Anita Sarkeesian, Sexism, and revolution

So.. Apparently I have been living in a void… But as I am beginning to explore a bit outside my comfort zone and really look at the outside world without my “Ryan” Glasses on… I have decided to look at the subject of Feminism.

Most of you know that back in 2009 I founded Digital Raven with a few friends and we set out to make the short film, City 7.  In the film Pia Thrasher and Erica Phung( I NEED A LINK TO YOUR BLOG!!!!) play two of the most prominent roles.  Somehow without even knowing it existed, I wrote a script that passed the Bechdel test.  Which basically requires a movie to have at least 2 women, that interact in away that has nothing to do with talking about men, and they have names.

I am guessing this is mainly because my childhood heroes were: Tank Girl, Jennie 2.5, Ellen Ripley….(see the trend?) or that I grew up ingrained in the punk movement, which as a lot of female figureheads:  Brody DalleGwen Stefani  (No hate here, her early Ska career folks) and Wendy Williams.  The Punk movement also often acting as a platform for social change.  I was actually told specifically that I write strong female characters. Which was a great compliment!

But why did I do that? I am a male, after all.  And more specifically I am a Male Gamer.  So according to Anita Sarkeesian I exist in a mindset of the “all boys club”.  More on her in a bit…  Well it’s simple. A zombie movie, at it’s Romero core, is not about zombies. In fact most zombie fiction is not about zombies. Zombies are an extreme catalyst used to demonstrate some call to action or as a method of social change. In the City 7 world, zombies are used as a catalyst to introduce and play with elements of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.  I am attempting to establish a world where scarcity is no longer a luxury or life.. it is a necessity of life.

So what does that have to do with feminism and how I leveled the playing field(in my script at least)?  Well I am a survivalist, or at least I have a lot of survivalist traits, so I tend to break down scenarios in a way where traits or actions have a value, which can be expressed and translated into or as part of a barter system.  So someone who can operate a firearm or understands how to use an ax, for example, can express a skill set that has a value.  In a cooperative society, no matter the size, this means that skill sets become the basis for an economy… (if you want more on this.. read The Wealth of Nations!).  In this case a woman has just as much of a chance to be good a skill as a man.  Especially when it comes to the concept of using a firearm, or developing tactical and strategic awareness.  Which are the two skills introduced and demonstrated in the short film.  Saber and Scout are strong not because they are women, but because they are people who have a developed and trained skill set which has value to the the society.

It is this concept that they are PEOPLE not specifically identified by their race, orientation or gender, that is the crime of my rose colored glasses.  Put simply I was raised to evaluate people based on their individualism rather than by their superficial identifiers.  What this means in script writing is that I normally don’t assign a sex or race to a character, oddly enough a character is normally defined by their traits early on and is only assigned a gender later down the road.  So when I wrote Saber and Scout, they were named as sexless entities that provided a value to the group.  Saber, being the leading edge or sword, and Scout being a scout.  In fact if you take any revision of my script, before we decided on actors, and wanted to start all over you could very easily make the entire cast women, or men.  So why I am labeling this as a crime?

Well my crime comes in because I assume that since I think this way, so does everyone else.  Sure I am attracted to my girlfriend mostly because she is a girl, and my personal biology has dictated that I like girls.  However, we co-operate and live together based on our skill sets not gender-roles.  I cook, and do a bit more cleaning than she does.  She is the one always trying to get me to exercise with her and pushing me to better myself, as well as letting me be the ‘stay at home mom’ to our Frenchie.  I am disorganized and tend to spread, she is organized and straight to the point.  Often times the joke that is applied to us is that she “wears the pants” and in the past I have laughed at this joke.  That is my crime.  I am assuming that since I am not sexists…. Everyone else isn’t either.  Which means I often assume that an issue is a non-issue and blow it aside…inadvertently supporting the idea that “those women-folk just be crazy”.

This leads us back to Anita.  Let me lay out some ground rules before I get into this… I genuinely  like Feminist Frequency.  I agree that she often times comes across as if she is lecturing, BUT maybe that is what we need right now?  I also think that she is a very well composed speaker, who is proud of her gender, and has done some research into what she is talking about.  I am not going to try to dissemble her personality or attack her at all.  I am more going to examine the backlash that she has created, and why I think it has happened.  First off Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games, watch it if you haven’t…

She makes great points, stuff we need to hear, and us creative types need to be mindful of as we move ahead.  BUT she also leaves out a lot of critical analyse of the entire subject, or in some cases of the entire genre.  First off she targets some of the earliest successful games, without really placing them in the context of which they existed.  She assumes that a good chunk of her audience is open minded and mature enough to watch the videos and then give careful consideration before speaking(or typing).  Her video feels, on first examination, like an attack against games in general.  I DON’T think this is what she is doing.  I think it is very easy to get mad, and start attacking her, without really listening to what she is saying.  She is identifying a very simple story mechanic, and then getting into why it is negative.  This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t see the whole mechanic, it means that she is targeting the negative aspects.  Then she goes on to explore how the “rinse and repeat” attitude of the entertainment industry has propagated a huge number of titles that follow the same narrow-minded bad story telling, but have still managed to capture our pop-culture hearts and minds.

A lot of response videos have done an awesome job at looking at the other side, but you have to be really careful to weed out their biases too.  Sure the Princess Peach and Mario dynamic is bigger than the “Damsel in Distress” trope, however at it’s core that is what it is.  The whole concept of “Sorry, the Princess is in another Castle” defines it.  The expanded understanding that came after and as an aside to the original cannon, has made Peach more than the Damsel.  She is a monarch, and positive force on her people, and possibly Mario’s love interest.  So sure NOW in a Mario game he might be saving his loved one, BUT originally he was a very simple character seeking a object, which in this case was a woman.

What Anita failed to do was establish that she is exploring the 1970s-1980s mindset of the Male Japanese culture.  She pissed off a lot of people, because she didn’t very clearly state what she meant.  Meaning that you have to stop and think about her words in order to grasp the concept.  She then went on the do the same with Zelda, again she has a very good point, the original game is very one dimensional.  With the woman replacing the object as the thing that needs to be acquired in order to win.  However what she doesn’t do is explore the wider worlds of Zelda and Peach in enough depth to convince modern, younger gamers, that this is still the underlining drive.  Sure if you are in your 30s you played Mario and Zelda on the NES, and if you really stop and think… Damnit she is spot on.  However if you are 15, and never picked up the original games, you have no point of reference and the concept of Damsel in Distress is now so deeply ingrained and disguised that you would have to do much more exposition in order to uncover the symptom she sees so clearly.

The other thing she seemed to miss was providing examples of games that didn’t fall into that system.  Even though there might only be a few, you generally cut off and annoy or alienate the other side or those on the fence by not providing examples of the good alongside bad.  For instance she should have talked about Metroid, or even about games which lack a “human” character at all.  Tetris, for example, is neither feminine nor masculine.  She also could have talked about Portal, which features both a female hero and a female (albeit AI) villain.  Why I think these need a place in her first video is simple, appeal to both sides, not just to those that agree with you.

As the internet has seemed to prove, a lot of people are too ingrained in their thinking to deal with this concept all at once.  Another reason for the backlash is she isn’t talking about how to change it, she is rolling up a newspaper and chasing the dogs around the house, so to speak.  The dogs, us men, are gonna get mad and upset… then eat your shoes and pee on the carpet when you aren’t looking.  This, in my opinion, seems to be a huge set back in the way that equality movements are represented.  The loudest people, normally those willing to challenge the established order of things, are often combative.  They need to be, otherwise they would never speak up.  However when you are aggressive and combative in your expression of an idea, you will get the loudest and most aggressive responses fastest.  Considered response, educated response, researched response, come later.  After those that do listen have had a chance to digest your lecture and pick out the ideas and concepts while leaving the shock value tools used in public speaking behind.

Her last sin, is not buffering herself enough to deal with public scrutiny.   I love YouTube, the idea that we all have the ability to make content and express ourselves is awesome.  But its YouTube, if you ever want to feel shitty about yourself, post a video to YouTube and read the comments.  This isn’t an “all boys club” is attacking Anita, phenomenon.  This is anonymity.  In fact, her assumption that all the people attacking her are “males” is in fact sexist.  On the internet, you can be who you want to be without anyone knowing.  So it is entirely possible, she pissed off just as many women as men.  Also she is cutting off the people, who are the ones she needs to convince the most that this problem exists, by not “feeding the trolls” and allowing comments.

As a content provider, you buffer yourself, and you go into it knowing you are going to become a public figure.  You can’t seek out “fame” or pop-culture relevance, without painting a huge target on your chest.  This is something that she should understand and utilize.  In fact in my own experience, it has been the research into the hate she received that convinced me she has a very good point.  So there are those people, that would read the comments and change their mind, or fall off the fence on to her side.   Just by seeing and experiencing the unprovoked hate her videos generate.  Also you cut off the people who are generally interested in forming a dialogue, and often these dialogues can be used to expand, clarify or correct a lot of the guess work to what you meant….

It would be like two nations going to war, then deciding on peace.  One nation sends a diplomat to the table, the other nation just doesn’t show up.  The message Anita is sending is that she is right, no matter what, all the time.  She is inadvertently establishing that she is the new Patriarchy, and that the rest of us need to live in Anita’s world.  Rather than fostering an environment where people that agree with her, or are on the fence can come into her camp and start to work towards a resolution.

Video games, movies, and books, are all reflections of modern times, and so we need to increasingly treat them as a single entity and explore how to bring social revolution to them and through them.  Ideas like Equality, Marriage Equality, and Civil Rights should become tools that we use as creative people to positively change the world.  Rather than being tools we use to explore and then demonize all that is wrong with the entertainment industry.  As a gamer I have always disliked Tomb Raider.  I found the original Lara Croft one sided, sexist, and stupid.  Crystal Dynamics, apparently had some of the same idea, and so they rebooted Lara.  I like the new Lara.  She is dynamic, she shows growth and change, and she isn’t defined by her tits or her ass.  This is an example of good game design, and a good game concept reflecting how the world is beginning to change.

Originally Lara Croft masqueraded as a male fantasy of what a strong woman should be, now she is an individual person.  She is no longer defined by her gender traits, at least in my mind.  I dislike the original character because of the one denominational representation of her gender, aka strong women need big breasts and a nice butt or they aren’t “women”.  I like the new character because it is easy to relate to her as a person, a subject, a hero.  I have no problem seeing myself in her shoes, because nothing she does is defined by her gender.  Hopefully this is an example of how games are getting better.

My journey out of my comfort zone, a place where their is no gender inequality, has shown me that sexism is a very real problem still.  Just because I am not sexist, doesn’t mean I don’t live in a sexist world.  Nor does it mean that I am immune to being inadvertently sexist from time to time.  Simply put, I find woman cute and hot so I will look at them as objects every once in awhile.  Just as my Girlfriend looks at Channing Tatum, The Rock, Vin Diesel, and Gerard Butler as objects, form time to time.  However I am now more aware that as an artist and potential public figure I need to be sure I am expressing myself more carefully, and supporting the positive social changes that I agree with.  Rather than following the herd and being a “Man” or an “Alpha” just to stroke my own ego.

I highly doubt she will ever see this.  But Anita, I respect you, and have become a bit of a fan.  I would love the chance to speak with you directly and possibly give you a male supporters opinion on some of the things we don’t see eye to eye on.  For instance… Alien 3, might not fit the Bechdel Test… but I think it shouldn’t be subject to it, based on the story it is trying to tell.  I also think you are doing a great job, you are stirring up the norm and being a good punk rocker.  Forcing us to think and talk and sometimes get angry.  You are an example of positive social revolution, and I hope we see more from you as time goes on.