Tropes vs Women episode 1 is up!

HOLY CRAP IT'S HERE FEMINIST FREQUENCY'S TROPES VS WOMEN IN VIDEO GAMES IS HERE OH MY GOD I CAN'T EVEN In May of 2012, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian launched a kickstarter for a video series, "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games," asking for six thousand dollars to fund a web series exploring systematic sexism in video games. The kickstarter raised over 25 times its goal, and misogynists all over the internet freaked the hell out.

Since then, she launched the Tropes vs Women Tumblr, which over the last few months has been posting examples of hundreds of games that feature Damsels in Distress, the subject of the first upcoming video.

Today, the first episode of Tropes vs Women in Video Games went up:  Damsel in Distress Part 1.

I can't find any information about what kind of schedule the videos will go up on, but as soon as I know, I will report back.

I'm so excited!  This is the coolest thing that has gone up on YouTube today.

a sexist narrative in the entertainment industry

I had no idea there was a rumor that Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence hated each other.  But I'm not surprised -- as this article on Slate points out, it's not an unusual narrative:  two women pursuing success are cast as in competition against each other, rather than against everyone else in the business, or -- even better, and more true -- both pursuing success in a field they hope will grow enough to accommodate as many brilliant people in it as possible. Chastian shot the rumor down on Facebook:

I find it very sad that media makes up bogus stories about women fighting in this industry. Filming The Help was the most amazing experience and yet, that is the film Im most asked about in regards to "fighting on set". Why do we support the myth that women are competitive and cannot get along? I think all of the actresses recognized this year have given incredible performances. But more important, they've all shown themselves to be filled with generosity and kindness. I've done two photo shoots with Jennifer Lawrence over the years and have found her to be utterly charming and a great talent. I've told her how beautiful her film work is. Please don't allow the media to perpetuate the myth that women arent supportive of each other. Everytime an actress is celebrated for her great work, I cheer. For the more brilliant their performance, the more the audience demands stories about women. With support and encouragement, we help to inspire this industry to create opportunities for women. And as we all know: a great year for women in film, is just a great year for film xxjes

Hanna Rosin AMA

I saw that Hanna Rosin, the author of "The End Of Men," was doing an AMA on Reddit.  I was a little curious, but didn't want to wade through the crap to check it out.  Fortunately, Slate has posted a selection of some of the questions, all neat and stuff.  I liked this bit:

BaduRainsDestruction: I just want to let you know that I love the amount of man-rage you inspire.

Hanna Rosin: I'm getting the feeling that it is definitely NOT the end of men at Reddit—that this is like the 21 Club (or maybe the Hooters) of online communities, one of those places where men still feel free to let loose.

Totallynotbb: I'm kind of surprised that nobody clued you into this ugly aspect of Reddit before proposing you do this AMA. In case you're curious, Reddit's resident angry dudebros have been planning to ambush you since last night.

Eliaspowers: Meta question: Did you expect this degree of hostility coming into the AMA? I assumed (correctly) that MRA would ambush the thread, but is that something you were prepared for?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on how things are going so far.

Also, I don't know how familiar you are with Reddit, but please keep in mind that you are being besieged by a small subset of highly ideological Redditors rather than the Reddit population in general, where there is more ideological diversity.

Hanna Rosin: I knew in advance they'd be interested but, uh, not that interested.

The link at "not that interested," by the way, leads to a post on the Men's Rights subreddit, where a bunch of MRAs were planning an ambush.  They linked to her TED talk, which I hadn't seen before -- they call it "Hanna Rosin Abusing her Children: ON VIDEO."  The clip is about 7 seconds of her daughter explaining why she sees girls as being more successful in elementary school.  The point of that bit was that men and boys deserve the kind of help and attention that women have gotten in the last few decades.

The video itself is pretty great, though.  Embedded below; Here's the link.

Anita Sarkeesian's TED talk

Anita Sarkeesian, the vlogger behind Feminist Frequency and the Women vs Tropes Kickstarter, has a TED talk, at TEDxWomen 2012, now up on YouTube.  The talk is about the backlash to her Kickstarter -- a huge, organized hate campaign against her and her project. Trigger warning: misogyny.

Unfortunately I didn't have any money at the time all this harassment was going on, so I wasn't able to donate.  As a result, I don't have access to the news updates -- but I do have access to the headlines, which inform me that production started in late July of this year, since which point there have been two further updates.  I can't wait until this series comes out.

Gender neutral Easy-Bake Oven petition

(via Boing Boing)

The above video implores viewers to sign a petition for Hasbro to push back against the ubiquitous assumption that women are the only people who want to learn to cook, or play with cooking toys.  Mckenna Pope recorded her brother explaining that he wants an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, but thinks "Only girls play with it."

From the Change.org petition:

Imagine my surprise when I walked into his room to find him "cooking" tortillas by placing them on top of his lamp's light bulb! Obviously, this is not a very safe way for him to be a chef, so when he asked Santa for his very own Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, produced by the Hasbro company, for me to help him be the cook he's always wanted to be, my parents and I were immediately convinced it was the truly perfect present.

However, we soon found it quite appalling that boys are not featured in  packaging or promotional materials for Easy Bake Ovens -- this toy my brother's always dreamed about. And the oven comes in gender-specific hues: purple and pink.

I feel that this sends a clear message: women cook, men work.

I have always been adamantly against anything that promotes specific roles in society for men and women, and having grown up with toys produced by the Hasbro corporation, it truly saddens me that such a successful business would resort to conforming to society's views on what boys do and what girls do.

I want my brother to know that it's not "wrong" for him to want to be a chef, that it's okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate.

Here: go sign.  I did.  They're only about 6,000 signatures away from the 35,000 signature goal.

Mainstream Republican views [TW: rape]

Tyler Oakley reblogged a post from Tumblr user AGV notes, titled Top 5 Quotes About Rape from Republican Men:

These are the best (worst) GOP rape quotes I could find - but message me if you have more. Let’s hold these people accountable.

1. Todd Akin: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down” - mid 2012 Senate Campaign

2. Claytie Williams: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it” - mid 1990 Gubernatorial race in Texas 

3.  Chuck Winder: “I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.” - March 2012

4.  Ken Buck: “A jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse … It appears to me … you invited him over… the appearance is of consent.” -October 2010

5. Rick Santorum: “I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you… rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.” - January, 2012

PEOPLE: WE SHOULD ALL BE FURIOUS. WE SHOULD ALL GET PISSED OFF AND BE VOCAL ABOUT IT. WE SHOULD ALL VOTE.

These aren't fringe nutjobs, they're people with a lot of popular support.  Three of those quotes are from this year.  There are a lot of people in this country who seriously support this party over the other leading party.

Even if these are considered fringe views by a lot of Republicans -- even if these quotes lead a lot of voters to think, "That's a little over the line, but it's not a dealbreaker."  It's still terrifying.  These quotes are so far away from okay that if you think they're just over the line, you're too far gone.

These quotes represent such a massive detachment from reality, compassion and empathy that it's absolutely clear that these people are not fit to govern.  It's not okay for politicians to be this far off on this.  Like it's not okay if a science teacher denounces germ theory, or like it's not okay for the police to deal cocaine.

It's not just stupid.  These aren't just bad people.  They're people who explicitly lack the qualifications to perform the jobs they're asking for.

To however many people this reaches, if you understand how nuts this is, please, please remember to vote.

I'm more conflicted than I thought

Yesterday I wrote that I wasn't sure whether analyzing Paul Ryan's suit was frivolous. It turns out, that conflict runs a lot deeper than I realized:  This article started out with the headline, "I'm NOT conflicted about whether this is important," and featured two articles that popped up on my Google newsfeed this morning:

Don't get me wrong, these publications' coverage is horrible, in the case of the E! Online article, it's super fracking[1. BTW, does anyone else feel like it's sort of perfect that the main curse word from Battlestar Galactica is being used to describe a natural gas extraction process that causes air pollution, radioactive water, and earthquakes?] creepy.  But the basic premise, that the style decisions of the super-scrutinized are worthy of analysis, is the same.

There are three major areas of conflict, in my mind:

  • These are all people asking for our attention.  Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, to prove they're capable of doing a massive job at the top of our government; super-celebrities, to make themselves sufficiently marketable that their mere name is enough of an asset to any creative work with which they're involved that they get bigger paychecks.  In both cases, it's awful that this is our relationship to those roles in society.  But in both cases, it's also a feature of our society.
  • The style decisions of the super-scrutinized have resonating influences throughout the whole of our culture.  By this point, the amount of attention we pay to them is good and important, though it's also self-reinforcing.  These people are building the narratives of our culture, and their stylistic choices establish the costumes of those narratives.
  • Directly adjacent to that point, the way we pay attention to the style decisions of the super-scrutinized reinforces the harmful cultural norms of our society.  The Paul Ryan and Robert Pattinson articles are about sexiness and relatability, stemming from their conformity to the norm, and the Miley Cyrus article is about the remarkable fact that at least one person is standing up for a super-scrutinized person trying to resist that norm.

The first bullet-point reminds me of an article I read yesterday about rape culture, called The missing stair.  While I wrote that bullet point, I felt the end of that article itching at me:

This isn't just about individuals, either.  Everyone who says "I don't want to be a victim-blamer, but girls should know frat parties aren't safe places" is treating rape culture like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "it's an ugly fact, but only women who don't make trouble make it in this business" is treating sexual harassment like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are," and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere. [Emphasis mine.]

And while I wrote the last one, I remembered a Ze Frank video, in his 2006 series, "The Show."

We need these narratives, and these people giving us touchstones to build these narratives.  Life, it turns out, is way too big and complicated for anyone to handle working out entirely from scratch.  But it also seriously hurts a lot of people when we don't question them, or think about whether the narratives we're using tell the truth about the people who fit into them.

This was always a problem for the people moving within the narratives, but I think it didn't used to be such a problem for the people setting the trends -- those people where characters in books, plays, poems and mythologies.  We don't have to worry, for example, about how Romeo feels that everyone on earth imagines him as a hopeless romantic, or whether it hurts Darth Vader's feelings that people only ever see him as the bad guy.

As every child star grows up this generation, it seems like they have to face the impression that their transition from child to teenager to adult is a symbolic struggle on behalf of all culture, whether between innocence and corruption, or childhood and maturity, or stagnation and fluidity.

I know very little about Miley Cyrus and Robert Pattinson, so I can't speak to the nature of their struggles.  But I will say that I'm not 100% certain that it's not important, and shouldn't be noticed.

Manpain

Through a series of variously depressing links about sexism I explored today, I came across this music video, for a song called "The Price," and its associated vid notes.  You have to download it. The video focuses on the tragic moments of pain in the story arcs of male heroic characters, generally featuring the death or injury of female characters they have a relationship with.  I found myself thinking back frequently to one of my favorite articles, How to be a fan of problematic things.

Liking problematic things doesn’t make you an asshole. In fact, you can like really problematic things and still be not only a good person, but a good social justice activist (TM)! After all, most texts have some problematic elements in them, because they’re produced by humans, who are well-known to be imperfect. But it can be surprisingly difficult to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about it, as many fans do. We need to find a way to enjoy the media we like without hurting other people and marginalised groups.

Seriously, that article is awesome.  Check it out.

The vidder's notes about the Price video go into massive detail about the way in which male characters are portrayed as uniquely capable of experiencing deep emotion, and as the primary (often only) touchstone for audience empathy -- specifically, about certain kinds of pain: people close to them die or go through something traumatic, which is painful for them, far more than the original victim; they have ridiculous amounts of power, and that makes them feel awful all the time; women they love are killed (often off-camera) and the man is totally sad about it and stuff.

This article is full of lightbulbs about really problematic things in popular media, so if you tend to feel defensive about stuff you like, I really recommend reading How to be a fan of problematic things first.  Then, come back for such features which I was embarrassed to have not previously noticed as:

Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown! &c. This manpain flavour is also known as "white man's burden" – the sadness that comes because having power and privilege is hard work. This category is actually owned by the Doctor, because no character has ever had so much white man's burden as he has – and he's just so LONELY there at the top. "The Lonely God," seriously.

That one was hard to swallow.  I really like Doctor Who.  Or,

[O]n Leverage, Nate lost a son to cancer. Which has never happened to ANYONE ELSE. But his pain is so great and overwhelming, so huge, that even his wife, who lost exactly the same son in exactly the same way, cannot understand, cannot feel as deeply as he does, cannot be as destroyed by it.

I did notice that one, but it seems even worse when put in the context of the rest of these examples.

There are loads of other examples in there, and the writer wraps it up with a bunch of links to TV Tropes, which are also worth checking out.

Shannon Hale on genderequd reading habits

(via To Write Is To Live Forever on Tumblr) I had never heard of Shannon Hale before today, but now I'm absolutely interested in seeking out and reading her work.  She writes young adult fantasy and adult fiction, and she posted this on her Tumblr late last month:

When I do book signings, most of my line is made up of young girls with their mothers, teen girls alone, and mother friend groups. But there’s usually at least one boy with a stack of my books. This boy is anywhere from 8-19, he’s carrying a worn stack of the Books of Bayern, and he’s excited and unashamed to be a fan of those books. As I talk to him, 95% of the time I learn this fact: he is home schooled.

There’s something that happens to our boys in school. Maybe it’s because they’re around so many other boys, and the pressure to be a boy is high. They’re looking around at each other, trying to figure out what it means to be a boy—and often their conclusion is to be “not a girl.” Whatever a girl is, they must be the opposite. So a book written by a girl? With a girl on the cover? Not something a boy should be caught reading.

Continue reading...

This is the kind of thing that the gender binary does to people -- this is a great example of the ways that sexism hurts boys.[1. In case any Men's Rights Activists stumble onto this post, no, I'm not arguing that men are more/equally/similarly oppressed than women.  The problems men face in a sexist culture are best addressed by fighting for the social equality of women and breaking down the rigid gender norms of "manliness" and "femininity".]

The idea that boys aren't supposed to like 'girly' books, shows, or other narratives means boys are de facto not exposed to strong female characters, good female role models, and whole values-sets that don't mesh with the ideas of 'boys writing.'

I strongly recommend reading the whole post, because it's kind of tragic and very, very important.

Male gaze and game design

(via Felicia Day on Tumblr) Brandon Sheffield at Gamasutra has written an excellent post about male gaze, and its relationship to video game design.  This is "gaze" in the philosophical sense -- not the sense of looking, but the effect of being looked at.  One does not perform the gaze, one experiences it.

Sheffield explores the way that this concept, and especially male gaze, the concept specifically focused on the way hetoronormative, conventional, male expectations about the world get imposed with priority over all others.  In doing so, he neatly outlines and connects a lot of the major problems in gaming culture re: feminism at the moment.

In doing so, he also comes out with a lot of vivid examples, and great metaphors, like this one:

Where does this knee-jerk anger come from? There is no anger quite like that of the privileged. Here we see it in the raw. In this instance; "We heterosexual males like boobs in our games, and we'll be damned if you're going to take them away." Because they feel threatened, they lash out without thinking about it, like a dog that thinks you want to take its bone away. The behavior seems nonsensical, but it's predictable. (Emphasis mine)

I suggest it either way, but especially if you haven't already caught up on the state of feminism and gaming culture lately, Sheffield's post is a great read.

The medical community seems pretty awful lately

It's easy enough to be pissed at the healthcare industry for all the bull████ surrounding insurance, malpractice defensiveness, failure to inform their patients, unnecessary testing and price gouging.  But in the past couple days, I've seen stories that seem to suggest they're going out of their way to avoid coming off sympathetically even in the area of human decency.

Gender pay differences

According to Medical News Today, a new study published in the Jounral of the American Medical Association[1. This week in jama. JAMA. 2012;307(22):2345-2345.  doi:10.1001/jama.2012.3033.] reveals that there are still statistically substantial differences in wage between men and women in the medical field, "even after adjusting for differences in specialty, institutional characteristics, academic productivity, academic rank, work hours, and other factors."

Women practicing medicine at academic institutions make on average $12 thousand less than their male counterparts, end up in lower paying specialties, get fewer leadership roles and fewer publications.

The article offers some rationalizations, though:

Ultimately, it seems grossly unfair that a women doing the exact same job as a man should earn less pay. On the other hand, due to the nature of the different genders, there will always be women in the workforce who are less driven to push for promotions or take on leadership roles, or extra responsibilities and there might be a wide variety of reasons for this.

Oh.  Right.  Because women just don't try as hard, that explains why they make less money.  This pisses me off for the following reasons:

  • Women may not push as hard as men for leadership roles or extra hours, but that has a lot to do with the fact that women are systemically encouraged to be less aggressive and imposing.
  • "[...] due to the nature of the different genders, [...]".  Gender is a cultural construct.  It's not an unalterable quality of everyone of a particular sex.
  • "[...] there will always be women in the workforce who are less driven [...]" Seriously?  Always?  The justification for unequal circumstances is that those circumstances will always exist?  See points 1 and 2 -- it sounds like the argument here is, 'We don't plan on fighting sexism, so we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that it's not going away.'

Racism at UCLA

(via Laci Green on Tumblr)

So it turns out that UCLA, one of those medical institutions, has a major problem with racism.  The thrust of this story centers around the disgraceful treatment of Dr. Christian Head, a tenured surgeon who has filed a racial discrimination suit against the institution after it became clear that the administration had no intention of doing anything about the sustained, overt racial discrimination he faced.

From Change.org:

Not only was Dr. Christian Head’s face superimposed onto the body of a gorilla standing on all-fours, but the photo also depicted him being sodomized by his Caucasian supervisor. This, unfortunately, was just one of a series of racially motivated incidents that Dr. Head has had to deal with over the past several years at UCLA. His complaints to administrative leaders at the Medical Center, the University and UC Regents have gone unanswered. In fact, his complaints have spurred additional acts of humiliation, attempts to push him out of academic medicine and retaliation.

But Dr. Head's case is just one example of what is clearly a systemic problem of racism at UCLA.  Here's the video about the case:

I feel weird about linking to "The Art of Manliness"

So there's this blog I've read off-and-on for the past few years, The Art of Manliness, that I have very strongly mixed feelings about. Those mixed feelings aren't exclusive to the site, though -- they're feelings I have about a lot of lifestyle communities I would like to admire and wholeheartedly participate in.  Communities like /r/LifeProTips, SteamPunk or the Maker movement. But in those communities, the problem I have is just a popular interpretation of the core ideals (variously:  self-reliance, character building, opposition to throw-away culture and low-quality mass market products) whereas at The Art of Manliness, it's the premise.

That premise, one of the more popular manifestations of internalized sexism[1. And racism, homophobia, and a whole bunch of other kinds of bigotry.], is that culture would be better if it were more like some point in the past.  For The Art of Manliness, that period is the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Like I said, that premise is popular in a lot of this kind of movement, and that sucks because in the right light there are a lot of pretty good ideas beneath the awful ones.  There are a lot of aspects of culture that (at least seem like they) used to be significant forces, but due to accelerating social change, have eroded.

That erosion has, basically, been a good thing, but for all the problems it's mitigated, new problems have emerged or worsened.  The response that a lot of these movements have to that rise in new problems is to try to switch back to the old way of doing things, to some degree or another.  But since going back to the old ways is so obviously a bad idea, they've been forced to come up with a cover story -- and that cover story actually isn't awful.

Ideas like promoting sustainability by using more permanent, well-made objects in life rather than participating in what is essentially a system of object rental where the return box is a landfill; consciously developing social skills and striving to build character rather than maintaining the illusion of decency; learning how to make a positive contribution to the world around you, rather than expecting that world just to contribute to your own wellbeing.

They're great ideas, but they don't belong to the past.  They don't belong in the past.  The Art of Manliness suggests improving social skills by learning decades-old social graces.  They suggest building character by striving to conform to their preferred manifestation of the male gender expectation. They not-so-subtly imply that self-reliance means being able to live in the woods.

Occasionally they produce great articles.  Most of the time, they produce content that has some proportion of useful information to be appreciated and gender-conformist bull████ to try not to internalize.  A lot of the time, it just feels like reading the MANLINESS version of Cosmo.

FeministFrequency Kickstarter: Way past goal, still going

Anita Sarkeesian, the vlogger responsible for FeministFrequency, is running a Kickstarter to create an in-depth video series on sexism in video games.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

The videos she makes on her own budget are amazing, so I can't wait to see what she does with financial support.  Her initial proposal was to make a set of five videos on gamer tropes that repeatedly depict women in a marginalized or objectified light:

  • Damsel in Distress
  • The Fighting F#@k Toy
  • The Sexy Sidekick
  • The Sexy Villainess
  • Background Decoration

But her donors shot way past the initial $6,000 goal in the first 24 hours, and now the project is into stretch goals territory. The first one was achieved within the first week, the next one the following week, and the project is only about $1000 short of goal #3, creating a classroom curriculum using the materials of the series.

Thanks to the additional donations, we're also getting these videos:

  • Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress
  • Woman as Reward
  • Mrs. Male Character
  • Unattractive Equals Evil
  • Man with Boobs
  • Bonus Video - Positive Female Characters!
All the videos are going to be online for free, and will be between 10 and 20 minutes long.  They'll be like a pop-culture feminist CrashCourse!

Content like this is important for a lot of reasons.  Anita Sarkeesian's FeministFrequency videos offer a way into a dialogue about sexism in pop culture without requiring a prep course in postmodernism.  The video game industry and nerd culture have some huge problems with sexism, and high-quality, easy to digest content addressing it, like the stuff Anita produces, make it a lot easier (a.) for fence-sitters to see what's wrong with the stuff that might have only made them a little uncomfortable, and (b.) for people in the industry who do want to make less sexist content to make the case for their artistic decisions.  (It's hard to make genuinely progressive games if you're the only one on staff who cares about it and your boss insists that it'll be more marketable if the women are good wank material.)

I won't be able to contribute (I don't have any money) but I hope anyone reading this with some cash to spare pitches in.  This is exactly the sort of media we need.