#OscarsSoWhite: Why We Need to Learn to Pick Our Battles

If you’ve read even a couple of my posts on this blog, then you’re probably aware that I’m a staunchly left-leaning “SJW”-type person. However, with that in mind, I am absolutely sick of the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy which has been dominating the news cycle for the last week. Initially I was fine with it – it is certainly odd that we haven’t had a non-white acting nominee in 2 straight years now, which is a situation which is certainly ripe for discussion. However, my problem is that the prevailing discussion soon turned towards the Academy itself being racist by not choosing any black actors, which is really straining things as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully, Mark Gollom posted this very good article on CBC which covers all of the things I have been pointing out since this story first broke. In light of this, I think it’s finally time for me to throw in my hat as well on this story.

First of all, it has to be said that the real “objective” importance of the Oscars is ridiculously overstated. It is certainly the most visible stage for film appraisal, but not winning or getting nominated is only really important for the financial incentives and exposure it provides. The “best” movies or actors in a given year is an incredibly subjective question, and I’m certain that the average moviegoer’s list would look absolutely nothing like what the Academy comes up with most years. The fact that Mad Max: Fury Road made the shortlist this year is nothing short of a minor miracle, as it doesn’t fit the “Oscar-bait” mold which most nominees must adhere to in order to stand a chance.

Furthermore, many deserving actors get snubbed every year and it always causes some kind of backlash. Will Smith and Michael B Jordan didn’t really have a lot of buzz going their way, especially in comparison to the actors who did make the extremely-limited slate. Furthermore, Idris Elba was never going to get nominated, and that is down to film-making politics – Beasts of No Nation is breaking the “established rules” of film distribution, so like TRON‘s visual effects snub, it was never going to be recognized by the Academy. Compared to last year, these aren’t shocking at all, unlike the lack of major recognition for Selma, which left me absolutely flabbergasted, especially considering that it had some of the most positive buzz going into the awards (not to mention that most of the Oscar-bait from that year totally floundered).

#OscarsSoWhite activists need to start looking at the bigger picture if they want to solve this issue. They can start by directing their criticisms at Hollywood’s movie studios, which is where I would argue this whole Oscars racism issue stems from. Think about it – we have a severe lack of non-white actors because Hollywood studios think that there will be financial repercussions if they cast a minority in any major roles. This isn’t some sort of conspiracy, it’s just an attitude which has created some major inequality throughout the entire industry. At this point, it’s so obvious that it is basically a no-brainer. From not casting black actors in lead roles because “foreign people are racist and it’ll affect our bottom-line”, to the disgustingly frequent practice of white-washing characters because studios refuse to finance a movie without a bankable cast. Furthermore, it is believed that Selma was overlooked, not because of Academy racism and favouritism, but because of a lack of promotion:

Selma’s studio, Paramount, had mailed free DVD screeners to Oscar voters — but not to guild voters. Which raises the possibility that, with Selma having opened so late in the season, maybe not enough voters have seen it yet.”

This is just another look behind the curtain at the subjective nature of the Oscars. How the heck did Paramount not think that Selma was a legitimate Best Picture contender?

The final big issue here is that Will Smith and Michael B Jordan’s “snubbed” performances are in the Best Actor category, which is widely regarded as being one of the most competitive categories in the entire awards ceremony. Due to traditional wisdom in Hollywood favouring male leads, there are basically always going to be tons of Best Actor candidates. Furthermore, with Hollywood preferring white male leads in general, we end up with less bankable non-white actors, meaning that it’s significantly harder for an actor to get to the status of being competitive enough to actually stand a chance of getting a Best Actor nomination. In general, this sort of systemic favouritism of white males not only screws minorities throughout their entire careers, but it also is a prime factor for why women have a harder time making it in Hollywood as well.

In general, I think that #OscarsSoWhite is on the right track – there is certainly some very obvious cases of systemic racism within the film industry. However, by directing their efforts at the Academy, activists are missing out on the real root of the problem. We need to see studios and agents more willing to take risks on non-white actors, more diverse screenplays and casting, and more of a concerted effort to actually tell the stories of other people. Furthermore, we as the public need to continue to support films which do try to take these sorts of risks – Hollywood might finally be starting to understand, but it is going to take a very long time before a strong stable of talent is fostered instead of getting passed over.

Unfortunately, due to the current public discourse, all people are going to remember of this incident was that black people were playing the “race card” again to try to get ahead, even though there were legitimate issues to discuss. This is why I’m always telling us SJW-types to “pick your battles” intelligently, because the causes that we choose to fight for are arguably just as important as the actual messages in terms of public perception. If we want more people to sympathize with our causes, then they need to realize that what we’re saying is correct, rather than give them some dumbed-down talking point that any troglodite can disprove.

The Rebuttal: Telekinetic Rape!

We’re starting up a new column here on IC2S (to go along with Quick Fixes, Retrospectives and Reviews) which I have decided to call “The Rebuttal”. I get a lot of stupid bullshit in my Facebook feed; I’m sure that you do as well. Sometimes however, we get something that is a new level of stupid though which can’t just be ignored – it needs to be corrected. That is where The Rebuttal comes in. Here, I will attempt to give a reasoned analysis of the post in question and hopefully dispel some of the ignorance it was fostering. Got it? Okay, let’s get started…

Oh look, feminism! Who would have guessed?

This was posted on a parody Facebook page called “Meninists” (sigh), and shared by a friend who thought that the 4chan reply was funny. Honestly, on a certain level the snarkiness of the reply is kind of funny, but that is only the case because of what the feminist wrote. Personally, I think that this is a great example of the issue of “not explaining yourself” and “picking your battles poorly” which I have suggested that fellow feminists should be careful of if they want to have a better public perception. Saying that “men can rape without laying a hand on a woman” isn’t one of those things that is going to get you to say “oh shit, maybe I do need feminism!”, but rather it’s going to raise a lot of eyebrows. At worst, it’s hyperbolic and trivializes “real” case of sexual violence. At best, it’s a poorly worded argument and weakens the definition of what constitutes “rape”. Personally I’m feeling that she tried to come up with something that would sound profound and compelling, but ended up wording things really poorly which made her look somewhat ridiculous.

That said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand what she meant. Women spend their lives being catcalled, objectified, pressured and threatened by men. I know that many women who go jogging are well aware that they get creepy men stalking them… and as a man, that’s horrifying. Most women live with the threat of rape hanging over their heads, whereas guys like me don’t really worry about it beyond “don’t take candy from strangers” when we’re little kids. This is demonstrated in the “only good rape joke” by Ever Mainard where she jokes about her relief at finally getting “her rape” which she has been warned about all her life. In any case, as badly worded as this feminist’s statement is, it should be pretty freaking obvious what they’re referring to, and not even all that controversial either.

It’s also worth noting that, by specifying that it is “men” who can do this, the feminist in question kind of ignores that this is a potential problem for both sexes. Obviously, rape is a MUCH more common problem for women, but of course men can be objectified and threatened as well.

That brings us to the other side of the issue. Someone obviously went and cherry-picked this picture and posted it to 4chan for maximum snark. By meme-ifying this image, it no longer becomes an opinion open for dissection, it becomes a case of “dude, check out how this feminist got PWNED!” It occurs to me that this is similar to how Merlynn132’s analysis of why there aren’t female characters in gaming was extremely troublesome, but throw in a stupid comment about how it’s the greatest thing on the Internet and suddenly it gains legitimacy and focuses the perception. That’s too bad, as I think that the original picture has plenty of room for reasoned discourse. What exactly is she trying to say? How are women subjected to sexual harassment in our society? Is her use of “rape” trivializing the more traditional definition of rape? Just how prevalent is sexual assault in society? There’s a plethora of dimensions to this.

…of course, instead the subscribers of the Meninist get to enjoy jokes about telekinetic rape. Umm… congratulations on having your world-view reinforced?

So… What’s the Point?

There’s a recurring argument which seems to occur within my family every couple months. Most recently it was triggered by Rajon Rondo’s anti-gay comments to a gay referee in an NBA game and his two subsequent non-apologies. On one side, the argument was being made that Rondo was being an asshole, but how was this different than player ribbing one another by making comments about their mothers/sisters? There was also the free speech argument being tossed around (even though this is a case where an employee is being punished by his employer because of a positive image that they want to project, not an opinion in the public forum). One particular party was also arguing that people are just too “soft” these days, love to complain about stupid bullshit and need to grow thicker skin (this party, for the record, is only 22 bloody years old). These comments did get me thinking though – when we SJW-types stand up and make a fuss about something, are we just doing so because we’re a bunch of cry babies? Are we doing anything productive? When I write about womens’ representation in pop culture, what am I actually trying to achieve? To put it as simply as possible: what’s the point?

Well let’s make one thing clear – for all of my feminist criticism, I don’t think that any one example of objectification is going to be the tipping point where someone becomes a misogynist. However, I’m not sure if that’s an excuse to go entirely the other way – in one of his videos, TotalBiscuit says that he doesn’t believe that video games cause real-life violence, so it would be hypocritical of him to believe that video games can cause misogyny. In my mind, this is not an equivalent analogy. Violence is something which our society looks down upon, whereas (if you’re a feminist at least) negative attitudes towards women are still quite prevalent – just look at a few of the things I have written here for some examples in “liberal” Hollywood. As a result, it would seem to me that examples of sexism are not the problem, but rather the social perceptions which they help to foster. Actually, Robert Evans put out a very interesting article on the mindsets of mass shooters while I was writing this post which helps illustrate the difference between causation and cultural perception.

Considering that pretty much all of western society has agreed that racism = bad, it’s probably best to demonstrate perception in that area. First of all, getting to the point where we could agree that racism was bad in the first place required a shift in social perception, which we’d all look back on and consider to be a good change, right? People also seem to be fairly familiar with examples of racism within culture: black guys are criminals, love fried chicken and have huge dicks, Asians are all geniuses with tiny dicks (it’s all about the dicks in racism), Muslims are women-hating savages, terrorists and have wild beards, etc. These sorts of things get passed around in our culture, but they are not necessarily true (and even if they are on a person-to-person basis, the fact that they colour our perceptions of a whole race is definitely problematic). I have seen this sort of mindset still persisting on white supremacy forums over this last week. This sort of hateful ideology must be stamped out and the only acceptable way to do so is through proper education and social dialogue.

Perceptions change over time. Islamophobia is not a thing which necessarily “is”, it is based on a perception that has developed based on the narratives put forth by various sources. For a non-SJW example, look at the Ebola panic last year. The American media threw people into a frenzy as they worried about whether this disease would come to America, go airborne and then kill millions of people… even though basically every expert agreed that there was basically no threat of an outbreak in America (not that they gave a shit about helping the 5000-10,000 people who died from the outbreaks in West Africa). Furthermore, before this story hit the news cycle, the public wasn’t worried at all about Ebola or pandemics, at least not since 2009’s Swine Flu “scare” anyway.

So how does all of this relate to blogging about Quiet’s sniper-stripper outfit then, for example? The point is quite simply to change the existing perception. Keeping it in the video game sphere, I have stated numerous times in the past that the status quo for female representation is to objectify, to damsel or to fridge them. By blogging about such representations and drawing attention to them, combined with all of the other feminists who are doing the same, we hope to create a shift in the social perception. The same can be said in other areas where people have been questioning why people even care – from sexual harassment in the military, to Black Lives Matter, to Caitlyn Jenner becoming the face of trans-rights. We are creating a dialogue by questioning the status quo. After all, if we did not speak up about an issue, the issue would never change.

The secondary consideration is that a change in perception will also (hopefully) lead to more diversity. If the status quo is never questioned, then most of our media will never even think to try something different. This is why so many video game protagonists have been white males, especially in the past console generation. Diversity also means that certain “negative” portrayals can also be totally acceptable. For example, in an early post on the blog, I questioned why it was wrong to objectify women, but men were fair game (eg, the Wolfpack in Twilight, Magic Mike, etc). I have come to realize that objectification is not inherently the issue here, but rather that women have been disproportionately objectified for decades. As a result, we need to rein back the objectification and make it more egalitarian. This is also why most SJW-types don’t give a shit about DOAX3 or Pirahna 3D, these are experiences which are really obviously little more than a softcore fantasy with a very limited audience. Conversely, The Phantom Pain‘s Quiet is problematic as she is the sole female character in an otherwise-serious, high-profile release who is dressed very inappropriately for her supposed role.

With all of this in mind, I don’t think my criticisms are going to suddenly turn you into a feminist/progressive Christian/etc either. However, my hope with this blog is that I can help push you in that direction, little by little. After all, that’s how I ended up where I am now in basically every walk of my life. Very few people just radically change in one instance, it took me years to understand why we still needed feminism, that dogmatic evangelicalism was killing my Christian faith and that I should value other people rather than being a self-interested prick. Just remember to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to other peoples’ opinions.

Postscript: I have this article scheduled to post within 2 and a half hours, but even in that time new supplementary material has presented itself which I felt that I must share. The article from To Do Justice on the Patheos network lambastes Christian misogyny, along with our culture’s casual sexism which stems from the perceptions of what is acceptable. Even if you think that binding and gagging women and saying “Peace on Earth” is “just a joke, don’t take it so seriously”, you have to admit that it is both an extremely tired joke and in really poor taste (you bound your freaking little daughters’ mouths as well!?!?!).

SJWs Part 2: Xtreme Beach Volleyball

Depending on how much attention you pay to gaming news, you might have heard about the latest controversy to engulf SJWs. Koei-Tecmo’s refusal to release Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 outside of Asia has created a torrent of ill-will, the ferocity of which is hard to fathom. So how about those SJWs, amiright? Taking away our erotic volleyball matches and cartoonish breast physics! Well… the I think that the truth is far more complicated than the prevailing voices in this controversy would have you believe.

First off, I need to make one thing clear: unlike most people on either side of this controversy, I am actually a fan of the Dead or Alive games. I bought 3 different DOA games in the past couple years. I have actually played one of the Xtreme spin-offs. I follow Tecmo’s Facebook page, meaning that I actually got to see the progression of this controversy. I also have been mulling over a blog post about how the DOA franchise actually has some very positive and progressive elements about it for the better part of a year now. Hell, I even thought the DOA movie was a hell of a lot of fun. If there’s someone qualified to comment not only on this controversy but also on the DOA games themselves, then I think I’d certainly fit the bill as a reasonably educated party.

Hitomi is my fav! <3 I also really like Momiji and Ayane though, probably because I got into the series through Ninja Gaiden.

With that in mind, let’s look at how this controversy game about. From its very announcement, it was obvious that Koei-Tecmo was targeting the Asian market with DOAX3. They had a character poll to determine which girls would make the cut, and it was only open to Asian voters. Furthermore, while they did leave some possibility of a western release, they iterated during its reveal and all subsequent marketing that the game was going to release in Asian territories only. There was certainly some complaining and disappointment among people interested in the franchise (not to mention a petition to drum up interest in a Western release), but it was fairly muted and there was an assumption that these fans would just import it or create a Japanese PSN account to play it.

So what were SJW-types saying during all of this? Honestly, very little. When the game was announced, there was the expected head-shaking and “oh look, another one of these games are coming out”, but that’s more or less where the media coverage began and ended. There were no calls to ban the game or anything like that. This was not another Hatred-level controversy – people just didn’t care.

Context: you should learn it.

The problems began when someone asked why the game wasn’t coming to North America on the “Dead or Alive Game” Facebook page. A Koei-Tecmo employee responded with:

“Do you know many issues happening in video game industry with regard to how to treat female in video game industry? We do not want to talk those things here. But certainly we have gone through in last year or two to come to our decision. Thank you.”

Obviously, this is a pretty poorly-translated response which makes it hard to discern the exact meaning. However, based on what is there, I can actually understand why people would assume that the comments meant “SJWs took away your bewbs!” There also seems to be an undercurrent of wanting to avoid controversy in these words. However, it’s hard to be sure how seriously to take this, between the bad translation and the fact that Koei-Tecmo have since put out an official statement distancing themselves from this post (albeit, one which is extremely non-committal and unenlightening).

Even then, things still didn’t truly blow up until almost a week later when PlayAsia threw in their own 2 cents. Looking to get some sweet, sweet controversy dollars, they put out the following tweet:

“#DOAX3 will not be coming to the US due to #SJW nonsense. However, we will have the English Asia version available”

At that point, the floodgates absolutely poured open as DOAX3‘s lack of localization was no longer a point of consternation for what few fans of the series existed – it was now a political battlefield because damn those SJWs for taking away games that I never even planned on buying!

Oh, and by the way, during all of this SJW were still saying “guys, we don’t care about DOAX3, Koei-Tecmo can release it if they want to and you can play it if you want to as well”. There were no calls to get the game banned, meaning that all of this “SJW nonsense” was merely an accusation or a scapegoat rather than something which was actually happening. However, there was one troubling response which helped to fan the flames of the controversy. Likely in response to PlayAsia’s attempt to bait anti-SJW-types by creating another wave of controversy, a former IGN employee “Carolyn Velociraptor” tweeted that they had industry connections with PlayAsia who would be boycotting the company. This sort of strong-arming was obviously the wrong approach and just gave the anti-SJW crowd more things to complain about. Look, I’m not going to Carolyn Velociraptor’s actions here because they were ineffective, thuggish and out of step with the average SJW’s position on the whole controversy. If you have a problem with her response then that’s fair enough, but don’t think that this is concrete evidence of your crackpot SJW conspiracy theory.

Dammit Anita, we were so close!!!

Normally, when a controversy like this happens, it stems from the actions of one extreme individual or from some stupid action which ends up colouring the whole group as a result. For an opposing example, think of how feminists were shouting down all MRAs for the comments of a single blog poster who thought that Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be propaganda. Normally this is how these kinds of controversies come about, but this case is a little more interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it stemmed from the poorly-translated and unsubstantiated words of a single community manager, which were then passed on with the “SJW” hashtag thrown on to foster controversy. Secondly, we see that the hate for SJWs has hit such a boiling point that people will oppose them just based on principle. By and large, non-fans of the DOAX games didn’t give a shit about the franchise until someone publicly associated it with SJWs, at which point it became volatile as all hell. Thirdly, it demonstrates that “SJWs” and their actions are defined by those who are opposed to them. SJWs got our game banned! Oh wait, they didn’t actually do anything of the sort? That doesn’t matter, SJWs have created an environment which kept the game from being localized! When you have control over the label, it becomes… er… “xtremely” difficult to prove or disprove these sorts of grand assertions that have made up the bulk of the controversy – in the anti-SJW ideology, they already believe that they’re right and can spread the hate amongst themselves easily.

When it comes down to it, the SJW argument just seems to be incredibly overblown, especially when compared to the economic factors. Despite what the controversy would have you believe, DOAX is a niche spin-off of a second-tier fighting game, a relatively mediocre sales history at best, subject to poor reception in the West and hasn’t seen a proper sequel in almost 10 years. The fact that they’re even bothering to make another DOAX game is shocking enough to me, but the decision to not localize it actually does make some economic sense.

First of all, let’s look at some of the realities of game localization. There’s a pretty interesting thread on Reddit which has some info on the costs associated with it, from which I pulled this quote:

“Some publishers like releasing niche games in the west and such, but remember this is the industry obsessed with low risk-huge sales formula. 10-100k sales in the west even if localisation cost a fraction of what you earned or just reclaimed it’s budget? Fuck no, too few. 300-500k sales are more like it for a niche game in eyes of big publisher. That’s why we don’t see Yakuza 5 localization from Sega. These games just don’t sell a hundreds thousands copies.”

Koei-Tecmo is a relatively small publisher whose focus is clearly on the Japanese market – most of their games don’t even get an international release at all. As a result, they don’t really have a ton of money to throw around on a release that won’t earn them much of a return, especially with the rising costs of development, distribution and (especially) marketing. You also need to keep the market potential in mind – in Japan, hyper-sexualized voyeur minigames are far more economically viable than they are in North America. This isn’t necessarily a consequence of SJWs destroying the market, it’s just because we as North Americans aren’t all that interested in beach and pool party minigames, we want action, shooters and other traditional genres (such as RPGs, platformers, sports games, etc). In fact, I think this might have actually been what the Koei-Tecmo community might have been referring to in that fateful Facebook post. Is it so hard to believe that these comments might mean “the west has different views on female sexuality, which I believe make voyeur minigames and dating sims economically unviable”? I mean, if you’re freaking out about DOAX3, how many games like this have you picked up over the years? Perhaps the market might be more welcoming if we were exposed to a more diverse assortment of game types…

Hardcoregamer has some pretty interesting stats on the DOAX games’ sales figures and how small the North American market share is compared to Japan:

“According to VGChartz, 2003’s Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball has sold 0.59 million copies worldwide to date. Here’s the breakdown by territory:
North America: 0.36 million
Japan: 0.14 million
Europe: 0.08 million
Rest of the world: 0.02 million
By the time we get to 2006’s Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, the numbers drop precipitously. Xtreme 2 has sold just 0.25 million worldwide to date, less than half of what Xtreme Beach Volleyball sold. The ratios by territory are roughly the same, but the numbers are much lower for each.
At first glance, you’d think that means that North America is the obvious market for the game. After all, it sold more, right? Well, take a moment to consider that while Japan is a single country of 145,000 square miles and 126 million people, North America is an entire continent of nearly 10 million square miles, made up of 23 different countries and has a population of 565 million people. Simply put, it costs a lot more to market and distribute a game in North America than it does in Japan; it’s not a 1:1 comparison of sales figures.”

This is why I’m surprised that the game is being made at all. If the North American market wasn’t there back when the original DOAX games were released, how much worse will it be now? To get an idea, I used VGChartz to look into the sales of the most recent game in the DOA franchise, Dead or Alive 5. After I added up the sales of the 4 separate releases this game has gotten on various consoles, we end up with a rough worldwide aggregation of around 1.15 million copies sold. Looking at the regional breakdowns, the North American sales are usually only slightly more or slightly less than the Japanese sales, but considering the costs of localization and the much wider distribution that is required to actually give the game a chance of selling, this is pretty wretched. If you factor in the fact that the DOAX games tend to sell even less worldwide, then the economic prospects for a worldwide release of DOAX3 looks pretty grim for Koei-Tecmo. As a result, it actually makes some sense to release it in only one territory, go through certification and distribution expenses only once, focus your marketing, allow those who are interested in the game to buy it via import and, yes, avoid any potential criticism that might come its way, if that’s really something they care about.

With all the economic factors which are almost certainly the primary issue with the game not receiving localization, can we really pin any blame on “SJWs” for Koei-Tecmo’s decision not to release? Perhaps, but I’m really not convinced. For one thing, I can’t recall the last time there was a major feminist outcry about a video game since Dragon’s Crown. Anything since then has basically boiled down to criticism, which is something that you just have to deal with if you’re going to put out a piece of art. On the other side of the coin, you didn’t see Anita Sarkeesian stop her video game tropes series over the criticism she received, which was significantly harsher than anything that has ever been said about the DOA franchise. If she can stick to her guns and put out a product she believes in, I have a hard time believing that Koei-Tecmo can’t, especially if there’s a significant amount of money to be made.

If Koei-Tecmo were concerned about the opinions of SJWs, then why would they have released Dead or Alive 5: Last Round just this past year? In this release, they doubled-down on the fan service by adding Honoka, easily their… er… “biggest”* slice of fan service ever. Even with Honoka, DOA5:LR really didn’t make much of a splash amongst the SJW-crowd, who basically just shrugged their shoulders as they have with DOAX3 (and DOA5:LR even received reasonably good reviews which were more critical of it being a cash grab than anything else). If Koei-Tecmo were truly concerned about SJW backlash, then I doubt that they would have put out DOA5:LR in the first place, or especially made it “sexier” than ever.

Which brings me to my final, and definitely most important, point: guys, please stop freaking out about this game. I can guarantee you that DOAX3 is not worth your outrage. I seriously question how many of these angry people have actually played a DOAX game, because they are utter shit. For a laugh, I tried out Dead or Alive Paradise, and it was absolutely wretched. If all you wanted to do is oogle girls in bikinis, you should realize that that is barely a feature in the game. Most of what you do is boring menu-based busywork until you decide to play a minigame for about 30 seconds. It has more in common with dating games than you would expect. Now obviously there is a certain niche market for that kind of game, which is fine, but I doubt that they’re the ones doing the bulk of the complaining here. The extremely creepy tone and general pervy-ness are just a veneer over a husk of a game which very quickly goes sour. At least the DOA fighting games are build upon great game mechanics which make them very fun in their own right, even if you aren’t interested in the voyeurism. DOAX lacks that though and ends up being nothing more than sexploitation in the same vein as such esteemed “classics” as Bubble Bath Babes or one of those pornographic Tetris machines you see in the especially seedy bars.

As if that wasn’t enough, Koei-Tecmo have demonstrated through DOA5:LR that DOAX3 is going to be packed full of many of the corporate practices that gamers have been rallying against for years now. If your favourite part of the old DOAX games was unlocking all the skimpy bikinis then prepare to be disappointed – DOAX3 is going to be a DLC factory. Every re-release of DOA5 has been packed with a glut of DLC. DOA5:LR alone had over $200 worth of DLC available on day 1!!! Want to know what’s even worse? A significant portion of that (around $90 worth) was already on the disc and available in previous releases of the game as DLC. Usually when you put out an enhanced re-release, you pack all of the content that was available in the previous release, not sell it to everyone again…

Arguably the absolute worst offense they have committed though is releasing a $90 season pass… which literally was good for only a few months of mediocre costumes. Without warning, they launched a second season pass for the next year of content for the exact same price, meaning that super-dedicated fans of the franchise can be looking at upwards of $240+ to get the “full” experience of a game which came out years ago. Koei Tecmo is just taking the piss and this is almost certainly going to carry over into DOAX3. Oh, and all of those characters who failed to make the cut for the game, including such main characters as Tina Armstrong and Lei Fang? They’ll almost certainly be added in as DLC in the future as well.

After all of this controversy though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Koei Tecmo relents and announces in the next couple months that they’ll release the game exclusively via PSN and Xbox Live. Anti-SJWs will declare it a victory for free speech, while SJWs will just continue to sigh, shrug their shoulders and not care. Personally, there seems to be room for games like DOAX3, similarly to how we can have movies like Piranha 3D and Magic Mike. At this point, we’re more concerned about female representation in AAA games like Watch_Dogs and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, rather than the business of softcore porn fantasies. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this controversy, here’s where I would direct you: Koei Tecmo. If they really are being strong armed by us nasty SJW-types, then they should just have the balls to stick to their guns and trust the market.

And anyway, if they don’t release it in North America after all, then that’s what Rule 34 is for, right?

*Man, I’m really killing it with the puns today.

SJWs Part 1: Warriors, Come Out to Plaaaaay!

The amount of hate out there for SJWs at the moment is insane. I haven’t seen this much vitriol directed at a social group since around 2010 when “hipster hate” was just beginning to hit its stride. The backlash against SJWs has been playing out quite visibly lately, which has made me feel a need to put out a more comprehensive post on it than I have in the past. I had originally intended to put up one big piece on the current situation, but it ended up being really sprawling and incoherent, which has prompted me to split this into two parts. In this part, I’m going to try to unpack some of the issues people have against SJWs, while also pointing out some of my own criticisms about both sides of the divide. If you’re reading this on the publication date then be sure to come back in a couple days for my response to one of the current controversies that SJWs have been dragged into and some conclusions on the matter.

The cynical viewpoint… about half of these were cherry-picked from less-important titles and a couple of them are actually player customizable. It is emblematic of a the wider problem though when you consider that these are just game heroes from around 2005-2010.

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Believe it or not, it is actually harder to define what an “SJW” is than you would expect. This is mainly because it is an insult thrown around by people who disagree with people advocating social justice causes. Naturally, I like the Rational Wiki’s definition which claims that it is “used primarily by right-wingers on the internet […] to describe liberals, progressives, feminists, and supporters of political correctness. The term is used to insinuate pretense and to label opponents as disingenuous people engaging in social justice arguments to raise their personal reputation”.  In many ways, this makes it seem to be similar to the “check your privilege” phrase used by some of the shittier SJW-types to shut down opponents without actually engaging them.

On a more neutral note, Know Your Meme has a brief article about the rise of social justice blogging (basically the source of SJWs as a group) and has some very fair criticisms of the movement. They state that “the group has been criticized for propagating unreliable information and espousing slacktivism and herd mentality, as reflected in the pejorative term ‘social justice warriors'”. That said, they acknowledge that “the influence of online activism on public opinion has grown significantly with the emergence of social justice bloggers”, meaning that these “armchair activists” are actually contributing to social change and aren’t as useless as your average flash-in-the-pan online outrage (anyone remember Cecil the Lion?).

Now to be fair to the anti-SJW side, I have also looked into the definition posited by Encyclopedia Dramatica… which, if you’ve ever been there, is about what you would expect. If you are curious about the mindset of someone who is against social causes, filtered through the voice of an angry, sarcastic teenager, then Encyclopedia Dramatica puts forth a very informative sketch of what you can expect anti-SJWs to think. This also helps to show why the term is so hard to nail down, because anti-SJWs range from people who just don’t care about social justice causes to full-on misogynists, Dugger-style proponents of patriarchy, racists and the like – in such an environment, “people I don’t agree with” can vary significantly.

That brings us towards the heart of the issue though. The big disconnect between “SJWs” and the people going around calling them “SJWs” is a difference in worldview (the ol’ ideological divide which has popped up on this blog many times in the past). Specifically, that SJWs are interested in advancing various causes, whereas their opponents don’t feel the need to change their worldview, could care less about social causes (or are actively opposed to such a thing) and want SJWs to shut the hell up. Obviously, “SJWs” are not the ones who came up with this label, nor are they the ones who affix it to people. This make it more difficult to properly pin down what makes a SJW. After all, a feminist will self-identify as a feminist based on their belief, whereas a SJW is defined by a third-party opinion as a reductive label. In many cases, there seems to be a strong vein of left vs right politics in the arguments – traditionally, the left tends to advocate for social justice for marginalized groups, whereas the right tends to want to maintain the status quo and are averse to change. Obviously, this isn’t always the case (I happen to know some moderately left-leaning individuals who tend to clash with SJW ideas), but it does give a general idea of how the lines are drawn.

I also feel that I need to say that I have always felt that “social justice warrior” is a pretty wretched blanket term for socially conscious people. Whenever I see or hear someone using this term in a serious manner to describe a group of people, it makes me cringe. I understand that there’s supposed to be a certain amount of sarcasm to it, but I think anyone who actually could be called a “social justice warrior” would see it as anything but insulting. I actually like that the Rational Wiki points this out, with many probable-SJWs (myself included) “reclaiming” the term and self-identifying with it, making it into a label of pride and robbing it of its intended power. That said, it is also just horribly unspecific, covering the causes of gender relations, LGBTQ rights, racism and ableism, amongst other things under one umbrella. Considering that there are already sub-factions and differing opinions within each of these movements, it makes SJW an extremely useless and potentially ignorant term.

It’s also worth pointing out that SJW is a term that is almost inextricably linked with video gaming. It seems to have its roots in Tumblr blogging about various social causes within the wider culture, but it really became a mainstream term thanks to feminism and LGBTQ voices that have cropped up in gaming within the last few years and the resulting backlash. As a result, I’m mainly going to focus on the SJW label within video games, but it is worth remembering that it can apply to a much wider cultural context as well (although with considerably less backlash in those areas).

The wishful thinker. When you think “video game protagonists”, many of the “diverse” options on display here are from unsuccessful or only moderately-successful, non-AAA games (eg, Gravity Rush, Brutal Legend, Rayman Legends, Guacamelee!, etc). This means that, again, the meme-creator was cherry-picking hardcore.

As much as I am obviously ideologically biased in favour of SJWs, I don’t think that they are perfect by any means and certainly have their flaws. For one thing, a lot of backlash against SJWs seems to stem from an exhaustion of activists constantly pointing out flaws in society and media. Considering that one of the main breeding grounds of SJWs, Tumblr, is seen as “the place where teenagers go to air their causes”, I can see how this would happen. In such an environment, social justice activism will often be reactionary and poorly educated as posts go viral, not unlike the shitty, unreliable image macros that make their way around Facebook. This sort of social justice activist is also responsible for such irritating argument-enders as “check your privilege” – a phrase which, while perhaps true, is extremely uninformative and only serves to jerk off the ego of person spouting it rather than actually inform the person they’re arguing with that they may have been brought up in an advantageous environment. To such individuals, I would suggest that they need to learn how to pick their fights, write more eloquently and try to avoid sounding frivolous.

Let’s be honest as well, as much as we decry the death threats, doxxing and other strong-arm tactics employed by anti-SJWs, these tactics are also employed at times by misguided SJWs who haven’t heard of the “moral high ground”. Let me make this clear – I don’t give a shit which side of the ideological line you place yourself, if you’re utilizing terrorist tactics to try to get your point across, you’re an utter asshole.

This segues into the next point though, that the group is defined by its worst constituent parts. This applies equally to SJWs and anti-SJWs. I am trying to keep my words in general terms throughout this post, because there probably are some SJWs who want to see everything they dislike get banned and maybe even a few who are radical feminists or full-on misandrists. However, in all of my experiences within a culture which would certainly be considered “pro-SJW”, I haven’t seen anything of the sort and they do not have a prominent voice in the culture of the various SJW groups. Most of us are reasonable people, so long as you have the presence of mind to consider “someone who disagrees with me” reasonable, and are just acting out of a belief that our actions will be more beneficial to others in the long run. Whether you agree with the details of that assertion is your own business, but if you’re one of those people who thinks that liberalism is a mental illness or that SJWs are just trying to get into womens’ pants (an assertion which says more about the accuser than the accused in my opinion), then you’re being disingenuous.

Similarly, many anti-SJWs aren’t MRAs, misogynists and crazy conservatives as they are often portrayed to be. As I wrote earlier, I know some people who at least seem to be rather anti-SJW, but this seems to stem entirely from their negative interactions with SJW-types. I was hanging out with these friends on the weekend and one of them said that he had been accused of being an “ableist” because he didn’t have a problem with movies using able-bodied actors to portray people with disabilities. Throwing around such labels isn’t exactly conducive to a dialogue, especially when they had a pretty damn reasonable argument to begin with (you can’t exactly get a severely autistic person to portray such a character on film, for example, nor can you get a paralyzed individual to portray someone who is seen walking elsewhere in the film). I also have a brother in the Canadian Forces who is strongly opposed to “keyboard warriors”. With the Canadian Forces starting to crack down on sexual harassment, he has been whining about how bullshit these policies are. In my opinion, these complaints stem from a self-centered aversion to change, as he has expressed many complaints about how he’s sick of hearing about how everyone else wants things to change – it’s not the arguments that aren’t swaying him, it’s just the fact that some people have the audacity to want things to be different and a rather ridiculous expectation that this might work out for him. In both of these cases, the individuals in question are not crazy, regressive individuals – they are just normal people like you and I who have different priorities and experiences which have coloured their interactions with the SJW crowd. We should keep their kind in mind when we attempt to spread our ideology.

No discussion of the “bad apples” would be complete without Anita Sarkeesian though. To the anti-SJW crowd, Anita Sarkeesian is The Devil. It’s hard to go through an argument about feminism in gaming without having her name pop up and driven into the ground as they decry what an awful person she is (and I have literally seen people say that she is the absolute worst person they can think of). With all the shit she gets, she is basically seen as the face of feminism in gaming… by the anti-SJW crowd anyway. The fact of the matter is that most feminists don’t seem to actually care all that much about Anita Sarkeesian (myself included). I think you’ll find a general acceptance of her basic points and some respect for her attempts to further feminism in gaming, but from everything I have seen, your average feminist could care less about her opinions and even criticize her for some extreme views and for her inaccurate, cherry-picked examples. The only reason that she has any sort of clout at all is because:

  1. She receives a disproportionately severe amount of abuse and harassment.
  2. Anti-feminists won’t shut the hell up about her, keeping her in the public consciousness.
The realist. This is probably the most accurate (if somewhat outdated) distillation of  major video game protagonists, but even then you’ll notice that there’s only 1 woman represented (although, to be fair, Samus could have easily made the list as well, not that that would make a real difference).

I can’t really speak for the other side, but I feel that a lot of hate against SJWs comes from a lack of understanding of their positions. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine tried to make a joke about how SJWs are trying to boycott Starbucks coffee because they don’t have “Merry Christmas” on their cups. Myself and a couple friends respectfully let him know that that is not an SJW cause, to which he replied that he had been put under the impression that it was something that they cared about. This friend has complained about how much he dislikes SJWs in the past, but this revealed that he really has no idea what SJWs actually stand for. Obviously this is anecdotal and speculative, but it does help paint the picture that there is a good deal of ignorance being fostered and used to fan the flames of the conflict. For another example, the Encyclopedia Dramatica definition claimed that SJWs “are currently the biggest hindrance to the arts, and are overall a cancer to society that needs to be put down”. Obviously, this is a completely idiotic claim (I’d say that mass market homogenization, lack of funding for artists, studio-enforced censorship, etc are all far worse for the arts), but it does show a lack of understanding of the driving ideology behind SJWs and the “destructive” power that people seem to think that they wield.

Just a couple weeks ago, I made a blog post about how feminism has been gaining influence within gaming in the last few years and how it has positively impacting female representations. Since I don’t want to repeat myself too much, put simply representations of women in gaming have often been ridiculously objectified or marginalized, if not completely absent, since games were traditionally marketed towards a young, white, male audience. However, since feminist and LGBTQ commenters have begun to receive a voice in gaming culture, we have seen strides made in their representations (Mass EffectSaints Row, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, etc are some of the quality experiences which have been positively impacted by these efforts). Other SJW-types have begun speaking up as well, and we’ve even seen PlayStation implement control remapping on PS4 to allow greater accessibility for people with disabilities.

Now, just the simple act of writing about this is enough to have some people frothing at the mouth, but if that is the case then they’re probably missing a key point of context which runs through most social justice commenters: they generally aren’t calling for flat-out bans or censorship on things that they find objectionable. This is a point I have hammered home in the past whenever I write about feminism and pop culture. For example, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is one of my all-time favourite games, and it ticks off pretty much every negative female portrayal trope in video games. Would it utterly ruin the game if Rachel, our supposed action heroine sidekick, wasn’t dressed in stripper/bondage gear? Did she need to be rescued by Ryu on two separate occasions, despite the fact that she’s hyped up as a badass demon hunter and gets to do a far bit of ass-kicking in the Sigma rerelease? Asking for this sort of consideration isn’t a call for censorship, it’s a demand for better writing. Damseling the main female character and then giving them enormous boobs is probably not a key artistic choice, but it is extremely lazy writing and artistic direction used to shuffle the player from place to place and is directed at the lowest common denominator in the male demographic. Is it so bad for us to hold game writers to a higher standard, to think of the wide variety of audiences that are going to consume their product, or at least to make them consider their choices when they choose to use a trope? Or what about the glut of games on the market with white, straight, male characters in their lead roles? That said, I still love the Ninja Gaiden games, but I just think that they could be improved if they weren’t so juvenile in their approach to female sexuality and could stand to make their “badass” female characters more than MacGuffins in need of rescue (now much an uproar would there be if Ayane, Rachel or Momiji had to spend a good deal of a Ninja Gaiden game rescuing Ryu Hayabusa?). If that’s enough for you to still think that social justice-based criticism is nothing more than censorship, then maybe you should reevaluate whether “censorship” is such a bad thing after all, or whether you are just opposed to “censorship” as an concept.

Put simply, SJWs want gaming to become more of an even playing field which is directed at everyone, not just the young, white males that are generally the assumed demographic. As I have said, strides have been made in the past few years and we have begun to see developers respond with new IPs and sequels with better representation in them (such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate). I have a feeling that those who push against this often just don’t care about SJW-causes, are sick of hearing about them and are afraid that they might somehow make games worse. In response to this, I will put forth this great little quote I found by Kelly Flatley on Link Saves Zelda:

“It doesn’t stop there either as these people also disregard the push for equality of race and sexual orientation in games because “who cares?” I typically see this type of argument placed before me by white, straight, cisgendered males. I know it’s hard for some people to see the other side when they have privilege. […] Take a step back and realize that simply because your demographic is most often represented in games doesn’t mean that other people’s demographics shouldn’t be recognized because ‘oh well, I got mine’.”

What this quote demonstrates for me is that people need to broaden their horizons and realize that other types of people like the same things that they do. If you’re apathetic to SJW-causes, then you shouldn’t be opposed to more female representation, right? You also shouldn’t be surprised that those who are interested in female representation are advocating for it. Maintaining the status quo isn’t the neutral choice, it’s giving the middle finger to tons of people who would like to see it improved. Think about transgender rights for example. Up until a year or two ago, I had some pretty poor views on trans people just because I knew basically nothing about them. They got absolutely no representation in media outside of being the butt of jokes. When a person I knew from school had gender reassignment surgery, I made the (idiotic, in hindsight) observation that it felt like I had walked into some sort of sitcom because I had never been faced with this sort of thing actually happening. However, with the lives and stories of trans people becoming more and more visible in society, I have become aware of a whole kind of experience which I had never even thought about before. What this all says to me is if you’re just annoyed that people won’t shut up about things that you don’t care about, then they aren’t the problem, you are.

SJWs don’t necessarily want to take away you stuff, they just want there to be media that acknowledges them as well. There will, after all, always been macho shooter games and there even is a place for fan service and objectification to some degree – it just requires some balancing out.

Well what about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 you might ask? Didn’t the SJWs get this game banned? If you did think of this, then I’m glad because that is what we’re going to be covering in Part 2…

Circular Logic (aka, Let’s Blame the Feminists for Gaming Sexism)

So recently my morning started off in fantastic fashion as one of my friends on Facebook shared a forum post by Merlynn132 which blamed feminists for the issues with female representation in video games (click on the picture for the full-sized image):

Now admittedly, I actually found this guy’s points to be quite interesting at first glance and there may actually be some kernels of wisdom in here. However, the more I thought about the points that he was actually making, the more I realized that his argument is fundamentally flawed and falls apart under just a little scrutiny. So you know what time it is then, good reader: it’s time for yet another I Choose to Stand feminism post!

One big disclaimer before we move on though. I get the distinct feeling that Merlyn132 is directing some of these criticism specifically towards Anita Sarkeesian, but unfortunately its context has been removed to make it “shareable”. Admittedly, I haven’t looked into Sarkeesian’s criticisms myself, although I have found some of her examples to be at least somewhat suspect. If this post is intended to be a direct response to specific criticisms that Sarkeesian has made, then that’s fair enough (I would still disagree with its ultimate conclusion, but I could at least get behind some of its points). However, the tone and body of the post is written in such a way that it ends up being directed at feminism in general, which makes it fair game for a general response as far as I’m concerned. The lack of overall context for the post is unfortunate, so be sure to keep that in mind as the reality of the original post may somehow be shifted if we could see the whole conversation it was a part of.

As usual with this kind of criticism, Merlynn132’s first problem seems to be a lack of understanding of what feminists are actually campaigning for. His critique opens up with a statement that female characters aren’t allowed to have negative traits or feminists will cry out “sexism”. This could actually be the case with Sarkeesian based on some of the examples that I have heard her use for Feminist Frequency, but even that could be a misunderstanding of her intent when using these examples. As I have written previously, these examples are likely not intended to be blanket moratoriums, but rather ways to make writers make more deliberate choices when they write characters and to avoid lazy stereotypes (such as objectification, sexual violence for shock value or the desire to “fridge” a female character to give the male lead a motivation). An example of this in action would be the Tomb Raider games. Critics (not just including feminists) complained for a long time about how ridiculous Lara Croft’s boobs were, for good reason. However, they also praised Lara Croft for being a great character, in spite of the game constantly sexualizing her. Consequently, when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider series, their much more realistically-proportioned Lara Croft was praised as she was still a very interesting character with a much less garish visual design to go along with it. Despite what Merlynn132 would suggest, this actually earned Crystal Dynamics two separate purchases of the game from me (not to mention that I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the Xbox One’s exclusivity deal on Rise of the Tomb Raider, whereas before I wouldn’t have even looked twice at a Tomb Raider game). All of this is comes down to Crystal Dynamics deciding to listen to their critics and making a better product for it.

Let’s tackle Merlynn132’s assertion directly though, that women can’t have a negative trait or it will be deemed sexism. Merlynn132’s own examples are less-interested in physical traits and more in reference to their character, so we’ll leave objectification out of this. I’ll address his second example first because it is just flat out wrong. He claims that women aren’t allowed to be mentally unhinged as they walk across a hellish battlefield, but this is just not true. Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot is made far more interesting as she feels remorse as she is forced to kill for the first time (although the gameplay-narrative dissonance in this aspect is annoying admittedly). I also just replayed Metal Gear Solid for my upcoming retrospective series, and found Meryl Silverburgh’s admission that killing for the first time made her not want to be a soldier anymore to be a fantastic character moment. If anything, I find it offensive that more men aren’t given this sort of treatment, as most big shooters just force you to stupidly mow down hundreds of enemies like a psychopath (with the Uncharted series being one of the most egregious offenders in this regard).

The first example that Merlynn132 gives is that men are allowed to be lecherous drunks, but women are not, because “sexism”. “Sexualizing women and what all” as he puts it. This is an example that I can actually see possibly happening, but the context of the character is probably the most important part in whether it will be accepted or not. Does her character start and stop at “lecherous drunk”, or does she have some actual depth? Are they a main character? Or are they background dressing that exists just to give the player something to ogle at? Such considerations make all the difference in this sort of situation, as there is no quick-and-easy answer. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s a contextual difference as well, since men are rarely sexualized in video games whereas women are quite frequently. Since it’s so prevalent for women to be reduced to sex objects, it can come across as very lazy if you put in a lecherous drunk background character unless you’re being very deliberate when doing so. Think of it this way: if I made a white character who loves watermelon and picks cotton, it would be fine. However, if that character was instead black, it would obviously be ridiculously offensive. This is because meanings change based on the contexts that they are placed within, so you have to be aware when you’re falling into a stereotype and, if you are aware, you have to have good reason for doing so.

Merlynn132’s third example revolves around a theoretical situation where Guybrush Threepwood is replaced with a female protagonist in Escape From Monkey Island. He is convinced that “Galwood” would never be allowed because she would be a cowardly, weak and socially awkward character hated by everyone around her. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that this would cause a feminist uproar or even be considered sexist for that matter (depending on how the game handles these elements in a female context, as I said before). For one thing, this sort of character actually sounds rather interesting and would fit into the very different sort of characterization which feminist critics have been asking for for ages. I can’t be the only one who thinks that this description fits Amanda Ripley, the extremely well-received heroine of Alien: Isolation, right? Ripley is a strong, positive female character, not because she is a Markus Fenix-style meathead, but rather because she is absolutely terrified, avoids confrontation as much as possible and just tries to stay alive by being resourceful.

Secondly, Escape From Monkey Island was just a poor example for Merlynn132 to use for this argument. The main thrust of Merlynn132’s overall argument is that feminists are actually being sexist, and by being sexist they are making female-led games economically unviable. Using the Monkey Island games to support this idea is very strange to me as they are hardly a mega-selling franchise. In fact, the Monkey Island games have far more in common with the modern day indie-game scene where female-led games are far more common and interesting than in the AAA blockbuster space. I can’t even remember the last time that we had a proper adventure game, although Quantic Dream and Telltale-style narrative adventures seem to be the closest analogue… and what do you know, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Beyond: Two Souls and Until Dawn all tend to have pretty solid, flawed and interesting female characters without causing a feminist uproar.

The third, and probably most ridiculous, aspect of the argument is in regards to Merlynn132’s conclusion. Basically, they believe that feminists force female characters into a very specific mold, which makes female characters boring, which doesn’t sell, which is why we don’t have female characters leading our games. This is just so obviously bullshit that I shouldn’t really have to explain why… but will, naturally. The games market would be boring if there were more female-led games? Seriously? The market has ALWAYS been dominated by male characters, many of whom are the exact same macho-fantasy repackaged over and over again (Contra, every Call of Duty ever, Gears of War, Booker in Bioshock Infinite as the generic/requisite action game hero, etc). Despite featuring the same stereotypical leads over and over again, they still continue to sell and are often some of the highest-selling games of the year. It’s not feminists’ fault that female-led games are in the minority, it’s because publishers believe that their teenage male target demographic won’t play unless they offer them a male fantasy.

Just to look into this claim a little further, I decided to check the list of best selling video games of all time. I was actually surprised to discover that most of these games feature no distinct characters at all, either being 100% gameplay-based (Tetris) or 100% player determinant (Minecraft). Only three franchises dominate the list. Mario has the most entries, with 8 games selling over 15 million copies each. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that Mario has a personality that is anything other than boring, not to mention that the franchise formulas of his various franchises have been nearly the exact same for well over 20 years now. Call of Duty comes in second with 7 games selling over 15 million copies. The franchise is notorious for featuring paper-thin characters, iterating very lightly from game-to-game and for its macho-fantasy, male-dominated plots. While I, along with many others, would definitely argue that this franchise has gotten extremely tired in the last few years, the fact that the series still continues to sell is proof enough to me that the claim that “boring” female characters are the reason why they don’t get any representation is bullshit. The third highest-selling franchise is Grand Theft Auto with 5 games, and it’s a bit of an oddity since these games actually are known for their interesting characters and writing. However, I have a strong feeling that this is not the main reason why these games have had so much success, but rather that their core gameplay is extremely appealing. If this is truly the case, then the picture that these three franchises and the characterless mega-sellers paints for me is that characters are not a major factor in determining the success of a game, but rather fun gameplay. As a result, whether or not a “feminist conspiracy” caused female characters to end up being a bunch of bland copies, it shouldn’t matter because we already have a bunch of bland male copies running around and raking in the cash. Of course, if the actual argument being made is that “real gamers” don’t want to buy games with female protagonists, then at least be honest…

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I don’t really know the exact circumstances that prompted Merlynn132’s original post, but I kind of wish that I could understand where his perspective is drawn from. Is he directly responding to arguments made my Sarkeesian? As I have hopefully shown, his arguments will still end up being incorrect in the end, but if Sarkeesian’s arguments are just as flawed then that might make a difference in the way that this is all handled. Or perhaps Merlynn132 just misunderstands the whole point of feminism, having equated feminism with the opinions of its more extreme or unlearned factions, or worse, with the gigantic strawman feminist which is so often evoked in these sorts of rebuttals. In all honesty though, I’m glad that I came across this post. While I think that the overall argument is extremely flawed, it is quite interesting and is a good reminder that feminists could actually hurt their own cause sometimes with their critiques. I hope that Merlynn132 is open to this sort of critique, as I think that both sides in this debate could learn things from one another and hopefully come to a point where we can understand one another.

5 Objective Examples of Sexism in Hollywood

Whatculture recently published an article by Jack Pooley purporting to cover 12 sexist movie scenes which prove that Hollywood hates women. Clickbait title aside, I found this article to be extremely inadequate. Its examples tended to be either extremely weak (The Wicker Man) or missed the point entirely (Gigli, Jurassic World, Transformers, Sex and the City 2), which made it very easy to dismiss. He also fails to explain why some of these issues are sexist, which is pretty key if you’re trying to convince uninitiated people that sexism is real (unfortunately, I have noticed that us SJWs tend to take it for granted that everyone knows what they’re talking about). Unfortunately, there is a kernel of a good idea within this article, but it focuses too much on its examples and not enough on the broader picture to be effective. With that in mind, consider this a broader response to Pooley’s article, going beyond specific, unconnected examples and focusing instead on the common trends which actually do go some way to showing the existence of sexism within Hollywood, and society at large.

5) Objectification/Sexualization
This is arguably the most obvious form of sexism out there, but as a result it also seems to be becoming less frequent and/or more subtle (well… outside of the comics and video game industries anyway, because holy shit guys). In case you’re somehow unaware of what I’m referring to here, it is when women are portrayed as little more than sexy background objects, when personality is stripped away in favour of highlighting their sexuality. Pooley’s example of Alice Eve’s stripping scene in Star Trek Into Darkness was a pretty gratuitous example of this, and most of the older James Bond movies revel in having background beauties for people to oogle at. If you watch HBO shows, then this will also be an extremely familiar concept. Game of Thrones features a ridiculous amount of gratuitous nudity from nameless background characters, often with no real justification for it beyond the sake of getting more boobs on the TV.

So why is this a problem, you might ask? What about all the male objectification out there in stuff like Magic Mike or Twilight you might also ask? Well I think that the main issue is not so much that objectification is completely unacceptable, but rather that female objectification outweighs male objectification significantly. Furthermore, works that feature objectified women often don’t feature any strong female leads either, so there isn’t any proper counter-balancing in place to keep things fair. If female objectification was less prevalent and if strong female characters were more plentiful, then I think this would be less of a concern for feminists.

4) Hollywood “Conventional Wisdom”
Studios are very adverse to taking risks, so their film scripts are often changed to follow trends and to give them more “mainstream appeal”. This is a major reason why so many movies seem to be the same these days, and not because they’ve run out of ideas.

This risk aversion leads to a variety of major issues for women – for one thing, many studio heads follow the “conventional wisdom” that audiences don’t like female leads, so they make most of their big blockbusters led by a male hero (eg, sure we can have an ass-kicking woman in Guardians of the Galaxy, but she has to be anchored by a loveable male hero). This is a main reason why there hasn’t been a female-led superhero film since 2005’s Elektra, and why Marvel is too scared to make a Black Widow film, despite fans asking for one since Iron Man 2 came out. I don’t care whether you’re a feminist or not, can you not admit that there’s something ridiculously messed up about that fact which seems to hint at some real issues in Hollywood?

3) Lazy Writing and Regressive Tropes
Lazy writing of female characters is a consequence of Hollywood’s “risk adversion strategy” which seems to have gotten a lot more attention this past summer, with Mad Max: Fury Road being praised for subverting it, while Jurassic World was called out for falling into it. Since many films are more concerned with the actions of the male characters, female characters are typically superfluous to the plot, or are written (or rewritten) in such a way that the male character is the one who gets the control. It can also happen when scripts are written and/or shaped by a male perspective, in which case it’s common for women to be written very stereotypically, as an idealized version for wish fulfillment (see A Million Ways to Die in the West for a particularly egregious example), or for them to just not even think to put in a female perspective.

Once you become aware of this issue, it’s hard to watch any blockbuster without seeing this lazy writing everywhere. For example, I was watching The Hobbit movies the other day and it occurred to me that there are maybe 4 female characters in the entire trilogy. 2 of them are Bard’s daughters, which are little more than objects in peril for the entire trilogy (even his weak son got to participate in the action a little bit). 1 is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who gets about 3 seconds of screen time and is a (rather funny) harpy of a woman. The only woman in the trilogy who can actually be considered a “character” is Tauriel, but she’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, she kicks ass and is fairly cool. On the other hand though, she does nothing of consequence in the movies and her entire character is defined by the two men who are fighting over her. This is especially egregious because the love angle was added during rewrites when the franchise was expanded into a trilogy, and basically everyone agrees that this ruined her character.

2) Pay Gaps
Patricia Arquette famously brought this issue up in her 2015 Oscar speech. You may be tempted to say “oh boo hoo, I wish that I was only raking in a million dollars!”, but please put aside that knee-jerk reaction and hear this one out. If a woman stars in a movie, has just as much (or more) star power than her male co-stars and puts in just as much screen time, then she should make at least a comparable wage as they do, right? Not so much in Hollywood. For example, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were both paid significantly less for their work in American Hustle, despite having comparable screen time and being just as high profile as their male co-stars. Women’s pay also starts to drop off significantly after they hit their mid-30s, whereas men remain pretty steady into their 50s. Since men tend to get more focus from studios, women end up getting less good roles to compensate, have a harder time affording turning down offers and also get lower pay as a result. Of course, they can always get their pay to go up… by agreeing to do nude scenes (like Halle Berry in Swordfish).

It has been said that the justification for this gap is because womens’ agents don’t negotiate good enough deals for them, which is probably true… however, it is also disingenuous. If the trends show that women consistently make considerably less than their male peers, there’s clearly something wrong there systemically which is forcing their agents to low ball them in order for them to even get exposure. I don’t have all the answers for this issue, but it is something to be aware of which shows how Hollywood seems quite sexist, even at an organizational level.

1) Women Aren’t Respected as “Characters”
This is largely related to the lazy writing issue, but it’s worth digging into this deeper because it’s probably the most sexist element of modern Hollywood. After all, as I have said before, why should the inclusion of a female character who is as strong as the male character have critics crying “feminism!” to the heavens like it’s some sort of big revelation? This isn’t feminism, it’s gender neutrality, but it’s sadly under-represented in Hollywood. If you analyse films then you’ll see that the sad fact of the matter is that most films don’t give a shit about the women who are in them.

Often, women are thrown into movies as little more than an “object”. Whether they’re something for the (male) protagonist to fall in love with, or need to be rescued by them, these women “characters” almost always have no real agency within the plot. They contribute basically nothing of their own to the plot beyond what they can do for the male character. This is because, at its core, the screenwriters are not writing about a “person”, they’re just writing plot points and plot conveniences which revolve around the actual focus of the story. This is how we end up with the essentially worthless women in basically every superfluous love subplot which has ever plagued a movie, and is also why so many films fail the Bechdel test. Or what about season 1 of True Detective, which is supposed to be concerned with the exploitation of women… but these women aren’t the focus at all, they’re just background images and plot points (and the “actual” women characters are even more transparent plot points which are meant to define the protagonists more, rather than actual characters in their own right).

This issue reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa”, which was about how Heart of Darkness is a racist text. At the time that I read it, I did not understand his point at all, and thought that he was being extremely unfair to Joseph Conrad. However, as I have matured, the point he has been making has become quite clear to me. Heart of Darkness is not a story about a man going up a river in the Congo, and it does not care about the Africans depicted within it. All that it really is focused on is a pair of white Europeans and everything around them bends itself to defining these people. The Africans depicted within are not “characters”, they are background objects. Similarly, women are often so ancillary to the plot that they could be excised or replaced by an object with little consequence. This is actually why I’m not as concerned with sexualization – as long as you go some way towards giving agency and developing a personality for the female character so that she isn’t just a background object, sexualization can actually serve some purpose.* By the way, this does not necessarily make sexist movies “bad”, much like how the presence of racism in Heart of Darkness does not disqualify it from being a classic novella.

Oh, and in case further evidence of this point was needed, the sequel will almost certainly dump the female character, oftentimes to start a whole new love subplot all over again (whereas the male characters are usually retained, such as in the Mission Impossible franchise). This just highlights how little the plot is concerned with the female characters to begin with, since they apparently think that they’re totally exchangeable, whereas the male lead was the real interest for everyone. However, it must be said that The Mummy franchise was a very unexpected and refreshing subversion of this trend, which almost makes its many other faults excusable.

Hopefully these five points will go some way to getting those who may not have understood what feminists are going on about to reassess their views. Just a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself a feminist at all. However, looking at pop culture with a critical eye really made me aware of how poorly the deck is stacked against women. In fact, it’s a recent enough change for me that if you go back to the first posts on this blog, you can chart my progress from egalitarian to full-on self-identifying feminist.

*I have actually been debating writing an article on this very subject since starting this blog back up, but have been having some trouble getting it off the ground.

Deliberate Inequality

So I was recently reading this article on Polygon about unequal racial representations in gaming, and it got my mind jogging. Oftentimes, when someone calls out a system or representation for being racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever, people less versed in the subject are quick to come out and ask what the big deal is, that the person is looking too far into things, claim that it’s a part of the “creative vision” or that SJWs are trying to censor art (that they agree with, of course), etc. In any case, I believe that some of these responses stem from a misunderstanding of some of the basics of social justice analysis.

I think that many people believe that racism et al are only actually worthy of being pointed out if examples of them were done deliberately with malicious intent. For example, my father complains about how the media seems to always be complaining about racism in regards to police activity or their representation in Hollywood, and yet would quite likely stand up for someone if somebody was slinging racial slurs at them in public and discriminating against them in an obvious manner. People like him probably find these “smaller issue” social justice concerns to be extremely frivilous, get burnt out from hearing them all the time and definitely do not consider themselves racist. Unfortunately, due to a lack of interest or education on the subject, they are missing the underlying, unconscious issues in society which are contributing to the lingering of racism/sexism/etc. This often means that people concerned with social equality need to be concerned not so much with the less-common and clearly unacceptable examples of deliberate racism, but moreso with the unintentional examples.

Honestly, I find that deliberate examples of inequality are potentially less offensive than the unintentional, ingrained ones where people don’t even realize that they’re being potentially offensive. To link back to the start of the article, think about how big budget video games and movies rarely feature a hero who is a white, a male and a power fantasy of some sort. Think of how Assassin’s Creed: Unity ditched the option to play as a female assassin, claiming that they didn’t have the development time or budget to do it (which was promptly revealed to be a bullshit excuse, they just didn’t prioritize the female audience). Another good example is in Warhammer 40,000. Every couple months, someone comes onto the Dakka Dakka forums and asks where all the non-whites are in 40k. The simple answer is that there ARE other races in the Warhammer universe, and there are a handful of examples of them in 40k art, but it has literally not even occurred to the painters to paint any of their soldiers non-white. Honestly, I fell into the same trap with my 40k armies. When I was growing up, it never even occurred to me to paint any of my Space Wolves anything other than white. When I started an Imperial Guard army years later, I still didn’t think to paint them anything other than white for quite some time, until one of those Dakka Dakka topics pointed out the issue. We all have our own blind spots where we don’t even realize that we’re missing out on a chance at equality, or at least to make a conscious artistic decision one way or the other.

This is why the Bechdel test is so crazy – women rarely speak to one another about something other than a man because of the way that the screenplay is written. When 2 women speak, they have to advance the plot in some way by the very nature of the narrative. However, the fact that most movies fail the Bechdel test really shows how marginalized women are in movies, and that they aren’t generally the ones who the movie really cares for. It shows that women are not prioritized in the scripts, nor are they generally the focus, and generally serve as little more than plot convenience, especially when they speak to one another (because rarely do they bother to have 2 real women characters with any agency). My friend and I were watching the 1998 Godzilla, which isn’t an overtly sexist film by any means. However, we were commenting on it the whole time, when halfway through I was suddenly struck by the realization that the film had bombed the Bechdel test. There were only a couple scenes in the whole movie which featured two women talking to one another, and they spent all of them talking about a guy as the focal point to set up the love story subplot. It really illustrates where the film’s real focus is, and the fact that it’s so common is distressing (and let’s not even mention the 2014 Godzilla, which doesn’t even feature a single scene with more than one woman in it with a speaking role… this is a frighteningly common reality in movies).

What about deliberate examples of inequality though? The Witcher 3 is getting taken to task for apparent sexism in the game (although I’ll admit, Feminist Frequency does not have the best track record of picking good, clear examples). I haven’t played The Witcher 3 unfortunately, so I can’t comment, but one complaint that sounds valid is that the game features a lot of gendered insults when you play as a female character (or when they’re around at least… again, haven’t played it). Moral judgments about it aside, can we at least agree that having such marked differences in the insults directed at male and female characters is sexist? How odd would it be if enemies taunted your male game hero by saying they were weak, had a small dick, couldn’t pleasure their partner, or threatened to sexually assault them if they fail? Unfortunately, this is a strangely common trope for women in video games: quite a long time ago I wrote about Lollipop Chainsaw, a game I actually rather enjoyed, but lamented how the enemies will frequently call the protagonist a “bitch”, “slut” and threaten to violently sexually assault her. This also apparently happens all the time when you play as Catwoman in Batman: Arkham City – there’s a 6 minute video on Youtube of nothing but the instances where enemies hurl gendered insults at her, which is kind of insane. On the more positive end of the scale, I recently replayed the Tomb Raider reboot on PS4 and, despite the island being inhabited by violent, insane, foul-mouthed sailors, I didn’t find the game any less “realistic” for not having them sling gendered insults at Lara all the time. Rather, they simply act as if she was any other badass running around kicking their asses, and shout out her actions (“she’s flanking us!”) rather than taunts.

While gendered insults are undeniably sexist just by definition (male characters get generic taunts, female characters are taunted based on their gender), that isn’t to say that this is something that needs to be eliminated necessarily. I’m wondering if the point that Sarkseesan is trying to make (and the one she tries to make whenever she picks a really questionable example) is simply pointing this out to bring awareness to this potential issue in gaming, rather than saying “This is bad and needs to be eliminated from gaming RIGHT NOW.” If anything, it is more likely stopping devs from taking this sort of thing for granted and trying to get them to be more deliberate when they utilize gendered insults and female characters – is being beaten down and shamed for their gender key to the experience that the devs want to give the player when playing as a female character?

One common mistake that inexperienced writers make is when they try to make their story “mature”, they tend to overcompensate and just saturate it in misery, rape and constant violence. This causes the plot to be completely forgotten or overshadowed, and the acts themselves to feel meaningless. The fix, of course, is for the writer to be more deliberate with the use of mature themes, so that they have the impact that they SHOULD have. Rape, sexism and the like can be used in fiction effectively, but artists should be very deliberate when doing so and do it with the expectation of some potential backlash.

Like, in Season 6 can we finally get to a storyline other than “Who is going to try to rape Sansa this year?”

For example, I hardly want to call myself a great writer, but this deliberate inequality is something I have tried to take into account with my own sci-fi novel I have been working on. It takes place around a thousand years after humanity undergoes a biological revolution and colonizes the galaxy. Racism and sexism aren’t totally dead, but they are significantly diminished because the fearful have turned their attention towards bio-engineered organisms. As a result, women and men (of various races) hold equally prominent positions within the civilian and military structures without people having to comment on it. Homo/trans-phobia is also considered a non-issue in the universe of the story. One major character is bisexual and hated by basically everyone, but no one even thinks to belittle him for his “queerness”. When deliberate inequality is brought up, it is done to show characterization, not just because I decreed that this story featuring six foot spiders and space magic has to be “realistic”. This is not pressuring me to conform to diversity, this is making my story far more interesting and opening up more avenues for creativity than if I stuck to my own narrow “vision”.

People seem to assume that criticism is an attempt at censorship (a misunderstanding which helped kickstart the whole GamerGate movement…). They claim that criticizing media for just fitting with the status quo and featuring “realistic” examples of sexism/racism/etc is an attack on the creative rights of the artist. However, I think that criticism should be seen more as an attempt at artistic improvement. By pointing out examples of inequality, critics are effectively saying “this art would be improved if the female characters weren’t such a flat plot device, consider making them more interesting in the future, because it will enrich the narrative”, or “I would enjoy this more if they weren’t calling the female protagonist a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ all the time, this is grating for me because I hear these sorts of insults get hurled at my sex all the time”. The artist is free to accept or dismiss that criticism however they wish, but if they dismiss it then they shouldn’t expect not to be criticized for it.

Mad Max Feminism “Controversy”

MINOR UPDATE: So it has come to my attention that this whole “controversy” started because of one fringe MRA “activist”, but shouldn’t be viewed as the mindset of the MRA movement in general. It just happens that one idiot got a lot of attention, which fueled a “controversy” that responded to one particular viewpoint (and might have actually caused more people to side with it as a result).

SECOND UPDATE: Except, y’know, when other self-described MRAs pick up the idiot ball and go with it.

Mad Max: Fury Road could pull off a massive upset and easily end up being the best loved blockbuster of the year. With an unprecedented 98% Tomatometer (230 Fresh/4 Rotten) on Rotten Tomatoes, it has already blown past reserved/mixed praise of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, while other highly anticipated films like Jurassic World and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II are likely to get a more mixed reaction. Only Star Wars is looking to hold a candle to Mad Max, but considering that we’ve all been down this road once before, would any of us be surprised if it ends up disappointing people on the basis of over-hype alone? I imagine it’ll be quite good, but I’d personally bet it’ll end up getting a Tomatometer of 75-85% when people realize it isn’t the second coming of Christ.

However, while most dialogue regarding Mad Max: Fury Road is (appropriately) directed towards the critical response and the mind-blowing action sequences, there is a growing subset of voices discussing whether the movie is feminist, and whether that is good or bad. One particular Men’s Rights Activist blog is stirring up quite a bit of controversy, with authour Aaron Clarey calling for men to boycott the film because apparently the movie is nothing other than feminist propaganda.

Having seen the movie yesterday, I can say pretty definitively that Aaron Clarey’s doom-mongering is as offensive as it is incorrect. For one thing, Fury Road still features plenty of fire tornadoes and 80s-style carnage to get your blood pumping, regardless of the protagonist’s gender. But just because it’s fun, let’s quickly go through a couple of the ridiculous claims that Clarey makes, shall we? First off, Clarey states that:

“The real issue is not whether feminism has infiltrated and co-opted Hollywood, ruining nearly every potentially-good action flick with a forced female character or an unnecessary romance sub-plot to eek out that extra 3 million in female attendees. It has.”

This claim is patently ridiculous for two main reasons. First off, this isn’t feminism, it is economics. Hollywood believes in pandering to the mass audience, and has believed that shoehorning a love subplot, no matter how unnecessary, will attract more people (eg, the Thor movies are particularly obvious offenders in this regard, despite the fact that the gratutious shirtless Chris Hemsworth scenes alone are enough to bring in the ladies). Even the hyper-masculine movies of the 80s featured this trope, such as Commando. Secondly, forcing a female character or a romance into a movie is just simply not feminist. This claim is just so ridiculous that it makes me question whether Clarey truly understands what feminism is, or whether he thinks that the presence of a woman alone is some sort of ghoulish affront to manhood. Feminists have been decrying the trope-filled world of typical generic love interests and useless female character for years now (women in fridges, Bechdel Test, etc), so either Hollywood feminists are absolutely awful at feminism, or there’s something wrong with Clarey’s line of thinking.

Anyway, moving on to the next claim:

“But let us be clear. This is the vehicle by which they are guaranteed to force a lecture on feminism down your throat. This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic. And this is the subterfuge they will use to blur the lines between masculinity and femininity, further ruining women for men, and men for women. […] That and you can expect Hollywood to further condition young women to be like “Imperator Furiosa” and not Sophia Loren.”

Wow… just… wow. Look: in theory, while I think that men’s rights activism is an unnecessary cause for a number of reasons, it still seems like something reasonable for someone to pursue. However, voices like this are why men’s rights activism is a joke in practice. While feminism has shifted over the years to a point where it could more accurately be called “equal gender rights” at this point, men’s rights has already shifted to the status of “ideological gender enforcement”. Here Clarey makes it pretty obvious that he believes that gender roles have to be concrete and that anything which goes against his conception of these roles is to be condemned. He doesn’t even seem to be worried about the potential presence of feminist ideas – if he was at least fearful that forcing a female character into the movie would somehow compromise the narrative in some way, then there would be at least a bit of arguably reasonable justification for his complaint. However, the argument boils down to “I don’t think that women in this movie aret doing what I expect them to, therefore this sucks”. Hell… this revelation has me kind of wondering if MRAs are among the people protesting the new sex ed curriculum I talked about last week, since they mention gender identity/fluidity in it. Of course, if they are then that just makes me support the new curriculum even more.

Moving past the article though, there’s one important thing about this movie that is getting missed in the feminism conversation: the movie isn’t really overtly pushing a feminist agenda. Don’t get me wrong – it is certainly progressive and miles ahead of the male-dominated blockbusters that still occupy theatres, but on the feminism scale I’d put it further away from Teeth and much closer to Dredd (although Dredd is certainly the more feminist film, and I have never heard an MRA bitch about that). In fact, I think it would be more accurate to say that Mad Max: Fury Road is a gender-neutral film, and I wish that that is what the dialogue regarding this film was saying. Furiosa is arguably the protagonist since she gets the more interesting character arc, but Max still gets equal prominence as she does, and they both kick just about as much ass as each other. There seems to be a mutual respect between them, but Furiosa isn’t a generic love interest. Furiosa is very capable, and is better than Max at some things. In particular, there is a scene where Max keeps missing his shot with a sniper rifle, so when they’re down to their last shot, he returns it to Furiosa and acts as a support so that she can pull off that last killshot. If nothing else this shows that both characters need each other. Furiosa wouldn’t have gotten more than a few kilometers away from Immortan Joe without Max, and Max wouldn’t have survived without Furiosa. This isn’t feminist propaganda, this is gender-neutrality… which technically makes it a “feminist film” because, as I said earlier, modern feminism is about equality for both sexes. However, it is not pushing a “feminist agenda”, or any of the aspects of feminism which someone might actually disagree with… unless your cock shrinks at the very notion of women achieving any sort of agency though, of course.

I’ll let Sasha James close this one out, as she says it better than I could:

“Fury Road is a feminist film because it’s not outright ‘feminist propaganda.’ It uses gender and sex in a utilitarian, matter-of-fact manner, allowing its females to use their womanhood as a weapon against its universe’s established norms, but neither heroizing or demonizing that action. Fury Road radically allows its female characters to enact as much agency as its men. They are allowed to survive by whatever means are available to them.

Fury Road isn’t trying to say that Furiosa is better than Max or that female-led action films are the new status quo. Instead, George Miller’s fourth Mad Max film is a gentle reminder – amongst blood-lust and post-apocalyptic madness – that men and women are equal, and that we shouldn’t still have to make such a big f***ing deal about it.”

Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You Know What

So if you live in Ontario like me, then you have probably heard that there’s a bit of a kerfuffle regarding Kathleen Wynne’s sex ed curriculum, with social conservatives/religious folk going mildly insane (to put it lightly). My parents have said that if this curriculum was in place when my brothers and I were going through school, they would have home schooled us instead of putting us through the public school system. However, as much as I dislike Kathleen Wynne, I actually think that there’s a lot of fuss being put up unreasonably here. Don’t get me wrong – coming from a socially conservative background, I can understand why a subset of people are freaking out about this, but I believe that the amount of things that they would find objectionable are significantly less than they would expect (in case you didn’t notice, there is A LOT of ridiculous misinformation and hyperbole being passed around conservative political circles to try to create a public outcry out of sheer ignorance).

Let’s go through some of the more “controversial” aspects of the curriculum. First off, is the fact that the curriculum starts in Grade 1 (ages 6-7). This might seem a little early to some people, but it’s not like they’re actually learning about where to stick their naughty bits. Is it so horrifying for children to learn the proper names for their genitals? I don’t see a problem with this at all. I think in Grade 1 I was tittering like a madman whenever someone mentioned a “pee-pee” and quite embarrassingly didn’t realize that “boobs” were not the same thing as “nipples”, leading to me to idiotically claim that some other kid was showing off his boobs. Boobs-aside, I was basically 100% ignorant about what made girls different at this time, but having children be aware of these sorts of things is hardly going to destroy their innocence. If anything, it’ll be good to pave future groundwork, hence why they’re starting the very, VERY basics so early. If nothing else, it’ll make for the funniest day of class for a first grader.

After that, I can’t really see anything else that’s potentially objectionable until Grade 6 (ages 11-12) and Grade 8 (ages 13-14), where they bring in the idea of gender identity and sexual orientation. Now I personally do not see the issue with this, there are some that will argue that the intent here is to cause kids to become more open to homosexuality and trans-gender people and view it as something “normal” and “natural”. And you know what… as a Christian man, I say FREAKING GOOD. I’m obviously intimately aware of how difficult the subject of homosexuality is in the church (and for good reason, let’s admit), but the general consensus at the moment in the evangelical church seems to be “love the sinner, hate the sin”. However, the historical approach to homosexuality has shown anything BUT love to these people. What Christians have shown is centuries of exclusion, belittlement, ignorance, outright hatred and violence towards homosexuals. Children have been forced out of their homes for being gay, lost friends, have been kicked out of communities, have committed suicide, have faced barrages of insults, have suffered with AIDS while the government ignored them (“because it was just a disease that affected the fags, so good riddance”), etc. If this can be stopped, then bring it the hell on as far as I’m concerned, and maybe we’ll start seeing less disproportionate vitriol thrown towards these “sinners”. Not saying that the church will/should suddenly become a-ok with homosexuality or start performing gay marriages, but we at least should give them equal treatment and avoid discrimination and judgement… y’know, like our religion instructs us to do.

Furthermore, homosexuality and gender identity IS A THING THAT EXISTS, as much as some people may want to ignore it and regardless of the causes. If anything, Grade 6 might be too late to bring this topic up, since many people who identify as homosexual claim that they knew it at a young age, and the other kids were definitely calling each other “fags” long before this… In any case, it’s obviously a topic that has to be raised at some point, and pretending it doesn’t exist or isn’t something natural (which it is, like it or not*) isn’t going to make it go away or help your children when they encounter it for themselves… or, God forbid, identify as queer in a religious family.

Grade 6 also brings in the concept of masturbation, a very… er… touchy subject for the religious folk. For one thing, it happens to be something that kids are going to be encountering around this timeframe, and considering that almost every man (and a great deal of women as well) does it, it’s kind of hard to call it something “unnatural” (and that’s not even mentioning the damn, dirty apes). It’s also worth noting that it’s a rather grey area in Christianity at least: it isn’t considered an inherently sinful thing, but the argument is that it is straddling about a half dozen other sins, so it’s best to avoid it. Some people, like my parents, believe that this curriculum teaches children to masturbate, but that’s not really the intent – like I said, many kids are already going to be starting this practice by this time, so it’s more meant to come across as “yeah, you’re not crazy for doing this, basically everyone does”. As for whether kids are going to start because of this… well, that’ll be up to the kids I suppose, but there’s a good chance that they already have heard about it by this point. If you don’t want your kids doing it, be sure to shame them for it early so that they’ll feel awful about it for the rest of their lives when they inevitably start doing it.

Anyway, moving on. In my opinion, one of the more ridiculous controversies is how, in Grade 7 (ages 12-13), students are taught about oral and anal sex. Well let’s get this out of the way first – they already teach this in the current Grade 7 curriculum if I remember correctly (or, at the very least, my class was taught about it). In addition, kids are probably already aware of these concepts by the time they hit the 7th grade. Again, I grew up in a sheltered home and I was still at least dimly aware of both of these concepts, even if I didn’t understand why someone would want to do either (and I’m sure my classmates were far more familiar than I was). It’s not like this is a new idea they were implanting in our heads. With access to the Internet, kids are going to come across these ideas earlier and earlier, so it’s important to educate them at a realistic time period. Finally, the curriculum DOES NOT ADVOCATE ANAL SEX. My parents are in an uproar about them teaching the butt-stuff because they view it as an abomination and figure they’re trying to get kids to try it out. However, the curriculum explicitly states not to do either of these activities because they can give you an STI. I believe that by Grade 7 I had heard the old jokes about how “Catholic girls do it in the ass”, and that is a stereotype in the first place because girls try to avoid getting pregnant, losing their virginity (because it only counts if it’s vaginal apparently…?) and/or getting an STI. Letting them know that they can still get an STI is probably going to help to discourage some people from trying it out. Similarly to masturbation, anal and oral sex are things which exist, and science can’t determine if anal sex is going to make God angry. If you want to bring the your own moral compass into it, then supplement your childrens’ education with your own teachings when they get home.

Anyway, moving on again. In Grade 8, students “analyze the benefits and risks of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy”. I can definitely hear my parents saying that this is encouraging kids to have sex, but I’m not so sure I agree. If anything, it’s being realistic and getting kids to make an informed decision, because I good deal of them are likely going to do it anyway within the next few years, no matter what they have been brought up to believe (for reference, I am aware that at least a half to two-thirds of the professing Christians I grew up with had sex in high school without a regret, despite all of them having been taught by the church and their parents as well likely not to do so). Being aware of the risks may not get them to abstain, but at least they’ll be aware of exactly what they’re getting into if they do decide to go forward with it.

However, there are also some positive elements that those who decry the curriculum fail to acknowledge. First off, starting the curriculum so early will actually help to prevent child sexual assault. In many cases, exploited children are unaware of what constitutes exploitative behaviours and so they go unreported. For my own part, we were simply told not to talk to strangers, but we had no idea why or what they were trying to protect us from. I easily could have gotten abused and not realized it. Leaving it at “don’t talk to strangers” also ignores the fact that the vast majority of molestations are committed by family members or their friends.

The Grade 3 curriculum is pretty realistic. I can remember pretty clearly quite a few kids “going out” at this time, so best to get those under control so they’ll start to get the groundwork for more realistic future relationships. Developing safety guidelines for Internet use is also extremely critical, and would hopefully be supplemented by parental discussion. Grade 4 (and Grade 9) is pretty similar in that regard – kids seem to be getting cell phones earlier and earlier, so sexts and snapchatting and various other things will need addressing, PRONTO.

People also seem to be missing one of the overall messages of the curriculum – it recommends not having sex until you are physically and emotionally ready (be that in marriage or whenever, that’s up to the individual, as it should be). Holy shit, are you telling me that this evil curriculum co-written by Satan himself and contracted by a diabolical lesbian who is hell-bent on transforming our children into lustful paedo-orgy machines actually teaches kids not to have sex? Conspiracy! Furthermore, the emphasis on consent is EXTREMELY important in a day and age where “rape culture” is becoming more and more visible, and will probably result in less sex as well. Identifying STIs is pretty important as well, I think we might have gotten 1 day of that in sex-ed back in grade 7 or 8, and I can’t remember a single thing from it. I couldn’t tell you what any STI looks like, let alone specify them.

The high school curriculum is quite good as well. I had about 2 days of sex-ed in high school, in grade 10, and only because I took phys-ed after it became an elective (most people ditch it after grade 9). 1 year of sex-ed, when a lot of people are already engaging in sexual activity and when some of them are going to be giving birth or freaking married in a few years, is woefully inadequate. Even if you are against having your kids having sex in high school, this stuff is still extremely applicable for later in their lives to help them make healthy choices and relationships, and will probably make their marriages more fulfilling.

Beyond all of this though is the major issue of growing up in a world where the Internet has always been a thing. Kids are now getting more access to sexually explicit material and misconceptions at a younger and younger age, making frank, honest, realistic education absolutely crucial. Sure, perhaps you happen to be an amazing parent, but so many children won’t get the necessary information at home, and if we keep the current system then we’ll only continue to churn out children who think that “donkey punching” or yelling “fuck her in the pussy” on live television is hilarious, who joke about rape and sexual assault, and who don’t even have the presence of mind to realize that pressuring someone into sex is wrong.

I’m going to have to put some special grilling towards the Campaign Life Coalition as well, since they’re one of the main organizations protesting the curriculum changes… and because they’re batshit insane. The hypocracy of CLC (a pro-life organization) protesting these changes is that they will probably LOWER the number of abortions compared to an abstinence-focused curriculum. Educate kids on their bodies, encourage them to make healthy choices and provide them with contraceptives, and suddenly teenage pregnancy rates drop significantly, reducing the need for abortions. Of course, CLC is obviously more of an ideological mouthpiece rather than an issue-focused organization, so this should hardly be surprising (their website is also good for a laugh with their extremely one-sided insanity).

CLC’s delusions about kids in Grade 7 still being sweet and innocent is so ridiculous that I have to go on my own little mini-rant about it. As they get further from kindergarten, kids become less “innocent little angels” to more “dirty little bastards” in my experience. Most boys are introduced to pornography when they’re around 8-12 years old, and while I was super sheltered as I have mentioned, one of my brothers and I actually fit into this one like a glove (I was 11 or 12, and he was a year younger). I had an abusive prick of a friend who invited both of us over one night, and we were hanging out when he mentioned that his sister had a porno tape. We didn’t really believe him, nor did we really want to find out if it was true, but he threw it on anyway and… well, yeah… I was too young and too sheltered to get any sort of enjoyment out of it, and it was probably mildly traumatic for me at the time. Many kids stick with it from that time onwards though – I can remember another group of friends when I was 13 or 14 talking about their favourite types of pornos (I distinctly remember one saying they blindfolded a guy and then hid a drop of honey on a naked woman, and he had to find it with his tongue). Maybe I just had really screwed up friends, but it kind of shows the sorts of things you probably weren’t aware that your kids were aware of… and c’mon, if we ditch this curriculum, then are we really going to be stupid enough to leave our childrens’ sexual education up to freaking pornography?

To summarize things, I believe that enlightenment is far preferable to so-called “blissful ignorance”. Taking kids out of this environment might make them accept their parents’ ideology… for a time. I know that for myself, discovering that an authority has held information back from you for no real benefit to yourself makes you want to look into the stuff that was withheld from you. My advice to parents protesting these changes: put your children through it, but be sure to talk with your damned kid about the things you disagree with, because they’ll probably agree with you until they’re old enough to make up their own minds about it. Teachers can influence their development of course, but a parent’s advice almost always holds major sway. Treat it kind of like how Evangelical parents treat evolution already and I imagine the results will be pretty similar. I went through science classes but always rejected evolution because I had been previously taught that it was incompatible with my faith. However, over time, I reexamined the relationship between science and religion, explored other theological ideologies outside of conservative evangelicalism and came to my own decisions about how that all works. That said, many others stick with their initial beliefs, but at least they make their own decisions in the end. If nothing else, I’m sure they’ll appreciate the knowledge gained later in life when they find themselves entering into relationships – whether you approve of them or not.

*And by this I mean that homosexuality/transsexuality isn’t exactly something that people choose, it’s something they’re either born into or develop over time (science seems to be still uncertain of the exact causes). Considering that it happens in nature is a further support that it is something which occurs naturally. Whether you believe that homosexuality only exists because of sin, I don’t think you can make a really convincing argument that it is something which is unnatural (in our modern world at the VERY least).

Breastfeeding and the Male Gaze

Gender relations return, with a vengeance! The core basis of this post has literally been sitting in my drafts list for around a year and a half now as a single point-form statement, but I never got around to doing anything with it – I liked the observation enough that I didn’t want to just delete it, but I also didn’t want to go on yet another feminism rant. However, a TV commercial of all things caused this idea to bubble back to the surface and set my imagination running wild. So here we go: we’re going to examine the concept of the male gaze.

As I have probably alluded to in the past, I grew up in a fairly conservative family. My father instituted (and still does whenever he’s around) some pretty strict rules about what media content we were allowed to consume.* We were generally restricted to PG-13 movies and Teen-rated video games: violence was largely permitted, as long as it wasn’t too bloody or gory and swearing had to be kept to a minimal level… but nudity was basically 100% off-limits. Honestly, of all the restrictions he instituted, I think this one screwed up my psyche the most… but I might get into that another day.

It took me 14 freaking years to finally see this movie…

In any case, this blanket restriction eventually occurred to me as having a couple blind spots. First off, is this including male nudity? I’m pretty sure this never really occurred to my dad, although he’d probably be questioning why the hell we were watching a movie with naked men in it. When I came across this issue though, it made it pretty damn obvious that the whole point of the restriction was because of the classic conservative hysteria about preventing boys from touching themselves, in which case, male nudity wasn’t a big deal (although now that I think about it, I imagine that my dad would argue that God told us to cover our nakedness). The other blind spot I noticed was that, since this was restriction was obviously intended to keep us from temptation, what were we supposed to think about intentionally un-sexy nudity? This was the more important issue as far as I’m concerned, and the one which ties into this post the best. Schindler’s List, for example, has a fair bit of nudity, but the majority of it is unsettling and very un-arousing. Or what about The Impossible, where a breast gets exposed, but it’s pretty horrifically shredded from a very nasty wound and the woman is in a state of utter shock? However, I can pretty much guarantee that this would have been also considered “off-limits” as well, because my father (and much of society for that matter) consider the naked female form to be something that is always subject to the male gaze.

In case you aren’t aware of what the male gaze refers to, it is basically the idea that, in media, the camera tends to “see” and portray women as men see/fantasize them, focusing on their curves and doing their best to make them look sexy, seductive and passive. Possibly one of the most egregious and idiotic uses of this in practice are in regards to Miranda in Mass Effect 2, where the camera constantly frames the scene emphasizes her ass, sometimes dedicating up a third of the screen to it (which, of course, is further emphasized by her skintight bodysuit).

Notice the extremely subtle framing difference here?

When I first heard about the male gaze in school, I wasn’t sure that I believed it was a real thing, or at least that it could affect society outside of the media. However, I believe I have stumbled upon a perfect example which was this whole article: the bafflingly touchy subject of public breastfeeding. I hadn’t really understood why this was considered so controversial to so many people: babies have to eat, moms have the means to do it, and babies aren’t known for their timeliness or consideration for others. It occurred to me about a year and a half ago that the reason that people get so uncomfortable around breastfeeding women is likely because we have been taught as a society that female nudity is supposed to be sexy and something for men to enjoy, but when it is used to feed a baby, then it suddenly becomes socially confusing, awkward and decidedly un-sexy.

I mentioned that a recent commercial brought this thought bubbling back to my consciousness. In the commercial, they were showing serene images, and then suddenly cut to a close-up of a child breastfeeding. I was kind of taken aback by it, because I don’t think I have ever seen a commercial flirt so flagrantly with a supposedly controversial subject (not to mention that there was like 90% of a boob on screen, which is unheard of in any commercial I have seen). A lot of women who campaign for public breastfeeding like to say that it is something that is “beautiful”, but I never really understood that position until right now: I have been looking at that sort of thing through my own lens, the male gaze. If I had imagined it from the female perspective, the female gaze if you will, I’d have pictured a mother sustaining and comforting the soul that she brought into this world and loves with all of her heart… and, you know what, that actually is an extremely beautiful way to look at it.

So hopefully that all made sense, and demonstrated how the concept of the male gaze has applications outside of media. Public breastfeeding seems to be becoming more and more of a non-issue every year, so hopefully soon mothers will be allowed to actually do what they have to won’t have to worry about some dickheaded prude calling them out for making them feel awkward.

*Don’t get me wrong though, letting kids watch whatever the hell they want to is not something I condone. I don’t think it’ll turn them into a psychotic murderer by any means, but kids should probably avoid some subjects until they have reached a certain level of maturity to begin to understand it.

Some Thoughts on Feminism

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve written quite a lot about feminism in the past few months, kind of like how in my first few months I talked about gun control a lot. It’s a bit odd too, because I wouldn’t have necessarily considered myself a feminist. I mean, I support women’s rights and equality, but just what that means to a more vocal feminist often leaves me confuzzled. However, I’ve been mulling over a few feminist subjects recently and figured I’d work them into one giant feminist theory extravaganza. I’m not promising that all of these thoughts will be positive, but I believe they are fair at the very least.

Let’s smash it, together!

Okay, first of all, this whole line of thought stemmed from this article about rape culture. Women’s rights campaigners have really been pushing the notion of rape culture recently, but I’m not so sure that they’re doing a great job of conveying to the general public exactly what they mean by it (I have a similar critique about the public expression of many women’s rights issues, it’s like they expect us to agree with them without explaining their positions). But anyway, I agree with the article overall, but when I was thinking about it afterwards, I came to the realization that feminists have appropriated rape. What I mean by that is that rape is a major issue and overwhelmingly occurs to women, but in order to push rape culture, feminists have turned rape into a women’s problem. Yeah, that shouldn’t be all that revelatory – really, it’s rather obvious, but the realization of it is almost ironic. Feminists want to eliminate rape (and, well, let’s be honest, every decent human being wants to eliminate it), but in order to do so they have to take it on first.

That said, trivializing rape against men is a byproduct of such a move. Yes, men are raped far less than women, so it’s fair enough, but it occurs just the same. I also wonder if other forms of sexual violence are also taken into account here, because when someone says “molestation”, I think “little choir boys” rather than women. Perhaps that’s why the focus is just on rape though – it is overwhelmingly a women’s issue.

Oh, and I just want to comment on this passage from the article quickly:

“Most women and girls who travel abroad, who take public transportation, or walk to a dimly lit parking lot at night experience that “what if” panicky moment. Women reading this know what I’m talking about. Men, in general, do not. And knowing that most men don’t rape, and that most women will never be victims of rape, is not enough to erase that fear. Because it’s real, and it’s the legacy of a culture where rape (and rape denial) exist in too high numbers.”

I’m not going to trivialize that, because I really don’t understand that sort of daily existence (well, unless I was in prison anyway), but I do have a bit of an analogue. If I walk through city streets late at night, I’m not afraid of getting raped… I’m afraid of getting jumped and robbed and/or stabbed. Sure, I’m not getting jumped, robbed, stabbed and then raped, so it’s not exactly as “bad”, but even men don’t exactly walk the streets 100% securely. I attribute that to the media creating a state of fear, especially since crime rates have been dropping for decades, so such fears should really be unfounded.

…sigh. *Facepalm*

Anyway, next topic. This one has really been confounding me, so if you want to offer some perspective then please leave a comment below. The topic boils down to this question: is objectification inherently wrong, or is it only wrong when it happens to women? I really wonder about this one because a good deal of my posts on feminism have been dealing with my irritation at the objectification of women, whether because they are reduced to plot points or because they’re considered nothing more than a walking pair of T&A. However, I’ve been noticing a rising trend in films in the last few years of men becoming objectified, with nary an outcry. It’s a bit confusing, and it’s what has made me mull over this question. Is objectification the bad thing, or is it that the target of the objectification is women? Is there an acceptable level of objectification? Is objectification of men acceptable because it is counter-cultural? If we’re truly looking for equality for genders, shouldn’t the goal be no objectification for either (or are we settling on equal amounts of objectification then)?

The most obvious example of this in action is the wolf pack from the Twilight movies. They basically only exist to be oogled at and give audience members lady-boners. Hell, the guy on the left is barely even wearing those pants. Even Jakob isn’t much of a character, being about as well-defined as a brick wall. In fact, being prone to fits of rage and violence makes him sort of sexist against men for that matter. Of course, Jakob’s the most egregious example I can think of, but what about Thor in The Dark World or Finnick in Catching Fire? Both appear in their respective films in really pointless topless scenes which clearly only exist to provide female audiences with some fan service. Their characters complicate things a little bit though, because while they’re briefly objectified, they are actually given pretty good characterization in spite of that. Is that the key right there – is objectification not as big a deal if it doesn’t define and overwhelm the character? It should also be noted that these characters may have gotten characterization simply because they were men, whereas objectified women simply aren’t allowed out of the background (such as in any Michael Bay movie ever). It’s a bit of a puzzle and I’m still not sure where I stand on it.

“Hey look! Someone doesn’t understand how feminism works!”

Finally, I’ve been wondering lately whether feminists can be insensitive to cultural differences. For example, I reacted pretty much the same way as the rest of the internet when Quiet from MGS5 was revealed. However, having taken a step back since the reveal, I’m beginning to wonder just how different North American and Japanese culture is. Quiet is obviously designed from a Japanese perspective, and from my understanding, sexualization isn’t equated so much to objectification there as it is here. Perhaps there is something more to her outfit than mere titillation? Kojima seems to suggest that this is the case, although we’ll see when The Phantom Pain is released. Similarly, the Dead or Alive series of game have a reputation as nothing more than softcore porn, but their creators insist that they don’t intend it to be that way. Looking at some of the character models, I have a hard time believing that, but could it be that they see things much more differently than us? I mean sure, it’s possible that they’re lying through their teeth, or are just ignorant of how sexist they really are, but I think there’s at least a certain level of cultural difference clashing here.

Anyway, hopefully you found this article at least a little enlightening. If you want to say anything, please leave a comment below!

Quick Fix: International Women’s Day Fails

I’ve been labouring for quite a while on what to write this particular blog post on. I had pretty much no inspiration, aside from lots of little developments which could make for a half-decent (if scatter-shot) quick fix. However, Saturday just dropped a topic into my lap like a hilarious gift from the heavens. In case you didn’t see the Google doodle, it was International Women’s Day, and the fails were (expectedly) abundant on my Facebook feed.

Anyway, first off was Blood Bowl‘s post. As a bit of background, Blood Bowl‘s a bit of an odd tabletop football spinoff of Warhammer Fantasy. It has also had a couple PC games, a new one which is coming out sometime soon. I’m actually looking forward to the game, but my enthusiasm was tempered a little bit when they posted this picture as a celebration of International Women’s Day:

“Today is March 8th! Be wary when on the Blood Bowl pitch, as the Amazons are fiercer than ever on this precise day! Happy Women’s Day!” – Actual caption

That… uh… wow. Predictably, pretty much every comment on the photo was very angry at the insensitive nature of the post – after all, the picture represents an objectified male fantasy of a woman. On any other day I doubt anyone would have batted an eye at it, but trying to tie this into a celebration of women and women’s liberation was just stupid… that said, I’m still gonna buy the game probably. When I reposted it though, the first commenter said something particularly dumb: “Honestly, it’s lest sexist than another ‘get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich’ joke”… well no shit, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass either.

However, the Blood Bowl team has supreme tact compared to the official Morph Suits’ photo celebrating Women’s Day:

Literally, they posted this photo with the caption “Happy International Women’s Day”. This one doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that it’s sexist… in fact, I find it hard to believe that is isn’t an intentional middle finger to the concept since it’s brazenly putting the girl’s breasts on front-and-center. Would you have even noticed there was a morph suit in the picture? Probably not (although maybe that says more about the male brain than anything). Anyway, on behalf of men who aren’t total douchebags, I apologize for how stupid many of us were on March 8th… sorry!

Feminism in Media

In modern North American society, feminists have about as bad a rep as a man goosestepping down the street with a Swastika on his shoulder. That’s not to say that everyone necessarily thinks that women should get back into the kitchen and collectively make us a sandwich. Rather, it would seem to me that both men and women are sick of feminists shoving their agenda down the public’s throat. I’m sure there’s a good deal of failed communication which is at the root of this problem (this is a huge generalization but from my observations, feminists don’t bother to explain their views to the uninitiated and get really angry when anyone goes against them). There’s also the issue that many people think that feminism is beating a dead horse – after all, aren’t women equal to men in society now more or less? I’m not exactly versed in women’s studies so I’ll leave that particular question to someone else to handle.

In any case, despite the stigma which is attached to feminists, I do have to say that I have really noticed considerable sexism and misogyny recently in the media I have been viewing. Three 2013 releases have gotten me thinking about the state of feminism in film today: World War Z, Gangster Squad and (to a much lesser extent) Machete Kills. World War Z is what really kick-started this entire article for me. If you saw the movie, then you probably know what I’m talking about – the entire first half hour of the film features Brad Pitt protecting his useless wife and equally useless daughters who seem to be doing their damnedest to get them all killed. I can guarantee that no one walked out of that film thinking “wow, I really liked Gerry’s wife and kids, they were great characters!” Now I’m not saying that the women should have suddenly picked up machine guns and blown away the zombies while making an obtuse point that women are as good as then men (a la 80s action films). Rather, it would have been nice if they had done… I dunno, anything. Sure, Karen can try to keep her children safe, but she can do that by trying to fight off the zombies sometimes. Or maybe she can not call her husband in the middle of an important life-threatening mission (and subsequently getting a lot of people killed). Oh and when Karen and the kids are holed up on the aircraft carrier, maybe they could try to help out? Hell, read up on the original ending of the film – it was supposed to be even more misogynistic than it ended up being.

Clearly the writers only threw the female characters into World War Z to be plot devices. In a movie like World War Z which feels like it was written and directed by committee, it’s clear that the studio didn’t give a damn about how the women were portrayed in the film or that casual misogyny would affect their bottom-line. In fact, I’m surprised by how well it did and was received in spite of this glaring issue. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa”, where Achebe decries Joseph Conrad for reducing Africans and the continent of Africa in Heart of Darkness to nothing more than a plot device. While I don’t entirely agree with Achebe on his criticisms, he does make a good point, that reducing people and places to plot devices strips their history and identity away, making them little more than a reflection of the male protagonist.

If World War Z kicked off this article, then Gangster Squad sealed the deal that I was going to have to write about it. I was actually very surprised by how Gangster Squad handled women, although considering that it was a rip-off of The Untouchables I probably shouldn’t have been. I’m not really referring to Emma Stone’s character either, the generic femme fatale love interest (and plot device to add some tension for good measure). Instead, I’m referring to basically the only other female character in the film, O’Mara’s wife, Connie. Like World War Z, the women in the film are reduced to plot devices who the male characters don’t seem to actually be all that invested in. The film tries to be uber-macho, with the protagonist O’Mara dealing with organized crime the only way he knows how – by shooting it in the face. Of course, Connie whines to him that he shouldn’t be risking himself because she can’t live without him. Obviously, the point this puts forth is that violence is a man’s realm and passivity is for women… and according to the film and it’s hilariously hamfisted finale, violence is the only thing that gets results. Of course, the whole movie’s a complete fabrication, although you might have figured that out when you saw some of the over the top action in play. Regardless though, it seems that the whole “action gets results” message the film tries to get across is total bunk, making the entire film even stupider in retrospect. That said, I will acknowledge that Connie does get one surprisingly interesting scene where she actually helps O’Mara pick out his “gangster squad”.

Which brings me to Machete Kills. I actually don’t have a huge beef against it in regards to sexism or feminism or anything like that – it’s a tongue-in-cheek exploitation film and therefore it gets a lot more leeway than a mega-blockbuster like World War Z or “historical” film like Gangster Squad. However, it did remind me of a Cracked article in which the authour stated that women rarely get shot in the head on-screen in American cinema. To sum it up, the article states that “the reason that we so rarely see women getting their brains splattered? Masculine violation of, and domination over, a woman occurs on her body and not her head”. Machete Kills actually seems to subvert this idea, since in the opening minutes a female character is shot graphically in the head, on-screen. However, near the ending a pair of women fight and the more physically domineering of the pair shoots the other in the head, but this is left off-screen. The implications there are interesting, since that character’s actions seem to make her androgynous (not that she’s really overtly feminine anyway). I don’t really have any real profound conclusions to give in regards to that, but it’s certainly an interesting observation that’s worth keeping in mind and mulling over.

Before I close, I’d like to mention another example in a video game I played recently, called Lollipop Chainsaw. Again, it’s a tongue-in-cheek exploitation venture so it gets more leeway, not to mention that video games in general have a pretty big sexism issue. However, while I found the game to be quite fun, there was one annoying aspect which I found very grating and more sexist/misogynist than any of the objectification in the game. This aspect was that the enemy dialogue almost always consisted of gendered insults – seriously, nearly every time an enemy yells at you they call the heroine a “slut” or “whore” and, on one particularly colourful occasion, a zombie declares he’s going to “fist his ass with her face”. Ahem. Maybe if it had happened once it would have been shockingly funny, but when the game barrages you with that sort of dialogue over and over it just becomes annoying (at best).

Anyway, hopefully this little write-up has shown that as much as we love to hate them, feminists do have a purpose in society. Equality is still a work in progress, and media still has a way to go before it is truly adequate. Besides, equality doesn’t have to equal hamfisted morals, it can be an epic and subtle action romp like Dredd (seriously, buy the damn movie already!!!).