Reflections: On Anita Sarkeesian’s gaming-centric “Tropes vs. Women”

If you’re a gamer, chances are you’ve heard of Anita Sarkeesian, particularly since about May 2012. That’s around the time when Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign for her on-going video project launched, entitled ‘Tropes vs. Women, this time with a focus on the gaming industry. The goal behind this project is to highlight the rampant misogyny that is prevalent in many of the today’s popular titles (she seems to have a particular grudge against Dead or Alive). Almost instantly, Sarkeesian was treated to the kind of backlash that could only be made possible by the comforting anonymity that the Internet provides. She faced verbal and visual abuse at the hands of angry male gamers, including an image of her being sexually violated by Super Mario and a web-based game where you could beat up her likeness. Mature, right?

Sarkeesian has her fans and her detractors. There are some who say she is too radical and that her publications lack serious insight and rely on simply stating the obvious: that yes, there are many instances of where women are objectified in popular media, sometimes being reduced to nothing more than the whimpering damsel in distress. To be honest, she didn’t really register on my radar (or anyone else’s, it seems) until she took on an industry that is historically male-dominated and can often be the home of countless ignorant and raging imbeciles who have nothing better to do than tell you just how many ways they had your mother over the weekend…despite the fact that they live on the other side of the world. But anyway, as a gamer and a woman, I decided to run through and devour all that I could tolerate about Sarkeesian and her vision. And really…I’ve never seen someone who for all intents and purposes despises mainstream media and still feels totally comfortable letting said mainstream media wrap her up and snuggle her like that bear from the detergent commercial (sidenote: I hated that damn bear).

Jerk.

Jerk.

Let me preempt the backlash:

1. Despite not identifying as a feminist, I am a woman. This means that I can recognize when women are getting the short end of the stick.

2. I do recognize that mainstream media (from movies, books, TV and games) has a long and often painful history of portraying women as a variety of characters that still all manage to be the same.

3. I can recognize when someone is just generalizing and has no interest in a constructive debate about their views and the views of others…much like the other women who do not appreciate Sarkeesian’s postings. Unfortunately for Sarkeesian, this dilutes her message and ends up slowing down the actual change she aims to bring about to the gaming industry and the rest of the entertainment industry. There are a few trends that Sarkeesian has fallen victim to that, to me at least, seem to be the basis for the backlash against her. I’d like to say that I in no way, shape or form condone the personal attacks made against her, because personal attacks in any discussion just show that you have no properly structured argument on hand and so must resort to banality. And now, trends:

The Cinderella Complex

One of my pet peeves are when people complain about the unfairness of a system and still seek solace within said system when things don’t quite work out. You cannot be both victim and vigilante here, not when you’re making such broad-stroke judgments against an entire industry and, to be quite frank, every man in the world. Sarkeesian climbs on top of her soapbox and proclaims to be doing what she does for the sake of protecting women everywhere…but really…how anti-woman is that mentality? On the one hand, she hates that we’re cast as damsel-in-distress in most mainstream movies (that may or may not feature Baybooms). On the other, she willingly blankets herself in that damsel-in-distress cloak when someone challenges her “findings,” regardless of whether it comes from a male or female commentator. She denounces them with one of two statements, dependent on gender:

1. You are a man, thus by default a sexist pig and so I refuse to acknowledge your differing opinon.

2. You are a woman who has been brainwashed by the mainstream media’s depiction of you and thus, I will ignore your challenging opinion because you are sad and must be saved.

For me, this was the my biggest issue with regards to Sarkeesian and her message, which is basically this: that it’s awesome to be a strong and opinionated woman who accepts her own conclusions, until of course someone approaches with a different conclusion, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to hide behind your gender and say that they all hate you because you’re a girl (never mind that some of those differing opinions come from other women). She does not account for the fact that many women are able to be confident, strong, successful AND sexual, and this is where the disconnect seems to occur with much of her message.

Cry Wolf

You know how sometimes, there’s just that one person who no matter what can find something bad in any and everything in this world. That’s how I felt reading many of her interviews and watching her YouTube videos. Chris Carter over at Destructoid gave what was one of the best counter-arguments to Sarkeesian’s interview with the same website, where he deconstructs several of her comments made about specific games during the interview. I honestly cracked up at reading how utterly distressed she was while playing Rayman Origins and having to save the ‘busty’ Nymphs. Someone clearly hasn’t read up on their mythology. He points out that, more often than we would like, she grasps at straws when it comes to highlighting sexist portrayals of women in games. She  has even blatantly ignored the redemptive qualities and characteristics a female character may possess within a game, instead choosing to make the argument all about the appearances, the box art, the romance possibilities and butt-shots of Miranda Lawson.

That last bit works on my last nerve, because again, it highlights the complete lack of organized resistance within the ‘feminist movement’ or whatever you wish to call it. Are there gratuitous shots of Miranda Lawson’s butt in Mass Effect 2 and 3? Yes. Does this define Miranda as a character? No. Miranda Lawson represents, in my opinion anyway, the kind of character that Sarkeesian appears to want, but still manages to hate. On first glance, Lawson looks like the stereotypical sex-pot goddess:

Indeed.

Indeed.

Oh but wait! Am I being sexist by saying that? Am I wrong for, as a gay woman, saying that I quite appreciated Miranda Lawson’s physical attributes, as well as her intellectual capabilities? Dammit. Anyway. Lawson proves to be more than just luxurious dark hair and one heck of a body. She’s a brilliant mind, having led the Lazarus Project to rebuild Shepard, and a powerful ally on the battlefield. She kind of represents the phrase of “having it all”: beauty, brains and a bit of brawn (in terms of her biotics). So why does Anita Sarkeesian (and a fair share of her supporters) judge her existence in the Mass Effect universe based solely on her appearances and her clothing? Isn’t that what being a feminist is actually supposed to be about? Creating a world where women can be themselves and do as they want and not have to apologize for being intelligent and sexually attractive all at the same time?

I guess not.

The Face of a Generation

This links back to what I said about Sarkeesian not acknowledging or flat-out rejecting criticisms brought against her by other women (and self-proclaimed feminists). She’s basically appointed herself as the face of this campaign, to persuade  the gaming industry (and to some extent, gamers) that they are wrong for indulging in a fantasy world (heh) and to pressure them to change, in no particular order: the way female gamers are treated in online forums and matches, the way female characters are drawn in video games, and the way they market their games on a whole. The problem is that she’s not the face I want representing what she perceives as my plight in life as a female gamer. This is mainly because I hate that term; I am a gamer, my gender has nothing to do with that. But mostly, it’s because when one individual self-appoints as the face of a cause, it doesn’t always mean green pastures ahead, particularly if they are guilty of the above.

I haven’t even touched Sarkeesian’s rants about TV, movie and book tropes against women, but that’s because this is a gaming blog and I believe in focus. But even there, she maintains the notion that women need to be saved. From bad marketing, their sexuality, Michael Bay…everywhere you look, there’s something a female character being negatively portrayed. The problem with that is that it’s a sexist idea, that women need saving, whether they need to be saved by a man or by a crusading feminist who seems to have an issue with female characters displaying any sense of sexual awareness and sometimes comes across as just wanting female characters to be non-sexual period.

To me, that is somewhat worse than the Miranda Lawson butt-shots.

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