff Counterpart to Diddy Kong, according to Anita (which isn't actually true; they have similar designs but only because the two are similar in age, size and, y'know, they're apes. The two do not share abilities or similarities in their design more than that, in the same way the Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man do). So who, exactly, is devaluing the female characters here?

Truthfully, I'm having a hard time figuring out why, exactly, Anita takes issue with gender signifiers in games. Unless they lead to what she describes as "personality female syndrome" -- a series of characteristics that Anita believes stereotype women, including being, "vain, spoiled, bratty and quick to anger" -- I don't exactly see the issue. I thought I did but then this segment of the video completely threw me off:
"Now just to be clear, there’s no inherent problem with the color pink, makeup, bows or high heels as design elements on their own. And of course people of all genders may choose to wear any of them from time to time in the real world and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that either.
However, when designers choose to use the Ms. Male Character trope and its associated visual stereotypes to specifically distinguish female characters from the rest of the cast in a fictional context, it has a few negative consequences.
One repercussion of constantly relying on feminizing signifiers for character design is that it tends to reinforce a strict binary form of gender expression. The gender binary is an entirely artificial and socially constructed division of male and female into two distinctly separate and opposing classes of human being. The gender binary also erases the continuum of gender presentations and identities that fall outside of the rigid masculine/feminine false dichotomy.
And within that strict binary women are “marked” while men get to remain largely “unmarked”."
In other words, Anita dislikes signifying a character's sex through certain clothing or accessories because (A) it singles out women as something different from men and (B) it automatically excludes people who don't identify as male or female, or who do but choose not to conform to gendered clothing.

The main reason this stood out to me is because, as understandable as it is to want more representations of genders outside the "gender binary" -- which simply means "male or female" -- I don't understand why it falls to gaming to show those representations. Gaming can but isn't Anita criticising the "entirely artificial and socially constructed division of male and female into two distinctly separate and opposing classes of human being" actually a criticism of society's attitudes instead?

Let's use Ms. Pac-Man as an example again. I'm not normally a person who says that Anita needs to provide good examples in addition to negative ones but in this case, I would love to hear an alternative solution to giving the character lipstick and a bow to show that she is a female character. Again, bear these factors in mind:
  • It's 1982 and there are "only a few pixels to work with" (Anita's own words).
  • The character has to look different from Pac-Man to avoid Ms. Pac-Man seeming like a knock-off.
  • The character has to look similar enough to show that the game is part of the same series.
I think it's reasonable, albeit not ideal, for a character designer to draw on real-life examples of women to create a female character in this case. Given that women are far more likely to wear bows and lipstick than men, it is completely fair for a character designer to use those elements for his/her female character. And that is so obvious that I can't believe I had to write it down.

On the Feminist Frequency Tumblr, the only solution, if you can call it that, was a gender-flipped version of Pac-Man and Mrs. Pac-Man that shows how the two characters would look if "Pac-Woman" became "Mr. Pac-Woman".

Personally, I don't think it's as "downright absurd" as Anita believes, not least because Pac-Man is a tricky character to take seriously in the first place. He -- or she, if we're talking about Pac-Woman -- is a yellow circle with a mouth. Putting a top hat and bow tie on it doesn't propel this light-hearted, cartoonish character into the realms of absurdity. What little ridiculousness there is only comes from the fact that, if anything, "Mr. Pac-Woman's" clothing looks very outdated. However, this still isn't a solution. It's just a gender flip.

I'm anxious to move on from this topic but I want to mention the idea that women are "marked" and men are "unmarked". I don't think Anita ever actually asked why it is done but she certainly, and probably unintentionally, provided an answer to that question:
"There are a few optional design accessories for men like neckties or baseball caps but they don’t hold the same significance. They are not ubiquitous or strictly enforced, and are never really used to “mark” men as “not female” in larger fictional universes dominated by women."
First of all, I find it quite funny that Anita singled out Dixie Kong earlier in the video when both Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong wear a necktie and baseball cap respectively -- again, they're apes. It'd be tricky to tell the sex of those characters without gender signifiers -- but doesn't this quote sum up why gender signifiers aren't used as often for male characters? Certainly not because men are considered the default and women a deviation (which I'll come to later) but because there are so few gender signifiers available for male characters. Traditionally-male clothing is no longer restricted to men. Women are far less likely to receive odd looks if they went out in public in a man's suit than a man would if he did the same in a pink dress, with pigtails and makeup. The reason being that they still are items and fashions predominately associated with women. If Anita wants to take any steps changing society's perceptions on that score, I'll be right alongside her, but it's silly, pointless and actually rather petty to lay the blame of gender signifiers at the feet of video games. That goes for modern games as well as retro games.

In other words, women are more likely to have gender signifiers because they actually have them. Not because they need to be "marked" and singled-out as something different from "the norm".

Also, I actually find that turn of phrase bordering on offensive; I'm sure it was completely unintentional but think about other oppressed classes throughout history who have been marked -- literally -- as something different from what their oppressors considered "the norm" or ideal. I feel like it was a very poor choice of words to use when describing how hard female characters have it in video games, of all things.

One thing that I'm sure had everyone marvelling was Anita's analysis of Mass Effect 3's advertising. Let's deal with the mistake that even the non-Mass Effect fans probably picked up on:
"Still, the female version has a dedicated fanbase who frequently refers to her as “FemShep”. And although this is meant as an affectionate nickname, it does further highlight her designation as a Ms. Male Character. She is the one with the qualifier attached to her name. She is “Female Shepard” whereas the male version simply gets to be, “Shepard”."
This is completely untrue. Although I hate to fall back on phrases that make it sound like Anita makes these kind of research mistakes all the time, this is a typical example of the lack of research that people criticise her videos for. It certainly is astounding that Anita can trawl through obscure mobile games and retro games to find examples but can't spend two minutes on a forum to find out information on a nickname for the main character of a AAA game.

For those of you who don't know, the male version of Mass Effect's Commander Shepard does have a nickname. Several, in fact; "MaleShep", "ManShep" and "BroShep" are all commonly used while "ShepLoo" and "VanderShep" are both used to refer to Commander Shepard's default male design, named after the Dutch model he was modelled after, Mark Vanderloo.

 That's not all. Prior to this, Anita discussed the marketing of the Mass Effect series:
"In mainstream advertising of the franchise, the male commander is used almost exclusively. His image is front and center on the box covers for all releases including the special editions. He is the one featured in the TV commercials, teasers, trailers, web banners, street posters and print ads and his face appears on most of the magazine covers. All of this positions the male Commander Shepard as the default protagonist of the series.

That is how Bioware is selling the Mass Effect experience. Nearly everything about the advertising campaign explicitly tells players that Commander Shepard is a man and by extension associates the official storyline with the male version of the hero. This marketing strategy contributes to the fact that only 18-20% of players choose the female option (despite the fact that Jennifer Hale’s voice acting is widely praised as being far superior)."
First of all, although the 18-20% statistic is apparently true, there's nothing to say that the marketing strategy is the reason for the 80% of players or so choosing to play as the male version of Shepard. Much like in previous videos, like assuming damsels in distress are considered property rather than people, this is a case of Anita reaching a conclusion that isn't backed up by any factual evidence. One may not neccessarily lead to the other but Anita is arguing as if that is the case.

Secondly, I take issue with the fact that Jennifer Hale's voice acting was considered "far superior". There are certainly people who make that claim but she also has her detractors (typically on the exact same forums as her supporters. There's always a healthy mix of opinions). I'm as big a fan of Jennifer Hale as the next person, particularly for her performance as Bastila Shan in Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, but I wasn't a fan of her Mass Effect role. I agree with those who say her vocal performance as Commander Shepard was too butch. Trying too hard to be "badass", to fit a tough space marine persona rather than just a person. Meanwhile, Mark Meer -- the voice actor for the male version of Shepard -- had a voice that fit a wide range of races and facial features, as well as being suitably authoritative. Plus, he was widely praised for upping his performance in Mass Effect 3.

Then there's the advertising campaign, which focused only on the male version of Commander Shepard. To be more specific, the default male version of Commander Shepard, created using Mark Vanderloo's likeness. I certainly find it unusual and rather silly that BioWare -- creators of Mass Effect -- actually paid for a real person's likeness in a game where a character's facial features can be customised and that was the appearance focused on in all the marketing ... but since that's the case, why does Anita focus on the fact that he's male? Why not mention that non-whites are similarly ruled out or, for that matter, that the character customisation feature isn't shown off as much as it could be and is therefore rather poor marketing for not showing off an aspect of the game? The thing is, when only one of these points are argued -- "women aren't focused on" -- it sounds less like "not everyone is being given an equal share" and more like "it shouldn't be a male character". Something that is equally as exclusionary.

Plus, it has to be said ... the male Commander Shepard is the default protagonist of the series. "VanderShep" is the version of the character that players see when starting a new game. So criticising the series with the statement, "all of this positions the male Commander Shepard as the default protagonist of the series" doesn't make much sense. That's the case. Plus, for all I know -- or for all Anita knows -- having a default protagonist could help sell the game. I wouldn't want to make assumptions about why mainstream audiences bought Mass Effect.

Anita continues:
"During the advertising of Mass Effect 3, Bioware made a little more effort to include female Shepard with items like an alternate reversible slip cover for the game box (which features the male version by default) as well as a special web only trailer but these gestures feel like an afterthought or niche specialty marketing and hardly what I would call a substantial or equitable inclusion."
This dismissive attitude when a developer makes a positive change in order to cater to women is reminiscent of Carolyn Petit's criticism of female characters being added to Aliens: Colonial Marines. All it does is send the message that the developer may as well not even try to cater to a feminist gaming audience because it's impossible to succeed. Much like Petit, Anita is creating a no-win situation by complaining about an effort BioWare made to appeal to feminist gamers in the first place. It also brings to mind the way Anita shrugged off Princess Peach's appearance as a playable character in Super Mario Bros. 2 in her damsel in distress videos because she was only in the game "by accident", since it was a makeover of Doki Doki Panic.

Finally, when talking about The Smurfette Principle, Anita argues that men are treated as the "default" sex:
"In a male identified society like ours, men are associated and become synonymous with human beings in general. In other words, male tends to be seen as the default for the entire species."
In all seriousness, there is some truth to this claim. Although it's more of a double-edged sword than is made out.

Let's use a real life example; political parties are always trying to gain "the female vote" by showing their support for women's issues, such as taking a pro-choice stance on abortion, pledging to stamp out the wage gap and sexism in the workplace, etc. Meanwhile, there's no "male vote". I don't think the phrase "men's issues" will ever come up in a political debate and, if it did, nobody would have a clue what it means. That's part of men being considered the "default" for the entire species. There's no need to cater to men because men are just ... there. The standard. Anything that appeals to society as a whole will be appealing to men because they don't have anything that specifically caters to them ... right?

In games, we don't care about legions of male enemies being gunned down by the player. In fact, it's not only accepted, it's expected for men to be the expendable gender. Meanwhile, we have developers committing self-flagellation over their portrayals of characters, even positive ones, thanks to criticism from the Tropes Vs Women in Video Games series, while men criticising portrayals that they feel are sexist are told to "Grow The F**k Up". Because men can't possibly be offended by portrayals because we're the default. Isn't that so?

So there's something to the idea that men are considered the default but -- and this isn't a knock on Anita -- I wouldn't expect the effects on both sexes to be covered by a video on gender issues in games. It's not an issue at the forefront of the gender issues debate, so it's not something I believe anyone would cover, regardless of their sex or involvement.

I'm hoping to read more articles on this video from others online but for the moment, that's all I have to say on it. I don't know if I was expecting Anita to change her presenting style for this video but I do know that I was disappointed to see all the flaws present in her previous videos to be back with a vengeance here; the blaming of specific developers, basing arguments off conclusions that she came to without evidence, dismissal of positive and progressive changes for women for rather shallow reasons, etc. On the plus side, she did reference a few examples this time around (although none of the gameplay videos, so it's still up in the air as to whether they were her own content or if they were taken from other Youtubers without permission or credit).

Anyway, as for what happens next ... I'm buying the Tomb Raider reboot in the near future, so hopefully I'll be able to provide another "The Sexism Of ..." blog post. I know it's a year old now but I don't often get the chance to delve into individual games anymore, so I'm looking forward to it.

Feel free to leave a comment or write to me at

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Well, the college debate was more-or-less a letdown. It's my own fault for building it up so much in my mind.

There were a few problems. Firstly, I went to two debates; one on Monday and another today. The session on Monday didn't even have what I would describe as a debate; the students actually had to come up with points for both sides of the argument rather than just one and consistently had to back up their arguments with quotes and articles they found online. The problem with this is that it led to very few people expressing their opinions; the one person who mentioned Anita Sarkeesian being a victim of online abuse also happened to be one of the two people who I know for a fact can't stand her. More than anything else, it seemed like a few people knew what the "right" answer was and wanted to stick to it very rigidly for fear of being berated. This course is about preparing students for the games industry, after all, so expressing an opinion that the industry doesn't share could only be bad news. That's the theory, at least.

Today's debate was quite a lot better on that front. At the very least, there was a side arguing for and against, so it was more like a real debate, and we were allowed to draw on our own experiences (even if none of us did). Luckily, I was on the side that was of the opinion that plenty of female portrayals in games were already positive, arguing against the idea that they were overwhelmingly negative. Unfortunately, having so many people in a class at once, all of whom needed to give an answer at some point, it wasn't as in-depth as it could've been. I still spoke more than most people -- in fact, it was mainly me and one other guy debating with two girls -- but I didn't get to make all the points I wanted to. Plus, the debate only lasted twenty minutes or so. We didn't even mention the industry, instead focusing only on the games.

Even so, I feel like there was more I could've done if I'd just spoken up. The one point I'm very pleased I made was about Gears Of War (which I haven't played since the first game). One of the girls argued that the series had negative portrayals of women because for the most part, the women were "breeders". One of the few who wasn't was only a soldier because she couldn't have children. I made the point that in a post-apocalyptic environment, it could be argued that it's logical and sensible to keep women out of harm's way, so it makes sense in context. It could be justified by the setting. I wish I had pointed out that the women were being kept safe from battle while it fell to the men to put their lives at risk protecting them. The value of the women's lives was automatically higher than that of the men, so what did that say about men and male characters?

We were allowed to mention men but the debate was still ridiculously one-sided, including in the PowerPoint presentation our tutor showed at the beginning; we had a ton of examples of negative female portrayals, including trailers on Youtube, mention of #1ReasonWhy with the most cherry-picked sexist responses to the movement that could possibly be found, but only a single slide about male characters. Our tutor seemed open to discussing them but it's clear who the focus was. This was a "Women in Games" debate, after all, rather than "Gender Issues in Games". I wanted to make a point about my own experiences when it came to male character designs but I didn't speak up. Same goes for a few points about Lollipop Chainsaw. I could kick myself for that but I don't suppose it's a big deal in the grand scheme of things; it still wouldn't have been a particularly in-depth discussion and nothing would've been gained from bringing it up.

Since that was a disappointment, let's talk about something a bit more fun; comparing Anita Sarkeesian to Richard Nixon.

I've seen the 2008 film Frost/Nixon a few times now and when it aired on one of the BBC channels a few weeks ago here in the UK, I watched it again. I must've had gender issues on my mind because I couldn't help compare the situations of Richard Nixon -- played by Frank Langella -- and Anita Sarkeesian.

I should point out that although Frost/Nixon is based on a true story, it alters characters and events to make the film more dramatic. Which means that the Richard Nixon I'll be comparing Anita to is actually a fictionalised version. Coincidentally, it's also an opportunistic, money-grubbing version ...

... Only joking. There is a serious comparison to be made here, honestly. For one thing, it's interesting to examine why, in the face of overwhelming criticism, Nixon agreed to confront his controversy head-on while Anita avoids it at all costs.

Almost everything I want to say comes from this clip, featuring Nixon and his aide, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), talking backstage about why they want the interviews with David Frost (Michael Sheen) to take place. Sorry I can't find the clip on Youtube, so that link will have to do. The background is that Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate scandal, is reduced to public speaking at social functions rather than being involved in politics. It's a role he's very uncomfortable with, as he feels it "reduces the presidency to a series of banal anecdotes" ... but he makes it very clear that he doesn't want to talk about Watergate without good reason to do so.

This evasion of the controversy -- the main reason everyone was interested in Nixon -- reminds me of the way that the majority of Anita's publicity comes from the abuse she received rather than her web series on video games. The most high-profile and mainstream interviews only mention video games as an afterthought. These include her TEDxWomen and The Conference talks and her interviews with CNN and ABC's 20/20. Meanwhile, Anita doesn't allow her talks on video games to be filmed. Yet while Nixon agrees to have a sit-down interview with David Frost, Anita has never confronted her criticism in the same way.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that Richard Nixon was more moral than Anita Sarkeesian for agreeing to face his critics. He wanted the interview with Frost for the same reason Anita doesn't want an interview with her own David Frost, whoever he or she may be; both Nixon and Anita make their decisions for self-serving reasons. In Nixon's case, he feels a successful interview with Frost will allow him to weave his way back into the political sphere:

Richard Nixon: Still, now, the fact it's come together, now, that's a good thing, no? 

Jack Brennan: Mr. President, it's fantastic. Frost is just not in your intellectual class, sir. You're gonna be able to dictate terms, rebuild your reputation. If this went well, if enough people saw it, revised their opinion,
you could move back East way, way earlier than we expected.

Nixon: You think?

Brennan: I'm certain. 

Nixon: It would be so good to go back to where the action is. You know? The hunger in my belly is still there, Jack. I guess it all boils down to Watergate, huh?

So the entire point of Nixon agreeing to an interview with Frost is because his reputation was damaged and he wanted to restore it. That, if anything, shines a light on why Anita has never had to face her own critics; how many mainstream gaming websites have mentioned that Anita has any flaws that need to be addressed at all? Beyond phrases such as "the Tropes Vs Women in Games series isn't perfect but ... [insert reference to Anita's abuse here]", I can't think of any mention of the issues off the top of my head. Nixon damaged his reputation and needed to do something to repair it. Anita, on the other hand, is not portrayed as a disreputable individual. Her career hasn't suffered any setbacks whatsoever from the cherry-picked and one-sided arguments she presents, the comment-blocking and removing dissenting opinions on Facebook and the use of content that isn't hers without asking permission, referencing or crediting the original uploaders.

Basically, by closing off every avenue available to help Nixon achieve his goal, he was given an incentive to go down a path he would prefer not to; talking about Watergate. Anita has every avenue open to her and is encouraged to go down every single one, so she has no incentive to face the critics. She doesn't have a David Frost she needs to go face-to-face with.

In other gender issues news, I have to provide a link to a truly excellent artist called Europa-Phoenix, who draws some very impressive artwork about men's rights. His blog has only just started up but it's certainly one to watch. I'll put a link in the sidebar.

Also, this is my fiftieth blog post! I think it's kind of corny to write lengthy speeches but I'll say that I don't think I could've predicted the blog would survive this long back at the beginning. It only started because I needed to voice an opinion that I didn't think was being voiced elsewhere and honestly, I'd be happy if even a dozen people visited over the last year. This blog has been a good outlet for some of the feelings I have about a lot of things and I'm pleased that I've barely received any hostility for writing them down too. Looking forward to writing more in the future.

Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Erasing Female Voices from the Gender Issues Debate

It looks like Feminist Frequency's next Tropes Vs Women In Games video will be posted soon and, luckily, it seems to have coincided with a downturn in the amount of college homework I'm receiving. Which means that hopefully, I will be able to commit enough time to creating a response to the video within a few days of it being posted. Although this means that the next three blog posts I have planned (including this one) involve Anita Sarkeesian, which is irritating -- not only do I want to avoid becoming a one-trick pony but I haven't had the time to sit down with a game and analyse its gender issues, or even watch any Let's Plays -- but at least for this one, Anita is only involved in passing. This blog will be more about an issue with feminism in general rather than gender issues in gaming; erasing the opinions of other women from the debate if they disagree with the feminist opinion.

I'd heard about the upcoming Tropes Vs Women video, so I checked Anita's Twitter a couple of days ago to see if there was a date for when it would be posted. There wasn't but there was a link to an article at The American Prospect by a feminist writer named Jaclyn Friedman called "A Good Men's Rights Movement Is Hard to Find". I know very little about Jaclyn Friedman. Her name is one that I recognise from sites about gender issues but I can't recall if I've read anything by her. I suspect I haven't because if I had, they probably would've stuck with me, just like I'm sure the American Prospect article will.

I don't want to break down Friedman's article point-by-point because it's clear that the low opinion she holds of the men's rights movement is unwavering. A few things that stand out though; men's rights activism is reduced to a couple of controversial sites rather than the movement that it is, when talking about a "misogynist backlash", Friedman claims that Warren Farrell -- soft-spoken equality advocate and former board member of the National Organisation for Women -- has been "at it since the 80s" and she also makes the statement that Valerie Solanas was "[an] extremist even in [her] day". This, however, is untrue, as the following quote from a biography of Valerie Solanas explains:
"On June 13, 1968 Valerie Solanas appeared in front of State Surpreme Court Justice Thomas Dickens; she was then represented by radical feminist lawyer Florynce Kennedy who called Solanas "one of the most important spokeswomen of the feminist movement." Kennedy asked for a writ of habeas corpus because Solanas was inapproriately held in a psychiatric ward, but the judge denied the motion and sent Solanas back to Bellevue. Ti-Grace Atkinson, the New York chapter president of NOW, attended Solanas' court appearance and said she was 'the first outstanding champion of women's rights'."
Note that this was after Solanas attempted to kill Andy Warhol and two other men.

Those couple of paragraphs barely scratch the surface and, dare I say it, I suspect there will plenty of feminist readers who will turn their noses up at Friedman's analysis of the men's rights movement. Although how many people will take her accusations against the MRM at face value if they don't know much about it?

Anyway, Jaclyn's article is more-or-less besides the point. The article seems to have been spawned because Jaclyn, as she explains in the article, took part in an interview with ABC's 20/20 about "Women Battling Anti-Woman Hate From The 'Manosphere'" -- a show that was scheduled to be broadcast mid-October but apparently never aired -- which featured contributions from A Voice For Men's Paul Elam and, coincidentally, Anita Sarkeesian. So in the article, Jaclyn describes both her meeting with Elam and different ways that A Voice For Men "attacked" her. AVFM has a different view; as well as claiming that the "attacks" on Friedman were statements and conclusions lifted from her own articles, they noted that Friedman neglected to mention that they were written by a woman, Diana Davison. This makes several of Jaclyn's claims, such as men's rights activists wanting "women, especially but not exclusively feminists, [recognised] as men's oppressors", fall flat.

It should go without saying that not everyone in the men's rights movement is male, just like not every feminist is female. It should but why do we have ABC portraying this as a petty battle of the sexes instead of a response to inequality? Why are they, Friedman and others using the term "manosphere" to describe it when many of the responses come from women? In a similar vein, why does Anita Sarkeesian describe gaming as "a boy's club" and make blanket statements about the men attacking her?

The answer is obvious; by portraying men's rights activists as a bunch of angry misogynists and feminists as put-upon, victimised women, it's much easier to dismiss the MRM. To do this, it means ignoring or silencing any women who have an opposing opinion. After all, it's much easier to make claims like, "the men's rights movements is a backlash against the loss of traditional privilege" (Miriam Smith, 2013) without those pesky women getting in the way to contest it. For example, in Diana Davison's article above, she mentions that ABC were offered the opportunity to speak with four female members of "the manosphere", which they declined.

If this ties back to gaming in any way, it's that there are plenty of examples of Anita Sarkeesian ignoring and silencing female critics:
"Turns out that there are a bunch of male gamers out there who were, shall we say, not to [sic] excited about this project."
"[...] men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation."
"A ‘boys club’ means no girls allowed. And how do they keep women and girls out? Just like this. By creating an environment that is just too toxic and hostile to endure." - Anita Sarkeesian, TEDxWomen, December 5th 2012.
The Feminist Frequency Facebook page tells a similar story. This is from the comments section for the Damsels In Distress: Part 3 video (blue blocks cover male identities, pink ones cover female ones):

I went back and searched for Samantha Hunter's comment yesterday and, sure enough, it was deleted. I did manage to find this gem though:

It's one thing to delete someone's comment because they criticise you. It's another to let one stay that says to the critic "you're doing your gender a complete disservice" for not supporting Anita Sarkeesian. Which was liked by another woman, no less. It's examples like this that make me believe that feminists have a lower opinion of women than non-feminists; fair enough, this is an obscure comment on Facebook rather than a big news article on the front page of a mainstream site but I think if this same exchange took place on any other website -- a man telling a woman she's doing her gender a disservice for having an opinion the rest of the group disagrees with -- feminists would leap on it for being a sexist attitude to have.

Take a look at Anita's TEDxWomen quotes from above and see how they apply here; has Samantha Hunter been "silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation?" Yes, she has, because Anita deleted her comment. Has the male commentor who responded to Samantha Hunter been "supported by his peers and rewarded for his sexist attitudes"? Well, a female commentor showed her support by liking his comment, so I'd say so.

The same applies for the abuse that Anita received. Although Anita has never acknowledged criticism against her, she has a knack for painting her abusers as men. Again, it should go without saying that this isn't the case -- how could all the abuse perpetrated against Anita be committed by a single sex? -- and women have no problem making their voices heard when it comes to insults either:

I should point out that there were far worse abusive comments on Anita's Kickstarter video than the ones made by this young woman -- in fact, there's a mix of sensible arguments and eyebrow-raising ones -- but they're still in the same boat. It would still qualify as abuse, even if it doesn't go much further than "shut the fuck up" and threatening to punch Anita.

In spite of the fact that I don't normally commend abusive comments, I have a lot of praise for the woman in the video above for highlighting a very important point; even people making abusive comments aren't doing so just because Anita is a woman with an opinion but because they have legitimate gripes with the arguments she makes.

Why is it important to have women speaking up and supporting male issues? Well in this video, Dr Helen Smith, while talking about her book "Men On Strike" -- about the increase in men who choose to avoid marriage because they feel the detriments outweigh the benefits -- has this exchange with one of the hosts:

Host: "Why hasn't a man written this book?"
Helen: "Because men can't speak up. I'm here to speak up because people will actually listen to a woman."

So you see not only the importance of the Samantha Hunters of Feminist Frequency's Facebook page but the reason why ABC turned down four female men's rights activists. It's hard to call something a "manosphere" when you have intelligent, outspoken women fighting men's corner but when you ignore those women, you're free to call it whatever you like. The flipside of the argument, of course, is that ABC and like-minded groups are all too happy to have men speak up because there's no real reason to listen to them.

I wanted to write a bit more about Jaclyn's article and a University Of Toronto protest that happened earlier this year but I think this blog has gone on long enough (and that particular protest has been analysed to death by every gender issues site there is since it came up). If you want to see more on Helen Smith, I just found out about her site today, called Women for Men, which she shares with wonderful authors such as Christina Hoff Sommers.

In other news, one of my college classes will be having that debate on women in the games industry and it'll be happening next week. So it looks like one of my next blogs won't be about Anita Sarkeesian after all, unless she comes up during the course of the debate. I plan on sitting in on one group's debate on Monday so I can see how it'll work before my own debate on Thursday. I'll be making notes and, assuming there's anything worth mentioning, I'll write about the results here. I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't be as in-depth as I'd like, as usual, but it can't be helped.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at