gaming feminism

Critical exploration and think pieces about gender representation and gender related subjects and themes.

The Politics Of Girls Drawing Manga

girls drawing manga gender and discrimination

As someone who works as a designer and teacher I got around to have many many people show me their portfolios and ask for advice about how to improve their skills and works in hopes to better snatch a place at a design school or to be more attractive for potential employers.

Very often when I have that kind of talk with girls and young women, the conversation is difficult, because what they show as their current portfolio is heavily influenced by manga, anime and manhwa.

I say it’s difficult because I respect what these women and girls do and I appreciate it, but at the same time I know that they are going to have a really hard time getting respected in the industry and academia space.

Sure, there is an easy argument to be made that you wont find much opportunity to work as a manga artist in the west, because the demand is not that high. …at least compared to the demand for concept painting, 3D modelling, western animation art and cartooning. So, I think it’s the responsible thing to tell theses young aspiring artists that their focus on manga style artwork is putting them into a niche and to recommend to them that they have better chances to find work if they present themselves as more versatile.

But you can do that without treating them like inferior artists. Unfortunately the tone with which manga-inspired young artist get confronted often is massively disrespectful. The sentiment is a weird cluster of ideas, that boil down to “You got talent but your infatuation with asian aesthetics ruins your chances of becoming a good artists”.

These young artist are often ghettoized and only accepting western aesthetics and approaches will make the gatekeepers give them any credit for what they do. Communities do that, popular artists do that, recruiters, and even art teachers… which for me – being an art teacher myself – is INFURIATING!!!

I find myself often having to remind young artists that it is okay to be interested in doing the kind of art they are interested in doing.

While my rant here focusses a lot on that problem in realms of comic art, it applies just as well to games, since this is where I meet most of the young female manga-style artists I mention here. Even though a huge chunk of popular gaming culture is japan-centric, being a manga-centric artist is still treated as an inferior approach.

I mean, if you have not experienced/observed this phenomenon, cool. Maybe it’s more pronounced here in Germany than in other western countries. In my 10+ years of being a professional artist and in my +5 years of being a professional art teacher, I stumble upon this dismissive behavior and the young people discouraged by it with shocking frequency.

When I say “discouraged” I usually don’t mean the artists in question are no longer willing to go pro. But they are visibly uncomfortable with what they usually enjoy drawing, they are preemptively defensive about their work, expecting to get some sort of harsch comment. They also feel kind of lost, since the one approach to art they had was shot down and now they look for advice to fill that void.

Why have a gag reflex against Manga and Anime?

The established comic culture (meaning US superhero comics and franco-belgian stuff) was kinda baffled about how successful these books became in the late 90s early 2000s and they quickly had to give room to the proudly self-proclaimed “otakus” in their spaces… meaning store shelves, publisher portfolios and conventions.

The invasive nature of this new exploding genre and the up to this point strange storytelling tropes made it hard for many of the US and Franco-Belgian comic fans to adapt to this new branch in what they thought was their culture. So Manga and Anime got badmouthed pretty hard. “Repetitive, black and white mass produced toilet paper books, read from the back to the front, no backgrounds just speedlines everywhere, all characters have the same face, silly big eyes, stupid soap opera romance stories, tentacle porn, gay sex…”

The territorial reactions to Anime and Manga in the comic community where not only culturally ignorant but also deeply misogynistic.

People to blame for the unwarranted popularity of this inferior art form were quickly identified: young women and girls. Because this is the new audience that Manga culture brought in. Female Manga fans. They bought the books, they attended the cons, they did the cosplay and they aspired to become comic artists themselves…something US and Franco-Belgian comics never even remotely achieved in this scale.

Manga and Anime was that weird stuff girls for some reason liked, even though it’s about boys kissing and romance and badly drawn, so those girls probably don’t know what a good comic looks like.

…and now imagine being a girl trying to get recognition for drawing Manga style herself.

As one anecdote: There is an art teacher (!) and award winning german comic artist who publicly states in an interview that the current generation of male artists does the more interesting stuff compared to female artists, because the girls have not been interested in comics for boys and now are wearing figurative blinds because they come from the manga corner. Source, german:(x)

…imagine having this person as your “authority” on art in class?

The Anime and Manga centric DIY culture is one of the major entry points for young women and girls to get into drawing and painting.

I believe my responsibility as a teacher is not to shape my students in my own image. I believe my responsibility is to help my students become the best version of themselves.

And I also believe this principle should apply to every fucking internet commenter, person asked for advice and any publisher of educational content.

One day we will be old and our understanding about what makes great art will be retro if we are lucky, and obsolete if we are not… but we wont be the “authority” on design forever and that is for the best. So let’s stop pretending we are the alpha and the omega today. We are not. Instead of taking whatever foundation a young artists brings to the table away from under their feet, rather build upon what they have.

It’s not that fucking hard. Really, we just have to accept that whatever the girls bring to the table is as valuable as what we boys grew up with. We just have to accept that whatever the girls like and enjoy and want to do is worth liking, enjoying and doing. We just have to recognize that the privilege of boys being the first target audience for comic culture does not entitle us to treat girls like guests and make the rules. Easy peasy, right?

Right?

Notes:

I know that boys like Manga and Anime too. A lot actually. But male-centric Anime and Manga have never been remotely treated as alien and problematic as the female-centric ones.

Thankfully, digital concept art as thing grew and provides another big access point for female artists. Those who come from Anime and Manga still have to put up with the same gender-discrimination bullshit like 15 years ago.

I understand that I probably skipped some nuances about what constitutes Manga and Anime and Manhwa. Correct me in the comments. :)

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Beyond Fantasy – Gender Performance & Games

gender performance in video games

Here is a thought: What if games where you save a princess or shoot up hundreds of gangsters aren’t primarily escapism and power fantasies for men but real life masculinity performance systems? And what if those systems require sexism in games and games culture to work? And what can be gained if we use the concept of gender performance for our efforts to change the culture?

A couple of months ago I learned of the concept of gender performance and applied it critically to games. Using that concept to examine games – what they contain, how they are sold and played – was actually quite enlightening. In this post I try to share my thoughts on the matter. I’m going to be quite critical at the beginning, a little angry in the middle, but hope the optimism at the end will provide an encouraging finish. Let’s go…

Gender Performance

I’m not trying to make a case for recognizing gender as performative only. There is quite some debate around what gender actually is. For some it’s performative, meaning it only manifests through our actions and decisions, a social construct, for others it has a biological component as well. Some people will tell you they personally developed their own gender identity because of their physiology, some people will tell you they did despite of it. This article is not trying to debate these questions, since I have not yet formed an opinion to go with myself.

What I can say is that the concept of gender as performance is a really helpful tool to understand how gender manifests in society and how much power we have to change it.

We perform gender to establish social bonds, social hierarchies, ingroups and outgroups.

Gender performance happens when we present ourself based on our own gender identity and/or based on gender expectations coming from the social spaces we want and/or need to inhabit.

We perform through the language we use, how we behave, how we look and the interests we communicate. The clothes we wear for example perform a masculine or feminine look but also perform masculine or feminine interests (assuming we appear to like what we wear). We perform male if we do things that are socially understood as “things that men do” and the same goes for any other gender identity.

Our performed gender identity – as any other part of our identities – is then a factor in how we bond as friends, on how we find romantic and sexual relationships, how we rank in social hierarchies and finally how we fit into groups.

Gender performance, policing and sexism.

The term “performance” is not meant to necessarily imply some sort of fakeness in how we act. Many people can perform their gender rather authentically most of the time.

But often people are compelled to perform in a way that is not at all representative of how they feel. This happens because any group that accepted us because of the gender we perform can kick us out the second we no longer perform to their expectations. Any rank we might have due to our gender performance can be lost the second we no longer perform our gender as expected.

Another worrying aspect of social hierarchies based on gender performance is that – if gender is viewed as a dichotomy, which it is in most cultures – we value one kind of gender higher than another. In our patriarchal society, masculinity is defined as the opposite of femininity and performing masculinity well is as important for a high social ranking as is rejecting femininity. Or some would say, in order to perform masculine you need to reject the feminine.

I know this is a crude simplification of the volumes of work done by people who study gender, but I think that’s all I need for my case here. If you like to learn more, check the resources below.

feminity and masculinity in games

Nerds To Men

Okay, let’s talk masculinity and why I think games provide a unique platform to perform it. Many masculine ideals are unattainable for many men. If you are too skinny or to overweight, there are certain acts of masculinity you can not convincingly perform. Also if you lack the necessary aggression or often the required financial backing.

As a stereotype, nerds don’t meet many cultural male performance expectations. They are seen as weak-bodied and childlike. They are easy to scare, have a low tolerance for pain and are not interested in cars, sports or other manly things. They are unable to assert themselves, so they retreat into their games, and girls laugh at them.

In school, I was one of those nerds.

The last pick for any sports team in class, frequent victim of bullying even from female classmates, developing self-deprecating humor as a defence mechanism, but then widely recognized for being smart, creative and friendly by the adults around us. Comics, games – and yes even the fucking chess club – where my refuges.

Contrary to the stereotype however my refuges were not about retreating from reality. They were about bonding with others like me. All the guys who weren’t equipped to be masculine enough to be ranking higher on the social hierarchy could use geek media to bond over something else and create their own ingroup with their own social hierarchy. That’s where the stereotype of the jock comes in – the guy who is privileged enough to pull off the manly man, but who is poorly educated, an asshole and actually driven by social anxiety. This guy was not part of our ingroup.

Even though the nerd ingroup rejects the jock stereotype, they still have the desire to perform masculinity themselves.

A real man is strong, big and dominates others, takes what he wants. If you are not able to pull this off in a physical space, you just need to establish that it is equally manly to do it in a virtual one. And this is what gaming communities did.

Gaming provides a safe space to perform masculinity. A safe space to act manly. You fight without getting hurt, you flex your muscles without being limited by your own physiology, you kill without remorse, you take what you want without asking, you flirt up women without rejection.

This safe space can work for other gender identities as well. I’ve read plenty of testimony from transgender players that the fact that certain games allow you to choose your gender appearance in virtual communities is an empowering thing. Unfortunately in games communities, performing a straight cis male is what gets you ranked high on the social hierarchy ladder, while presenting anything else makes you a target for marginalization.

Performance of masculinity requires the rejection of femininity in games as well.

Sure, you don’t get jocks to respect your manliness by showing off your Call of Duty headshot achievements, but within the gaming community it gives you a certain identity and status.

Mainstream game developers/publishers capitalize on that desire for status and foster an environment through marketing that has performing cis straight male as the top of the social hierarchy. They encourage social anxiety around that ranking system and provide the remedy for that anxiety by creating most of their content in a way that is all about performing masculinity, from the way protagonists are designed, the heavy emphasis on combat gameplay and conquest, to the rejection of anything feminine.

Performing masculinity requires the rejection of the socially accepted opposite: femininity. If we accept the observation that mainstream games are devices for male gamers to perform masculinity, then they need to be devoid of emotions (except anger maybe), they need to be sexist, they need to be misogynist, they need to be transphobic and homophobic. …and the individual gamer needs to be those things as well.

act like a man box in games

IRL

We critics like to talk about games as fantasy – power fantasies to be exact – or escapism. We look at what happens on screen and try to examine how the onscreen actions might shape what we do in real life.

I’d like to propose that the things we do on screen – any virtual princess we save, any virtual prostitute we punch, any number of virtual men we slaughter – already are real life acts of masculinity once we look at them in the context of games as a community.

The infatuation of the gaming community with performing masculinity is a real thing and the way games are bought and played are real measures with which gamers can assert their masculinity within gaming culture. There is nothing fake or virtual or abstract about that system. This simply is how you act like a man within the gaming community.

Unfortunately the rejection of women, transgender folks, gay people and anybody else on the gender spectrum is just as real.

This is where masculine performance became such a striking node connecting most if not all of my feminist criticisms towards games. It’s not enough to just assert your own masculinity through your performance as a gamer in order to rank high on the gaming communities social hierarchy. You also need to maintain, defend and enforce that being male is the highest ranking gender identity.

Masculinity loses its status and many of the related perks, if gamers allow women to participate fairly and equally or if they allow transgender and gay folks or anybody else to join in.

Masculinity loses its status and many of the related perks, if gamers allow games where conquest and conflict, objectification of women, and rugged male protagonists are not prominent to be accepted in the gaming space. …if they allow games that are not about male performance to stand.

Female and LGBTIQ gamers and creators are a legitimate threat to the carefully constructed male performance eco-system that is gaming.

The masculine performers don’t reflect that well on why they feel threatened, but lash out in response nonetheless. They scream fake geek, collusion, corruption, SJW agenda, whenever any non-masculine performance or performer gets any traction or whenever their devices to perform masculinity are criticized.

The fact that the internet removes them from their target enables them to attack and objectify real life women as hard as they do with virtual women. It’s all part of the same masculine performance complex and it wont change until the gaming community loses it’s almost exclusive infatuation with masculinity.

Gaming needs to friendzone masculinity.

Gaming will not change until influential companies stop generating demand and providing supply for primarily masculine performance. We can’t let them get away with it anymore. Exclusively conquest-centric gameplay and exclusive male-centric stories need to become a reason for lower rating. It’s lazy, outdated, cowardly and should no longer be the safe way to go about it.

The advertising for a game should also be part of the rating of games, as it is part of the overall media package and shapes its impact on gaming just as much as ingame content does, if not more.

Gaming will not change until influential voices and individual gamers stop belittling alternative concepts for game mechanics and stories of marginalized people. Any argument about what constitutes a real game, hardcore game or whatever criteria one would use to accept or dismiss game concepts categorically, need to be mute now. As of now most categorical definitions of “real” games are heavily biased towards masculine performance and should be diffused accordingly.

Gaming will not change until gamers stop silencing voices of women and other marginalized groups. Sites need to drastically increase comment moderation and establish drastically tighter moderation guidelines. Social networks and online communities need to drastically revise the tools they give their users to protect themselves from dogpiling, harassment, and other online attacks. It’s pathetic.

And most importantly in any social space, virtual or physical, masculine performance to the detriment of anybody else should no longer be accepted behavior.

Gaming will not change until the people who make and sell games no longer consist of a massive majority of male performers. Recruiting, education, early education and community work should drastically focus on giving women and marginalized people fair and equal access to gaming as a cultural space and profession. This must include extra efforts to inspire and enable women and marginalized people to allow them to catch up with the currently privileged cis straight male majority.

Overall…

…I think that fight against masculine performance is what feminist games criticism and the related progressive activism already does. The concept of gender performance however is allowing me to identify and causally connect the behavior of people, the content of media and the repercussions for the community. It helps me understand what is going on.

It also allows straight cis men to spot what they are doing wrong and can do better, instead of trying to find out what’s wrong with who they are. Performing cis straight male can be tweaked, rejected and guided, while BEING a cis straight man is inherent and feels rather unchangeable to most.

Finally it allows me to value alternatives to masculine performance better, so I can also better appreciate when designers show enough drive for progress to provide me with those alternative mechanics and experiences.

I hope gender performance can help you too in your conversations about the problems that gaming faces. It’s in no way a perfect concept and there are many many equally valid other methods of deconstructing the problems we face. Thanks for your attention. Please add your thoughts below and keep at it.

Resources

Images are from Heavy Rain
www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity
www.rolereboot.org/sex-and-relationships/details/2011-12-the-performance-of-masculinity
www.paulkivel.com/resources/downloadable-tools/item/135-the-act-like-a-man-box
Boys Will Be Boys: Deconstructing Masculinity and Manhood at Dartmouth
Tony Porter: A call to men

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Press X to make sandwich – A complete guide to gender design in games

This long blog post essay is now archived as a pdf. You can download the full pdf here (19mb).

Thanks to volumes of constructive comments by the community, contents of this essay are currently in revision for a later publication. The linked document serves as a backup of the original version of the essay and contains some outdated concepts.

I left all the comments up below. You are welcome to continue the conversation and I hope I can give you the updated publication of this project soon.

venus-header

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Nina Kiel – Gender In Games

Nina Kiel wrote her bachelor thesis tackling gender in games. And now it’s a book. And I’m excited to be in it along with good company from other voices on the issue. Look at that damn near perfect cover for the whole thing and make sure to check out Nina’s other work on her tumblr.

Also make sure to follow her on twitter or tumblr, so you get notified once the book is available for purchase or preorder.

Nice!

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Why Marketers Fear The Female Geek

fear-of-the-female-geek-header

So, there is this story making the rounds where Paul Dini on a podcast explains why execs do not want female viewers for their super hero shows. There’s a link in the resources below. But the gist of it is basically “Girls do not buy our merchandise.” Sounds horrible right? People are shocked! Yeah, well, it’s worse then you think.

Here is the reasoning that drive execs and marketers to pro-actively exclude women from their audiences and to pro-actively encourage a culture in which women do not feel welcome.

This is why we can’t have nice things… or can we?

Target Group Optimization

Imagine for a couple of paragraphs that you manufacture your own range of candy bars and now plan to sell them. And I’m a marketing guy consulting you on how to market that candy bar successfully:

You are willing to spend 100$ on marketing. This money goes into designing a brand, brand communication and into buying ad space in magazines, on tv and on websites. You market your candy bar equally to men and women. So, you spent 50$ on each group.

Now, once the ads are out there, we track the response.

Let’s say the tracking data now says that 80% of men bought the candy bar after the ads went live. But it also says that only 20% of women bought it. This means from the 50$ you spent on men 40$ actually increased revenue, only 10$ wasted. When it comes to women however, only 10$ made you sell candy bars while 40$ have been wasted.

What do you do with you next 100$?

Are you going to spend your 100$ equally on men and women again? Are you willingly wasting money again? Or are you spending the full 100$ exclusively on reaching more men, so that the 80% positive response yields you 80$ of successful advertising while only 20$ go to waste?

fear-of-the-female-geek-optimization

Why would you settle for 50% returns, when you could just exclude women and get 80%?

And how about we find out what kind of men are responsible for that pesky missing 20%. Is it men from lower income groups, is it men with certain ethnicities? Who is not buying our stuff and wouldn’t it make sense to exclude them as well, so we get even closer to the optimum 100% returns?

Yes, excluding people based on demographic data makes sense to a lot of people in marketing. It’s considered a best practice and it actually is a pretty reliable way of increasing profit margins. And it is the least risky way of doing business. Spend your money where you get the most in return. More bang for the buck.

Messaging Optimization

Step two: Once we have our finely tuned audience, how can we get them to individually spend more money on our candy bars?

Sure, with each iteration of marketing efforts we kick more people out who not respond in a satisfying way, but we also need to improve the revenue we get from each of our target group customers individually. And it also would be great if some of the people we kicked out would feel compelled to join the ingroup and change their behavior in favor of our profits. How do we do that? This is pretty easy, actually.

fear-of-the-female-geek-gameboy-advance-for-men

Yes. This is a REAL print ad for the Game Boy Advance.

You tell the members of your target group, that they are superior to those who are excluded.

This is what you do in marketing: You do not sell the product, you sell the image of what it means to buy the product. You establish a narrative which says that buying your candy bar makes you awesome, while those who are not buying it (women in this case) are inferior.

Often you don’t even have to establish this narrative yourself. You can piggyback on already prevalent concepts about men and women or what it means to be a “hardcore” candy bar eater in contrast to those “casual” candy bar eaters. As a bonus, you will also culturally reinforce those prevalent ideas at the same time, strengthening your narrative.

And the best part is, once your strategy – excluding women and telling men they are superior – yields good results, other candy companies can now look at your data and follow in your footsteps. Because if it works for you, why should it not work for them? A win for the whole industry. I mean, marketers are doing this for decades now, there already is so much sales data on “functional” sexism, we just need to pick our poison.

fear-of-the-female-geek-circa-1967-Battleship

Let mom and your sister do the dishes, we boys have engage in exciting naval battles. MB in the 1960s. via thevintagebazaar.com

Expanding The Audience

Step three: Let’s remember, there originally was like 20% of women who initially bought our candy bar, right? How do we get those potential customers back into the game? Their money is as valuable as anybody’s.

There is one thing we cannot do. We can’t make our candy bar gender inclusive. Why? Because this would mean that we would have to scramble our carefully sorted target audience again and it would mean that we would have to abandon our successful “men are better than women” messaging. We would have to go back to square one, pretend to not know what we know. The solution here is simple again…

fear-of-the-female-geek-lego-dismophizm

On lego.com, there are currently 32 product lines advertised for boys, while only 2 for girls and a few gender neutral lines.

Segregate. Create a new brand, exclusively for women. Paint it pink.

This minimizes the risk, because it allows us to optimize our female target demographic and our pro female messaging without having to fiddle with what works for the men. Special segregated color coding (pinkification) or specially segregated spaces and language will make sure that nobody confuses the female sub-brand with the original main brand. Why is that visible segregation important?

For once, if the female oriented brand does not sell enough, we can just flush the whole thing without damaging the original main brand. Also keeping women segregated allows the “men are superior to women” narrative to stay strong, since we would not want to have anybody think that both brands are interchangeable.

We can also capitalize on the resentment and low self-esteem of women that we created ourselves by pushing our “men are superior to women” narrative.

If we get women to understand that they deserve less respect because they aren’t the type of person who buys our candy bar, guess what they will want to buy to feel less disrespected? Yes, they will buy our candy bar, because now there is one for them.

And this is where it comes really handy to exploit already prevalent social ideas about men and women in our advertising. To be clear, this means riding piggyback on the sexism that is already out there. Also coming in handy is the fact that other industries and our competitors are looking at the same sales data we do, and therefore are using the same sexist messaging we do. That all is useful to us because the popularity and widespread visibility of the sexist ideas we are selling lends credibility to them.

fear-of-the-female-geek-unilever

The company Unilever owns both of those brands. They are objectifying women and push certain beauty ideals to sway their male audience for the Axe brand. AT THE SAME TIME, they promote body positivity and a rejection of beauty ideals in media, to sway female audiences with their Dove brand. … like an arms dealer selling to both sides and keeping the war going to increase profit.

Let’s burn marketers or what?

Okay, I will now stop doing the marketing guy voice. For the rest of the article, I’m Anjin again. We will now look at the things above a bit more critically.

Is this really what marketers do? Do they really purposely exclude women and then also go ahead and push sexist ideas? Yes, they do. Because it works. It’s best practice. I mean, it’s cynical, sure. But that is capitalism. Capitalism is cynical. It is what marketers often MUST do – if they like it or not – because the people in power, meaning the people with the money demand, that they get as much positive returns as possible on each dollar they spend.

fear-of-the-female-geek-the-simpsons-movie

Get angry. It’s about time.

Of course not all marketers do that. There are a lot of products out there which are gender inclusive and also advertised in a gender inclusive way. And when it comes to best practices in general, many people really don’t give a crap and do their own thing. This needs to be acknowledged and supported. These people are marketers as well and they are doing great jobs.

Also even when it comes to the marketers who use sexist messaging, most of them are probably not thinking that they do any harm with it. I mean, this is how marketing is done for decades now, this is how it is taught in marketing schools. And often euphemism prevent marketers from recognizing how sexist their messaging actually is. Sure, they need to wake the fuck up, but there is often no malintent.

Many companies would love to be more gender inclusive than they now are. But they are already so neck deep in their previously established male-centric image that they don’t see how. There is a good argument to be made – that once you got yourself a predominantly male audience – that it is fiscal suicide to suddenly start to include women as well. It’s hard and super risky to break from what works for you even if you have the best of intention AND actually understand the problem.

This article is not here to beat up on people, it’s here to beat up on cynical practices and harmful systems.

Fallout

This is the same cycle like above, but now showing more directly what happens with women, who are thrown under the bus for max ad revenue:

fear-of-the-female-geek-catch22

Like mentioned before, exploiting sexism in your advertising is not just riding piggyback, it also reenforces those sexist ideas by normalizing or outright endorsing them. Let’s check on some examples of how that manifests in current geek culture:

  • Geek media long ago has decide to optimize towards a straight cis male mostly white audience. This means most content of geek media, the way geek media is advertised, and also geek media related merchandise are all catering to that target audience. Leading to very few properties with female protagonists or the idea that female models in multiplayer are too expensive.
  • To optimize the messaging for their target audiences – meaning making them feel superior to anybody else – they sell male power fantasies, with few to none strong women. They make women obtainable like objects and present women as sexually available, dependent on men and needy by sexualizing them.
  • Secondary outlets (websites, print magazines, tv shows and such) about geek stuff – if depending on advertising revenue – need to actively avoid getting a too gender diverse audience. Simply because publishers of geek media are hesitant to buy ads in spaces, where the potential viewer is too much likely to be a woman, since women are not their target.
  • Conventions need to be careful about how they implement anti-harassment policies or if they prohibit exploitative marketing (like booth babes), if they are dependent on big name publishers. Because publishers need conventions to be a welcoming space for their target audience, meaning men who respond to sexual objectification of women and who dig the idea, that they are superior to women.
  • When media outlets allow for gated content – meaning that publishers can decide if the ads they buy will be shown only to specific demographics – women will not get to see a lot of content that might be interesting to them, even though they are enjoying the same subjects and hobbies men do.

The list is longer and some of the points above have many sub-forms of their own, but you get the idea. It is a huge network of self-perpetuating bullshit and self-fulfilling prophecies. It poisons everything and is biased towards confirming itself.

Why Do Women Deserve This?

I’d say they don’t. But wasn’t the whole point, that women did not spend enough on geek media, so they were excluded in response? Well, that kind of, that is the logic behind it. The sales data shows poor results with women, so why even bother with them. If they aren’t interested, screw ’em, let’s get some butt on that box art, right?

fear-of-the-female-geek-konami

1987, Konami ad for the game Ajax. This should draw men and women to the arcades equally, right? via

It’s not that simple. The thing is, that sales data shows how women responded to geek related marketing, but not why. Excluding and exploiting women, so you can sell more stuff to men, while it might be financially sensible, is a social outrage. This systemic grand scale reinforcement of gender segregation and sexism would only be justifiable, if there would be something inherent to women, that makes them like geek media less than men do. …if there would be some truth to the sexist ideas, which are perpetuated here.

The idea, that women somehow inherently are not into science, tech, comics, games and other geek stuff… … IS A MYTH.

There never was a moment in the history of geek media, when geek media was advertised equally to men and women and there never was a moment in the history of geek media, when it was equally culturally acceptable to be interested in geek stuff for men and women.

Women never ever got as much marketing attention as men have and women always have been treated as an oddity in geek culture, with all the barriers that come with that. There never was a time, when toy cars and robots and construction toys have been made equally accessible to little boys and girls. The same goes for safe spaces and tech education.

In short: There never was a time in geek culture in which women had equal access. So why do we pretend, that they should have yielded equal returns but somehow failed to do it?

fear-of-the-female-geek-xlg_two_bytes_better

This ad from 1977 shows how gender inclusive computer tech was in it’s early days. How can we pretend, that this is equally inviting to women as it is for men? How can we pretend, that there is something wrong with women and not with the culture? via

The cycle did not start with women, who for some reason decided to not dig geek media or who lacked the comprehensive ability to get into it. It started decades ago, with men, who decided, that what they had to sell was not for women – for whatever reason, not all of them nice – and then used the sales data they have caused to confirm for themselves, that they have been right to exclude women in the first place.

Modern geek marketing needs to understand that they are stuck in a hole and need to stop digging, despite what the data says. They need to stop being scared by female geeks and embrace them.

So, Basically We Are Screwed?

So far, this articles says “It makes totally sense to exclude women and to spread sexist messages, because it works.” Does this mean we are fucked? Does this mean, as long as companies want to make profit, women will get thrown under the bus by everyone?

There is hope. It’s called disruptive innovation.

Disruptive Innovation is a term that describes, when a company or an individual creator decides to something, that goes against common best practices and succeeds. This goes for products and for business models as well.

When creators can sense a demand for something new, an untapped potential, and they have the guts to go for it, despite the risk, then they have a chance of disrupting the market. A good example is the iPhone. Have a look what then Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer thought about it:


Yeah, makes no business sense at all. I mean really, who would buy a phone for 500 dollars, which doesn’t even have buttons, I mean, c’mon. LOL.

Or look at Minecraft, this game exploded without conforming to any popular game genre at the time, looking like nothing out there and with basically no marketing effort at all. The people were ready for it, but nobody in the market knew it. Everyone was baffled.

Basing your marketing decisions on previous sales data – like I did when consulting the candy bar manufacturer – is a way to increase short term revenue and it is a way to minimize risk. But it also is always just looking to the past for answers. It is an approach, that treats innovation as a potential problem. It’s conservative, not progressive. And it is only a matter of time before audiences are saturated (bubble) or when it gets replaced by something unexpected (disruptive innovation).

fear-of-the-female-geek-gone-home

Gone Home, serious GOTY contender and winner for many outlets, critics and gamers… perfect example of how to disrupt the market.

What can we do?

Disruptive innovation needs two things to work: Opportunity and people with the necessary drive to go for it. We create opportunity by being vocal. We voice our frustration with how things currently are and progressive marketers will see an unsatisfied customer base. We go out a show them what we want, through fan fiction, armor fixes and independently produced content, and progressive marketers will see a demand. We have to keep being visible.

We also have to be supportive towards those who dare to go against market wisdom. I know, nobody deserves credit for not being an asshole. But looking at the business incentives compelling people to stay an asshole, every company or outlet who decides to get more gender inclusive, to risk it or to accept losses for it, could deal with a little support on that.

But most importantly, we have to got the backs of those who are driven. They will face a lot of backlash and rejection from the establishment and from the pampered male demographic, both seeing their way of doing things challenged and rejected, reacting with hostility. We need to encourage the young game makers and artists and provide safe spaces and resources for those creators, who have been pushed to the margins because of their gender , race, sexual orientation or views.

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Finally Caveat Free – on Feminist Frequency

anita sarkeesian's new video

A Response?

I’m not sure if calling this article a response to what Anita Sarkeesian has put out so far would be accurate. Response carries a ton of connotations, which all scream rebuttal or opposing commentary. Responding to a Sarkeesian video in most cases means, trying to correct it. Being opposed to the Tropes vs Women series and putting your opposition into words – either as articles, comments or youtube videos – is like a sport.

The kickstarter campaign started on May 17, 2012. People are arguing against Anita, her content, her reasoning, her methods, her attitude, her background, her agenda, her choice of clothing, her make-up, her voice for one and a half year now. One and a half year of people trying to convince me, that Anita Sarkeesian does something wrong – sometimes wrong enough to please ignore her, sometimes wrong enough to please stop her and sometimes wrong enough to severely punish her…

..so far nothing made any sense. At all.

Everyone who was targeting her because they legitimately were concerned – everyone who articulated, that they needed to defend something against Sarkeesian’s youtube videos – was fighting windmills. The videos are not threatening creative freedom, or – God forbid! – threatening free speech. There is nothing ruining games or infringing on rights here. I checked and listened for one and a half year… Nothing.

And even those who did not even pretend to be fighting for a cause – those who just wanted to show off in a pointless intellectual exercise or just wanted to troll – even they failed horribly, committing fallacy over fallacy. Like someone wielding nun-chucks and making Bruce Lee noises, only to end up whacking their own crotch with it.

I will even go as far as to say that after one and a half year, I fail to see how Anita Sarkeesian and her output even present an issue worth debating anymore. Sure, you can disagree with how she does stuff and yes, you can still not be convinced by her videos or feel like you could do a better job… but the question if it is useful or harmful to have her put her content out? No, really, no issue here.

…except you somehow appreciate gender inequality of course. Then, someone putting information out in favor of gender equality is kind of an issue for you.

Okay, so response is not a term I’m comfortable with here. So what is this you are reading right now? Am I supporting Anita Sarkeesian? For one and a half year, I was reluctant to say so. But not anymore. Yes, I do. I think it’s awesome, necessary and much worthy of support.

What did Sarkeesian do to change my mind? Nothing. I just decided to no longer let the trolls push me into a corner.

And that’s the thing. That’s what that was. In actuality I was appreciating her contributions for a long time. Sure, I can point to stuff, I would do differently, minor complaints actually, stylistic differences. The discourse around Sarkeesian is toxic – it is made toxic by people spitting venom at her. There was so much talk about how much she does wrong – just wild assertions, often in conflict with each other – that it seemed uncritical, downright naive to not be skeptical yourself.

Public critics – like MovieBob or Jim Sterling – always felt the need to talk about her with caveats. They always felt the need to state – yeah, I do not agree with her totally – and so did I. I refused to just say something positive, without making clear, that there are negatives or that I expect negatives to defend against the sure to come accusations of falling for her tricks, being a white knight, not being critical. I was preemptively fending off expected accusations from people, who I already knew had no point. – expected accusations based on sexist ideas and privileged perspectives.

To add this kind of caveat to an endorsement of Tropes v Women often is the “no homo” of video game culture.

I’m not having that anymore. I’m no longer pretending to see an issue with people who fight for a cause that I share, when there is none. We need Sarkeesian and people like her. We need to make public discourse as supportive and safe for women who speak up as possible, and this takes commitment. Anita Sarkeesian takes a lot of beatings online, still she puts herself out there. She gets a ton of vile, threats and bullshit online, still she responds to selected messages.

It’s an incredible feat by Sarkeesian to not have become a proverbial martyr yet, and I regret that for one and a half year, I did not help to make that easier. ..for her and for any other woman, trying to add her voice.

So, here is a big heartfelt and caveat-free thank you, Anita, for what you do. Your videos are well researched, fun to watch, enlightening and have a much needed impact on our culture. Beyond that, the reactions you spawned by the apologists crowd, the obliviously privileged and the hostile internet denizens would have forced many people into silence. My deepest respect and thanks for your commitment and effort to push through.

I hope to be able to buy you a cup of coffee or beer or preferred drink in the near future.
Cheers.

anita sarkeesian tropes vs women latest video

P.S. if you haven’t seen the latest video yet, check it out on her site and consider sharing it around. I’m happy to find my work in the resources to the video, which actually is kind of a proud moment for me as an online media critic. So, sorry for this self-indulgent moment here. Kthnxbye.

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The Autonomy Question

cosplay by Stella Chuu cosplay photographed by madcatdrannon.deviantart.com

cosplay by Stella Chuu / cosplay photographed by madcatdrannon.deviantart.com / illustration © Namco

When it comes to criticism on matters of representation – gender representation or race representation or any other group – It’s important and kinda tricky to make sure, we do not debate the real life people and their choices, but keep the focus on the representations of them in media.

It’s more complicated, than one might think. Here is why and how.

Representation

Criticism towards representation can easily slip into criticism of the people who are represented. The criticism is about design decisions and goals. It’s about how creators chose to conjure up fictional characters in order to serve a specific communicative goal. It’s about how fictional characters are made to look, made to behave, and are framed by creators, not criticism about how real life people look, behave or the situations they find themselves in. While this sounds rather obvious, in practice this distinction gets easily overlooked.

For example criticism about sexualization in media – pointing to heavily sexualized female characters – can easily be read as condemnation of real women who choose to present themselves sexually. Rejecting pinkification in media and merchandise can easily be understood as an attack on women and girls who choose to have pink as a favorite color.

Criticism about media representation challenges systems and memes which perpetuate oppressive paradigms and confine people into boxes. This is the exact opposite of criticizing individuals and how they decide to present themselves. Feminist criticism aims to enhance the ability of women to exercise autonomy over their own body and life, not scold them for it.

Real women?

An clear example where critics often fall into that trap is debate around skinny fashion models. The beauty ideal created by the extreme skinniness in media – often preferred by fashion magazines, fashion companies, tv stations and pop music marketers – can have a harmful effect on the body image of women and girls, which can result in self-esteem issues, anorexia, bulimia and encourages fat-shaming. You see critics often promote an alternative beauty ideal in order to counter that.

Though often wording is used like “this is how a real woman looks” or “real women have curves”. The target then is completely missed and criticism towards an oppressive system (or at least oppressive meme) turned into skinny shaming. Skinny women – often already burdened with issues that drove them into anorexia – then are treated like “not real” women, stigmatized, which is as much oppressive and normative as the media perpetuated beauty ideals are… just with another flavor.

Same goes for the representation of ethnic minorities or lgtbq people. Effeminate gay men for example are often stigmatized and marginalized and could use some equality and positive exposure – but an effeminate gay male character in certain contexts can be a negative and harmful stereotype and deserves a critical look. Know the difference.

Stay on topic!

It’s important for critics to be clear in their wording and take a second to eliminate possible confusion, while it is equally important for the individual reader to try to keep the two issues separate as well.

I frequently find myself failing at this task, but I try to improve myself and hopefully this statement will help me or you to keep the debates on topic in the future. Thanks.

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You’re not getting it.

gta5 sexism misogyny satire

If you dismiss feminist game criticism by claiming that the critic fails to recognize satire/irony/parody, then YOU are the one not getting it. Why any attempt to silence criticism by using the satire defense is doomed to fail.

GTA 5

A professional game reviewer – a woman by the name of Carolyn Petit – listed the rampant misogyny in the game as a negative, implying that the offensive writing detracted from the otherwise perfect score for the game (as it damn well should). By the thousands sexism apologists started posting aggressive comments trying to silence her. Here is a nice opinionated write up.

And as always one of the most pervasive reasonings for dismissing any negative reaction to the misogyny in the game was, that the misogyny is intentional and actually there to subvert misogyny, a parody of sexist games, a satire on american culture, a game in which the hateful content is used ironically to confront us with the more problematic aspects of masculinity or simply used intentionally to be funny.

They are – in text and subtext – effectively saying, that the reviewer is not getting it. That the reviewer is falsely accusing the game of misogyny, because she is too blind, biased, sensitive, stuck up, incompetent, unprofessional, attention seeking, too radical, too female… …too much a feminist to see that the game is actually a statement against sexism.

This happens all the time. If the sexism denying gaming public is confronted with feminist criticism, they either claim to not see it, or when they can’t but recognize that the misogyny is there, they say it’s ironic. For them feminists need to get shut down for either “blowing things out of proportion” and “being over-sensitive” or for “failing to see that the admittedly over-the-top sexism is actually satire”. To them there are games with either not enough misogyny to be problematic or with way too much misogyny to be problematic.

This legendary sweet spot of juuuust the right amount of misogyny in a game, which a feminist critic can then point to without being personally attacked, does not actually exists.

sexism in video games donkey kong gta5

“Sexual assault in Donkey Kong? You are over-thinking things. Duke Nukem Forever is misogynistic? It’s so over the top, nobody can take that seriously, except stuck up feminists.” – very convenient.

If you are one of those people who think they “get the satire” and therefore have a superior understanding on sexism issues, than the feminists critics who “don’t get it” and state so publicly… you are making a fool of yourself. Hard. And if you also do that in a demeaning, silencing, aggressive way – as if there is any other way– you are fooling yourself even harder.

The Mark

Before I tear this stuff apart, I’d like to clarify some terminology first. When I refer to target group or target audience, I’m referring to the group of people who are supposed to enjoy the so called satire, supposed to buy it, laugh at it and get it. When I refer to the mark, I’m referring to the group of people and their ideologies, which are the subject of the satire, the ones to laugh at.

Dissonance

This is actually fairly easy to spot. When you use childish cartoon visuals to illustrate a subject that your mark takes very seriously. When you use super low production value to present a subject that your mark values a lot. When a protagonist rolls his eyes and explicitly calls out the mark’s bullshit. When you show something that the mark enjoys in a very unsettling and disgusting way. When you create a totally silly world, but plant a character representing the mark, who takes everything totally serious. When you show something similar to the mark, but it is obviously fake or a bad copy.

Every dissonance listed here works vice versa as well and there are probably a lot more ways to create dissonance. Making something extremely sexist is not creating a dissonance, it’s just creating something extremely sexist. Also just trying to be funny, tongue in cheek, joking whatever does not cut it. You need to disrupt expectations, not exceed them.

These are not parodies of ads exploiting the female body to sell video games. These ARE ads exploiting the female body to sell video games.

These are not parodies of ads exploiting the female body to sell video games. These are ads exploiting the female body to sell video games.

It’s also incredibly vital to understand the medium you are working with. Many tropes who otherwise would be super dissonant and off, can be classic tropes of the respective medium and expected to be there.

Take porn for example. The writing, bad dialogue, horrible acting, non-existent set design, exaggerated sex… all are super silly, dumb, laughable… but they are expected in porn. They do not clash with what porn is. There is no way you can lower production value low enough or write dialog dense enough to turn a porn film into a parody of porn.

In the same way, you cannot raise a body count high enough to turn a shooting game into a parody of shooter games or make a fighting game brutal enough to turn it into a parody of fighting games. Violence is expected in those types of games and therefore cannot be used to separate a game as satire.

Which brings us to…

Hyperbole

This is where it gets interesting, because this is what most defenses are based on. When sexism in video games crosses the necessary threshold to become undeniably obvious to the gaming public, apologists everywhere are quick to call it satire, because it’s so over the top, that it no longer can be taken seriously.

When it comes to sexism, racism, homophobia and any other bigotry or ideology, there are no statements, that are too hyperbolic. There is no limit to hateful rhetoric, you cannot shatter a ceiling here. Death threats, rape threats, threats of ETERNAL torment in hell, there is no way to turn that into satire, just by trying to be more extreme. Also no amount of humor or light hearted attitude diffuses the ideology behind the offensive jokes for a proponent. Humorous bigotry is still bigotry.

The things is, hyperbole as satire only clicks, if the creator of the hyperbole and the target audience both agree, that the mark is deserving of ridicule and both understand why. This needs trust. You can have this trust between peers, who know each other and know how to process it when one makes hyperbolic statements, which clash with shared values. Or you can be a media source, which is established to be a satirical source, so that every member of the audience knows how to read it.

Otherwise you are just making hyperbolic statements about something, which most proponents of that something are already doing all the fucking time. Pushing the envelope on hateful messaging is not satire.

Punch Up!

No matter if creators use dissonance and/or hyperbole in order to make fun of something, the direction they are punching in tells us if it is satire or just mean spirited humor.

When joking about any form of oppression out there, you need to make the oppressor the punchline, NOT the oppressed. When joking about any form of inequality, you need to make privileged people the butt of your joke, NOT the marginalized and disenfranchised.

Racist jokes are racists, homophobic jokes are homophobic, misogynistic jokes are misogynistic. Trying to be funny while punching down on people, does not absolve anyone from being a bigot.

In order to be punching up you either need to be part of the oppressed group yourself or you need to explicitly aim for the oppressors with the jokes you make and leave the oppressed group alone.

Like GTA5, there actually is satire in Duke Nukem Forever. But this satire has women as its mark and is therefore still misoygnistic. Like this swipe at the Olson twins here. Two sisters presented as incestuous sex objects, which later literally get raped to death by alines, while Duke Nukem cracks a joke about it. This is not how you punch up.

Like GTA5, there actually is satire in Duke Nukem Forever. But this satire has women as its mark and is therefore still misoygnistic. Like this swipe at the Olson twins here. Two sisters presented as incestuous sex objects, which later literally get raped to death by aliens, while Duke Nukem cracks a joke about it. This is not how you punch up.

NOPE!

This is where everything falls apart. EVERYTHING. If you ever have used claims of satire to defend a game against feminist criticism you shot your own foot.

You know what kind of game a game would be, when the sexist content in it would be used ironically to in fact punch up against gender inequality? It would be a feminist game per definition. You know what any game creator who would make a game like that would be? A feminist. You know who the target audience for that game would be? Other feminist.

You know who is really annoyed by all that feminist complaining? You know who would threaten feminist critics with rape, violence and death? You know who would call concerned women bitches, over-sensitive, on their period, stuck up, ugly, fake, incompetent or ask for a sandwich? You know who would use “feminist” as a derogatory term? Misogynists.

If you feel the need to defend games against feminism – either if you genuinely feel, that feminism is a problem or if you are just annoyed by it – how can you buy, play, enjoy and defend a game, that you say is feminist satire? How can you buy, play, enjoy and defend a game, that is feminist satire, if you genuinely feel, that feminism is a problem or if you are annoyed by it? See how you are biting your own ass here, GTA apologists?

Considering the huge amounts of people who feel like they need to defend GTA5 against feminists, the huge amount of misogynistic vile spilled allover message boards and comment sections and considering the huge amounts of people who actually enjoy the available misogynistic ingame activities of GTA5… …Rockstar either really really sucks at making satire or they genuinely think misogyny makes for a worthwhile gaming experience and proper advertising method.

And considering the fact, that Rockstar has yet to come out and publicly apologize for sucking at making satire, publicly acknowledge the damage they have done to feminists causes and yet to publicly ask everyone who is defending the game against feminism to kindly shut the fuck up… … It’s probably the latter.

oroboros

GTA5 is misogynistic

The fact that the game is viewed as in conflict with feminism – by feminist critics and clueless GTA defenders alike – makes it misogynistic by definition. And the fact that Rockstar isn’t doing anything to resolve that conflict shows that a truly misogynistic game is not clashing with their intended messaging.

If male game creators make and market a game with misogynistic content, and then let male gamers silence women who are concerned by the misogynistic content, then any argument trying to claim satire dies a quick but horrible death. Even worse if the creators engage in the silencing themselves.

Any supposed dissonance would have been too subtle to resonate. Any hyperbole became a shield against criticism, instead of being a catalyst for debate. Sexist content would have encouraged more sexist behavior.

Any supposed satire would have vanished into meaninglessness or never has been there in the first place. Satire is not just humor, it’s humorous criticism. There is no satire, no irony, no parody, when criticism is silenced.

Guys, we need to stop denying sexism when it’s ordinary and we need to stop denying sexism when it’s over the top. We need to stop being part of the problem. We need to let people talk. Otherwise we will continue to not get it.

Updates:

Gamespot has posted a nice reply video to the situation as well, also digging into the concept of satire and how that doesn’t apply to GTA5:

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