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Friday, July 6, 2012

Does it get easier?

Gaming as Women has an excellent advice post up today. The letter-writer wants to know if it gets easier to be a feminist:
Right now it is very hard to be a feminist when I am constantly told that I shouldn’t be one, that I’m doing it wrong somehow, and that I’m ruining everyone’s fun. I can’t unsee misogyny or the kyriarchy anymore, and now I’m starting to hate myself for seeing problematic things all the time because no one I’m with ever sees it with me or even wants to. I work in the game industry so I’m immersed in sexism on daily basis, but some people aren’t and just simply can’t see why I am the way I am. How can I tell if I’m a bad feminist? Or is this just how it feels constantly? If so…does it ever get better?
Melody, Elin, Vivian, Jess, and Dympha all give very good answers to this, which you should read. Their answers include two important reality checks: 1) that in one sense being a feminist today in the West is far easier than it has been further back in history or elsewhere in the modern world where women have it a lot worse, and 2) we all have our biases and prejudices, which is good to keep in mind when addressing those of other people so that you can avoid shaming the whole person while talking about a particular thing they said or did that displays bias or prejudice. Right on the money with both of those. However I would also point out that the historical/cultural comparison shows how it can be more difficult to be a feminist in a modern Western context, because it's much easier to see and acknowledge a disparity in how men and women are treated when, say, half of them can't vote or own property than when half of them tend to be represented primarily as sexual objects. You often have to start by getting a person to agree that gender representation even matters, and head off the assumption that even discussing it means that you don't care about those poor women in Saudi Arabia who can't go out of the house without being completely covered and why don't you care about them anyway? If you're going to be all fired up about treatment of women, why not focus on that?

Well, we are. We're capable of caring about more than one thing at a time, you know.

Once that hurdle is cleared-- if it's cleared-- you can talk about representation, and face the accusation of wanting to ruin everyone's fun. Because feminists, as you know, don't like fun. They enjoy misery and want everyone to be miserable with them, which is why they're even less funny than women are generally (thanks, Adam Carolla). Actually feminists like to have fun and laugh just as much as anybody, but as feminists they tend to notice when that "fun" is at the expense of women and feel compelled to say something about that. It's understandable that making bigoted jokes and viewing the sex you're attracted to as existing mainly for your own purposes is fun, but it's also unfortunate that it's fun, because eventually the people who have been made the butt of those jokes and the object of that...objectification are going to speak up. Because they want to have fun too, and that's getting in the way.

This is an impossible thing to make people (yes, including women) understand if they can't manage to switch perspectives a bit. You're marching right up to people who are enjoying something just the way it is, and demanding that they change it, and they can't see why. It seems unfair. It seems pushy and entitled. Nobody wants to view themselves as sexist, so they will fight tooth and nail against the mere suggestion that there's some sexism present in the movie/TV show/video game/comic they've been enjoying so much for such a long time. And if you change it to rectify this "bias" you see, that will make it worse. It's just fine as it is, leave it alone.

I get it.

In the discussion on feminism and sexism in all things geekish, I've seen a number of attempts to force empathy on people by getting them to see what it would look like if men in movies/TV/video games/comics were depicted like women are. Male superheroes wearing the costumes of female superheroes and posed all coquettishly, male characters on the covers of science fiction and urban fantasy novels posed and dressed like the female characters, and so on. I'm not sure if it really does any good, aside from providing amusement for many and pointing out with stark clarity that men who are depicted as wanting to look sexy will look ridiculous even if they're not also dressed revealingly (and all the moreso if they are).

Which, now that I say it, should be helpful since the point being made is that women appear ridiculous if they're trying to look sexy as a default. If they're trying to look sexy while fighting demons on a burning countryside, or sneak past guards and break into an enemy's compound, or bound through the jungle pursued by wild animals, or wage a battle against an aliens species, or just generally trying to save the world. It's not a Revlon commercial; it's more like the Army. Portraying women as if they have confused the latter for the former makes them look stupid and inept-- they styled their hair, put on makeup, and wore their most revealing bustier and six inch heels to kick a cave troll's butt in battle. What were they thinking? That doesn't say "strong woman;" it says "When they said Dungeon, I thought they were talking about a night club." This does not do women a favor. Sometimes they do want to dress in bustiers and six inch heels, and there's nothing wrong with that, but making them do so inappropriately is not good. It says that their being sexy is the most important thing about them, all the time. It doesn't have to be that way.

If you can get to this point and your fellow conversant is still listening, my hat's off to you. Getting to this point is hard. That's because of all the hurdles preceding it which have labels like "It's just a game; get over yourself" and "We like it this way, and there aren't as many of you" and of course our old friend "Don't you have something more important to worry about?" That's what our letter-writer is dealing with, and she has my sympathy.

But the question remains, though-- does it get any better? My answer: We'll have to see, won't we?

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