Okay this one goes out by request to a friend who asked me to analyze MrRepzion’s response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women series. I was planning to be done with this, but apparently this is a hot topic right now. “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”
First, a little housekeeping. I’m making it my official policy to respond to everyone who calls me a social justice warrior with this.
Second. “Why are you doing this?” Several people have asked; so let’s clear this up now. It’s important for men who believe in feminism to come out and make their opinions known. So long as we remain silent, people like Davis Aurini, Jordan Owen and everyone else who jumped on the GamerGate bandwagon can continue to paint this as a battle of the sexes. Feminism isn’t women vs men; it’s people vs injustice, and the world needs to know that.
That said, let’s get started.
MrRepzion’s response is to the second part of Anita Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress series. I’m not going to address every single point in his hour-long response because he pretty much makes the same point over and over again.
MrRepzion’s central thesis is that the brief snippets Sarkeesian shows us of misogyny in video games are all taken out of context. My response to this is pretty much going to be the same every time. “How would a ‘larger context’ make the situation any different?”
Let’s dive in. Repzion begins his video with a complaint that Sarkeesian stole other people Let’s Play footage to make her videos. He provides a link in which health bars in the Let’s Play footage are compared to those in Sarkeesian’s game footage as evidence. I will concede this point. In part because it’s not for me to address that – Sarkeesian can apologize and credit right people if she so chooses – but mostly because it’s not relevant. The issue here is the content of the games themselves, not who was holding the controller when this footage was collected.
Repzion goes on to say that Sarkeesian has not actually played the games she critques. I would consider that inadmissible because – short of an admission from Sarkeesian herself – there is no way he could possibly know that. You don’t know what she does in her free time, Repzion. She could very well have played these games. Or, failing that, she could have watched other people play them. You are correct that she should have requested permission before using the Let’s Play footage and credited the creators of that footage, but I don’t think this undermines her message.
Repzion’s next point is that Sarkeesian is showing us footage from TimeSplitters: Future Perfect out of context. Sarkeesian gave us a brief snapshot of a woman tied to railroad tracks to illustrate the violence that is often done to damsels in distress. Repzion tells us that this scene is meant to be a parody of “film and cinema of the 1920s.” Apparently the scene is meant to poke fun at the overuse of the damsel trope. Here is the scene in context from Repzion’s perspective.
Helpless woman restrained against her will? Check. Inability to escape on her own? Check. Male character who comes to the rescue? Check. Sorry to tell you this, but the young woman in this scene is a damsel. How is this game’s status as a parody relevant? The only difference is that violence against women is now used for laughs instead of shock value. The young woman is still disempowered and left in a situation where a man must save her. The Princess Bride is one of my favourite satires, but that doesn’t change the fact that Buttercup is a damsel.
He makes the same point about the game Deadlight. According to Repzion, Sarkeesian is taking footage from Deadlight out of context. The woman that we see being manhandled and stripped is actually being detained with men, children and other women. Apparently the young woman in the clip is being forced to strip so that she can be “decontaminated.”
(What follows comes with a trigger warning. This scene contains graphic footage of a woman being beaten and forced to strip.)
Listen to the lascivious tone in the guard’s voice. Listen to the desperation in the woman’s voice. Repzion, are you really going to tell me that this scene doesn’t have rape overtones? Because it’s pretty damn creepy to me.
Is the fact that this “decontamination” also happened to men supposed to undermine the theme of this scene? Remember, you chose this footage as a proper contextual analysis of the game. So you can’t claim that I’m taking it out of context.
Is there footage of male characters being subjected to the same treatment? Or are we merely told that they were beaten and forced to strip? Are scenes of men who endure this treatment portrayed with the same air of menace? Do the guards’ tone and body language suggest that they’re getting aroused by the process of forcing a man out of his clothing in the same way that the guard in this scene is aroused when he forces the woman to strip?
This subtext of this scene is rape. Period. Anita Sarkeesian’s argument is only strengthened by this footage.
I hope that, by now, the pattern is becoming clear. Each time Repzion insists that Sarkeesian is taking footage out of context, a “contextual analysis” using the footage that he provides only serves to affirm Sarkeesian’s point.
His next point involves the game Bayonetta. And he says the following. “Male power fantasies, hmm. Interesting choice of words there, Anita. What about female power fantasies? The fact that you only present male power fantasies. Isn’t that a bit sexist that you don’t show the other side? For instance, the game Bayonetta.”
Repzion, I’m not really qualified to speak on any woman’s behalf, but I don’t think most women’s fantasies of empowerment involve this. The camera’s right up there in her crotch. This really seems to be a case of male gaze. Not female gaze. Now, to be fair, Brianna Wu has gone on record saying that she likes the game, but that’s neither here nor there.
What’s your point here, Repzion? Are you trying to say that lots of women like playing these games even though some of them have misogynistic imagery? I’m sure that’s true. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be responding to here.
We’re not even discussing the Tropes vs Women series anymore. This is a video that Sarkeesian made long before she released Damsels in Distress. But since it deals with the same subject matter, I’ll treat it as a fair addition.
In her video, Sarkeesian complains that Bayonetta strips off her clothes to use her hair as weapon. Repzion replies with the following. “Here’s the thing. You haven’t actually played the game Bayonetta, nor do you know the history behind why this actually is the case. Did you know that Bayonetta’s hair is part of her clothing? Yes, her hair is part of her clothing.”
Sarkeesian’s point is that the choice to make Bayonetta’s clothes come off whenever she uses her hair is obvious fan service. The game designers didn’t have to make her hair part of her clothing. They could have, you know, given her actual clothes.
But let’s talk about fan service. Is fan service a bad thing? Not always. But I’m of the opinion that if you’re trying to write an empowered action girl, you generally want her sexiness to come mostly from her personality and strength of character. Relying too much on fan service can undermine that.
On to Repzion’s next point.
“She reallocates her hair for wicked weaves. This is actually historically based. It’s based on the myths/legends of witches who actually use their hair for magic.” Okay, and… What does that have to do with fan service? I can’t help but imagine that you’re expecting this to be a conversation that goes like this.
“Her clothes come off so that she can use her hair as a weapon? That’s a pretty lame excuse for fan-service.”
“That’s actually based on actual historical myths.”
“Oh well now it’s high-class art!”
Keep in mind, I don’t think fan service is necessarily a bad thing – though I usually insist on equal opportunity fan service – but… What point are you trying to prove here? That Sarkeesian doesn’t understand Bayonetta in context? That hasn’t really helped your case so far.
Bayonetta was designed by a woman.
First of all, I don’t think Bayonetta is necessarily misogynistic. I haven’t played it, but I’ve watched a few Let’s Plays to get my bearings. However, it’s definitely a game that caters to young men. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
However, a feminist would tell you that women are quite capable of being misogynistic. So if Sarkeesian thinks the game is misogynistic, the fact that it was designed by a woman won’t change her mind.
So the next part of the video plays a clip of Sarkeesian’s discussion on the ways that damsels in distress are given token gestures of empowerment. Being able to tease or kick the bad guy after he’s been defeated, for instance. Repzion replies to this with the following.
“What Anita Sarkeesian is saying right here is that if a female character attempts to show any resistance toward a male enemy within the video game, their efforts are completely and always meaningless. And, in fact, that she will always lose regardless of what she tries to do.”
If she’s a damsel, then yes that’s true. That’s what makes her a damsel. I hate to resort to proof by tautology here, but yes. There are female characters who are completely incapable of escaping their male captors without some form of assistance. They’re called damsels in distress.
“As you and I both know, there are plenty of video games with females in them, and this is not the case at all in any possible way.”
Not at all, huh?
So Mario should just sit back and order a pizza because Peach can totally jailbreak that cell and stomp Bowser’s fat head on her own? How many times has Peach escaped her prison without any outside assistance?
“Yet [Sarkeesian] is trying to say that this is the case with all games with females in them.”
And we have our first straw-man. Until this point, I was actually impressed. His arguments weren’t very good but they were logically valid and lacking any major fallacies. No. Sarkeesian is not saying that all video games that feature female characters turn those characters into damsels in distress. I’m not going to bother listing the numerous heroines who defy the damsel trope. Chell, for one. Or Samus. Suffice it to say that Sarkeesian is well aware of these characters. Stop putting words in her mouth.
“If a female character tries to help the male protagonist, Sarkeesian brushes it off and says that it’s only for symbolism.”
What she means is that shouting “Hey, I’m up here!” or “The cage is opened with a key!” or “No, Link, you have to hit that big flashy spot on the top of his head… Yeah that! No… Damn it, Link, stop running up to him. He’s just going to hit you with the hammer again! Oh, for the love of the Triforce! He hit you with the hammer! Gee I never saw that coming!”
Those token gestures aren’t real empowerment. It looks real, but it’s Memorex.
“If you study her video line by line, you’ll see that it’s almost as if this woman, Anita Sarkeesian, is trying to attempt to cover up her own contradicting beliefs and statements that she makes throughout this video regarding her beliefs.”
It’s almost as if she’s trying to attempt to cover up her own contradicting beliefs regarding her beliefs. Could you meta that up a little more for me? I’m not trying to make fun of you, but dude, haven’t you heard of editing? You can do more than one take when you record a line.
That last statement references itself so many times, it actually doesn’t mean anything. Anita Sarkeesian is trying to attempt to cover up her beliefs regarding her beliefs. She’s trying to try. And she has beliefs about her beliefs.
But she’s not trying to cover up her beliefs. No, she’s trying to cover up the beliefs she has about her beliefs. (Which are really just a subset of her beliefs and…) GAAH! It just goes round and round in circles. Dissecting this sentence is the punishment they’ll give to Sisyphus when they’ve decided he’s pushed that boulder long enough.
His next point is about empathy, and I’ve already discussed that in my response to Thunderf00t. So I’m skipping that. Yes, damsels create an emotional response in both male and female players. Everyone who plays the game feels sympathy for the damsel. That’s not the point. The point is why do we have so many females in need of rescuing and so few males?
After that, we get another argument about how if a real flesh and blood man acts to save a woman from someone who is trying to harm her, this is not sexist. You are correct. It is not sexist. And Sarkeesian isn’t trying to say that it is. It seems I have to tell you the same thing I told Thunderf00t. Stop confusing real life and video games. Fictional worlds are places where the writer has complete control. So he or she can easily make a world where female characters solve their own problems.
And I’m done.
No, really I’m done.
Briana Wu, Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn. I know I’ve put links to this blog on Twitter. If any of you are reading this, you have my heartfelt sympathies. After just one week of hearing the same tired, poorly structured arguments again and again, I’m ready to pull my hair out. While the threats and harassment are certainly the worst part of your ordeal, I can only imagine the moments of irritation and frustration that you must feel when you’re forced to respond to the same questions over and over again.
Repzion, Thunderf00t, IWALVG, do you want to know why your arguments are so sloppy? You don’t fucking listen to the source material you’re trying to refute. You hear that Anita Sarkeesian has analyzed some aspect of the video games you love so much, and you have an emotional reaction. You get your backs up, and you stop paying attention.
I think you’re all secretly afraid to acknowledge the presence of sexism in video games because if you admit that some of the games you love have sexist themes, it must mean you’re sexist for playing them. Well, I hate to tell you this, but there is sexism in video games. There’s also sexism in television, in many of the films that Hollywood churns out and in many of the books that top the New York Times bestseller list.
I was a fan of the Wheel of Time, and that series is sexist as all bloody hell. It’s okay to enjoy works of fiction that have sexist themes. That doesn’t make you sexist by proxy. Sarkeesian herself says this at the beginning of every video. If you would listen and pay attention, you’d hear it. “It is quite possible, and even necessary, to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.” But you don’t listen. You just get all riled up and start composing your response without even knowing what you’re responding to.
It’s okay to enjoy video games that have sexist themes and plot devices. That doesn’t make you sexist. It’s not okay to live in denial and try to pretend these themes don’t exist. And it’s certainly not okay to systematically attack someone who might want to draw your attention to these themes and replace them with something better.
Would a Mario game be any less fun if the game involved Mario and Peach teaming up to retrieve some magical artifact from Bowser? Would a Zelda game be any less fun if Zelda was a playable character? Anita Sarkeesian doesn’t want to take your games away from you. She wants to make them better. So stop giving in to knee-jerk emotional reactions and start listening.
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!