Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Anita Sarkeesian At The “How To Be A Feminist” Panel, Was It All About Women?

I feel I should make it clear that this post is very much centered on feminism and has very little to do with gaming, aside from connecting with Anita Sarkeesian’s self imposed role as pop culture and gaming’s feminist critic.

All this month, March 2015, the All About Women Festival has been taking place at the Sydney Opera House. The festival is a series of panels and events with guest speakers designed to, as the website puts it, “invigorate discussion on important issues and ideas that matter to women, and to bring global and Australian perspectives to the stages of the Sydney Opera House.”

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On Sunday 8th March the ‘How To Be A Feminist‘ panel took place, a discussion of feminist guest speakers Clementine Ford, Roxane Gay, Germaine Greer, Celeste Liddle, Tara Moss, and Anita Sarkeesian on “what feminism can be and achieve in 2015 and beyond”

I hadn’t really meant to pay attention to this but I stumbled across Anita Sarkeesian’s contribution to the panel, a written treatise that she read out loud on her discovery of feminism and what she believes is the correct way to be a feminist. The video of her speech is available here but it is this particular section that caught my attention

anita (600x305)                                                    Wait…what?

Women having choice is a bad thing because it could be bad for other women?

I have been a feminist for some years now. As much as I have critisised some of the tenets and priorities of modern feminism I have always very much believed in the first basic principle of feminism, that is is first and foremost about equality.

feminism

When Anita speaks in the context of ‘How To Be A Feminist’ about how the concept of women empowering themselves as individuals through personal choice could be a bad thing for women in general I can’t help but be concerned. It particularly worries me that she made this speech at an event concerned not with gaming or pop culture but with mainstream feminism. Anita’s area of influence is moving outside of her niche of entertainment and into the sphere of modern mainstream feminist consciousness. When I listen to her speech in it’s entirety she seems to be saying that women must think about the choices they make, and be careful not to support systems considered to be patriarchal even if it is to her benefit to do so, because other women may not like or agree with those choices. This fits in with the modern feminist theory of patriarchy, the assertion that male created systems dominate society and oppress women. A common misconception of patriarchy is that it is all about men subjugating women but though the systems we have based our society on were created by men they are currently maintained by men AND women. In essence Anita’s assertion connects with the concept of patriarchal gate-keeping, the sense that if you are happy for the most part with the staus quo of society as a meritocracy based upon capitalist structures then, no matter your gender, you are perpetuating patriarchy.

How does that fit in with equality?

The term ‘Sisterhood’ is used by some feminists to express solidarity among women, expressing what they see as a unique bond between them. This can be especially true of women that participate in the feminist movement. My interpretation of Anita’s speech is that she is trying appeal to women, in particular those that are not inclined to call themselves feminist, to consider how the choice not to support feminism affects other women. This puts me in direct odds with Anita since I believe one of the most important aspects of intersectional feminism is that women should have the same freedom of choice as men.

Do men have to worry about whether or not their choices affect every other man? No

Now some feminists would argue that that is a privilege that men have as a result of patriarchy, yet if this so then why are feminists such as Anita not striving to offer women that same freedom? That same privilege? Doesn’t trying to end what these feminists see as the patriarchal gate-keeping of society mean leveling the playing field for men and women, granting freedom both of choice and expression? I don’t believe it is liberating or empowering to women to tell them that they are responsible for what happens to every single other women in existence, in fact I think that idea is oppressive and an ideological imprisonment.

I have seen this recently with feminist anti-porn campaigners. Feminists that sell the idea that, in order to be true feminists, women are expected to limit themselves and their ability to make free choices for fear of upsetting other women. Yet isn’t that just ending one system of oppression and replacing with one that they are comfortable with? Isn’t that substituting perceived patriarchal gate-keeping for a matriarchal system of societal gate-keeping instead? In my opinion this is taking authoritarianism and disguising it as feminism, trying to convince women that limiting the choices that they have is necessary, and for their own good.

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As a feminist I have never really had much time for patriarchal theory, I detail why in this twitlonger. Forgive me if I don’t feel the bonds of ‘sisterhood’ with women that would curtail my choices and silence me. This is especially true of Anita since her response to me and women like me, those that disagree with or even question her assertions about gaming, is to pretend that we do not exist and remove any avenue to discuss or engage with her about her ideas. If Anita believes that, as a feminist, she should consider what consequences her choices have for other women then perhaps she should talk to female gamers that are now experiencing men refusing to game with them because those men fear being labelled as sexist if they win. Maybe Anita should speak to developers that are now afraid to include female characters in their games for fear of being branded misogynists.

Anita’s appearance at the ‘How To Be A Feminist’ Panel was followed almost immediately by this speech at the ‘What I Couldn’t Say’ segment. The thing is Anita, if you have your way there will be MORE women with things that they couldn’t say. This is because the supporting of patriarchal systems will almost immediately include disagreeing with and criticising areas of modern feminism. This is something that we are already seeing in gaming, you disagree with a woman? You’re sexist and a misogynist. Anita’s principles for ‘How To Be A Feminist’ come off more as method of shielding herself from criticism, not just from men but from women that support equality while not supporting feminism.

Now it is worth remembering that this is only Anita’s segment of the panel. Hence it is, for the most part, her opinion alone. I have not yet watched the panel in full to hear what the other feminists have to say. However if Anita and those like her are successful in making the stifling of women’s freedom and poorly disguised authoritarianism the criteria for modern feminism then myself, and no doubt many other feminists, will be handing in our feminist cards for good. Yes, that would mean me having to change the name of this blog. No matter how you try to sell it to me I’m just not buying the brand of feminism that you’re selling, you see Anita, I’m still in it for the equality #SorryNotSorry

Thanks for reading

Angela

Find me on Twitter at @Angelheartnight

Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, Is It Right To Label Women In Gaming As ‘Women In Gaming’?

As someone that writes about feminism and gaming there is a certain expectation that I have particular interest in women that work in gaming. Recently the idea had occurred that I could do a list of profiles of successful women that currently work in gaming, developers, writers and journalists. A whole blog post celebrating the lives of women already making a success of themselves in the industry. But something stopped me, one thought…

If I were a women that worked in gaming I would be annoyed to be on that kind of list. Why? Because I would want everyone to focus on my work rather my gender.

womenatwork

 

That thought made me pause and wonder, is there too much focus on the gender of women that work in gaming rather than on their work itself?

Those that claim to want gaming to be more progressive are quick to point out that there are not as many women that work in gaming as there are men. Some claim that gaming as a hobby needs to be a more welcoming space for women to come and work, citing harassment and sexism as the reason women may avoid choosing a career in gaming. I have made it clear in past entries that I believe the gaming media has made gaming seem like a scary and exclusionary place for women, focusing on stories of sexism and fear rather than positive stories of success. As someone that would wish to support women in gaming it may be a natural thing for me to want to highlight examples of successful women in gaming, yet is this actually helpful? Does ignoring the individuality of women that are forging career paths in gaming and characterising them with the blanket label of ‘Women In Gaming’ do anything but give them an air of novelty, of ‘other’?

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 “Ah look! Here we have a prime example of the rare and elusive ‘Woman In Gaming’ a species known for their shyness, their scarcity and of course their boobies…”

I wanted to get some more opinions from women that actually work in gaming on whether they thought being labelled as ‘Women In Gaming’ is unhelpful. I was curious if they thought there is too much focus on gender, particularly by the gaming media, and whether that focus should be concentrated more on their work. I asked a game developer and a game journalist for their thoughts. The authors of these comments will remain anonymous, quotes are unedited except for spelling and grammar.

The first woman that I spoke to is a game developer, when I asked her if women are being held back by their characterisation as ‘Women In Gaming’ and whether there is too much focus on gender she said

“Absolutely, because when you focus on gender, the discussion stops being about games. When you interview a woman what makes her different from any other game dev? They have to find a “Hook” to promote the women and they always use harassment sadly. It’s very hard to get an interview published if you’re not offering juicy harassment stories. The journalists are very irresponsible as they know this person will get attacked because they have no merit and it proves their narrative. I refer to it as clickmeat or virtual punching bag articles”

I asked her to clarify whether she meant that the developer had no merit or the media, she replied

“The developer, the journalists don’t care if they have merit, they just want a piece of meat to dangle in front of the audience and they tend to pick mediocre people as they get attacked the most, and they blame it on gender. For example nobody says a peep about Nix Hydra, they are rich successful business ladies”

Nix Hydra is an LA based entertainment studio, founded by two female Yale students, that makes games and apps specifically aimed at young women. Last year Nix Hydra obtained over $5 million in funding.

The second woman I asked is a freelance games journalist and writer for gaming publications. Her comments were as follows

“Hmm. Well. “Women in gaming” certainly strips us of our individuality. I’m not sure if that holds us back per se, but it may impact our ability to be taken seriously as unique and important thinkers regarding games. That’s what Othering does. Is there too much focus on my gender? Yes. Is there too much speculation regarding my sexuality, political beliefs, and appearance? Yes, yes and yes. If one more person calls me a “polarizing figure” I’m going to scream. My ideas aren’t that radical. I don’t think you can paint all gamers with the same brush though. For some people, gender is very important. Other people don’t care. Regarding the industry at large? My concern is that companies may be afraid to hire outspoken women because we’re seen as “trouble” Then again, my own situation proves that false, so I don’t know, you know?”

When I replied that the idea of companies being afraid to hire outspoken women had not occurred to me, she responded

“Well if the perception is that women need special treatment, a company looking for profits is going to avoid that. Of course they’ll never admit that, but companies already avoid women who may go on maternity leave, so it’s a concern. I think that those who truly believe there’s gender stereotyping in the industry need to be extremely careful about how they proceed. Real sexism is insidious, and this call out crap may hurt every woman currently looking for work since it claims to speak for all women”

I asked her if she thought that the media is partly to blame for the focus on gender rather than work, she responded

“Of course. We KNOW the media does, in fact, cultivate a perception that the world is scarier than it really is. One could even say the narrative about women in gaming is an extension of rape culture: normalizing abuse of women instead of stopping it”

The focus of the media on industry sexism against women that work in gaming is almost certainly doing more harm than good, creating a climate of fear that leaves them feeling that gaming is openly hostile towards them. Not every woman that works in gaming experiences sexism or harassment, though of course it is terrible for the ones that do. However it seems that the gaming media would have us believe that experiences of harassment and sexism are almost certain to occur to every woman that puts her head above the parapet as a ‘Woman In Gaming’,  purely for being a woman. Perhaps is it worth looking at some of the treatment that some women have received in the gaming industry.

womeningaming

Roberta Williams is widely considered to be a pioneer of gaming, she co-founded the company that would later become Sierra Entertainment. You’ll often find her name on lists of the most influential or important people in gaming of all time, not women but people. The full interview that this comes from can be found here. Now it is worth pointing out that this interview was conducted in 2006 and by that point Roberta Williams had already been retired for seven years. During Roberta’s twenty year career the internet was in it’s infancy and there was no such thing as social media. However Williams makes it clear that her experience of working in the game industry was a positive one.

Other women that have worked in the industry have also spoken of their positive experience of working in the gaming industry. Another woman that has made an incredible career in the video game industry is Amy Hennig, formerly creative director for Naughty Dog and currently working on Visceral Games as yet untitled Star Wars project. Hennig has worked on titles such as the Uncharted series and Legacy Of Kain.

Hennig                                     Taken from this 2007 LA Times article  

This year at the Game Developers Conference 2015 Hennig made it clear that in her twenty years of working in gaming she has never received harassment. She blamed the media for fueling fear, saying that during the past year the game media had falsely painted gaming as a hostile place for women. She stated

“This industry is a haven for me. The Internet is a toxic place. Gamer culture can be noxious. The media can elevate negativity….We need to turn that around, Come on in. The water is fine.”

I could continue to name examples but then this would become the list of awesome women that work in gaming that I wanted to avoid writing. Here’s the thing, when Hennig and Williams were starting to make their careers in gaming they really were unusual, there were very few women choosing making video games as a career path at that point. In their time? These women were novelties.

However times have changed, there are now more women working in the gaming industry than ever before, again maybe not as many as some would like, but still the days of being a rarity are long gone.

ubisoft montreal

 

“If women don’t join this industry because they believe sexism will limit them, they’re missing out.” Gabrielle Toledano Executive Vice President and Chief Talent Officer at EA

Recent picture from Ubisoft Montreal

So why does the gaming press still treat these women like some oddity? Yes sexism does exist in gaming, as it exists everywhere else, and conversations about experiences of sexism are important ones to have. However, do they have to ask every woman if she has experienced sexism like it’s a given instead of letting her volunteer the information if she feels it is relevant or warranted? Do they have to make mention of each woman as a ‘Woman In Gaming’ in every single article rather than on making it about her work as an individual? Must they seemingly expect individual women to speak for every woman that has even even thought about video games? By focusing on the gender of women rather than the work they do gaming journalists are inadvertently reinforcing the idea that these women are special and should be treated differently from the men, this is detrimental to the cause for equality. Holding big signs with arrows on them saying “LOOK! WE HAVE WOMEN!” above the heads of women working in gaming creates a sense that they are alien, that they do not belong.

And it isn’t true, women have always been there, both as creators and as players. If the gaming press truly wants to be an ally to women? Maybe instead of zeroing in on their gender it could redirect that attention to their achievements. Maybe instead of being a ‘Woman In Gaming’ we can all just be in gaming, no capitals, no air quotes, no gender politics and no assumptions, just people all working together equally in an industry that we love. Then maybe one day if I do decide to write a list, it can be of awesome people that design and create fantastic video gaming experiences, with their gender as little more than a barely relevant footnote.

Thanks For Reading

Angela

 

Find me on Twitter on @Angelheartnight