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