Sarkeesian: the perfect storm of right message, wrong conclusions and internet rage
Spoiler alert! I have lady parts. They grant me such dubious superpowers as being able to correctly identify a duvet by its proper name and, theoretically, being able to ride a tauntaun without having to adjust my crotch in the saddle. They also tend to result in me hearing the phrase “Do you really play video games?” on a regular basis. A question to which my typical response is to cock my head to the side, befuddled puppy style, and ask, “What’s a video game?”
After that, both parties typically laugh it off and we can carry on with the conversation, but it happens often enough to carry into the realms of being both frustrating and annoying.
Given my status as a lady-part-possessing gamer, I wasn’t too surprised when a lot of people started asking me about my opinion on Anita Sarkeesian, the creator of the Feminist Frequency/Tropes vs. Women in Video Games web series that explores the subject of the negative roles and portrayals of women in the world of gaming. The reason the question came up so much has everything to do with the fresh round of hell and flack that Ms. Sarkeesian had flung her way, which eventually culminated with threats she had received of a violent and specific nature, serious enough to warrant the involvement of the authorities. This was announced via her Twitter account, and seemed to only rake the coals of derision further as the internet achieved what only the internet and unpronounceable Icelandic volcanoes seem capable of in this magnitude -- blow the hell up.
Now hang with me, I’ll get back to this. First, I’m going to give you my opinion on Sarkeesian and what she’s attempting to accomplish.
I respect her efforts, but I just don’t agree with her. Obviously, that’s the TV Guide version of things, but I figure I’d preference with the fact before elaborating. I consider myself a well-read, self-aware and fully functioning member of my society and the subcultures I participate in. That said, I also consider myself a feminist, despite the fact that many treat it like a dirty word. I feel informed enough to know where she’s coming from and even appreciate her stance, but still disagree with her conclusions without being accused of either bandwagoning or being some sort of gender traitor.
Discourse is a part of dialogue, and violence against women is a monumental topic that covers a lot of ground in a lot of varying arenas. It needs to be addressed by society on the whole and I’m glad there are those out there who feel confident enough in their perspective to put themselves on the global stage and argue their case.
With that in mind, my issues with her project so far hinge largely on the examples she uses and the conclusions she extracts from them. They feel erroneous and not in line with my own experiences and perceptions of many of these games as both a woman and active gamer, an attitude that is echoed by many of the women I’m in contact with on a daily basis and fall into the same categories. That the project rings hollow and off-key with so many of what is presumably her target audience is something that should be addressed.
All of this leads me to another smaller issue: she disables the comments on her videos. While I understand the reasoning (the world could genuinely use less nasty comments for the sake of being nasty) it becomes problematic since it effectively shuts out the natural venue for those hoping to engage in legitimate discussion or disagreement. Thus you’re left only with those that are bent on just raising hell and harassing the creator through the various social media outlets.
For someone who has a mission statement of pointing out the issues and being a voice of change, you would think there would be celebration for the big wins in gaming that prominently feature well developed women that do not fall into the traditional gender roles she is arguing against. Titles like Tomb Raider, BioShock: Infinite, The Last of Us, Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Transistor were all commercial and critical successes within the last two years that featured women who were the star of their own tales and largely in control of what was happening to them. And that’s not even mentioning gender neutral releases such as Thatgamecompany’s Journey and many others.
While gender diversity is not near to saturation, things are improving, and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged and encouraged. Sarkeesian does little to touch on these increasingly frequent and dominating instances, and that’s just as discouraging as if these titles were never released at all.
Perhaps my biggest concern with the Feminist Frequency project is that it stands alone as the prominent voice in the discussion. When you have a single side of the debate that is as exposed as Sarkeesian’s is, it is easy for that voice to be mistaken for the thought and opinion of all, especially when it comes to a group that is traditionally in the minority of a given culture as women have been in gaming.
When I was given the assignment for this article, I mentioned it to a friend of mine -- another female gamer who works in STEM -- and her immediate response was “God, I hate that bitch.” These are harsh and ugly words, but they’re not unique when Sarkeesian is the topic. It’s unfortunate, because the disgusting amount of vitriol she attracts completely derails the discussion and, at its worst, deprives a human being of their right to peace of mind and sense of safety over an opinion. That will never be okay.
Ian Steadman over at the New Statesman did a great job of defending Sarkeesian by comparing her project to the critiques and accusations that are leveled against film and literature, and he’s absolutely right. None of what Sarkeesian discusses would be out of place in any traditional criticism or essay setting, and being exposed to this is the natural course of progression for any art form -- something video games have been elevated increasingly into for years now and they have a right to be there.
The sheer amount of work and thought contributed to the production, narrative, art work and world building for our favorite games is staggering and impressive. By combining so many disciplines, it could be argued that video games themselves have achieved a new level of art,since that added layer of immersion allows for those experiencing it to be fully engaged and actually feel responsible for the outcomes.
Whatever your opinion on Sarkeesian and the Feminist Frequency project on the whole, I would hope that anyone of sound mind and reason would decry what happened to her this week and do so vocally. It’s terrifying to think that casual threats of rape and mutilation are common place for something so benign as a difference of perspective.
The constant rage stroke she seems to provoke in people is harmful, and it casts gamers back into the idea that we are largely socially inept oafs whose mothers have to microwave their Hot Pockets. That’s not me, it’s not my friends and I doubt it’s you either, because it’s a useless stereotype meant to undermine those who participate in the culture.
There’s such a heavy focus dedicated to discrediting Sarkeesian herself -- her credentials as a gamer and her very right to form these opinions -- that her actual statements go largely ignored. It snuffs out any sincere attempts to form a fluent and proper rebuttal to what she has to say about her experiences as a female in gaming. When your argument itself ignores the content and instead hinges on descriptive gore porn threats, you aren’t just missing her point, you are it.
Samantha likes comics, Rogue and doesn't trust coelacanths. You can follow her on twitter @gunstained