This week’s Context Clues went up today and it gave me quite a bit of food for thought. Although it (rightfully) focuses on both Modern Warfare 2 controversies from last week, there are a few articles about gender and sexism in games. The thing is, three out of the four posts were written by men. It’s problematic when men’s voices dominate a discussion of gender and sexism (unless the topic is specifically masculinity, but that was not the case here).
This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. Both of these “This Week In Video Game Blogging” posts discuss topics related to women and games yet link only to reactions by men to those topics. Critical Distance’s Grand Theft Auto IV Compilation references “genuinely-offended feminists” but the only linked posts that bring up the misogyny in the game are written by men. This Experience Points post makes two mistakes, first suggesting that social criticism of games is a new thing (when Shrub and Token Minorities have been around for years: since 2005 and 2006, respectively), and secondly linking to a post by a white man (ETA: correction, a non-POC Jewish man, see comments for clarification) as an example of writing about gender and race in games (no offense, Simon!).
And really, I didn’t find any of the posts about gender by men to be wrong or offensive or anything–most are actually pretty good. That’s not the point. The point here is the gaming blogosphere only seems to take notice of topics like gender when it’s men who are doing the writing. And that perpetuates sexist dynamics even as the people involved are denouncing sexism.
But that’s not quite what I was thinking about today as I read the posts linked in Context Clues. Dudes taking notice of sexism and saying “hey, this is bad, you guys!” isn’t a bad thing–it’s a sign of progress. Opinions vary on this, but personally, I would rather guys wrote about sexism than not, if only because the more voices speaking out, the better. But as the title says, progress doesn’t come without sexism of its own.
This is where my mixed reactions come in. When I read an article about sexism by a man (or a person of any gender, really) and he makes good points and seems to mostly get it, I’m happy. And yet, particularly now with this upswell of men talking about women and games, I’m also thinking “fucking finally,” and, “but why the hell didn’t they listen to me or people I know the million times we’ve said the same damn thing?”
This was the excerpt Erik chose to highlight from one of the posts, Self-destructive sexualism by Evan Stubbs:
Depressingly frequently we, as men, seem to want it all ways; we want women to be knowledgeable and “one of the guys”, but at the same time we claim to appreciate “a woman’s perspective” when it comes to games. We don’t want them to call attention to their femininity, as that would be manipulative marketing, but “we’d hit it” and we won’t watch, read, or listen if “she’s fugly”. We like hearing about the things they enjoyed, but we don’t want to hear about all that non-core crap like Peggle and The Sims. Somehow, we want our women to be nurturing and supportive of our interests, to be overtly sexy, and, as impossible as it is, to be pure and virginal.
This is a good point, but at the same time the idea that women are held to impossible standards and simply cannot win is also something that feminists have been saying for decades. Why is this being treated as an important, unique insight?
And this is not meant to be a dig at either Erik or Evan. Evan makes a lot of great points in his post–and he does link to posts by women–and I’m glad I found it through the Context Clues round-up. The problem is it’s nothing new, it’s stuff that women have been talking about for a long time. But now that it’s a guy saying it, people pay attention.
I said on Twitter, “I totally appreciate dudes writing about sexism in games, but it’s a bit frustrating to see old ideas treated like revelations, heh.” And though I didn’t have room to describe in a nuanced manner how I feel exactly and why, I still got some thoughtful comments from my friends. Ryan Gan and Justin Keverne both pointed out how being very knowledgeable on any subject and discussing that subject with newbs is frustrating. And while that is absolutely true–and is certainly part of my frustration sometimes, like when I’m explaining what male privilege is for the billionth time–it’s not the whole story. The other part of it has to do with what I’ve described above: continuing and changing sexist dynamics that exclude women’s voices even as we are making progress with bringing gender issues to wider attention. This problem is a lot more personal than most subjects because it affects me directly; when I talk about women’s voices being excluded, I am one of those women.
So what can be done to help minimize this sort of sexism? The biggest thing is to simply seek out writers from different perspectives. This goes for all social issues, not just gender but sexuality, race, disability, and so on. Reading and linking to writers of different perspectives will help diversify the gaming blogosphere. Also, if you’re writing about a social issue in games, search around and see if it has already been written about, particularly by someone who has personal experience with that issue. If it has been written about, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it, just that the previous writing should be acknowledged, and it can help to illuminate the issue further.
Another thing–and the Context Clues post helped me to realize this–is to focus on specific instances of sexism or specific games. Evan Stubb’s post uses some specific examples, but it’s a general “games and gamers: really quite sexist!” post. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it contributes to my frustration for reasons described above. It would be stronger and seem less like old ideas masquerading as new ones if it were focused around a specific incident or game. This post by Chris Dahlen, also linked in this week’s Context Clues, is a decent example of that, using Brutal Legend as the focus of a discussion about romance in games–he even links to two articles by female bloggers (disclaimer: one of them is mine! The other is by Emily Short).
We are making progress, and I’m really glad for that. But we still have a long way to go, and it’s imperative that we always expect more, or this progress we’ve made will stagnate, or even begin to roll backwards.