So, I came across this commentary on Anita Sarkeesian, which is more of a general comment than a comment on her views on video games specifically. To quickly summarize the article — and you’ll see why I do that in a moment — essentially his comment is that Sarkeesian is attempting to oppose stereotypical depictions of women in the media, and yet when non-stereotypical depictions are attempted, Sarkeesian essentially complains that that turns the women into nothing more than a man in a dress, as the positive traits given to them are masculine while the physical image is of a woman. The Armed Gamer comments that doing this isn’t fighting stereotypes, but is instead essentially accepting them, by dividing traits into inherently male and female and then saying that if a woman is demonstrating any traditionally male traits then she’s being presented as a man, instead of as a woman with a positive trait. Since Sarkeesian seems to say that more positive traits — or, at least ones that are seen as such — are traditionally male than female, this leads to an issue that presenting women with almost any positive trait will be seen as giving them a traditionally male trait, which isn’t a good way to solve the problem.
Or, at least, that’s my general take on it, but as usual since there’s a link you can go and read it yourself and tell me that I’m right, or wrong, or a moron, or whatever. The reason I spelled it out, though, is that it was referenced from this comment:
Further to a comment on the word ‘trope’, above, one of the more insidious attacks on Anita Sarkeesian I’ve seen is from a toad who styles himself the ‘Armed Gamer’. His trick is to attempt to prove that Sarkeesian is a sexist by asserting that the word ‘stereotype’ means the exact opposite to what people understand it to be, so that when Anita says something is a male or female stereotype, she means that she believes it is a true image of males or females, ergo she’s a sexist.
What’s shocking is the number of commenters nodding at this and say ‘oh, that’s food for thought, that is’.
I prefer to use the words ‘weasel’ and ‘douchebag’ in their non-literal sense.
First, looking at that comment and reading the article … that person seems to be interpreting it horribly wrong, so wrong that I don’t even recognize the article from the description in the comment. After all, the main reason that he claims that Sarkeesian thinks these really reflect reality despite her calling them stereotypes is because she actually seems to buy that these traits are inherently male or female. Don’t believe me? Here’s where he says that:
Anita Sarkeesian seems to believe very strongly in a dichotomy between inherently masculine and inherently feminine traits. These don’t seem to be her views on how masculinity and femininity are expressed. Rather, these seem to be her views on how each actually is. She hides her views on the false dichotomy by saying that the traits she mentions are “stereotypical traits,” but she also makes no effort to dissect that or explain why they are wrong. In a way, this makes Anita Sarkeesian sexist.
That, by the way, is the third paragraph, and the first one that has content beyond the traditional disclaimers. It’s later that he demonstrates Sarkeesian treating these traits as inherently male or female, in the one case by decrying a character that has traditionally male traits but is female as being anti-feminist, and in another by dividing up positive and negative traits by gender as well. Now, you can object here that she really still is talking about the depictions, and not the reality, but the Armed Gamer’s main point would still be valid:
Sarkeesian seems dedicated to wishing to modify yet retain the dichotomy instead of doing away with it altogether.
In truth, her list of negative and positive traits (I would argue with her classifying competitive as a negative trait) could easily do without gendered rows. Passiveness, indecisiveness, and being hysterical are generally considered negative qualities no matter the gender.
Which is: stop thinking about these as male and/or female and instead think of these as positive or negative no matter what gender the person is, because they generally are. So, even if wrong, there’s are more of a point there than the comment expressed.
Second, the comment suggests that one of the more insidious attacks on her — in light of her getting death threats, rape threats, harassment, bomb threats, threats of a massacre at her speaking engagement, general vitriol, and so on — is … someone who makes a reasoned criticism, looking at what she actually says, and then drawing conclusions from it. About the only thing that might be a reasonable point here is that this is an attempt to define her as sexist even as she’s fighting it … but again if the argument works then it’s something to consider, and if it doesn’t then he’s wrong, so point that out. It almost sounds like the most insidious possible attack you could make on Sarkeesian is to reasonably criticize her, the sort of thing which in general is a) not an attack and b) not insidious. Again, he might be wrong, but that doesn’t make what he’s doing an attack, insidious, or even wrong.
No, it seems like the last statement is the really indicative one here: that person is afraid that people might, in fact, think criticism of Sarkeesian might actually be reasonable at times, that there might be things to criticize in her work, and that she might not be completely and totally right about everything she says. Sure, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you know what? I’m sick of people calling valid criticism an attack for various half-baked reasons, and so if it looks like you’re just badmouthing it because it dares to criticize something you approve of, I’m gonna call it that.
Now, there are concerns about his criticism, and the various criticisms that have come out about the point. The main issue is that, as I’ve talked about before, the easiest way to add diversity to something is to essentially take the same character that you’ve always run and give it a female skin (for example). So what you have is a male character with a female character model. And that’s not really providing diversity, but is instead providing the appearance of diversity to avoiding actually having to provide diversity. So it’s a valid concern. But I think the Armed Gamer is right to point out — or at least strongly imply — that it’s counter-productive to take any female character that has any traditionally male traits and insist that that’s what’s happening. If you want to break the stereotype that there are traditionally male traits and traditionally female traits, it won’t do you any good to scream every time a character expresses traits that don’t fit those stereotypes.
I think the example of Zoe Washburn is a good example, and Firefly is a good example of how a work can do this effectively. Zoe had a lot of traditionally male traits, but was also feminine in some ways. But that might be easy to miss … with that character. But the other female characters in Firefly also had that mix. Inara was the most overall feminine of the group, but was also pretty much a feminist icon in most ways: in control of her sexuality, her own boss, strong and capable, etc. Kaylee could have been the traditional grease monkey tomboy, but had a very romantic view of a lot of the world that highlighted her femininity even while performing traditionally male tasks. Because of this, the entire work highlights that these people have a mix of traits, and that talking about traditionally male and female roles and stereotypes is not going to work when talking about this show. If you have one female character that seems traditionally male, that might be an indication of “reskinning”, but a diverse group with some traditionally male and some traditionally female traits avoids that sort of issue.
So when the Armed Gamer asks if Sarkeesian is sexist, or if her arguments are sexist, I don’t think he means it in the “she’s discriminating against men!” type of way. I think he means that she seems to have internalized these traditional distinctions, and so still sees the world through them even as she opposes them. So perhaps a little consciousness-raising of her own is required, to see just how much her arguments here depend on people accepting the stereotypes as being accurate or reasonable or representative, when really they aren’t. A female character with some or even mostly traditionally male traits is not a man in a female skin, but is a person … a person that you might well meet out in the street. Let’s work to make sure that people get that.