I was recently watching an interesting series, Tropes vs Women in Videogames, by Anita Sarkeesian. In it she discusses various tropes relating to the role of women in video games. Briefly, a trope is a theme or behavior that is repeated across a variety of literary sources. Check out this explanation at TVTropes for more information.
A device is neither good nor bad simply for being a trope – however, certain tropes are considered rather negative. Bury Your Gays, for example – in this trope, authors will kill off gay characters to create additional drama, often with undertones of ‘they died because gay is deviant.’ Given our cultural narrative in recent years, this is definitely unfortunate writing.
So, Anita is writing about certain tropes that are used in video games when female characters are involved. The series is an attempt to examine these tropes from a feminist perspective, and while I don’t agree with everything she says, she raises some excellent points that are at least worth discussing and thinking about.
So consider how hard I facepalmed when I viewed a certain response to her series by someone whose work I otherwise find quite provocative.
Further thoughts below.
Alright. Anything I say on this matter is going to be polarizing, so I’m not going to fight that. Let’s go.
The tone of this response by Amazing Atheist was basically contemptuous. His tone was dismissive, high handed, and not an attempt to engage in a dialog, but rather to make a polemic. Fine, I can understand the use of contempt as a tool when appropriate – Hitchens was one of my favorite authors, and the man refined the use of contempt into a laser-precise swordpoint.
But AA makes a point near the beginning that Anita has disabled comments on her videos and therefore doesn’t seem interested in dialog. So if that’s his critique, why is his video so contemptuous of the points she’s raised? He doesn’t seem to be promoting a dialog about the matter, he doesn’t really grant her any of her points in order to clarify his own position or anything, he just makes an ass of himself for the entire video.
Case in point, less than 3 minutes in and he puts up a picture of a woman’s breasts when referring to ‘the big ones.’ He goes on to say he’s not talking about titties, but in a video responding to a feminist’s concerns about how women are portrayed, that is so classless it might just have created an anti-class singularity.
Next, he goes on and strawmans Anita’s argument. Anita had raised a point that cultural views about women are persistent, and that the damsel in distress trope was a reinforcement of one of the less savory of these views, stemming from and upholding a notion that women need to be portrayed as helpless. AA exaggerated this rather extensively, and his tone indicated the contempt he felt for her views.
Another example is that one of the key points Anita raises is that she’s uncomfortable with this trope because it shows that female characters in these games aren’t there for their own arc – they’re there to service the male’s character arc. AA’s response? “The damsel in distress is the Call to Adventure for the hero in the Monomyth by Joseph Campbell.” (paraphrased)
He does say more about it, and I’m not saying the arc doesn’t make sense and that damsel in distress isn’t a valid way to do this – it is and can be. But again, it’s exactly what Anita says – the damsel is there not for herself, but to serve the male character’s arc. You’re granting her premise even as you justify it, without really responding to the notion that these females are lacking their own sense of agency.
Now, AA does posit a good counter-argument to Anita’s premise. Anita is arguing the trope stems from common views about women and their lack of agency or implied worth. AA on the other hand says that family ties or romantic ties have an intense emotional resonance with people, so the rescue of a loved one is EASY to convey quickly, and THAT is the reason for the damsel in distress trope.
That is not a bad way to look at it! That’s a good counter argument to the origin of the trope, and a worthy point to discuss. Why didn’t he start with that instead of justifying the “this is a valid trope” angle to begin with?
He also argues with her about context, and again ignores the subtlety of her argument. She argues that while a game’s internal logic might justify an act of violence against women via this trope, it can’t be divorced from the larger cultural context. AA simplifies this into “she can’t decide if context is a good thing or a bad thing.”
No, she’s explaining that there are multiple contexts to consider. You’re making her argument seem hypocritical and superficial without granting that you can and SHOULD consider games on more than one. We’re all smart people, AA, you especially – you can think about something on many levels and from many perspectives, so don’t oversimplify, please.
I want to avoid strawmanning the next point, so I’m leaving the comments wide open to correct me, and I guarantee that I will answer any response to what I’ms aying here, and correct things the moment I am shown evidence.
Anita brought up a point that the prevalence of incidences of violence against women in video games can feed into peoples’ attitudes about real life. AA responded that she’s getting it backward, women show up as victims in media because women are popular victims in real life, given that they are inherently easier targets for sick people.
So, ok, yes, you can make this argument. But she wasn’t saying that culture’s portrayal of women is -the- cause of women being victimized, but that portrayals can feed INTO a culture of predation. AA is again oversimplifying and ignoring the actual point she’s making. Again, this shows a contempt for the argument by -not actually engaging with it-.
He further goes to say that feminism states that men are the oppressors, and therefore anything men do that can be construed as sexism will be. Strawman AGAIN. Feminism by and large states that there is a power imbalance between men and women, and that it has lead to certain attitudes and portrayals, and that calling OUT sexist behavior when it is evident is a way to redress this. I do not doubt that there are radicals out there who buy into the “like a fish needs a bicycle” attitudes. But that wasn’t Anita’s argument – she was making an appeal to understand the role of women in games and to perhaps change the way women are represented because some of it is really freaking unfortunate and contemptible and exploitative.
Misrepresenting this the way AA does is not honest. He has the potential to make some very good engaging arguments here with how she presented herself, but instead goes the dismissive route. I dislike mainsplaining but this is practically a how-to guide on mainsplaining behavior. He’s rude, deliberately goes for arguments and presentations designed to irritate the feminists he’s likely to be speaking to, and misrepresents her arguments consistently.
It is this attitude of contempt that is undermining the argument, and it is an argument, over feminism and civil rights. It’s just perpetuating the conflict rather than opening a dialog. He’s just as hypocritical about opening a dialog as he accuses Anita of being, so it’s clear that he just wanted to rant, not to engage. When people just want to shout at eachother, nothing is accomplished. Feminists continue to feel isolated and men continue to feel belittled as a whole for the actions of a minority. Men who honestly want equality of rights (even if not equality of outcomes) get sidelined because the angriest people get all the spotlight with their grandstanding. It’s hurting the discussion about a very real and uncomfortable part of video game tropes, and I’m disappointed to see it.