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.”
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
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.
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.
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
Find me on Twitter at @Angelheartnight