So this isn’t normally the kind of thing I write about on here, mostly because it doesn’t involve comic books. But it involves women in geekdom which is pretty central to the blog and is basically the whole reason why I started it. So I’d say it’s relevant.
If you’re a gamer on the Internet, I probably don’t have to tell you about the backlash against culture critic Anita Sarkeesian for her planned web series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” If you haven’t heard of it and you would like to lose a little faith in humanity, I’d encourage you to Google it. It’s gone way beyond differences of opinion and interpretation into the territory of rape and death threats, all because she’s making some videos about some things that we all know exist.
I don’t really have a lot to say about that. Ok, that’s not true. I do. But I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said better. But there’s one thing about it that keeps grating at me, so I wanted to address it. There are a lot of “sensible” people who keep pointing out that while, yes, there are sexist stereotypes of women in video games, there also exist plenty of gendered stereotypes that hurt men as well. This apparently means that either a) if both genders are portrayed negatively, then the sexism isn’t that serious (because that makes sense) or b) Sarkeesian is a sexist for not making a video about those issues. So here’s my response to that statement.
The video series is called Tropes vs. Women. This might seem a little petty, but there it is. It’s not “Tropes vs. People” or “Tropes in Video Games.” She decided to make a series dealing with a topic aimed at a very specific portion of the population. It doesn’t mean that harmful tropes against women are the only ones present in video games. She also isn’t making a series called “Tropes against Racial Minorities,” but there is certainly a lot of material to create one. That doesn’t mean these other topics are unimportant. They’re very important, really. They’re just not the topics being discussed.
All discrimination is not created equal. That’s something that a lot of feminists have tried to drill into people’s skulls, usually to no avail. It is true that men face gendered discrimination, but their experiences are vastly different from those of women. That’s because discrimination against women is something that is ingrained into our culture. It’s kind of like the age old argument that racism against African-Americans “isn’t that bad” because some black people don’t like white people all that much. Neither one of those things is particularly good, but we white folks just don’t face prejudice on a mass cultural level, so we really don’t need to compare the two. It’s just not the same. You could make a fair argument that these tropes against men are indeed enforced by the culture as a necessity of gender roles, but that would just bring me to my last point.
Discrimination against men based on gender roles is rooted in misogyny. Many of the male-centric tropes in gaming are based on our culture’s obsession with hyper-masculinity. Men who don’t measure up to this macho standard are seen as feminine and are often ridiculed. They’re called “girls” or “pussies” or “bitches.” They’re called gay because our society equates “gay man” with “woman,” and both of those things are supposed to be terrible. It’s the way our culture keeps men and women in line. Act this way or you’re a girl. And girl, of course, is always an insult. So if the problem facing both genders in gaming is misogyny, why not talk about misogyny in video games? What’s so scary about that? If you’re really concerned about the way men are portrayed in games (and you should be), then you should be invested in understanding why those portrayals exist.