This dominant narrative surrounding the inevitability of female objectification and victimhood is so powerful that it not only defines our concepts of reality but it even sets the parameters for how we think about entirely fictional worlds, even those taking place in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. It’s so normalized that when these elements are critiqued, the knee-jerk response I hear most often is that if these stories did not include the exploitation of women, then the game worlds would feel too “unrealistic” or “not historically accurate”. What does it say about our culture when games routinely bend or break the laws of physics and no one bats an eye? When dragons, ogres and magic are inserted into historically influenced settings without objection. We are perfectly willing to suspend our disbelief when it comes to multiple lives, superpowers, health regeneration and the ability to carry dozens of weapons and items in a massive invisible backpack. But somehow the idea of a world without sexual violence and exploitation is deemed too strange and too bizarre to be believable.
In the wake of the horrors that have been inflicted on Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and those who support them, Tim Colwill of Games.on.net posted an announcement today telling “readers who feel threatened by equality” that they were “no longer welcome” on his site. What does that make him?
A big damn hero, sir.
Ain’t he just? Here’s a snippet:
So, here’s another change for you: if you really think feminism, or women, are destroying games, or that LGBT people and LGBT relationships have no place in games, or that games in any way belong to you or are “under attack” from political correctness or “social justice warriors”: please leave this website. I don’t want your clicks, I don’t want your hits, I don’t want your traffic. Leave now and please don’t come back.
I’m asking politely. You’re free to think whatever you like and to complain about whatever you like, but do it somewhere else. Comments are closed on this article, because this isn’t up for debate. I’m not seeking any input on this, or any carefully worded thoughts on how we need to take these concerns seriously or to hear “both sides of the story”. As long as I am in charge of this ship, I will happily admit to pushing an agenda: I want better representation in games. That’s my agenda. That’s our agenda.
Keep in mind that for every Colwill there are many others who do not speak out. They are afraid of losing business. They are afraid of being ridiculed. They are afraid of being attacked and ruined the way Phil Fish was when he spoke out.
It’s very important, therefore, that people like Colwill get the credit and the attention they deserve. Tell people about it. Put it on Twitter and Facebook.
I have a little girl that I’d like to one day introduce to video games, but I increasingly see the gaming community as something I should be protecting her from rather than something I want her to join. Arthur Chu said of his own hypothetical girl yesterday, “ I feel like the responsible thing to do is to save my daughter the grief and keep her out of gaming, or at least warn her that ‘It’s Dangerous to Go Alone.’”
Colwill shares my hope for a gaming world that is safe for girls and that represents them respectfully, and he is willing to stand up for that hope, even knowing that others who have taken a similar stand have been subjected to horrible abuse. He deserves some attention and gratitude for his courage. Give it to him.
Thanks for reading.
Tasha Robinson, in a piece for The Dissolve in June, provides us with a great questionnaire for determining if a “strong female character” is really all that strong:
So here’s a quick questionnaire for filmmakers who’ve created a female character who isn’t a dishrag, a harpy, a McGuffin to be passed around, or a sex toy. Congratulations, you have a Strong Female Character. That’s a great start! But now what? Screenwriters, producers, directors, consider this:
- After being introduced, does your Strong Female Character then fail to do anything fundamentally significant to the outcome of the plot? Anything at all?
- If she does accomplish something plot-significant, is it primarily getting raped, beaten, or killed to motivate a male hero? Or deciding to have sex with/not have sex with/agreeing to date/deciding to break up with a male hero? Or nagging a male hero into growing up, or nagging him to stop being so heroic? Basically, does she only exist to service the male hero’s needs, development, or motivations?
- Could your Strong Female Character be seamlessly replaced with a floor lamp with some useful information written on it to help a male hero?
- Is a fundamental point of your plot that your Strong Female Character is the strongest, smartest, meanest, toughest, or most experienced character in the story—until the protagonist arrives?
- …or worse, does he enter the story as a bumbling fuck-up, but spend the whole movie rapidly evolving past her, while she stays entirely static, and even cheers him on? Does your Strong Female Character exist primarily so the protagonist can impress her?
- It’s nice if she’s hyper-cool, but does she only start off that way so a male hero will look even cooler by comparison when he rescues or surpasses her?
- Is she so strong and capable that she’s never needed rescuing before now, but once the plot kicks into gear, she’s suddenly captured or threatened by the villain, and needs the hero’s intervention? Is breaking down her pride a fundamental part of the story?
- Does she disappear entirely for the second half/third act of the film, for any reason other than because she’s doing something significant to the plot (besides being a hostage, or dying)?
If you can honestly answer “no” to every one of these questions, you might actually have a Strong Female Character worthy of the name. Congratulations!
Find the whole piece here: We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome
Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.
The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. Only specialist firearms officers carry them; and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British police officer was killed by a firearm on duty was in 2012, in a brutal case in Manchester. The annual number of murders by shooting is typically less than 50. Police shootings are enormously controversial. The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police’s armed officers is still barely recovering from the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian, in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.
In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarised police culture and a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers. Unless America can either reduce its colossal gun ownership rates or fix its deep social problems, shootings of civilians by police—justified or not—seem sure to continue.
(Shown: my kiddo, two years ago today.)
Happy second birthday, kiddo.
"Kiddo" is my second choice of a pet name for you. I prefer "baby girl", but — as you are constantly reminding me — you are not a baby anymore. You are starting to string multiple words together in ways that I never taught you to. You count all the way to 13 when you come down the stairs. You know most of your letters. And you’re huge, as tall as some kids who have a year on you. You’ll make a fine power forward some day.
So, “kiddo” it is.
You don’t understand yet, but it’s your birthday. That’s why I gave you an extra graham cracker this morning and let you eat it out of your high chair. Don’t expect me to make a habit of it (unless you smile real big at me).
I’m glad you like the new comforter and sheets for your big girl bed. No pretty princesses for you, just alligators, zebras, monkeys, giraffes, penguins, and tigers. When you noticed the design, you pointed at the comforter and said, “Ammals,” (you don’t have the middle syllable of animals yet) and I knew your mom and I had made the right choice.
It’s not that we have a problem with pretty things, or that we don’t want you to be pretty. We do, and, by the way, you are (seriously, strangers still come up to us to tell us how pretty your eyes are). But soon, much too soon, the world will start bombarding you with messages that you’re not thin enough and that your worth as a person is measured by your attractiveness to men. I want you to learn first that there are much better things than being pretty, and I want you to have fun with your ammals for as long as you can.
You have another birthday present coming today, too. Your mom has knitted you a plush of Cat from your favorite TV show Peg + Cat. I know you’re going to love it. I’m so happy you’ve chosen a show starring a smart, spunky, musical girl as your favorite show. It gives me hope for the future.
It’s a cliché to say that being your daddy has changed my life, but it’s true. As the song I sing to you every night starts, “[e]verything I see is new”. You have completely changed the way I see things.
This blog is about things you have helped me see. I never called myself a feminist before I was your dad, not because I didn’t believe in gender equality but because I didn’t understand how far away gender equality really is. Being your dad has helped me see things in myself and in the world around me that aren’t fair — things that will challenge me as I try to raise you from an awesome girl to an awesome woman. These are the things I started writing about.
But enough about this vain little blog for now. What I’m trying to say is, you are a big deal. You are a big, important, monumental, life-changing deal. You have shaken me to my foundations, and you are making me into a new person every day. I hope you understand how special you are.
Kiddo, I love you.
(Everyone else, thanks for reading.)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this piece in its entirety months ago, and it has remained, mostly unedited, in my drafts folder since then. I have delayed publishing it for two reasons: (1) I’m afraid of alienating my many Christian friends and family members, and (2) I’m afraid of misrepresenting feminism as the lynchpin of my struggle with Christianity rather than as just a piece of it. I have decided now that I can’t leave this piece on the shelf. It is everything I want this blog to be: personal, reflective, and more about questions than answers. If there are apologies to be made later, I will make them. As always, thanks for reading.
(Shown: my Bible. SudFemDad is a staunch King James man.)
My relationship with Christianity is complicated. My Christian upbringing is an undeniable and inextricable part of who I am, and as an adult I still find real meaning and solace in the traditions of Christianity, but much of Christianity is difficult to reconcile with my own moral and rational mind. Now that I have a girl to raise, one particular bone of contention for me is what Christian scripture has to say about women.
[1 Corinthians 11:3] But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
[1 Corinthians 11:7-9] A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
[Ephesians 5:22-24] Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
[1 Timothy 2:11-13] A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
These passages are not necessarily the worst the Bible has to offer women (Deuteronomy’s punishment for rape, for instance, is for the rapist to marry his victim), but their place in the Epistles makes them the hardest bits of biblical misogyny for a Christian to ignore. They cannot be rationalized away as allegory or dismissed as irrelevant remnants of pre-Christianity.
No, these passages are undeniably Christian (in fact, they all claim to be written by the Christian, Paul) and are quite clearly intended to be obeyed as written. There is no mistaking the message to women here, and it is not an affirming message: You were created for men. You are subordinate to men just as humanity is subordinate to God. You have no business teaching men or holding any position of authority over men.
Being raised in the Church was a good thing for me. The church surrounded me with a loving and supportive community all through my young life. The church taught me music, which is still my passion today. The church started me thinking about who I am, what my role is in the world around me, and what I can do to become the person I want to be. I owe Christianity a great deal.
All that said, some of what is written in my Bible — including a great deal of what is written about women — is, to me, unambiguously and irreconcilably wrong. The Bible, rather unsubtly, says that my daughter is a second-class human being. I don’t know how to proceed from there. I’d like my daughter to have what I had as a kid, but I don’t know how to leave out the parts of Christianity I don’t want to teach her without making a sham of the whole thing.
Much is said these days in Christian circles about a decline in the popularity of Christianity. According to the Pew Research Center, the last 25 years or so have seen a sharp increase in the percentage of the American population without any religious affiliation, coupled with a sharp decrease in the percentage of Americans who identify as Protestant Christians. Moreover, the unaffiliated (and the Pew says most of them aren’t looking for any new affiliation) are mostly the young people who are going to be around for awhile.
Most people I know attribute this to science: as our scientific understanding increases, God becomes less useful as an explanation for mysteries. This is the process that Neil DeGrasse Tyson was talking about when he called God “an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance”.
I suspect there’s more to it than that, though. I suspect there are a lot of former Christians, even some who might have made peace with science, who simply couldn’t reconcile the world they live in today — a world full of feminism, religious tolerance, and acceptance of homosexuality — with the stiff and seemingly arbitrary morality of scripture. I’m certainly having a rough time with that myself.
Thanks for reading.
(Shown: a woman with very strange ideas about how evolution works, not to mention about what feminism is. From womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com.)
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis calls natural ”a word to conjure with”, and says that “[i]f you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach”. He, of course, is talking about his own favorite subject of religion, but I think his words have much broader applications.
We humans love to speak for nature.
If we think certain sexual practices are icky, we label them “crimes against nature”, then make laws against them (e.g. Louisiana and North Carolina) on nature’s behalf. And then we refuse to get rid of those laws, even years after it becomes illegal to enforce them.
Today, in marketplaces and in media, we are bombarded with messages about how certain products and practices are superior because they are “natural” — or are inferior because they aren’t.
A key defense of slavery was that it was “natural”. That started with Aristotle, but sadly did not end with him.
When we humans want instant legitimacy for our ideas, we claim to be speaking for nature. It’s a shady trick that works because nature is not a person; no one who disagrees with us can ask nature if we are representing it properly.
This kind of appeal to nature is a popular weapon against feminism. Some anti-feminists like to call it “biology” or (like the rather confused woman above) “evolution”, but their message is clear no matter how it is packaged: that gender roles aren’t something humans made up — rather, they are ordained by nature itself.
Some MRAs, for example, love to talk about the "biological reality" of women, but it’s more than just internet weirdos. Earlier this month, a Glasgow University professor told an audience at an education conference that encouraging women to pursue careers in science was “deny[ing] human biology and nature”.
It’s all nonsense, of course. If anyone found real, credible science backing the claim that gender roles are truths of nature rather than cultural constructs, we’d never stop hearing about it. It would be preached from Evangelical pulpits as confirmation of Biblical values. Social conservatives in legislature would be rallying around it like a banner. The blondes on Fox News Channel would trot it out almost every day.
Here’s an easy rule of thumb: people who claim their ideas about social order come from “nature”, or “biology”, or “evolution” are always wrong.
That goes double for people who try to make broad, sweeping generalizations about women and girls. Someone who has never met my daughter knows nothing about her “nature” except a small tidbit about her anatomy. When I want to know about her nature, I’ll ask her.
Right now, she says her nature requries juice.
Thanks for reading.