Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

Undervaluing the feminine

The view that computers are technology but sewing isn’t is a sexist stitch-up, via The Guardian.

I think the article suffers a bit from using a more academic definition of ‘technology’ than is generally used–while I don’t think many would argue that a sewing machine is technology, sewing itself probably wouldn’t fall under most people’s definitions. Beyond that, though, it does make a good point that those skills assigned to ‘female’ activities are generally not as valued as those assigned to ‘male’ ones, even when they’re similar skills. I especially like the anecdote comparing welding to icing a cake. The author found them to be very similar skill sets…yet how many people would consider them to be of comparable difficulty?

It’s kind of weird, because feminine skills are often seen as being ‘easy’, and thus aren’t valued, but even our humour tends to tacitly acknowledge that they are indeed skills, something learned. How many commercials, cartoons, etc. have used the trope of the man who is helpless in the kitchen, or cleaning the house, or any other feminine chore? Just as women have long been dissuaded from learning ‘male’ skillsets, so have men been dissuaded from leaning ‘female’ ones–a man trying to sew a shirt for the first time would probably be just as lost as a woman trying to change the oil in her car for the first time. Yet when women lack ‘male’ skills, it is seen as a sign of inferiority. When men lack ‘female’ ones, it isn’t. Sometimes, it’s even a badge of pride to be so inept at such ‘easy’ chores. If they’re so easy, why is it funny when men struggle with them, rather than sad?

Women, video games, and sexism. Again.

I really admire Anita Sarkeesian, if for no other reason than that she continues to do what she does after all the crap that gets heaped on her by the gaming community. In today’s episode of Let’s Be Entitled Because We’re Male And Women Don’t Game, Anita posted a tweet noting that every Xbox One game shown off at E3 featured a male protagonist. The reaction was sadly predictable, from calling Anita a cunt and a bitch to asserting that men are the largest demographic (true, but less so than people like this tend to make it sound) to asking if we were expecting games about stereotypically feminine stuff. I’m going to skip over the early ones she posted because they’re mostly just generic sexist name calling and highlight some of the later examples which try to be intelligent but manage to miss the point oh so badly.

#31–Didn’t realise you were entitled to games w/ a female protag. They can make whatever they want. Check your fucking privilege Anita

A man, telling a woman who is noting the lack of female leads in video games, to check her privilege? The irony is so deep you could drown in it. And yes, they can make whatever they want. But generally, what they want is to please gamers so we keep buying their products, making what they want what we want. And some of us want more female leads.

#32–Yeah, the gender of the protagonist really makes or breaks the quality of a video game. Said no one outside of victim culture ever

Oh fun, the victim culture card! I think I just got bingo.

To be fair, he’s right, it doesn’t make or break the experience. But it can make it better or worse. And as a female gamer, playing games that realize I exist is a better experience than playing one clearly aimed at a purely male audience.

#37–Calm your tits! There will be a new Tomb Raider eventually, and a Mass Effect with FemShep. You women are nuts!

Gratuitous reference to female anatomy. Nice touch there. Also a nice touch noting two major franchises that ‘feature’ a female protagonist (I use quotes because Mass Effect gives the option, but you can also play as male). But there aren’t a lot of those around, especially if you’re looking at games that have a set lead, rather than a gender toggle. I doubt this guy would be happy if I told him “Don’t worry, there will be a new Halo game and Saint’s Row with a MaleBoss soon” if the situation was reversed. Women deserve better than a few token options.

#39–Stop being sexist. Dictating to people that a game should have a particular gender lead role is childish. It’s whatever fits the game

Forget bingo, I think I’m going for a blackout. Also, isn’t it interesting how ‘whatever fits the game’ is almost universally male, especially when we’re talking about big titles from major developers? It’s almost like there’s some sort of bias against women going on…

#40–It’s roleplaying, ho cares about the gender of the character who cares about the gender of the character you play as?

Apparently someone does, given how many people flip out when it’s suggested that there be more female leads.

#47–Get over yourself. Women make up a small part of their demographic. Your tastes are obscure and unprofitable. Nothing else to it.

1) We’re not that small of a demographic.

2) Given how most games are designed and marketed with men in mind, it’s not like they’re inviting us to buy their stuff.

3) Unprofitable? See Tomb Raider above.

#48–Almost like they wanted relatable main characters

I want that too. You know what would make them more relatable? If their gender matched mine once in a while.

Be the ball

So Anita Sarkeesian has released her first video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, which I’ve been looking forward to as a lifelong gamer. While boys and men still make up the majority of gamers (though not by nearly as much as they used to) there have always been girls and women interested in the medium, and I’ve touched in the past on how bad the offerings towards our segment of the market is, varying between non-existent and patronisingly stereotypical.

I do sometimes wonder if, when critiquing sexism in the media, there’s not some confirmation bias going on. That things are better than we think and we’re just focusing on the worst aspects of it. But it’s hard to argue with the multitude of examples for the damsel in distress alone, especially given how many of them underpin games that are part of a still-continuing series (Mario and Zelda), and/or being re-released via markets like Steam and the Wii shop. Many of them are undeniably great games, and I think that’s part of the problem. Issues like this tend to be taken more seriously by (some) indie developers than the mainstream producers, so the games with the most resources behind them are often don’t pay attention to these issues. When mainstream developers do try to break outside the bow, they often don’t put much support behind the project, so they wind up as paltry offerings to the Goddess of Stereotypes rather than comparable but more socially aware or diverse counterparts to their other titles. So whatever is out there that’s better on issues like this tends to be harder to find, and often not solid games to begin with.

The problem isn’t so much individual games. Yes the tropes are horribly sexist, but some of those examples have pretty poor story-telling to begin with so expecting much better may be expecting too much. Princess Peach isn’t a very deep character, but neither is Mario, and stereotypes do help fill in the rather large blanks, as horrible as they are. The problem is how ubiquitous the tropes are. Having one or two games where the male hero rescues the female damsel wouldn’t be too bad, but the trope dominates the genre and there are precious few examples where the reverse is true (assuming there’s any at all–I can’t think of any off-hand).

Finally, to continue the ‘ball’ metaphor, the only really difference between this trope and a game of football is that in football the ball doesn’t have an opinion on what team should be holding it.

Learning to see

Although I’ve always been a feminist in the broadest sense, it’s only been the last few years that I’ve really thought about it much, or even really read much about it. (As a child I saw feminism as the default, the norm, and was somewhat surprised to find how far from equality we really are). So it’s a fairly regular occurrence that I make a new realization about the sexism endemic in our culture and how it has affected me. The most recent one has been simply how much this stuff bothers me.

One of the most frustrating things about sexism is just how normal it is, which means that all many instances go unnoticed because they’re fairly small (and if they are pointed out someone will say that you’re just looking for reasons to be angry). But even though you don’t notice things, they’re still there and they still affect the way you think. Although I’ve never felt particularly limited by my gender, it was only a couple years ago that I realized that I’ve spent most of my life seeing the male ‘ideal’ as the ultimate goal, for one example. I was still constrained by gender roles, even as I freely explored both sides.

When something is as ubiquitous as sexism, even in small amounts, it wears on you. I’ve spent most of my life reading books about men, watching movies and TV shows about men, and even in instances that feature a woman she is usually surrounded by, surprise, men. (Ghost in the Shell I love you, but you have a real issue with gender balance). I’m constantly told, explicitly or implicitly, that I don’t belong, that I don’t exist, that I’ll never be as ‘good as a man’, that I’m ‘good for a girl’, etc. And as I’ve learned more about the issues and begun to recognize them easier I’m discovering a lot of pain, sadness and anger that I didn’t know was there. Because even while my conscious mind didn’t see most of it, those millions of slights were still out there, each hurting me ever so slightly. It was simply so normal that I didn’t realize things could be any different. Pain and pleasure are largely experienced as relative to one another, and so it wasn’t until I saw how things could be better that I had any way of knowing just how much I was being hurt.

There’s a cultural meme that feminists are angry. Yeah, we are, but not because we’re feminists. We’re angry because we’re women living in a society that is constantly belittling us, and we know we deserve better.

Women Welcome! If you don’t mind rampant misogyny…

It’s happening again. Someone points out the lack of visibility of women in some geek community (OpenSource, video games, comic books, etc.) and a bunch of people who prefer a steady boat to addressing real issues come out of the woodwork to declare that there is no problem, women are just being too sensitive about guys being guys, as if it’s wrong to want to feel welcome rather than being ‘allowed’ to hang out in these spaces.

As a life-long gamer, this is somewhat old hat to me, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. And nothing highlights that frustration more than when progress actually is made and you get a glimpse of just how much better things could actually be. Geek culture–and I’ll stick to mostly gamer culture here–tends to hover anywhere between pretending women don’t exist to being openly hostile and patronising. In the former category you have the issue of the majority of games having a male protaganist–this has gotten better due to many games now giving you the option to play as female, but in games where you aren’t given that option, you will almost always be playing male (The three biggest exceptions are Metroid, Tomb Raider, and Portal, and in two of those cases your character is nearly invisible). And even when you DO have that option, there will be times that it is obvious that you are expected to be a (straight) male. Saints Row is a good example–between almost all the women you’ll meet being sexualised to some extent and the occasional lap dance you get from a female stripper, it can be very hard to ignore that the developers didn’t consider you as a possible customer because of your gender. Which sucks, because otherwise it’s fun as hell. And then you have companies like Blizzard, who are fully capable of writing good women into their stories but rarely bother. Lets not forget the chain-mail bikini phenomenon, where a piece of equipment that looks perfectly functional on a male model become extremely revealing on a female model–it’s far faster to name off games where that DOESN’T happen.

In the category of openly hostile, you have the trash talk among gamers that tends to be very dismissive of women, and often heavily laden with rape imagery. (And I hate that I feel this need, but I do feel obligated to point out that this is not the case in all gaming spaces. Maybe not even in most. But with more and more games having some online component to them and the way the web has expanded traditional gamer communities, it’s becoming harder to avoid.) The rape language isn’t even really a feminist issue, aside from it more often affecting women–it’s more a don’t-make-light-of-serious-topics issue. Even outside of that, though, you’ll have ‘jokes’ like “Get back in the kitchen” and “There are no girls on the internet*”, as well as people getting upset with you beating them, not because you won but because you did so while female. I (somewhat fondly**) remember one guy describing it as ‘bullshit’. While many people will dismiss it as just being general trash talk, gender and sexuality are often used as put-downs, implying that being female and/or gay is inferior to being straight and male.

All in all, it’s an issue of not being exclusive rather than being inclusive. Sure, there’s no “No Girls Allowed” sign on the door, but there are still a lot of people within the culture who assume that girls just aren’t into video games, and that turns into an environment where us females who are present are frequently reminded that we’re NOT expected to be there, even when things aren’t openly hostile. And that simply sucks some of the fun out of an otherwise enjoyable pastime.

*To add extra frustration, this one usually gets pulled out immediately after I identify myself as female. While I don’t feel the need myself, it certainly sheds light on why some women choose to hide their gender when they can.

**Fondly because it wasn’t a game I’m particularly skilled at, so getting under a person’s skin like that was rewarding. Otherwise it would have just bothered me.

Women, dating, and choices

There seems to be a common misconception among many men that women are the ones who hold all the power when it comes to sexuality and romance. A recent post at Look me In The Eye on Autism and Sexuality touches briefly on this issue.

When I have written about that issue in the past, I suggested that females are the principal choosers in our society, so a male who acts strange (due to autism or anything else) does not get chosen and has a zero result.

 MissMM in the comments relays her own experiences as a female who does not hold the kind of power that we are often all perceived as having.

The fact is though that not all of us have our pick. This is a common male misconception.

When it comes to women and sexuality in feminist thought, women are often portrayed as gatekeepers. We are positioned as being the ones to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to male advances (which can turn really bad when a male who feels ‘deserving’ gets a ‘nay’ response, but that’s another issue). That is a much better analogy for own position than ‘choosers’, which implies a more active role than we are expected to take.

The fact is that the male-pursuer/female-pursued dynamic automatically gives women fewer options than men. I can see why men feel differently–they pursue, get shot down, and conclude that the woman holds the real power in the dynamic. Despite this, however, since men are expected to make the first move they have their pick of which women to hit on. Women, on the other hand, only get to pick from the men who show interest. Cultural constructs of desirability tend to push men towards certain types of women, which means that the majority of men will compete (to the extent that the analogy holds) for a minority of women. Meanwhile, there are a lot of women who have few to no choices at all, because they fall outside the mold of what our culture considers ‘desirable’.* Many women have framed this as a sort of invisibility, and even for women who are not looking for male attention that invisibility can be a blow to ones self-esteem, thanks to how much a woman’s value is tied to her desirability as a mate.

In the dominant dating dynamic, women only have power as ‘choosers’ to the extent that men give them choices. For some women, that translates into no power at all.


*Often this is framed as attractiveness. I avoided the word here because that tends to imply purely physical aspects. Certainly that can play a large part, but it’s not the only piece to the puzzle and a woman who is physically conventionally attractive may have other traits that push her outside of the mold of desirability that our culture tries so hard to shove us into.

When ‘guys’ means ‘gals’

Even video games I love by companies that know how to do gender right can disappoint me, it seems. I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic lately, and while BioWare is one of the few companies that understands things like privilege and that girls do indeed play video games, there’s still the occasional moment that reminds me that as a female, I’m considered ‘other’. I don’t really blame the game companies for this, since for the most part the game does handle gender well. The moments that do appear tend to be things that are so ingrained into our culture and language that they’re easy to miss.

The moment that grabbed my attention most recently was a line talking about ‘you Havoc Squad guys’. Unfortunately, the response I wanted was not given to me, that being to look down and ask what ‘guys’ he was referring to. I’ve also had an ongoing gripe about the use of male pronouns as gender-neutral–I constantly get referred to as ‘sir’, and all Sith get the ‘Lord’ title, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, English doesn’t have a lot of good gender-neutral pronouns, and living in a culture where ‘male’ is considered the default in most situations means that when trying to pick a word that can refer to either gender, the male term usually gets used. (Though at least English doesn’t give a gender to all nouns, like French or German. I’ve never understood what makes a table feminine)

One of the frustrating things about the fight for gender equality has been the persistent idea that ‘masculine’ is better than ‘feminine’. As a result, a lot of effort has been spent on bringing women ‘up’ to the point of men. One of the effects of this has been the dropping of female terminology, and using male terms for both genders when a gender-neutral one isn’t available. Ironically, this expression of equality is making women invisible again.

Ridding ourselves of gendered terms is not going to be easy. But equality isn’t just about allowing women to be more masculine, it’s about breaking down gender norms entirely.