I haven’t been on this blog for a while, for which I apologize to all three of you who care. Lately I’ve been concentrating on my movie blog and my neverending quest to generate hate mail. But today I feel compelled to write another academic blog, in support of fellow cultural commentator Anita Sarkeesian.
I had never really heard of Sarkeesian before this week, although my fiancee insists that Sarkeesian’s vlogs are of uniformly excellent quality. Sarkeesian runs a website called Feminist Frequency, where she posts pop-culture analysis, much like I do here (only to a much larger audience. On a related note, does anyone out there have $150,000 to spot me?). Recently, she started a Kickstarter to fund a project: she wishes to do a video series on tropes of video games concerning women. As a result of her project, she has been called a “cunt,” (though I suppose that could just be English people being English) been reported as a “terrorist,” (presumably because her Armenian features make her look vaguely Middle Eastern), and accused of “Jewry.” (admittedly not a terrible slur unless one is an anti-Semite) She has also faced death threats and attempts to censor her project, which is less funny.
Now, I’m at least somewhat tempted to write this off as Youtube and 4chan just sucking; Youtube has the most consistently shitty discussion threads on the internet, and 4chan is, well, 4chan. But then I read a discussion thread on The Escapist, which usually has a somewhat better community. This thread was full of self-congratulatory nerds spewing straw men and lies. This made me mad. After venting about it on Facebook, I decided to do something constructive about it instead, and address some of the common ways people on the internet are defending calling someone a “bolshevik feminist jewess.” (thank you Youtube commentor haploguy)
1) Why Did She Ask For $150,000 For Youtube Videos? This line of criticism feigns reasonability by suggesting that she is ripping people off. This is a weak argument, though, because she is not just producing a Youtube video of herself sitting in front of a laptop. If you look at the production still on her Kickstarter (it is towards the bottom of the page), you will see that she uses a nice-looking camera, an attached boom mic, a professional lighting kit, soundproofing, and a red screen background for later editing. This is not the world’s most expensive setup, but nor is it free (she also appears to have a camera person, though I do no know if she pays them). Moreover, she is not just posting them on Youtube, she is also running a fancy-pants website, as mentioned above. That stuff isn’t free. Plenty of other sites have attempted to fund internet video projects through Kickstarter; one of my favorites is JourneyQuest. As far as I know, no one has accused the JourneyQuest crew of being “rapist swine.” (thanks, Youtube troll funkyzeit987! Rape sure is funky!)
2) What About Image Of Men In Video Games? This one is quite pervasive, and is definitely a critique that is employed against any feminist pop-culture analysis. The underlying assumption, I guess, is that any cultural critique must automatically address all injustice ever; one of the Escapist commentators suggested that video games are never criticized for racism, which must mean that he has never heard of Resident Evil 5. In addition to the innate implausibility of such a thorough critique, this argument also often leads to people saying that media that shows unflattering images of both men and women is somehow “equal” and unsexist. This argument is plainly false: if I steal $100 worth of stuff from you, and you steal $100 worth of stuff from me, that doesn’t mean things are “equal,” just that two people are being shitty. Even if deformed, super-scarred God Of War protagonist Kratos is as sexy as Youtube used Lishaaaaaaa seems to think.
3) She Just Hates Images Of Sexy Women. This is a corollary of point 2. It is an especially infuriating argument when applied in this instance, because Sarkeesian isn’t just saying that scantily-clad women are bad. She is talking about tropes, or common roles. All of her suggested video topics (such as “Damsel in Distress”) are about behavior more than graphics. Which means that her videos seem more likely to address that than bouncy boobs (but see #4 below). It also mistakes sexy for sexualized; for those of you who cannot make the distinction (like Youtube commentator and latent male appreciator englishhacksaw, who manages to totally miss this point when he says “Do you think we bitch and moan when the majority of our male protagonists are super buff, chiseled jaw, alpha male hunks?”), sexy images show attractive people, whereas sexualized images present their subjects as objects for sexual consumption, thus stripping agency. The majority of sexualized images are of women; the major exceptions are images of gay men.
4) She Is Going To Make The Following Bad Arguments, Which I Will Defeat Posthaste. So, have you come to us from the distant future, Youtube Comment Guy? How else would you know exactly what Sarkeesian is going to do? Because otherwise, you are speculating, which is another form of the Straw Man fallacy. One committed by Youtube commentator and poster child for anger management issues TheRPGguy94 when he claims (spelling and punctuation included) “Once again you’re use of Bayonetta as some sort of symbol for sexism shows how thick headed and completely unaware of the subject.” Which is not actually a sentence, but whatever.
5) Feminists Hate Men. This one makes me especially angry, as I am a feminist and I have no hate whatsoever for my own gender. Anything that mentions the “F Word” is assumed by many to be a screed about man-hating written by a hairy-armpitted lesbo who needs a good deep dicking. This is so offensive that I am livid just typing about it. There have been some women who have advocated radical sepratism as a part of feminism; such views, however, have never been a part of the mainstream of feminism, or even universally a part of more radical feminist critiques. Holding all feminists liable for the views of a few Dworkinian separatists is like holding all gamers responsible for the actions of some video gamers who shot a bunch of their classmates in Colombine. Which is something gamers frequently bitch about. This is lost on Youtube Limbaugh listener SomeGuy4435, who claims that user pancakeycakes is “not a feminist, just a little weird” because she thinks doors should be held open for everyone. Sorry, SomeGuy4435, pancakeycakes is a feminist. She’s just not what you have decided a feminist is (aka a “feminazi”).
As I mentioned above, I am a fellow cultural critic, and feel some solidarity with Sarkeesian. We are both trying to talk about larger cultural trends and analyze society through its textual artifacts. I don’t expect that I would agree with Sarkeesian 100% on everything she believes on this issue; I believe, instead, that the sharing of her perspective makes the sum total of public discourse a bit better. When one of us is told to shut up, because her view is not that of the commentator, the world becomes a little poorer, which is sad.