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What feminists make noise about

In reply to my previous post, “Jokuvaan” made the following comment:

What you are missing here is the current double standard of european mainstream feminists treating rapes differently depending of the ethnical background of the perpetrators. So far feminists have made more noise about one man comparing women to cars than about taharrush jamai or taharrush gamae in europe. Just recently a all women college in Germany decided to shut down for the time of the carnival so that the students wouldn’t get raped if they left their homes. Some feminists go even as far as victim blaming like women shouldn’t dress so revealingly to agitate the muslim men to rape. No I’m not shitting you. Sure this cartoon is a exaggeration but its not without a hint of truth. Though I’m not blaming you as it seems you are on the other side of the Atlantic and likely have to rely on english news on the subject and frankly most european countries are not native english speaking. 

My reply:

I have a few disparate points to make in response to that so I’m going to just number them for clarity:

  1. Your working definition of “feminist” seems to be “person who makes noise about crimes against women in proportion to what I, Jokuvaan, consider to be their severity.” This is not the definition of feminism. A quick and easy definition of feminism would be “opposition to sexism and enforcement of gender roles.” Being a feminist does not mean one has an obligation to make noise about anything at all, let alone make more noise about some things than others. To say otherwise is to commit a form of moral equivalence fallacy often referred to as “Dear Muslima” after Richard Dawkins famously used those words to commit said fallacy in 2011. You can read more about the fallacy here. You can also read Dawkins’s limp apology for committing it here, though I’d note that he seemed to have forgotten about it completely by the very next day.
  2. Following from #1, a feminist’s failure to “make noise” about something cannot be construed as agreement with it, much less advocacy of it. It’s possible to care about more than one thing at a time, and it’s possible to care about something without “making noise” about it. If you declared yourself to be an animal rights activist, and I noticed that you weren’t protesting the fact that an endangered species of animal is being driven further to the brink of extinction, I don’t get to declare that you share a common ideology with trophy hunters. That would be grossly dishonest of me, especially if I wasn’t an animal rights activist myself. I don’t get to tell you how to do your activism, and I don’t get to claim you side with your enemy because you’re not doing activism in the way I’d prefer.
  3. I cannot verify your claims about what “some feminists” have or haven’t done regarding victim-blaming or reasons for shutting down carnivals, but I do wonder– if it’s the behavior of these feminist that supposedly lends a “hint of truth” to a video which claims that feminism generally has “much in common” with Islamism, isn’t it rather odd that the person chosen to represent feminism in the video is a Canadian feminist? A person who has absolutely nothing to do with any of what you’re talking about? Doesn’t that seem rather odd, that they picked a woman who has been harassed for years for the “crime” of just yelling at some MRAs, rather than one of these people whom you say are engaging in victim-blaming? 

The cartoon is not an exaggeration– it’s a bald-faced lie. It was created by anti-feminists to claim that feminists are just like Islamists if they do not…I don’t know what. Talk about Islamic misogyny all day, every day? Roam the streets trying to attack Muslim men as punishment for Islamic misogyny? Maybe just become anti-Muslim terrorists?

It’s not clear what kind or amount of opposition to Islamic misogyny would convince an anti-feminist that feminists don’t “share essentially the same ideology” as Islamists, and that’s because anti-feminists don’t actually give a shit about Islamic misogyny. They just hate both Muslims and feminists, and so it’s awfully convenient to pretend that two of your enemies are in league with each other so you can swing the same club and hit them both.

In actuality, Islamophobes and Islamic misogynists are both enemies of mine, because I oppose both religion-based and sex-based bigotry. And if you think I’m not shouting about one loudly enough, it doesn’t mean I agree with the other. It means you should do your own shouting.

Aping Morality: video

As a follow-up to yesterday’s discussion, here’s Frans deWaal’s plenary talk from the 2010 American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta. Ann Taves was president of the AAR that year and introduces him.


A30-140 Plenary Address: Frans de Waal from American Academy of Religion on Vimeo.

Sam Harris on a NDE as drug trip

I wrote this week about Eben Alexander’s account of his must-be-true experience with the afterlife, which made the cover story in Newsweek. Now I see Sam Harris has weighed in on the topic, and he definitely has opinions. First, he incredulously asks how a neurosurgeon could deliver such an account:

Everything—absolutely everything—in Alexander’s account rests on repeated assertions that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was “shut down,” “inactivated,” “completely shut down,” “totally offline,” and “stunned to complete inactivity.” The evidence he provides for this claim is not only inadequate—it suggests that he doesn’t know anything about the relevant brain science. Perhaps he has saved a more persuasive account for his book—though now that I’ve listened to an hour-long interview with him online, I very much doubt it. In his Newsweek article, Alexander asserts that the cessation of cortical activity was “clear from the severity and duration of my meningitis, and from the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations.” To his editors, this presumably sounded like neuroscience. The problem, however, is that “CT scans and neurological examinations” can’t determine neuronal inactivity—in the cortex or anywhere else. And Alexander makes no reference to functional data that might have been acquired by fMRI, PET, or EEG—nor does he seem to realize that only this sort of evidence could support his case. Obviously, the man’s cortex is functioning now—he has, after all, written a book—so whatever structural damage appeared on CT could not have been “global.” (Otherwise, he would be claiming that his entire cortex was destroyed and then grew back.) Coma is not associated with the complete cessation of cortical activity, in any case. And to my knowledge, almost no one thinks that consciousness is purely a matter of cortical activity. Alexander’s unwarranted assumptions are proliferating rather quickly. Why doesn’t he know these things? He is, after all, a neurosurgeon who survived a coma and now claims to be upending the scientific worldview on the basis of the fact that his cortex was totally quiescent at the precise moment he was enjoying the best day of his life in the company of angels. Even if his entire cortex had truly shut down (again, an incredible claim), how can he know that his visions didn’t occur in the minutes and hours during which its functions returned?

Then he wonders, as I wondered, how Alexander didn’t even consider the possibility that he was just experiencing a really intense high:

Alexander believes that his E. coli-addled brain could not have produced his visions because they were too “intense,” too “hyper-real,” too “beautiful,” too “interactive,” and too drenched in significance for even a healthy brain to conjure. He also appears to think that despite their timeless quality, his visions could not have arisen in the minutes or hours during which his cortex (which surely never went off) switched back on. He clearly knows nothing about what people with working brains experience under the influence of psychedelics. Nor does he know that visions of the sort that McKenna describes, although they may seem to last for ages, require only a brief span of biological time. Unlike LSD and other long-acting psychedelics, DMT alters consciousness for merely a few minutes. Alexander would have had more than enough time to experience a visionary ecstasy as he was coming out of his coma (whether his cortex was rebooting or not). Does Alexander know that DMT already exists in the brain as a neurotransmitter? Did his brain experience a surge of DMT release during his coma? This is pure speculation, of course, but it is a far more credible hypothesis than that his cortex “shut down,” freeing his soul to travel to another dimension. As one of his correspondents has already informed him, similar experiences can be had with ketamine, which is a surgical anesthetic that is occasionally used to protect a traumatized brain. Did Alexander by any chance receive ketamine while in the hospital? Would he even think it relevant if he had? His assertion that psychedelics like DMT and ketamine “do not explain the kind of clarity, the rich interactivity, the layer upon layer of understanding” he experienced is perhaps the most amazing thing he has said since he returned from heaven. Such compounds are universally understood to do the job. And most scientists believe that the reliable effects of psychedelics indicate that the brain is at the very least involved in the production of visionary states of the sort Alexander is talking about. 

I hadn’t realized that Alexander was writing, or has already written, a book on this experience. I imagine that books describing the author’s trip to the celestial afterlife do much better than books describing the author’s really amazing drug trip, but that’s just a hunch.

Tripping a little more

A few more thoughts on Eben Alexander’s near-death experience:

PZ Myers describes the story in a post called Newsweek panders to the deluded again, which isn’t an inaccurate label (it is indeed a delusion to say that the experience of one questionably conscious neurosurgeon “proves” anything, much less the existence of an afterlife) but I think he misconstrues the experience a bit:

But here’s the real killer for me. People who go through these fantasies often tell of awe-inspiring insights that they receive and are quick to tell us how brilliant they were in Heaven. Alexander is no exception.

That would be the “noetic” part of mysticism, and if we could manage to induce Myers to have a mystical experience whether by drug trip, brain damage, or ESB (as Julia Sweeney put it “People who wore this helmet experienced a sense of transcendent understanding, an overwhelming peace and connectedness, and sometimes the presence of God. Or, of aliens”), he’d probably experience the same thing. He just hopefully wouldn’t go on to present that knowledge as real evidence of anything, as Alexander has. If a person comes out of a mystical experience with, say, knowledge of how to build a perpetual motion machine, then there might be something to what they claim to have experienced. It wouldn’t prove the rest of their story, but it would at least be interesting! But what generally happens is that the person feels strongly as though he or she has been confronted with the greatest underlying truths of the universe, and yet…couldn’t tell you what they are. Or else gives you some rather banal messages like the ones Alexander mentioned:

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”“You have nothing to fear.””There is nothing you can do wrong.”

I recall in one of Dan Savage’s books– Skipping Towards Gomorrah— he described how a friend of his kept a wicker basket of New Agey phrases printed on laminated slips of paper by the front door for visitors. These were intended to be self-esteem enhancers, pulled randomly from the basket whenever needed in order to create a feeling of empowerment:

When my friend saw me picking through her little wicker basket of affirmations, she folded her arms across her chest, cocked her hip, and said “Go ahead, Dan, make fun of me.” She was asking for it. So I pulled out an affirmation, said “I’m Adolf Hitler,” and then I read Hitler’s affirmation. “I’m a good person, and I want good things.” “That’s awful!” my friend said. “I’m Pol Pot: ‘I strive to spread love and understanding.'” “I’m Richard Speck: ‘I am respected and admired, and people want to be near me.'” “I’m Trent Lott: ‘My inner beauty is like a bright light.'” By now, my sensitive friend was, yes, crying. I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. Which is precisely my point. The problem with setting out a basket of affirmations is that you’re assuming each and every person who comes into your home or spa is a good person  who wants good things. With all the respect due a basket of laminated affirmations, I beg to differ. 

It sure sounds to me like Dr. Alexander encountered that wicker basket in “Heaven.” Hmm…does everybody who goes on a similar trip? Is there nobody who catches a glimpse of the afterlife and is told “You’ve been a very bad person and have plenty to fear; step it up!” Ebenezer Scrooge-style? Yes, there are such cases. But I’m pretty sure they are vastly outweighed by the other variety.

There’s another important thing about the specific messages Eben (no, I’m not going to make a joke about that) Alexander says he received– they are themselves passive. They are the kind of messages it would be appropriate to give a person who is seeing a movie, especially a scary movie, for the first time ever. Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You can’t do anything wrong here. You can’t do anything wrong because you can’t do anything— the story is going to play out as it does regardless. The only time it’s possible to not be able to do anything wrong is when nothing you do matters, which is when you’re experiencing something that’s not real. In the real world, there is plenty to fear. There are all kinds of things you can do wrong. And…there’s no guarantee that you will be loved, much less forever.

So I can see why a person would cling to such an experience, much like a security blanket. I can’t see why someone would wave that blanket around claiming that others must cling to it as well, especially why a supposed news magazine would declare that they should. Alexander, and Newsweek, should know better than that.

Belaboring the obvious

Just a follow-up thought on my last post– you know, even if everyone’s personality matched their appearance exactly, and all beautiful people were good and wise while all ugly people were stupid and nasty, that wouldn’t justify being anti-feminist. Being good, wise, and beautiful all at the same time doesn’t make a person any more likely to appreciate being treated as though because she is also female, her primary job is to be sexy. Indeed, I think we could safely say that the more virtuous and intelligent she is, the more likely she would be to resent this.

Greta Christina made a post yesterday that could hardly be more illustrative of the futility of making being sexy the primary goal of your life. Someone actually posted on her blog that he couldn’t take her seriously because she once posed nude for a calendar. He said that made her a whore, and he “separates whores from women I take seriously.” And he said this while freely acknowledging that he had masturbated to the image of her. Now, Greta Christina is a lesbian, so I think she could hardly give less of a damn about whether any man got off looking at her naked. But this particular man made it very clear– because he found her sexually desireable, enough to masturbate to, that makes her a “whore” and her thoughts not deserving of any regard.

You sort of have to be happy when people admit that they think this way, because it’s like waving a nice bedsheet-sized red flag letting you know to give them a wide berth (because, as we know, a person’s appearance does not tell you his/her character, or every man who thinks this way would resemble an upright warthog). Literally– I’d like to be aware of this person while walking down the street, so that I could cross to the other side if I saw him coming. I’d like him to move to some other country, actually, such a perhaps Saudi Arabia where it’s acceptable to believe that men wanting to have sex with women is a flaw of womankind, permissable grounds for viewing them as lesser. But actually that’s not a good idea, because Saudi Arabia has enough people who think that way. I wouldn’t want to inflict any more upon the women who live there.

Greta Christina has balls of steel, by the way. I really should use a more appropriate expression, but that’s the one that evokes the proper reverence. There are all kinds of reasons to admire her, but that nude pic in particular is a reason to give respect, not deny it. Because she had to know that it would mean a future of periodically encountering douchebags like that guy, and she did it anyway.

And again, the fact that he found her photo arousing is only significant in that it conveys the fact that being arousing to someone does not earn his respect. Once that is understood, there’s an enormous freedom and power to be found in not seeking it.

Thanks for the confirmation

So you may remember a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about a particularly ridiculous blog post which claimed that the popularity of the GIF of Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke doing a little warm-up dance before competing was due to the fact that men– in general, men– do not love feminists. How did the author of this post, Matt Forney, know this? Well, because he could see that Jenneke is a) attractive, b) apparently happy, and c) has accomplished something, all of which together indicate that she is the very opposite of a feminist. Because feminists are ugly, miserable, and do nothing aside from bitch.

I was very careful in my reply to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding Jenneke attractive, but that my suspicion is that men do not, in fact, “love” her– that contrary to Forney’s suggestion, men who drool over Jenneke do not do so to the exclusion of enjoying porn, and almost certainly have not given up even a moment of porn viewing fun in favor of watching Jenneke bounce around suggestively-yet-innocently. They simply added it to their stable of wank material, alongside that GIF from several years ago but still going strong, French singer Alizee frozen in a single arousing dance move. And she (Jenneke, but also Alizee actually) achieved such status not because an ideological objection to the Bechdel test or a refusal to support the establishment of sexual harassment policies at conferences came shining through to all viewers of a four second GIF, but because because that GIF gets them hot. It’s as simple as that.

After noticing a number of hits here that came from Forney’s blog, I returned to see that he had written a follow-up post which talked about my post. Want to guess what it said? I’ll make it a multiple choice question:

A. You know what? I am actually reading too much into this, and should go with the simplest explanation rather than making other men’s attraction all about my particular ideological agenda.

B. You know what? I don’t think I was given a fair shake– there are actually differences in the appearance of feminists vs. non or anti-feminists, and while I didn’t go to much trouble to articulate these or why they should exist, that’s a factor that should be taken into account here.

C. You know what? It’s really weird that I didn’t bother to make any distinction between “attractive” and “attractive to me,” since I can only speak for myself, and since (as with everybody, whether they admit it or not) my own perception of what I consider attractive is shaped by my ideological convictions.

D. You know what? Gretchen’s ugly. And probably autistic.

I’ll give you a moment to think before answering.

Done? Yeah, I didn’t think it would take long. The answer is….D!

The idea that feminists/MRAs might be socially retarded first came to me when I read this feminist response to my Michelle Jenneke post. In particular, it was this passage that lit me up:

The best thing about this long discussion of how feminine, how confident, how accomplished, and how generally wonderful Jenneke is, is that Forney has no idea whatsoever if anything he’s saying about her character is true. All he knows, based on this commentary, is that she’s an athlete who looks graceful and happy. That’s it. Oh, and that she’s hot. […]

Now, in a strict sense, she is right: I’ll likely never meet Jenneke and thus I’ll never get to find out what she’s like. But she’s really pulling the tired “you can’t judge a book by its cover” line that fatties, uggos and other weirdos use to defend themselves. At our deepest levels, we all know it’s bullshit: a person’s outward appearance is a reflection of their soul in nine out of ten cases. A well-dressed businessman, a filthy bum, a scantily-clad woman; if you use your instincts to make snap judgments of people according to their appearance, you’ll be on the money most of the time. What got me thinking is that feminists may not simply be using that line as a defense mechanism: it might be that they legitimately can’t tell what people are like from looking at them. One of the defining characteristics—hell, the defining characteristic—of autism and Asperger’s is an inability to understand social cues. When Gretchen Koch watches that video of Michelle Jenneke’s “sexy” dancing, it may be that she honestly cannot read the social cues that Jenneke is inadvertently telegraphing through her behavior, cues that I and millions of socially adjusted men instinctively pick up on. To further drive the point home, Koch has a picture of herself on her blog’s sidebar. There are no good-looking feminists for a reason: when was the last time you met a good-looking person with autism?

Actually if you read through the literature, one of the oft-repeated descriptions of people on the autism spectrum is that they are unusually attractive. Something to keep in mind there is that autism is primarily a disorder of the male brain, and by that I mean both that it predominates in males and that it in females, it tends to make their brains more masculine, that is to say their minds are more focused on structures and organization and less on empathizing with other people (Simon Baron-Cohen writes about this extensively in his book The Essential Difference). Bear in mind that this attractiveness is a description of observers of people on the autism spectrum and seems to reflect a trait that people with autism have naturally, through no deliberate actions of their own. So if Forney doesn’t find people with autism attractive (something I’ll posit even though it’s a stretch to assume that Forney has actually seen many people on the spectrum), it’s quite possibly because a) most of them are male, and b) they are not as likely, male or female, to care about their appearance.

But they generally care somewhat. It’s fair to say that most of us– autistic or not, feminist or not– care about our appearances. Asexuals, who have no interest in sex with either gender, and ascetics, who have given up sex in favor of celibacy, probably are the most likely to not give the slightest damn whether someone finds them attractive. But the rest of us do, to varying degrees. We all have our particular limits for what we’re willing to do– the energy we’re prepared to exert, the money we’re prepared to spend, the pain we’re willing to endure– in order to appear sexually attractive, and some people’s limits are higher than others.

This may be because they want to be attractive more than others do, but it also may be because they just enjoy being sexy. Don’t ask a man driving a Maserati to quantify how much he’s doing it for it his own pleasure, and how much he’s doing it to attract smokin’ hot chicks. Don’t ask a woman wearing five inch heels how much of it is because she just loves looking smokin’ hot, and how much she’s doing it to attract the guy who drives the Maserati. For both of them it will be a blend of the two, and neither one is doing anything wrong. Here’s an important point, though– the guy not driving the Maserati and the lady not wearing the five inch heels? Also not doing anything wrong. Maybe he’s poor and she has ankle problems, maybe both of them just don’t get enough pleasure out of doing those things to make it worth it to them. It’s probably true that if you’re a feminist, doing things that make you more conventionally attractive to men are not going to be as important to you, especially if they require exertion or expenditure. This is because feminists, as I will loosely define them for the purposes of this post, are people who believe that women don’t exist for men. That their greatest ambition in life does not lie (ultimately) in their reproductive potential, or (proximately) their sexual appeal. Misogynists are people who do think in these terms, consciously or unconsciously– men who think the most important thing about a woman is whether she is sexually appealing to him constitute the lion’s share, but men and woman who see life as primarily about making babies, above and beyond what the woman involved wants for herself, also count.

I care about being perceived as attractive. Feminists generally care about being perceived as attractive. We just don’t see it as the end-all and be-all of our existence, or in the case of male feminists they don’t see it as the end-all and be-all of womens’ existence.

Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls recently blogged in response to a journalist claiming that she’s either a non-feminist or a bad feminist because she was observed “cooing and gazing adoringly” at her “bestselling fantasy author husband [Neil Gaiman] for two hours in public.” As you might guess, Palmer was not pleased. She wrote

i’m not even sure what the journalist MEANT by this statement. did he mean “real feminists shouldn’t show open affection for their husbands?” or did he mean something else? the fact that i’m “internationally adored” and neil is “bestselling” seems to be part of the point he’s making, but….what’s the point? that if i were a real feminist i’d stand there screaming “I KNOW YOU THINK YOU’RE HOT SHIT, GAIMAN, WITH YOUR BEST-SELLING MAN-PENNED NOVELS AND ALL THAT CRAP, BUT I AM FAMOUS CABARET WOMAN! FUCK YOU MAN! I ALSO MAKE AN INCOME! I STAND HERE, EQUAL TO YOU, AND SHOWING YOU AFFECTION WOULD CLEARLY BE A SIGN THAT I KNOW I BELONG TO THE WEAKER SEX.” rawr. what? . . .as far as i’m concerned, the most powerful feminist can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS.
THAT IS WHAT DEFINES A TRUE FEMINIST. this includes: wearing heels, wearing combat boots, wearing nothing, sporting lipstick, shaving, not shaving, waxing, not waxing, being political, being apolitical, having a job, being homeless, gazing at men, gazing at women, gazing at porn of all sorts, glamming up like a drag queen, going in man-drag, being in a five-way polyamorous relationship, being childless, being a stay-at-home parent, being single, having a wife, having a husband, and gazing/cooing adoringly at those wives or husbands anywhere they fucking choose, including elevators, restaurants, puppet shows (well, maybe keep it g-rated if there are small children present), ….or on theatrical stages at fringe festivals. are we getting the picture here?? the most powerful feminist can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS. the minute you believe you’re a “bad feminist” because you said the wrong thing/wore the wrong thing/got married/chose to have children…or otherwise broke some unspecified ”code of feminism”: DON’T BUY IT. THERE ISN’T ONE. you can do ANYTHING YOU WANT. ANYTHING. THAT’S THE POINT.

Indeed. If feminism is fundamentally about empowering women, then it’s about empowering them to act, look, and think however they want. “Including anti-feminism?” my interlocutor would obviously ask here. Yes, although of course what that person is doing should be allowed by feminism, but not called feminism. As a free speech proponent I am occasionally accused of being (for example) racist because I advocate for the freedom of people to say racist things. I endorse the freedom, not what people might choose to do with the freedom. Likewise if feminism endorses freedom for women to make their own choices, it must do so in spite of not necessarily approving of those choices. The behavior of any individual within a group cannot be perceived as justifying stereotypes of that group– not if you agree that individuals are free to behave as they choose, and stereotypes are an error, an instance of sloppy thinking imposed on those individuals by virtue of their membership in that group.

It’s not clear whether Forney thinks I’m ugly because I fit his stereotype of a feminist, or whether because I’m a feminist he has decided that I’m ugly. But the good news is, it doesn’t matter because it’s irrelevant. As irrelevant as Forney’s own appearance (albeit ironic, in the sense of Rush Limbaugh calling someone fat).

I don’t have to agree that a person’s appearance tells you everything about them in order for it to tell you some things about them, and being unwilling to declare that the “some things” includes her position on whether being sexually attractive to men is a foremost concern in her life does not make a person autistic. It make them honest. Of course we women know that it’s hard to parse whether a particular guy is being a disrespectful asshole because he genuinely thinks that our sexual attractiveness and availability is the most important thing about us, or if he’s just… you know, a disrespectful asshole. And there’s no particular incentive to discern the ultimate truth– we just want him to go away. And sometimes, on the basis of such behavior, women are known to make grossly prejudiced statements about all mankind, which is wrong. Equally as wrong as it is for men to do the same. But nowhere near as wrong, I think, as treating a woman as though she only matters insofar as her sexual attractiveness and availability to you, and then when she (quite naturally and rightly) reacts badly to this, expand that judgment to feminists in general.

Which is, I can’t help but guess, precisely what happened here.

In her #mencallmethings posts in which she catalogs the various epithets and threats used against her, Greta Christina generally takes great care to suggest that her readers not bother reassuring her that she is actually a physically attractive person, because that amounts to buying into the myth that her appearance is more important than what she’s actually saying. That’s an admirable position to take, because it means voluntarily giving up the warm fuzzies she might get from people saying “You’re actually beautiful!” in favor of pressing home the point that an ad hominem fallacy is always an ad hominem fallacy. Attacking the person rather than their position is always a non-argument, even if the person is female and even if the topic is feminism. Yes, really.

Defenders of male imagery in gaming strike back

So, some of the people who took exception (let’s call it that) to Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women” Kickstarter project— which has now been officially funded, to the final tune of $158, 917– have started a project of their own. It’s going to be another web video series, called “An analysis of male roles and misandry present in modern video game media” and hosted at Indiegogo rather than Kickstarter (I don’t know why they made that choice exactly, but was interested to learn of another fundraising site with slightly looser rules about what kind of projects are allowed. So far as I can tell though, theirs would’ve fit Kickstarter’s rules just as well.)

I’m interested. How could I not be? Misandry’s a real thing. Distorted, harmful stereotypes of men are a real thing. And they exist in video games, no doubt.

What’s the problem? Well…I watched the Google doc discussion in which this project was originally planned on Wednesday. So did Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku, apparently, which resulted in this article— and in the document eventually being deleted and replaced with a message to Kotaku notifying them that their journalism sucks (sorry, “sux), accompanied by a couple of bukkake pics which detracted slightly from the stated mission of fair and honest analysis of sexual stereotypes. The Indiegogo page explains:

In regards to the article in Kotaku that (voluntarily or not) attempted to disproved [sic] our credibility and undermine the project: the Google document that was flying around was, indeed, originally a way for the project leads to coordinate what the project was going to be about – for transparency, we left our document open for anyone to view and edit: A terrible mistake when the link was leaked in a group chat of 100+ people! As soon as we found out (as we were well beyond the stage of using the Google doc) the document was removed post-haste after being heavily vandalized with porn gifs – although, too late, somebody had tipped off Kotaku about it. We apologise deeply for the situation.

Hmm.

Here’s the thing– I don’t know for sure and so can’t say, but I’m just guessing that Sarkeesian’s project is going to include some discussion of male tropes as well, because male and female tropes tend to show up together. You know, because the male power fantasy and the female sexual fantasy kind of depend on each other. I’m guessing that her project is called “Tropes vs. Women” and not “Sexist Tropes” because she thinks the ones about women are more harmful, not to deny that tropes about men exist. The statement of intent for the new, male-trope-specific project reads:

With the recent boom of indie game developers, videogames have become easier and easier to produce, something that used to take years and millions of dollars can be done with a zero budget in a matter of days with the same cultural impact and mainstream audience potential. So what happens when such a morally unrestricted form of entertainment starts accidentally spreading the wrong values?  This video project will attempt to shed some light on the tremendous lack of variety in male character design, and how detrimental this becomes to a blossoming society that is growing accustomed to video games as a very real part of their lives. Such stale and stagnant design clashes vividly with the rainbow of personalities that are so abundant in real life, and seeing as how the hardware necessary has been available for a good few years, isn’t it about time that video games reflected the diversity of their audience?

Yes! Yes, it’s about time. And frankly I’d love to hear suggestions about how this can be accomplished, about the “rainbow of personalities” currently missing in male video game characters that really should be depicted. Also presumably a rainbow of physical appearances, but that wasn’t mentioned.

It’s just…well, this isn’t the most confidence-inspiring launch for such a project. It looks, on the face of it, like a bunch of dismissing, deflecting, and derailing. But I’d be happy to be mistaken about that.

Sexist trolls, meet Streisand Effect

Not the kind of video game troll
I’m talking about

It’s now nearly the end of the funding period for Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” and it has raised more than $100,000 over its initial goal. I don’t want to detract from the validity of the idea itself or her ability to present it, but can’t help but guess that a big chunk of that is from people who are sympathetic to the harassment she’s had to deal with. Misogynistic trolls have in this case performed a Westboro Baptist Church-like function in drawing attention to something they hate through sheer petulant anger, and managing to help it flourish in the process. You’re probably familiar with the WBC, but maybe not the fact that a lot of their protests (which they announce in advance) have been the occasion for fund-raising for gay rights groups that would not have otherwise received that money. In the same way, Sarkeesian’s project has received far more attention than it probably otherwise would have due to the douchebaggery of its opponents. That’s great for the project itself, which has become significantly more ambitious in light of the ballooning donations, but it has also elicited some interesting reflections from feminist observers.

Becky Chambers at The Mary Sue:

The comment I have seen repeated most often in conjunction with these stories is something I have wondered myself: What can we do about this? That’s a difficult question, and though I don’t have the faintest idea of what to do about the internet at large, I believe the climate within the gaming community, at least, could slowly be improved through the joint efforts of both developers and gamers. Developers, you are free to tell whatever stories and portray whatever characters you want. You have no fight from me there. But when you create a character, think about the message you are sending. Think about the example you are setting for your fanbase. Think about hatefests like the ones detailed here, and consider how your work might be encouraging them. Take, for example, the uproar against the Hitman trailer. Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry expertly tackled this one last week in an article entitled “Can’t We Discuss This Like Adults?” 

Let’s be absolutely clear that it’s [sexualized violence] which is the issue. It’s not the fact that there are nuns in the game who then turn out to be sexy nun assassins in suspender belts. You want sexy nun assassins in your game trailer? Be my guest. It looks ridiculous, and I don’t see them getting much assassinating done while wearing those heels, but if you think your target audience is the demographic slice of people who get turned on by poorly CG rendered assassins in habits and stiletto heels, go for it. Nor is the issue the fact that Agent 47 commits violent acts against women. He’s a hitman, assassins are attacking him, he kills them. That’s not the problem.The problem is the interaction between those two things. The thought process of the creators of this trailer is naked for the world to see. Gamers like sexy women. Let’s have sexy women, and let’s make them sexy nuns because that’s edgy. You know what else is edgy? Having the dark anti-hero kill women, rather than the usual faceless male soldiers and thugs. That’ll get headlines. Let’s do that.
…The imagery is deliberately powerfully sexual. It’s also deliberately powerfully violent. Square Enix intended both of those things to be present in the imagery. I don’t think (wishful, perhaps) that they quite intended their interaction to be so horrific. In a society where 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence, Square Enix just released a video of violence against women presented as sexy and fetishised. That’s the issue. 

A few days after that article was posted, Hitman developer IO Interactive apologized for the trailer, tellingly stating that they were “surprised” by the negative reaction, because all they had intended was “to make something cool.” So, developers, consider your audience, and consider the social climate you’re wading into. Make your mark, but do so wisely. Remember the lessons of Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. You can ignore that, if you want. That’s your right. Only you can decide where the line between censorship and consideration lies. It’s a hard question, but it’s one that you need to ask yourselves with every game you make.

Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress:

But the whole incident is a reminder of how deeply some men are invested not simply in the structures that provide them tangible advantages, but in the conventions that let them wallow in culture that indulges their worst, stupidest impulses. And if folks are willing to fight this hard against someone doing criticism of culture, there are others who will do worse to preserve the laws that give them privilege in the world. Culture in this area, as in so many others, is a canary in a coal mine. And women who complain about online harassment aren’t being oversensitive: they’re trying to stop an ugly cycle before it spirals out of control. Both psychologically and substantively, it’s key to our ability to do our work. 

Jessica Coen at Jezebel:

We received a tip about this story last week and, to be honest, I shrugged. We didn’t cover it. My job involves reading hundreds of emails and thousands of headlines every day and, ultimately, making a call on whether or not I should assign the story to one of the site’s writers. I usually make that call pretty quickly, for reasons having to do with gut instincts and knowing that if I don’t make a decision about something right away, it could be ages before I get to it again. So, yeah, I didn’t even blink. And now, upon further reflection, that reaction makes me feel a little queasy. Not because Jezebel potentially missed a good story (though that concern is always there, even in my sleep), and not because I decided not to assign coverage. Rather, I’m queasy because of why I shrugged: I read about Anita Sarkeesian and my immediate reaction was, “This crap happens every damn day. Nothing new here. Nothing to see. Move along.” Ugh. 

Anjin Anhut at How Not To Suck At Game Design:

Misogyny in games is everywhere and almost as old as popular games are. I love games, I work in games, I play games, games are awesome, powerful and wonderful. But the way the games industry and community treats roughly 50% of the human population is a giant festering ugly tumor, right in our favorite cultures’s face. Considering the damage misogyny in games does to pop culture and to society at large (games are a large cultural force now), I find myself always flabbergasted at the consorted and massive efforts from gamers to keep things as disgusting as they are, whenever someone speaks up against it. Instead of joining forces with people, who care enough to make games better for all of us and, yes, help women get a better standing in society, gamers get defensive. They play the victim, rationalize, become offensive and even resort to hostile attacks and vandalism. This is not helping. It is generating additional damage to our culture, in fact. Whatever the aspect of games, the community or themselves it is, they get so protective about… they are completely poisoning and deforming it, by their own misguided actions defending misogyny in games. 

Alex at the border house:

It’s nice that the number of backers doubled once news of the harassment campaign started getting around. But the video game community needs to do more. It’s well past time for the video game community to own up to and condemn the fact that there is a subset of us dedicated to organized mob harassment of people who criticize games in any way, but particularly when it comes to social issues like misogyny, racism, and homophobia. It’s time to stop rolling our eyes about how awful gamers and nerds are. We are gamers and nerds, and this is our community. If you know someone who is involved in this sort of thing, tell them that it’s not cool. Condemn this sort of behavior on forums, on Twitter, wherever you have a voice. If you don’t feel safe doing those things, then don’t (safety is most important), but if you can, speak up. This is a perfect way for allies who want to do more to do so. Let harassers know they are the ones who aren’t welcome in video games, not the people who make thoughtful criticism out of love for the medium. Games don’t belong to them, and the community has no need for people who harass and try to silence criticism.

Why no women? Well…

Byron York at the Washington Examiner reports that Sandra Fluke’s testimony for the Democratic Steering Committee and the necessity for having it was a bit…manufactured. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa says that the Democrats originally waited for days before suggesting witnesses for the hearing before the Oversight and Reform Committee until the afternoon before the hearing, and then proposed Rev. Barry Lynn (head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) and Fluke. The Republicans invited Lynn; the Democrats said “No, wait!” but it was too late, so they disinvited Lynn, then complained that there were no women present at the hearing which occurred.

Dear Dems….why? Barry Lynn would have given great testimony; I’m sure. But was there such a paucity of female witnesses to invite that you couldn’t have picked two of them? Assuming, that is, that having a woman testify is so important (and I agree that it is)? That would have prevented the indignity of having to call up someone you specifically selected to present testimony and say “Oh wait, never mind” because it would mean that you couldn’t moan about the lack of women later after having been given the option to hand pick one and botched it.

None of which is Sandra Fluke’s fault, of course. Nor is it her fault that this happened:

Issa explained that Democrats had requested Barry Lynn, that Lynn was invited, and that Democrats then retracted the Lynn request.  As for Fluke, Issa said Republicans had never heard of the Democrats’ last-minute choice.  “I asked our staff what is her background, what has she done,” Issa said at the hearing.  “They did the usual that we do when we’re not provided the three days and the forms to go with it. They did a Google search. They looked and found that she was, in fact, and is a college student who appears to have become energized over this issue and participated in approximately a 45-minute press conference…I cannot and will not arbitrarily take a majority or minority witness if they do not have the appropriate credentials, both for a hearing at the full committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and if we cannot vet them in a timely fashion.” (Fluke is in fact a 30 year-old law student with an extensive history of activism in leftist causes.)

Extensive history of activism or not, she was not as easy to verify as Barry Lynn with a quick Google search (which was only necessary because proper notice and forms had not been submitted), so Issa went with Lynn. If this is all true, I can’t blame him for that. Maybe there’s a good reason I don’t know of why the Democrats were so slow in getting their proposed witnesses in. But as it stands, it doesn’t seem like the Republicans are entirely to blame for that hearing being composed exclusively of men.

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