Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Anita Sarkesian vs. Real-Life Women

What follows is not meant to tie into a larger criticism of Anita Sarkesian's work (or at least, I hope it doesn't lead me down that rabbit hole): it is simply meant to demonstrate that there are valid things to criticize about her work and the arguments she makes, and to add to the pool of calm, reasonable critiques of her ideas.

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One of the issues that Anita has with many video games is the fact that when game designers need to draw a female character, they simply take a male character and add "feminizing gender signifiers" to it, thus creating a "female" character. This, she says, reinforces the gender binary, stereotypes women, and reinforces the idea of "male" as the default.

An example of a how a male character is transformed into
a female character  by adding feminizing gender signifiers.

However, the reason video game creators do this in video games is because that's how women look in real life: if you look at an average-looking man and an average looking woman, you notice that while they both have the same basic face, the woman has usually added additional visual features that most men don't typically have, including:

> Long, dark eyelashes (mascara)
> Makeup (blush, eyeliner, lipstick)
> Jewelry (earrings, pendants, rings)
> Long hair, which sticks out from the skull, unlike male hair which usually hugs the skull (or is absent altogether).

The reason why game designers create female characters by adding visual features to male characters is because that's how women create the "female appearance" in real life: women take the same basic face that men have, and then they add visual features to it. If most women didn't grow their hair out, or wear makeup, or wear jewelry, then video game females wouldn't have those feminizing gender signifiers: it would make no sense. It would be just as irrelevant and unclear as giving all male characters a tattoo of a fish on their faces "just to show that they're male."

A prime example of why video game designers use gender signifiers.

If Anita really wants feminizing gender signifiers to go away, and if she doesn't want the "male appearance" to be the basic, default appearance, then she should be fighting against feminizing gender signifiers at their source: real-life women. If real-life women didn't use gender signifiers, then video game women wouldn't use them either.

If women didn't accessorize this appearance, then video game
designers wouldn't do it either. Pictured: Emilia Clarke

But, of course, even if Anita agreed with this line of reasoning, she would never tell real-life women what they can and can't wear, so she'd be stuck. All she could do is petition video game creators to have no genders in video games, which would never happen, and which is why I think this argument of hers is silly.


UPDATE [3/21/2015] - I was wrong: Anita Sarkesion would tell real-life women what they can and can't do (or wear): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHDbZ2hHtlg

"Choice feminism posits that each individual woman determines what is empowering for herself, which might sound good on the surface, but this concept risks obscuring the bigger picture and larger fundamental goals of the movement by focusing on individual women with a very narrow individual notion of empowerment. 

It erases the reality that some choices women make have an enormous negative impact on other women’s lives. So it’s not enough to feel personally empowered or personally successful within the oppressive framework of the current system. Even if an individual woman can make patriarchy work for her, it’s still a losing game for the rest of the women on the planet. 

The fact of the matter is that some choices have ramifications beyond ourselves and reinforce harmful patriarchal ideas about women as a group and about women’s bodies in our wider shared culture."

Well, at least she's consistent with her ideology, although you give that same "compliment" to Christians who go around killing gay people.


UPDATE [4/3/2015] - It turns out that Anita, in fact, doesn't want gender to exist in video games, as I predicted. According to Anita, a proper, feminist-approved female character is one with no back story, a vague motivation, almost no personality, and no appearance of being female... oh, but the developers call it a "she". I feel comfortable saying that I called it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXmj2yJNUmQ

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