Anita Sarkeesian and video game misogyny

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist writer and critic, and creator of the video blog Feminist Frequency. Her videos have included the series Tropes vs. Women, and since 2012, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. In response to this latter series in particular, she has been the target of a campaign of misogynist abuse and harassment, including death threats, hacking attempts, release of personal information, and the disruption of speaking events by bomb threats.

I decided to watch some of the videos to see what all the fuss was about. I started with Damsel in Distress from the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series (parts 1, 2 and 3 here). In this episode, Sarkeesian describes the history of the “damsel in distress” trope in video games, from Donkey Kong to the present day, examines the more violent and disturbing variations of it which have become common in recent years, and considers examples of games which lampshade or subvert the trope.

Anita Sarkeesian presents “Ms Male Character” in the series Tropes vs Women in Video Games

Sarkeesian’s arguments are intelligent, solid and well-researched, her presentation is slick and engaging, and she comes across as sincere and passionate (though in a restrained and cogent way). The videos are both entertaining and though-provoking. In short, they’re excellent. If you’re the sort of person who can get lost in TV Tropes for hours (unsurprising revelation: I am), you’ll thoroughly enjoy them.

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Lego for girls: postscript

Last year, I wrote an article Lego for girls about a 1981 Lego advert, and the stark difference it showed between the company’s marketing strategy and gendering of its products, then and now.

(Apparently another blogger call “HuffPost” just got round to doing this last month as well, but we can’t all be on the cutting edge in this fast-paced new media landscape.)

Another blog called Women You Should Know just posted a follow-up article by Lori Day who, it turned out, was a friend of a friend of the girl from the original advert.

That much-blogged and shared 1981 Lego advert

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Eve teasing, or, as we call it in the civilised world, sexual assault

In Pushkar, on the 9th November 2013, a group of Indian film students interviewed me for a documentary about “Eve teasing”. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was roughly along the following lines.

Every single one of the girls here has suffered either sexual harassment or sexual assault in India. The girls who’ve been living and working here for a long time get it constantly. The one who are just visiting have been assaulted already in the short time they’ve been here. At best, they put up with non-stop staring and lecherous comments. At worst, they’ve been groped and violated on public transport, in crowds, anywhere that they can’t stop men getting close to them. This problem is endemic; it happens everywhere, all the time. This is a country which is not safe for any women, but for Western girls especially, it’s simply not possible to come here without receiving harassment or assault from Indian men.

The fact that you have ‘ladies only’ sections on buses, and ‘ladies only’ carriages on metros, provides a short term fix, but it’s not a long term solution. Think about about the implication. By having these carriages, by¬†needing to have these carriages, what you’re saying is that Indian men cannot be in close proximity to women without sexually violating them. And it seems that it’s true. This should be a source of deep shame to your entire country. It’s not surprising that India is famous worldwide for being a dangerous place for women, that it’s known as the global capital of rape.

Obviously, rape and sexual assault still happens in the UK and other European countries too, and we’ve still got work to do on improving reporting and conviction rates. But at least it’s recognised as a serious crime by the vast majority of people. We don’t need ladies carriages on public transport, and women are safe using it at any time of day or night, because our men don’t try to molest them at every opportunity they get. On the rare occasions a woman is assaulted on our metro, the police investigate, and if they can catch the perpetrator, he’ll be charged, tried, and hopefully convicted and imprisoned. We don’t tolerate it as a society, and neither should you.

Notice that I haven’t called it by the name you use, “Eve teasing”. You need to stop using this term as well. Firstly because it refers to the Biblical story of Eve, it implies that these attacks are the fault of the woman, because she provides the temptation. An assault is never the fault of the victim. But secondly, it makes it sound like it’s just a game, harmless fun. It’s not harmless fun. The government, the police, the media – including you – say they want to stop this problem, but they’re still all using this term which pretends it’s not serious. So the first thing you need to do is stop calling it “Eve teasing”. It’s not “Eve teasing”, it’s sexual harassment, it’s sexual assault.

You’re not going to solve this problem – the problem that your men are so poorly trained in basic social rules that they treat casual sexual assault as part of their daily routine – until you start treating it like the serious crime that it is.

TL;DR – I gave a summary of this argument to an autorickshaw driver and tourist guide who was complaining that there are a lot fewer foreign tourists visiting India this year:

It’s because you rape too many of them.

Pushkar

What do you call a camel with no humps?

Humphrey!

I arrived in Pushkar just as the biggest event of its calendar, the annual Camel Fair, was kicking off. It was a bit of an accident. I only went to Pushkar at all because my college friend Jo lives there, working as a veterinary surgeon for the animal welfare charity TOLFA.

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Dhuri, Punjab

The Rough Guide to India contains a mere 17 pages on the two states of Punjab and Haryana, compared to 77 on Tamil Nadu and a whopping 109 on Rajasthan. In that short section, it covers only two places, Chandigarh (which technically isn’t in either state) and Amritsar, dismissively stating that “there is little of tourist interest in the two states” other than the Rock Garden and the Golden Temple.

I thought it seemed a bit of a shame to rule out the whole region just because of a lack of tourist spectacles, especially when it has such a strong cultural identity. I was keen to experience the Punjab for myself, and was already considering going off piste and looking for a couchsurfing contact in the middle of nowhere, when a better option was presented: my couchsurfing friend in Chandigarh suggested that I go and stay with his parents at his family home in Dhuri, a small town (a mere 50,000) in rural Punjab some 130km from the state capital.

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The problem with #TwitterSilence

On Sunday 4 August 2013, a number of Twitter users followed Times columnist Caitlin Moran‘s suggestion of a 24 hour boycott of the site, in response to a recent spate of recent media attention on abusive and harassing tweets directed at high-profile female users. The boycott was promoted with the hashtags #TwitterSilence and #Trolliday (a pun on the common misuse of the term “troll” for online abusers).

Meanwhile, many other women and men didn’t take part in the boycott, confidently and eloquently pointing out that the way to stand up to bullying is to raise your voice louder, not to be silent.

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