Saturday, 25 October 2014

Anita Sarkeesian's Sexist Exploitation of a Mass Shooting

I've been procrastinating about writing a blog regarding Polygon's low Bayonetta 2 review score since they posted it last week but this couldn't wait. As some of you may know, there was a school shooting yesterday in Marysville, Washington, leaving two people dead (including the gunman) and four others in critical condition.

I woke up this morning and went on Twitter to see the following tweets from Anita Sarkeesian:

There are a few good reasons to bring up mass shootings with regards to debating an agenda. To discuss the possibility (or necessity) of gun control laws. To point out the poor record of supporting mental health issues and campaign for change.

To push a ridiculous, pseudo-scientific claim about "toxic masculinity" is not a good reason. It's nothing but shameless exploitation of a tragedy to push a sexist agenda. According to Anita the problem isn't guns. It isn't failure to diagnose and treat severe mental health issues. It's men. "Toxic masculinity", to be more specific.

It's one thing to use such a disgustingly sexist phrase as that but acting like pointing it out is helping men -- "this is how patriarchy can harm men too" -- is just ridiculous. Imagine applying the phrase "toxic" to any other characteristic of any other demographic and acting as if it's actually for their benefit. "Toxic homosexuality", for example.

Edit: Created this for Twitter, so I figured I'd post it here too. Feel free to spread it around.

I've already written about the patriarchy argument and how it fails to get to the root of many serious issues that affect men and women. Let's assume for a minute that the patriarchy exists; has the patriarchy ever described a characteristic innate to men as "toxic"? No, yet Anita is happy to do so. How exactly is the "patriarchy" harming me? They aren't stereotyping my entire sex in the way that a popular feminist is happy to, nor are they saying there's something wrong with me just for being male.

As Cathy Young's tweet above points out, it's important to keep in mind that this isn't Anita throwing out her "toxic masculinity" phrase as part of a TEDxWomen or Conference talk. She's branding mass shootings as something inherent to masculinity. Not only does it ignore female mass murderers but paints it as a male problem. Then claims that she's "helping" men by telling them.

I wasn't the only one to point this out but it has to be said: Anita Sarkeesian is now on the same level as Jack Thompson. For those who don't remember, Jack's big claim was that the Columbine massacre was the fault of gamers and he used it to fuel his anti-gamer crusade. Anita is doing the exact same thing and using a mass shooting to promote all the sexist views she wants. She even took the opportunity to plug a book that she had written a blurb for on the back cover:

Left-click for larger view.
Understandably, Anita's sexist exploitation of a tragedy caused some backlash against her. Rather than taking on board the criticism and considering making an apology, Anita did what she always does; claims she was harassed. It's almost reached the point of self-parody:

Yes, Anita actually claimed that a backlash against exploiting a tragedy to push a sexist agenda was "hate". I don't think I've ever used the phrase "professional victim" to describe Anita, as others have, but it's an accurate description; she poses as a damsel in distress to gain further magazine interviews, newspaper coverage and talks about being harassed. This is no different and I don't see any reason why it wouldn't happen; following the shootings by Elliot Rodger in May, feminist bloggers and journalists leapt on the opportunity to blame "male entitlement", "male rage" and "male privilege". Laying mass shootings at the feet of men is apparently common amongst modern feminist "hipsters with degrees in cultural studies" (as the wonderful Christina Hoff Sommers put it when describing Anita's video game criticism).

After this, I don't want to see anyone claiming all Anita is doing is "making videos about wanting equality in video games", as Anita has claimed in the past during her talks. That was never true. The same applies for those who say "feminism is for equality". This is just another example of how that is not the case. In fact, if there are any feminists, especially feminist gamers, this should be the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to reasons to denounce Anita as your spokesperson. If the flawed arguments, the bias, stealing videos from others without permission, stealing artwork from others without permission, the whole "prostituted women" instead of "sex workers" controversy and dismissing male victims of domestic violence didn't do it, this should.

In the link I just posted about part two of Anita's Damsels in Distress video, I wrote "her heart may be in the right place". Obviously, I withdraw that statement. There is no reason for any moral person to support Anita Sarkeesian or anyone else who would exploit a tragedy to push their own agenda. More than that, she is a prime example of why I refuse to support modern feminism. I actually follow plenty of feminists on Twitter who I like but it goes without saying that people like Anita Sarkeesian have made the feminist movement about misandry. Not equality.

This is a picture that I posted back in May, following the Elliot Rodger shootings. It's as true now as it was then:

Credit to Europa-Phoenix.
Leave a comment below, send an e-mail to or follow @TheMalesOfGames on Twitter.

Monday, 6 October 2014

"Ethics & Diversity"

I'm sorry for not updating sooner but I came down with an illness at the same time I planned on writing a new blog.

College has started up again and my games design course kicked off with a focus on Ethics & Diversity as part of the induction. There isn't a lot to say about it -- just as there wasn't much discussion about it last year -- but I'll relay what was discussed.

Rather than a typical class of students, this year's course involves each group working together as if they're each an individual studio. Each "studio" has its own name, logo, etc. but before we reached that stage, we had to research mission statements from existing developers and create a "do's and don'ts" poster about ethics and diversity, after discussing it for a while.

Prior to creating the posters, the students had to list examples of discrimination they could think of either in games, the gaming community or the industry, under different headings on big sheets of paper the tutor provided. Headings like "Have you ever seen discrimination in the games industry?" and "List some examples of current ethical issues in the games industry". The one that stood out was "Why do you think women are under-represented in games?"

It's clear that it's a loaded question and your response is probably the same as all of mine were (but I didn't list). Could there be more female characters in games? Yes, as well as more varied and diverse characters in general. Do I think women are under-represented in games? No. I don't believe that just because few AAA games have female characters means women are under-represented and games with female protagonists are plentiful if you cast your net wider, particularly towards Japanese titles. Even if only AAA games are focused on, there are still plenty of strong female characters being represented, even while not playable. Plus, I don't think it's stressed often enough that just because there's a main character in a game with the same skin colour, sex and sexual orientation as me, that doesn't mean he "represents" me in any way. Sharing a few similar characteristics doesn't mean that character is representative of me or anyone else who shares those characteristics. I've spoken about this before, saying it's often easier for me to identify with someone who doesn't share my characteristics, such as a female protagonist, than a character who does that I dislike (Final Fantasy X's Tidus being being one of many examples).

In fairness to the tutor, he seemed reasonable enough. I spoke to him about having "heard" counter-arguments before to accusations of sexism in games -- without naming names, I mentioned that some critics had a habit of taking examples out of context and diminishing good female characters by ignoring/minimising their most praiseworthy attributes -- and he seemed happy to hear me out.

When speaking to the entire class, however, there were two things that bothered me. Firstly, a student mentioned women in the games industry being paid less, which the tutor acknowledged and also mentioned that it was common across all industries. This particular "fact" has been debunked many times over the years, to the point that it ended up on Christina Hoff Sommers' TIME piece "5 Feminist Myths That Will Not Die" (and Sommers also wrote this article for the Daily Beast if you would like more info on the subject or you can check out the report yourself). Not to go into it too much but the wage gap doesn't take into account hours worked, experience, incentives for relocating, travelling long distances or being poached from another company. It's the same story in the case of the games industry but bear in mind that games have been a male-dominated industry for thirty years (and still is). Senior figures in the industry are more likely to be male and their salaries are obviously going to be larger than those of the entry-level employees that their salaries are being compared against (which, while still male-dominated, is more likely to have more female employees because the games industry has tried to appeal to women more in recent years). When you collectively weigh the male salaries against the female ones, it's obvious that the male salary is going to be higher overall.

The problem is that saying that in a classroom when everyone except the tutor is silent makes you look like a nut. Just saying "that's not true" doesn't do much good and it wasn't as though I could back it up with a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.

The second thing that bothered me was when the tutor asked outright, "has anyone here not seen any examples of discrimination in games?" The problem with that is it occurred after talking about the wage gap, after the class had wracked their brains to come up with examples of discrimination to write underneath the headings and after everyone had read out at least one example. After that, nobody is going to say "I haven't" and I doubt they would have even at the start of the session. It's also a loaded question, given it's not structured to account for answers like, "sure but [context, artistic direction, etc.]". That's not to say there isn't discrimination in the games industry -- most notably in online games, where trolls are indiscriminate about who they discriminate against -- but I wouldn't describe, say, the women in Dead Or Alive as an example of "discrimination" or "misogyny". Those terms are too strong to describe something so minor and waters-down the severity of actual discrimination and misogyny. I know this has all been said before but it's worth repeating.

At some point, one of the things the tutor said was something like, "ethics and diversity has become a bigger issue in recent years and will only become bigger as time goes on". To that all I have to say is ... great! One of the biggest misconceptions gaming's Social Justice Warrior critics have towards people who critique their viewpoints is that we don't want to have the conversation. That's not the case at all. I want this conversation as long as it is a fair conversation, with all viewpoints being given equal consideration. To date, that has not been the case.