❤ Positive Feminism

❤ Positive Feminism

When I’m on a con panel, I look for an opportunity to mention that I don’t agree with the conclusions of She-who-shall-not-be-named in her Game-Trope series and that her voice is not the best to put forward for feminism.* When I say this, there are audible groans of disapproval in the audience. That’s fine. I want the community to be open to differing opinions and keep an open mind. But it seems people aren’t comfortable doing that.

After one panel at DragonCon a handful of people came up to me and secretly confessed they agreed with me about She-who-shall-not-be-named. “But if she’s not our feminist delegate, who else is there? Don’t I have to fall in line?”

Absolutely not.

Putting forth only one representative for a complex idea will, in fact, have the opposite effect. The fallout we’ve been seeing lately is a clear example of that. The proliferation of hearsay may even cause the  altogether loss of the term ‘feminism’ as anything socially positive. A valid cause and idea has become lost in a screaming match. There are lots of reasons for the screaming (lies, misinformation, piety, etc.), but one is the desperate need of the feminist community to defend the narrow representation we’ve put forth.

The feminist model that speaks for you should be chosen by you, not a community, hashtag, meme, or prolific headliner. Social media is defining who and what you are. Drive social media; don’t ride its helter-skelter, chameleon party bus. Choose for yourself a feminist that speaks for you and raise them up via your tweets, friend clicks, likes, posts, tumbles, etc. We talk to people on the show all the time that may voice your feminism — look back at those as a starting point.

The first thing you need to do is understand is what feminism means to you. Feminism is not a cause, it’s a conviction. Feminism is not a negative, it’s a positive. “I’m against hate speech,” is a cause. “I’m for inclusion and diversity,” is a conviction. Spell out your principles on paper about what it means to you to be a feminist. Then, you can choose a mentor and a cause.

One feminist cause seems to be railing against hate speech but it’s a very small and futile one. As any psychologist will tell you about relationships (or anyone who’s been in a relationship), you can’t change another person — not with reasoning, screaming, badgering, shaming… anything. You’ll make bigger strides for feminism if you become a better feminist than you will in trying to stop one person’s hate speech. As a group cause, we can encourage individuals to stand up, one-on-one, against online hate speech.

What about death threats? This is different. It is a form of hate speech, but it crosses a line. This is not a cause, it is a crime, and our tax-paid enforcement agencies should be dealing with it. If they are not, you have a cause with law and enforcement leaders and your social media rants may actually work against you in this. If you are a victim of threats, you should be going to the police and not online. There is no benefit to you or the community to make threats public.

“But people need to know this is happening.”

In regards to death threats specifically, why? If law enforcement is handling it, then what does it benefit feminism or the online community to know about it? If it is being dealt with, it is, by definition, not a cause. And you’re not going to stop it by putting it on the new celebrity stage of social media. Retweeting gives it importance and I don’t think it’s the importance you intend. Believe me; the hater is thrilled you retweeted. The online affirmation is the retweet/like/❤/△/@.

To Regina’s optimism, I am the pessimist. I see no end to hate or threatening speech. And if we can’t change the other person then let’s not waste our efforts. Exert all of this energy to raise the positive message, live an example of our feminism, be a feminist mentor, and put forth more and more representatives. If we’re going on a raid, we need more than a single crafting sorceress.

I’ll Give You A Topic

Are there any other feminist models out there? Who are they?

* I think I used all the hot-button words in that sentence. That should get a bunch of unnecessary hits. Bleh.

Rhonda has a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science and is a self-taught graphic designer. She considers herself a geek*wildcard because she has a little bit of experience in everything.


  1. I think my main problem with her is her videos make it look as if sexism and mysogyny were video game's only purpose. Now It's only natural to assume that in a series of videos dedicated to explore the depictions of women in gaming this one aspect of them is what's going to be highlighted, and she does have some very solid points in them, but sometimes I can't do anything but disagree with her. Then again, I usually play games in a very "ethical" way if you to put it that way (no stealing )except for cars in GTA), no killing of civillians, etc.) In one of her latest videos she says that protrayal of violence against women itself (like the random killings of prostitutes in RDR) does not equal criticism of it. however for me it does come a little close, at least in a game like RDR which is at least, partially supposed to be a satirical take of the whole Wild West myth. I didn't have to watch that often but when I had to I usually thought about how bad it was that women had to put up with things like that in the past (even nowadays considering how many of them still do). I do aggree however that it would be better to see developers change these attitudes in the future (kinda like having encounters where the NPC's can defend themselves, or at least have masculine NPC's face the same hardships…I don't know..)But I didn't feel alienated while experiencing that, quite the contrary I even think I learned to feel more empathy. Anyway I don't want this post to be just a critique of someone. To answer your question, I think i would be lying if I said I had anyone in my mind. Nontheless I appreciate what people like you (and yes, even Sarkeesian) are doing regarding video games. Bringing these issues to an open platform so they can be discussed, not only will perhaps change the medium for the better, it's also a great way to get to know and become interested in feminism and change society itself. That being said, even though one doesn't have to aggree with everything the other says, the fact any woman can take these matters into their own hands
    to raise awareness and bring about change, makes it a positive feminist model for me

  2. If you listen to episodes 61 and 69 you'll see that we agree in a lot of ways. That's part of the reason I'd like us to invest time in other models that more accurately represent our ideas.

  3. One of the things your comment highlights, Mat, is my biggest issue with the series. I considered doing textual analysis of games when I started my Ph.D. program but I felt that left out the most important component of gaming: the gamer. Where we can do textual readings of movies like they were novels or other one way texts, games are interactive and demand a more in-depth and rigorous analysis. You can't look at a game and not think about the gamer. You give a perfect example here – the stories and scenes in RDR gave you pause and you felt a new level of empathy (or a different kind of empathy – I don't want to put words in your mouth.) That is a hugely profound thing and something that happens with other media like movies and books but I think happens much more often in games when you are interactive more with the story, where you make those ethical or unethical decisions. This, I think, is the biggest issue with Sarkessian's analysis: it leaves out the most important component of the game, the person sitting at the controls.

    Thank you so much for your comment! We do so appreciate hearing from our readers and listeners. 🙂

  4. Absolutely right. If the gaming media hadn't latched onto Anita Sarkeesian so single-mindedly and been apparently unable to differentiate between the criticism and the trolling, there arguably wouldn't be stuck in this current mud-slinging catastrophe that is "Gamergate". The problem has been that from the moment Anita started her worthwhile kickstarter the coverage of her legitimately horrifying harassment has drowned out or overwhelmed discussions of her actual work. While people should certainly not blame her for how she initially dealt with the disgusting, unjustified hate, we can certainly be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed in the direction she took from there.

    The coverage of the pre-emptive hate her mere pitch experienced was legitimate, particularly the timely attention it brought to the worthy #1reasonwhy cause. Sadly, once the videos did start to come out few mainstream journalists seemed willing to analyse the issues in any great depth, instead seemingly prefering to offer an embed videolink, followed by vague agreement with her general points and [quite rightly] reiterate the importance of her work. Any criticisms they had tended to be handwaved away and, indeed, these number of articles that actually discussed her work dwindled with each sucessive video.

    Meanwhile, dozens of regular Youtubers were more than happy to offer their thoughts on Anita's ideas and while some of these undoubtedly went way, way off the deep end, no-one in mainstream journalism seemed willing to admit [publically?] that any of the criticisms were valid with many journalists dismissing all rebuttals as rooted in sexist over-defensiveness. The harassment Anita faced was repeatedly brought up as a quasi-circular indication that there was a 'sexism problem' in gaming and that open criticism somehow helps undermine the efforts of women in gaming. To be fair though, I get the impression that many mainstream sites and, indeed, some game journalists aren't quite equipped to chair and listen to a moderate, reasonable discussion on this topic. Nonetheless, their apparent unwillingness to try, exacerbated by their clickbaity willingness to dip into the 'sexism in gaming' well whenever there was the slightest hint of a minor controversy, has only stirred the current level of discontent in the community.

  5. [Cont.d] Perhaps most unfortunately of all, Anita, herself, has seemed comfortable enough following the dialogue that the mainstream media has set for her. They predominantly engage with her as a "victim of extreme sexist / internet abuse" rather than as culture critic and she has largely become a spokesperson for that while discussion of her actual work is pushed to the side. It's rather worrying that almost all of her talks and many of her interviews refer exclusively to the harassment she and others have received online and what this harassment supposedly says about the community as a whole. In fact outside of the videos themselves I've struggled to find an instance of her engaging in an in-depth discussion about the issues surrounding female characters in gaming that isn't merely a basic repetition of the points she has made earlier. She appears more comfortable alternating between situations where she states her point of view to listeners who are largely unaware of what she is talking about and times when she can point at the most extremist of her detractors and thus highlight what she has to deal with.

    What I don't think people realise is that Anita has been far too complicit in maintaining the perception that she is defined as much by what she has suffered and survived as what she actually has to say. The sad fact is that while it is certainly important that we are aware of the ways that people can face abuse online and that women experience a vastly dispropionate level of it, the gaming media has actually, over the course of many articles, twisted specific instances of harassment [executed not by any group but extremist individuals] into an attack of an entire demographic.

    It's frustrating that all the insistent [and not particularly considerate] insinuations that gamers are 'especially' sexist are beginning to influence the public's perceptions of the gaming community and encouraging regressive denunciations based on the actions of attention-seeking trolls. The [relatively] silent, reasonable majority should always be wary of any attempts to draw lines in the sand and make sweeping judgments of another 'type' of people. One of the primary reasons this mutually destructive 'Gamergate' movement has lasted so long is because the media it has ostensibly been addressing has continued to dismiss everything it has questioned as the indefensible argument of fundamentally sexist bigots.

    It is this dismissal of an entire group's point of view that has catalysed this stupidly combustive discussion. The fact is that even if feminists remain emotionally justified in being overprotective when facing criticism, based upon what they've often faced, silencing critics only serves to disempower and disenfranchise others, and this entrenches different perspectives rather than reconciling them. Moreover, the best way to disarm opponents intelllectually, if we take the examples of the most effective revolutionaries in history, is to rise above conflict-perpetuating narratives and 'fight' for reconciliation and compromise.

    As things stand, the gaming community is actually not doing badly for a young industry- while its AAA productions are still relatively formulaic and unadventurous in their representation it has an ever-increasing number of games that either offer alternative or gender-neutral experiences. While we could certainly do with more female protagonists in our gaming storylines and we should certainly never support bullying of any kind, the best way to do that is certainly not to create more 'opponents' but rather improve relations by listening.

  6. By the way, I feel that you guys are rather decent players

  7. Thank you so much for your comments, Adam. Truly, you've expressed much of what I have thought about Anita and her successes. I find the fact that the harassment is the selling point for her series now, instead of the content in her videos, is troubling. This leaves me wondering if the media"support" she receives is truly because no one feels the agency to disagree with her. I even felt a bit like I went out on a limb in the episodes where we have discussed the show in expressing a high level of dissatisfaction with her readings.

    In my Ph.D. program, one of my classes completely disintegrated because of personal reactions to the critics and theory we were reading. Many of the students felt that their personal experience was nullified by the critiques we read and the theories that made them question their assumptions. I feel this is much of what happens with Tropes vs Women in Video Games. The vocal minority feels their identity is invalidated because of a negative, and widely viewed critique. As a cultural critic, I sometimes love stories and representations that are terrible. I can recognize how awful they are and still enjoy them. The movie Juno is a good example. I enjoyed that movie while at the same time feeling it was an odd commentary on teenage pregnancy. Holding those two concepts together is not easy and, dare I say, takes a bit of intellectual acrobatics.

    Thank you for your final comment. Rhonda and I devote a great amount of time, planning, thought, blood, sweat, and tears (usually over flaky technology!) to the site and the podcast. Hearing from readers like you makes it all worthwhile.

  8. Excellent work here, Rhonda. This is something I've needed to hear (well, read). Gaming does not need only one token feminist to represent that school of thought. There is room for many voices to engage with games, no matter what the internet discourse these days thinks. And, after reviewing the comments, I'm pleased to see such civil discussion occurring here about all this. It is incredibly reassuring and empowering to see, it truly is.

    I think all of you have some valid points about Anita's approach and how she tends to disregard the player in her analyses. When I conjured up her last video for my last article, I was attempting to relay my experience with RDR, how I have grown and changed as a feminist since 2011, and the misgivings I initially felt about women in that universe that her video amplified. It was a gut piece, which is typically how that series operates: I find something about a game that I get disgusted by, and then I try to react via text about it. Perhaps that is too shallow of an approach.

    So, again, excellent work, Rhonda. I really needed to read a piece like yours in the chaos that's been happening lately. I think it will motivate me to continue writing. 🙂 Thanks.

  9. Thanks, Jerry. I feel like it shouldn't be so frustrating to have these conversations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *