So the wacky fun continues with even more absurd reasoning directed at the Tropes vs Women series of YouTube videos. This latest addition comes from a guy who goes by the name Thunderf00t. To spare us from the dangers of misinformation, he created his own series of videos called Feminism vs Facts. Can I just say that as a guy and a feminist myself, I really hate this title? The instant I read a title like that, I immediately find myself cringing and expecting to be confronted with some rant about women trying to take over the world. But okay, dude; I’m open minded. Hit me with some facts.
If you check this guy’s YouTube page, you’ll find the words “seeing through delusion” on his banner. The irony of that is going to become apparent in just a few minutes as you read through this entry. So let’s get started. Here’s a link to Sarkeesian’s Damsels in Distress video and one to Thunderf00t’s review thereof. I’ll also link you to the second and third installments of the Damsel in Distress miniseries. They’re great videos. Seriously, check them out.
Let’s review the basic argument of the Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress series. Keep in mind that this is a three-part video series that examines the Damsel in Distress trope from lots of different angles. It would be impossible to summarize the entire series in a single paragraph, but Sarkeesian’s main point goes like this.
The Damsel in Distress trope reduces a female character to the status of a prop in a male character’s story. Female characters are disempowered, humiliated and then left in a situation from which they cannot escape. This in turn empowers the male character (usually the game’s protagonist) as he is then able to rescue his girlfriend from her unfortunate predicament. Damsels in distress aren’t characters so much as they are prizes to be won by a male hero. This has a dehumanizing effect in that it encourages us to think of women as objects.
Everybody got that?
Okay, let’s move on to Thunderf00t’s first argument.
At about one minute into his video, he objects to Sarkeesian including Double Dragon in her list of games that use the Damsel in Distress trope. The story of Double Dragon goes like this: a young woman named Marian is captured by some thugs. Two brothers, one of whom happens to be Marian’s boyfriend, battle their way through an army of street toughs to save her. The end. Marian is clearly in need of male assistance to escape her predicament. So why does Thunderf00t object to calling her a damsel?
The end of Double Dragon Neon features a recently-freed Marian punching her captor with enough force to break him in half. This cartoonish display is supposed to serve as evidence that Marian is not, in fact, a weak character. I suppose you’re right about that, Thunderf00t. It’s just…
If you had actually listened to Sarkeesian’s video, you would understand that physical strength is not the point. To quote Sarkeesian, “The Damsel in Distress is not just a synonym for ‘weak.’ Instead it works by ripping away the power from female characters, even helpful or seemingly capable ones. No matter what we’re told about their magical abilities, skills or strengths, they’re still ultimately captured or incapacitated.”
If we took Buffy – a woman who is arguably one of the strongest female characters in existence – and did an episode in which she was captured by the monster of the week, we would still be turning her into a damsel in distress. If the plot involved her male best friend Xander coming to the rescue, that would pretty much clinch it.
Buffy’s super strength, martial arts training and enhanced senses would be irrelevant to her status as a damsel. It’s not about how hard she can punch; it’s about whether or not she is capable of escaping her predicament on her own. If she isn’t, then it’s not really her story. It’s Xander’s story. Sarkeesian is making note of the numerous times that female characters are reduced to the status of props in a man’s story. It happens a lot. Sure, Marian punched her captor hard enough to rip him in half. It doesn’t change the fact that she needed a man to come to her rescue.
Thunderf00t’s next argument is that the title Tropes vs Women is a straw-man. Okay… How? Remember that a straw-man argument is one in which you put words in your opponent’s mouth to make his or her argument seem ridiculous. It’s not enough to just call something a straw-man; you have to explain how your point has been misrepresented.
Thunderf00t’s next point. “Feminist Frequency’s ability to find patterns that don’t exist is rivaled only by her ability to miss the most important and bloody obvious pattern of all. These games were not made to keep feminists happy; these games were not designed to subjugate women. These games were designed to be fun to play and thereby make a profit for the designer.”
Whether or not these patterns exist is, in fact, the subject of this debate; so you can’t just assert that they do not exist and then use that as evidence for your next point. That’s actually a Begging the Question fallacy. But moving on.
The flaw in your argument, Thunderf00t, is the the assumption that the profit motive is a reasonable justification for socially harmful behaviour. I’ve argued here, here and here that it is not. Perhaps you’re trying to say that the designers of these games did not intend to make stories that portray female characters as helpless and dependent on men. If so, I agree.
And I’m sure that Anita Sarkeesian agrees as well.
Though I can’t speak for her, it seems to me that her purpose in creating Tropes vs Women is to show how often storytellers rely on these conventions without thinking. Sarkeesian obviously loves video games as much as you do. It seems to me that she just wants designers to rethink their storylines. In addition to presenting a egalitarian view of female characters, abandoning these overused tropes would actually make the games that use them better art.
“The Damsel in Distress is just one of the simple storylines you can set up very easily. Why? Because most people in healthy relationships care about each other?”
Then why are there so many games that feature men rescuing women and so few that feature women rescuing men? The emotional significance is the same either way. Better yet, how ’bout a game where men and women work together against a common enemy? Oh, and in case you bring up something like Resident Evil Four, it doesn’t count if you can’t choose the female character in single-player.
“Let me just give you a couple of scenarios here, Anita. Billy’s girlfriend gets punched in the stomach and abducted by a gang of thugs. Which of the following options defines the healthier relationship? That he immediately sets out, risking his own safety, to protect his loved ones? Or that he decides ‘she’s a grown adult and can look after herself’ and then goes home to polish his car?”
In real life?
If your actual, flesh-and-blood girlfriend was abducted by thugs, I would hope that your first instinct would be to go to the cops. Grabbing the nearest baseball bat and setting out on a quest to battle your way through hordes of thugs will probably get your girlfriend killed. Real-life is not a video game. I’d have assumed that you already knew this if not for the following.
“Personally, Anita, I think that most women would view the latter as a relationship-ending lack of commitment.”
Yes. Most people would be pretty pissed if your reaction to the news that they had been kidnapped was to go home and polish your car, but that doesn’t mean that they would want you to set out, risking your own safety, to protect them. Most people would be smart enough to realize that their significant others are ill-equipped to deal with a gang of thugs. Remember your tag-line about “seeing through delusions?” Real life is not a video game!
Now this is a straw-man. In addition to putting words in your opponent’s mouth, a straw-man is often used as a distraction technique. Sarkeesian has said nothing about relationships or commitment. Thunderf00t has changed the subject to her views on relationships, and now we’re not even discussing the original topic, which is the presentation of women in video games.
He gives us a snippet of Sarkeesian’s discussion on the subject/object dichotomy, which you will find here. “So, in your mind, if my girlfriend gets abducted, I can’t want to protect her or to keep her safe without turning her into an object.”
Sarkeesian said nothing about real-world relationships. You’re putting words in her mouth. Do you understand that the subject/object dichotomy she discussed applies to works of fiction?
“Damn, I thought I was cold. But that? That’s inhuman. I mean really, by your feminist reasoning, hospitals – the places where patients come to be acted upon – are actually objectification centres where people are turned into objects to be acted on. And doctors? They’re not medical help providers; they’re the biggest objectifiers of all.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the straw-man argument. Those of you who have watched the Tropes vs Women videos, please answer one question. What has Anita Sarkeesian said about hospitals and doctors? Nothing?
A straw-man argument works by putting words in your opponent’s mouth. Sometimes this takes the form of taking their argument to such an extreme that it becomes ridiculous. Does anyone actually think that Sarkeesian sees hospitals as objectification centres? The subject/object dichotomy applies to works of fiction. The main character is the subject of a story; the fictional elements that he or she interacts with are objects in the story. Because a Damsel has no literary purpose outside of being a prize for the hero to win, she is an object in the story.
Here ends part one.
I’ll dissect the rest of his video tomorrow.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!