Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Male Feminist Allies In Gaming, Do You White Knight Right?

According to media sites such as The Guardian, 2014 was a landmark year for feminism. It was the year that included Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize, feminist campaigners criticising scientist Dr. Matt Taylor over his choice of shirt at the Rosetta probe comet landing (he later apologised in tears) Angelina Jolie campaigning against war rape, the controversy regarding TIME and their decision to include the word ‘feminist’ in a poll of words that should be banned in 2014 (they later removed it) and Emma Watson‘s speech to the U.N assembly on gender equality. Third wave Feminism has become hard to miss and is being more frequently discussed in the media than ever before, both positively and negatively.

The year that was 2014 also saw Feminism become a prevalent topic in gaming. Due to the efforts of feminist game/pop culture critics, such as Anita Sarkeesian and Johnathan McIntosh, Feminism has become a fashionable ideology among game journalists and writers. The gaming media has embraced Feminism, that is at least, one type of Feminism. The sex negative, social gender Feminism that has become characteristic of third wave feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian, Zerlina Maxwell and Soraya Chemaly. Though there are many kinds of Feminism, such as Radical Feminism, Equity Feminism and Sex Positive Feminism, Third Wave Feminism is what most people associate with modern Feminism. A Feminism that is critical of porn/sex workers, believes that society is governed by systems that inherently favour men (known as Patriachy) and argues that a society based on capitalism means the oppression and economic exploitation of women.

However the majority of game journalists and writers are men, as such there has been an increase in game writing by what Third Wave feminists refer to as Male Feminist Allies. These are men that support Third Wave feminist ideology and align themselves with the modern feminist movement, with some referring to themselves as Male Feminists.

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Male Feminist Allies can face being mocked are often jokingly referred to as a ‘White Knight’, a man that supposedly spends his time charging to the rescue of those poor oppressed delicate specimens of womanhood.

WhiteKnight

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Some examples of Male Feminist Ally/White Knighting from gaming journalists include these

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Another example from a recent Polygon article by Colin Campbell

“The problem of men dominating gaming is endemic. I am part of it and, until I am ready (or forced) to fall on my sword in the cause of equality, will continue to be so.”

Though Male Feminist Allies may feel that they are breaking new ground in reality the idea of the man that supports women and rejects perceived social gender roles is nothing new, in the 1980’s the term New Man was coined to denote a trend for men that were comfortable taking on non traditional responsibilities and expressing a more sensitive, less stoic form of masculinity. It’s a bit of a personal theory of mine that these kind of trends tend to be circular, a trend such as the ‘New Man’ is established for men to express a more sensitive masculinity, advertisers and executives see an opportunity and flood the market with products and advertisements promoting this trend and using it in targeted marketing, the trend becomes the perceived norm. Then those in society naturally adverse to sustaining the norm push back and form a new trend, in the 1990s it was the ‘New Lad’, and the same cycle occurs again. Gaming media is embracing what it sees as a trend. However this is where the problems start, the trend is among the writers, it is not among the audience.

That is not to say that gaming audiences are inherently anti-feminist, if they were there would be no audience in gaming for feminist writers such as Christina Hoff Sommers or Cathy Young. In fact, if gamers were anti-feminist there would be no reason for me to write these blogs since I would have no audience for them. The gaming community is made up of people of many different ages and backgrounds, each bringing with them their own unique perspectives and political, social and ideological beliefs. Some support Feminism, some don’t. However I have yet to meet a gamer that does not support equality, I’ve no doubt some exist, I just don’t think they are all or even most gamers. What the gaming audience wants is for the news portion of gaming media to be free of these kinds of political and social commentary.

Here’s the thing, when Male Feminist Allies White Knight for women in gaming they do not do so for all women. I have spoken before about how the gaming media has recently tried to paint itself as an advocate for women, a positive force trying to make gaming a welcoming space for women to work and create. However this is patently untrue, examples of positive coverage of the many women successfully working in gaming are few and far between yet articles that paint the gaming industry as a terrifying den of exclusion and harassment are plentiful. The gaming media does not celebrate women that are already forging successful careers in gaming, instead it actively terrifies women into avoiding potentially choosing the game industry as a career option.

To the heart of the problem, let’s not kid ourselves here, these Male Feminist Ally White Knights of the gaming media are doing so solely because they have personal relationships with particular Third Wave feminists. Why do I say this? Because I have seen, and experienced first hand, some of these men mock, deride and shut down women that don’t conform to the ideological specifications of their third wave feminist friends. That is not Feminism, it is Cronyism.

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antony burchgliner

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It seems that to these men, women that reject feminist ideology, or even just subscribe to a different kind of Feminism, are not real women since they do not fit the idealised, special snowflake, victimhood view of womanhood characterised by Third Wave Feminism. These are women that do not believe what they’re told, behave how they’re told or know their place like they’re told and so they are viewed as a kind of Unwoman.

unwoman

From my perspective the most interesting aspect of these Male Feminist Ally White Knights of gaming comes from examining how these kinds of men are viewed by Third Wave feminists, they seem to pull them in with one hand and push them away with the other. Third Wave Feminism wants to encourage men to adopt Third Wave Feminist Principles yet men who do so are often treated with distrust and disdain by Third Wave feminists. Even some Male Feminists do not trust other Male Feminists. Third Wave feminists write confusing and contradictory articles about how to be a Male Feminist Ally and other articles about how awful Male Feminist Allies are. This is no real surprise, in one of my earlier blogs I covered what Feminism personally means to me and in it I noted that I have always been wary of the rather adversarial language used by Third Wave feminists. Whether they like it or not when they speak of systematic oppression of women by male supported systems and use words and phrases such as ‘Allies’ and ‘Culture War’ they evoke imagery that paints society as a battleground. In this war of culture who is it exactly that they are fighting? And if women and men that don’t agree are not feminists or ‘Allies’ then what are they? Well what is the opposite of an ally? An ENEMY. If you are not with third wave feminism, no matter your gender, you are considered to be an enemy.

At this point it may not surprise you to learn that as a feminist I reject many of the tenets of modern Third Wave Feminism. I don’t see myself as a victim, I do not live in constant fear of men, I don’t think anyone of any gender that rejects Feminism is my enemy as long as they support equality. That is actual equality and not what Third Wave Feminism defines as equality

equalitybakesale               

 

 

 

I would love nothing more than for the gaming industry and media to truly debate and discuss issues of representation. Nothing would bring me greater satisfaction then to see women with talent, motivation and a love of technology encouraged to choose STEM fields as a career by seeing examples of positive role models already successfully working in those fields. How do these Male Feminist Ally game writers and the Third Wave feminists they are White Knighting for benefit women in gaming when they infantalise women that agree and dehumanise the women that don’t.? Special treatment and concessions for women at the expense of men and other women is not empowering. I’ve always believed empowerment to be the discovery of natural confidence and resources that lie inside ourselves. As a feminist I have felt more empowered by my interactions with the gaming community then I have at any other time in my life. If we empower ourselves at the expense of others are we not just ending one injustice by creating another? I’m sure many of these White Knight men of the gaming media mean well, but reversing the scales of inequality out of some outmoded concept of chivalry and liberal guilt will do more harm than good.

chivalry

 

Let me make this perfectly clear, I have an opinion and I am perfectly capable of expressing that opinion without any assistance. I do not require anyone to White Knight for me. What I do require is that what I have to say be heard and respected. Try to speak over me, or dehumanise me because I am the wrong kind of woman/feminist and you prove yourself to be no friend of mine and I will not believe that true equality for all is what you seek. The gaming media has a hard lesson to learn, men that speak for women without listening to women are no friends of women.

By now you might be wondering what I would say to any man that asked me how he can be a good Male Feminist Ally, the short answer would be….don’t. Women don’t need pandering to, their honour defending or their own voices silenced. What we need is to ensure that everyone has the same treatment and level of opportunity as everyone else. Just practice good manners and treat everyone you encounter, regardless of any arbitrary defining characteristic or self imposed label, with the respect, courtesy and dignity that you would ask for yourself. Yes occasionally you may mess up a little but that’s ok, at the end of it all we are all only human.

I’d like to dedicate this particular post to all the fantastic men that I know. I love you guys, I hope you know that.

Thanks for reading

Angela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Female Protagonists And Violence In Video Games, An Alternative Perspective

WARNING! CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR TOMB RAIDER 2013

Violence against women in video games has become a huge topic of conversation in gaming media in the last few years. The work of video game critics such as Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian has caused an avalanche of examination and criticism of the way that video games portray women and the violence that is inflicted upon female characters. Another common complaint of these critics is the disparity between the number of female and male lead protagonists in video games. After the reveals at E3 2013 of new generation consoles, games and I.P’s Sarkeesian tweeted

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Recently Sarkeesian appeared on ABC’s Nightline program in which she discussed her work and her belief that portrayals of violence against women in video games reinforce violence and sexism against women in real life. Within the segment there were the obligatory clips of Sarkeesian playing a video game. Watching the segment with my husband we both noticed that Anita’s game of choice was the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, a game that I myself have been playing recently. After the interview was concluded my husband posed the question “If violence against women in video games is unacceptable then how can games have more female protagonists since they’ll invariably face violence?”

I thought this was a question worthy of some exploration. At this time Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women In Video Games vlog series is incomplete and the focus in her videos so far has been very much female NPCs. However I did find this interview with Anita from 2012 before the video series was funded. When asked about what principles developers should keep in mind when creating female characters Anita has this to say

“The creation of great and complex female characters in video games is an involved process, but ultimately developers are going to have to take some risks and step outside of the expected or established conventions. Very briefly, some very basic things I look for in female characters are: protagonists with agency not tied directly to their sex appeal; transformative story arcs where characters are struggling with or overcoming personal flaws; and some emotional depth and expression.”

If we look at the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot (which had just been revealed at the time of the above interview and is very briefly mentioned) it was clear that the design of Lara Croft is intended to be less sexualised then her predecessors, Lara was given less generous proportions, greater choice of weapons and more sensible outfitting to make her seem more realistic.

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In the reboot Lara’s story is one of beginning, the educated but naive and inexperienced youth forced to adapt to survive an enormously hostile environment. Her journey is a kind of forced shaping and discovery of self while overcoming her inexperience and lack of faith in herself. In my opinion there is depth and emotional weight in her not only digging deep inside for the resources to keep going but forging her own will. Lara doesn’t just discover herself, she MAKES herself.

a-survivor-is-born  georgebernardshaw109542

Does that fit Anita Sarkeesian’s parameters? In my opinion it does. So let us suppose for a moment that Lara Croft ticks the boxes as a well designed female character. What happens to Lara to trigger this transformative arc? Life threatening situations that mean Lara commits violence and has violence committed against her. Lara suffers incredible punishment, not only at the hands of the island’s completely insane inhabitants but from the very island itself. I guarantee you that you will wince as Lara is smashed into rocks, trees and the detritus of the island’s former residents. Having a women such as reboot Lara Croft face violence in order to develop as a character is often dismissed as lazy writing. Video game writers such as Leigh Alexander have complained that men get to be the hero right away without having to suffer

“Our lead characters have to be hard, and while we accept a male hero with a five o’clock shadow and a bad attitude generally unquestioned, a woman seems to need a reason to be hard. Something had to have been done to her” 

Yet this seems to conveniently forget that the Lara Croft of the original games was a badass right from the first game, no suffering to make her a fighter, nothing being done to her, she was simply a woman that raided tombs using only her wits and a pair of handguns. And you know what? We accepted that. We needed no event from her past to reinforce her status as a heroine, no trauma to make her need to fight more understandable. She was just Lara Croft, raider of tombs, solver of puzzles and kicker of asses.

So what does have to do with female characters and violence? Well to start with I don’t particularly agree that having a female protagonist experience violence to solidify her character status is, in all instances, laziness. When male protagonists go through a game taking and dishing out punishment in equal measure it is seen as a male power fantasy. An escapism where presumably male players can project themselves onto the character and imagine they are them. When female protagonists deal with violence they are dismissed as movable sex objects and fighting fuck toys, again, designed to appeal to the male demographic. In the article that Leigh Alexander references in the piece above the author Sophia Mcdougall makes this assertion

“Part of the patronising promise of the Strong Female Character is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! See, she roundhouses people in the face.””

Here’s the thing, real life IS boring. I am a woman and I am a gamer. Physically I am weaker than my male counterparts and for the most part my life is exceptionally boring and mundane. When I boot up a video game I am looking for fantasy, escapism and entertainment. I’m not looking for games that make me think and explore my emotions like Gone Home and Papo & Yo, though there is certainly plenty of room in gaming for those kinds of games. I’m looking for games that fire up the senses. When I play as a female protagonist I’m looking to experience the flood of excitement that comes of meeting an enemy and defeating them, of exercising power and strength not available to me in real life. It seems that, for me at least, female protagonists are a female power fantasy. My escapism as a gamer requires that the character be at risk of more than just hurt feelings and you know what? I make no apology for that. Why can’t women gamers play characters in games that contain violence in order to feel powerful the same way that men supposedly do? It’s not as if the female characters in these games are the only ones to cope with violence, going back to the Tomb Raider reboot yes violence is inflicted upon Lara. But men in the game? They die. Lara the woman gets hurt in order to build character, men are SLAUGHTERED for her to do so. This includes men that die to save Lara. Multiple men lay down their lives for her survival and to give her a reason to continue fighting and that’s fine but one lays hands on her in a slightly sexually threatening way and it’s too much? How does that make sense?

It certainly seems I am not alone in my enjoyment of violent video games. As much as Sarkeesian and her like wish it were otherwise it is a hard fact that action/adventure games sell, 7 of the top 10 best selling games of 2013 were action/adventure titles. while I’m not saying that violence in video games is always necessary, I am saying it’s what gaming audiences clearly enjoy. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that provided adult material is kept out of reach of children. Anita Sarkeesian promotes the idea that violence against women in video games promotes violence against women in real life, yet the study “Violent Video Games and Real-World Violence: Rhetoric Versus Data.” by Patrick Markey, associate professor of psychology, and researchers at Villanova University and Rutgers University found that there is no evidence that playing violent video games makes people more violent. Other academics agree, in this article Dr. Chris Ferguson, chair of psychology at Stetson University, examines studies conducted into whether video games cause violence and he concludes

“We should accept that, whether we like violent video games or not, if we are serious about reducing crime, our attention is better focused on other issues such as poverty, mental health care or educational disparities.”

Violent video games DO NOT cause violence in real life. Sarkeesian and her supporters should admit that their dislike of violent video games is nothing more than a personal preference, it does not have scientific support. As much as critics of gaming may wish upon a star for game audiences to crave more fulfilling intellectual fare sales indicate that what gamers want is, above all else, to be entertained. Action sells games, adventure sells games and, whether they like it or not, violence sells games.

Anita herself knows this,  in 2013 she created a proposal for a video game called “The Legend Of The Last Princess” as an example of a strong female character and a subversion of the Damsel In Distress trope. In the game a kidnapped princess grows tired of waiting to be rescued, breaks out of prison and steals a guard’s armor and weapons in order to become a badass and take back her kingdom.

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But wait Anita, that sword in that princess’s hand is not a fashion accessory. For this princess to rescue herself and her kingdom will she not have to commit violence? Will she not expose herself to the risk of having violence committed upon her? Even Anita’s own game idea promotes the idea that having a strong, well crafted female protagonist would mean that female protagonist having to fight, to commit violence and have it committed against her. When talking about the Damsel in Distress trope Anita says “Maybe the princess shouldn’t be a damsel, and she could save herself”  but the princess cannot rescue herself because that will direct violence towards her and, according to Anita’s own logic, that will cause violence and sexism in real life. Plus if she’s active in her own liberation, no longer fitting the Damsel in Distress trope, she runs the risk of instead fitting into the Man With Boobs Trope from excessive aggression or even potentially, a Fighting Fuck Toy.

And here is my major problem with Sarkeesian and her supporter’s work, their criticisms do not help the industry to see why having better female protagonists, and more of them, is a good thing. Even if we pretend for a moment that there are not games in which men suffer physical violence in order to aid character growth, if critics are successful in their demand to remove the threat of violence with regard to female characters then why on earth would the industry choose to make more games with female protagonists? The industry’s goal is to make money and they do that by reading consumer trends, seeing what sells well, violence in video games sells well. Sarkeesian’s Jack Thompson-like crusade against violence in video games is DAMAGING the chances of better female representation in gaming. The industry and media seem to think that Sarkeesian is a voice for female gamers and as a result the assumption is being made that we all agree with her and would be happy to see the eradication of violence against women in video games. I cannot and will not claim to speak for all or even most female gamers. I only know, from my personal perspective, that I am happy for video game characters of any gender to kick ass and yes, have their asses kicked too. Because I understand that these games are not real, they are fiction, a fantasy that some of us use to entertain ourselves or escape from our real lives. From what I see in the gaming community I am not alone in this perspective. Instead of worrying about pixelated characters I would prefer to spend my energy working towards reducing the amount of REAL LIFE violence endured by many all across the world every day, and in my spare time, I may also pretend to be the heroine having my ass handed to me from time to time.

Thanks for reading

Angela

 

 

 

Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Getting Big Breasted Characters Off My Chest

Recently I have been noticing a theme in my Twitter feed, big breasts. Specifically characters in video games that have big breasts.

Lulu-Final-Fantasy-X-HD-Screenshot  Lulu from Final Fantasy X

Now there has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about over sexualisation and objectification of female video game characters and a common complaint is too much generosity in the design of the female character’s breasts.  There seems to be an idea among critics of video games that female characters cannot be strong, well developed, kickass women if they have big breasts. However it seems there may be the beginnings of a backlash forming. Recently a number of female gamers, particularly those that are themselves well endowed in the chest area, have begun to push back against the idea that having big breasted female characters in video games is inherently sexist. They argue that big breasted women have as much right to representation in video games as women with small or average breasts.

Even Total Biscuit recently addressed this issue on his Twitter.   TB1TB2

dragonscrown           Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown

 

I myself am a big breasted woman, a UK G cup which is equivalent to a US H cup. I have watched this issue for years with some trepidation, what seems to have started out as a well meaning effort to introduce a wider variety of body types in gaming has degenerated into a mess of assumptions and body shaming. There is a belief that if a female character in a game has large breasts then she must have no character or agency and that she only exists to cater to the ‘male gaze’. This may have something to do with the emergence of the Fighting Fuck Toy trope label, a term that was coined by Dr. Caroline Heldman an Associate Professor of Politics.

But what is a Fighting Fuck Toy?

According to the Fighting Fuck Toy Blog the term refers to women characters that seem empowered but are actually only really designed to appeal to a male audience i.e female action heroes. “Though in modern day they’re featured as the alpha character in most mediums, they’re still depicted as sexual objects, something to be desired by men. Yes, they fight crimes like badasses, but they’re physical appearance, body type and wardrobe – the huge bust size, small waist and little (or see-through) clothing they wear that leaves nothing to the imagination – are mainly the qualities that hook people in (especially the men).”

mortal Ivy Valentine from Soulcalibur

Pop Culture Critic Anita Sarkeesian explains, of female characters that embody the Fighting Fuck Toy, that this “hyper-sexualized, hyper-violent female character presents the illusion of female empowerment but is designed as a sexual fantasy.”

So from my perspective there are a number of problems with this. My first problem being that if characters are designed with big breasts in order to be a fantasy well then what’s wrong with that? Gaming is, for the most part, a visual medium based on fantasy and escapism. Some games, such as Dragon’s Crown, are known for their distinctive visual style and exaggerated, cartoony character design. While I would like to see a greater variety of character body types and ages depicted in video games it is not because I see attractive video games characters as problematic but more because I would like to see developers given the creative freedom to tell a wider variety of stories involving a wider variety of characters. The characterisation and criminalisation of attractiveness is slightly baffling to me. Yes the size of these character’s breasts may be an attempt to make the game appealing to straight men and the majority of men enjoy looking at breasts, so what? A great many straight women and people in the LGBT community like looking at breasts too. The enjoyment of looking at breasts is a biological imperative, a part of how the human animal forms complex chemical and emotional bonds associated with mating and the rearing of young. Acknowledging that does not reduce women in any way.

My other problem with the ‘big breasts as fantasy appeal’ argument is that the notion that big breasted women may see these characters as an empowering power fantasy does not seem to have occurred to these people. There are times when having big breasts is not much fun, it can be uncomfortable, and expensive. Often it will come with assumptions or snarky behaviour, as much from other women as from men. Is it wrong to play a video game and fantasise that we are like that woman? Kicking ass and taking names in between the nightmare of bra shopping and lower back pain? Did the thought ever materialise that women with big breasts might like to imagine that they could be an action hero? Or a warrior? Or an adventurer? If overdeveloped male characters are designed as a power fantasy for men then why can’t the same be said for overdeveloped female characters for women?

dwarf Dwarf from Dragon’s Crown

Voldo from Soulcaliburvoldo

Also there seems to be this assumption that big breasted female characters lack agency or have no noticeably defined character. Again I would argue that this really isn’t any different for men and is more dependent on the type of game. Is Marcus in Gears of War a particularly rounded and developed character? Is anyone really looking for meaningful dialogue and character development in DOA? There’s also a issue here in that small breasted female characters are often negatively labelled as either too masculine i.e a man with boobs, or designed to appeal to the lolicon fanbase. Perhaps critics like Heldman and Sarkeesian should just let developers know what range of cup sizes is acceptable? As far as agency is concerned the fact is that all characters in gaming lack a certain degree of self-determination because of their role in driving the story and gameplay. Video game characters cannot have full agency because of the very nature of the medium, in that characters are CONTROLLED by the players and NPCs are props that assist the player in carrying forward the narratve.

The main thing that comes up in regard to female characters in video games is the issue of representation. Critics want female characters to be more like real life women, with realistic dimensions and proportions. However there are a great many women in real life that have big breasts and, due to implants and the rise in levels of obesity, that number is increasing. In the UK alone the average bra size has gone dramatically, increasing 3 cup sizes from 2010 to 2012. In the U.S the average bra size in 2013 was a DD cup. Women with large breasts are effectively being body shamed when they are told that female characters that share their proportions are offensive. Critics of video games are pretending that these women do not exist and as a consequence their voices are not being represented. This is an example of the recent trend of building some women up, but only at the expense of other women. That ‘I’m all about the bass don’t worry about your size unless you’re a skinny bitch’ mentality is harmful to all of us. These critics cannot have it both ways, if female video game characters are supposed to look like real women then it’s inevitable that some of them will have big breasts. Stop telling me that characters with breasts that look like mine are sexist ‘fuck toys’ and shouldn’t exist.

It is my opinion that assuming that big breasted characters are incapable of having any personality and reducing them to ‘fuck toys’ is, in itself, sexist and demeaning. It assumes that breast size and sexiness are the only things that the player notices or cares about in regard to female characters. Even worse is the assumption that this will make gamers sexist towards women in real life, a presumption that I find deeply patronising and insulting as a gamer. This morality policing of gaming has gotten out of hand. The vast majority of gamers are adults, let us decide for ourselves what we find acceptable. If more body types in gaming is what you want then stick to that instead of yet again promoting one kind of woman at the expense of another. Busty women are gamers too, some of us want to continue to see characters that look like us, deal with it.

Thanks for reading

Angela