A Lady Doctor and Trans* People

As we all know, at least the people who have heard of both the internet and have no fewer than one Whovian friend, Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who. I am disappointed like so many others, but I have learned that as a Doctor Who fan, I need to roll with the regenerations. I remember being a kid and watching the switch from John Pertwee to Tom Baker in reruns on PBS and being very, very disappointed. So disappointed I ran over to my dialup modem, put it on the cradle, and hit every local BBS until I found one with somebody who knew what the fuck just happened. Did I mention I’m old?

However, I believe this presents a good chance. Let’s get a female Doctor.

Seriously, it wouldn’t be any less strange than anything else on the show, and there is precedent for it with both Romana (that there are Time Ladies, at least), and also with the non-canonical and absolutely hilarious The Curse of Fatal Death where the Doctor at the end is played by Joanna Lumley.

But I was being foolish. As Aiofe over at the Tea Cozy points out, Russell T. Davies himself, though no longer running the show, came up with the hitch in this plan.

While I think kids will not have a problem with a female Doctor, I think fathers will have a problem with it.

That’s because they will then imagine they will have to describe sex changes to their children.

How did I not think of that! Fathers (not mothers) will have to explain to kids about sex changes!

Obviously, this fails on a number of levels, and I will give Davies some credit that his wording implies that fathers are not justified in this opinion, merely that some will “imagine” this to be the case. But let’s look at these fails as if this is the case and some dads are this delusional.

The first is one that Aoife points out: we went through this 20 years ago with another character. Her name was Jadzia Dax and she was on the masterful Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. To quote Aoife,

Dax- or Jadzia Dax, as she is when we meet her- is a joined Trill. Trills are a species who, in their joined state (most Trills aren’t joined) are composed of two parts- a humanoid host who lives and dies like other humanoids, and a wormlike symbiont who can live for many centuries and who holds and preserves the memories of its hosts. When a host dies, the symbiont is transferred into a new host to begin another life. A joined Trill individual is therefore a blend of the current host, their symbiont, and all of their past lives. Trippy, eh? Where the Doctor rarely refers to the past, Dax doesn’t have that luxury. Jazdia Dax lives and works among people who knew her when she was an old man. Her boss, closest friend, mentor and mentee (life is complicated when you’re a twentysomething with a centuries old mind) calls her “Old Man” and reminisces about old times. She encounters people of many species who she knew in past lives, deftly negotiating complex terrains of age and gender, owning both who she is and all of the other people that she was. She’s also, by the way, a badass science officer, wicked smart, and manages to gamble with the Ferengi and win.

DS9 is my favorite Star Trek series. I remember very clearly laying on the floor of my family room with two uncles, two cousins, my grandmother, and my parents all sitting around together watching the premiere of the show. We didn’t always watch it as a big family, but my father and I have seen it several times all the way through together. We quote Garek to one another often as an inside joke. Mine is no casual fandom, and neither is my dad’s, which is why I also remember asking him once why Dax is referred to as “Old Man”.

And I remember my father explaining to me that she has a symbiont inside of her that is passed from host to host, some of them are men, some are women. And that was it, because I was 11 years old and “that’s how Trills work” was perfectly acceptable. No discussion of sex or gender required.

And you know when else we didn’t discuss sex or gender? During the episode Facets when Jadzia has her friends embody the personalities of her previous hosts as part of a Trill ritual and has Quark embody one of the female hosts without telling him. Yes, violation of his consent, misplaced femininity played for laughs, but it was at least mildly funny and in no way required my father to explain that some people legitimately feel that way all the time and can take a number of steps to correct the problem. You know why? Because I was less concerned about why there was a woman inside of Quark and more concerned with whether Nog will pass the practical test to get into Starfleet Academy because priorities.

The other part of this fail to has to with why this is a problem in the first place. Trans* people exist, so why is it so difficult to explain that some people change their gender in a variety of ways and to a variety of degrees? This is not a difficult thing to explain, and it shouldn’t be held to a special level of scrutiny because fathers might not be comfortable with it.

And that leads me to the point that I think is most important.

I don’t give a fuck what you tell your kids.

Seriously, why the fuck is it my responsibility, or the BBC’s, or Steven Moffat’s to avoid certain topics? Trans* people exist. If your desire is to prevent your children from realizing that, that’s your prerogative, but nobody else is under any obligation to help shelter your children from reality. In fact, I will outright say that my objective is to introduce your children to reality if you are trying to deny it to them, because your child deserves to be able to handle the actual world around them when they are no longer under your thumb.

Also, hi kids of parents who don’t want you to know things! Hope you’re enjoying reading my blog with all the dirty words and talk about TV shows!

On a related note, Mike Huckabee shares with us his incredible sad that he has to actually see gay people on TV. This was his example of how downtrodden and oppressed Christians like him are: they might have to change the channel or accept that gay people exist someplace. This was prompted by Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America saying that conservatives on college campuses were “bullied” and had a hard time expressing their views on issues like same-sex marriage, completely ignoring that they have that trouble because their views are horrendous and there is no good way to phrase them.

And I have basically the same reactions: I don’t give a single fuck. Before the 5th century CE you couldn’t accurately represent how many fucks I give because the number zero hadn’t fully developed yet, and all of those fucks were merely a placeholder or deciphered from context.

Also, the Doctor is not LGBT. And if he regenerated into a female presenting body, she may or may not be LGBT, but not because of that. The Doctor is Gallifreyan. Thought we should clear that up.

There is a perception from people, especially on the right, that it is the responsibility of the wider world to raise their kids for them, or at least don’t put them in a position where they might have to talk about something that makes them uncomfortable. And you know what? It sucks to be them because this is the world that their kids live in, and they really need to get used to it young, or those kids will grow up as stunted and ignorant as their parents, bewildered by the very thought of some people’s mere existence and afraid that they might turn on the TV and actually see some of them.

So, with that objection out of the way, can we maybe look at a possible Lady Doctor this time around? And perhaps even get more than one female writer while we’re at it? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

UPDATE: More from the “don’t mention gay people” news. Apparently the Duma  just passed a bill, unanimously, to make it illegal to even mention that gay people exist. And Mike Huckabee secretly pines to be in Mother Russia.

SFWA Sounds A Lot Like the Atheist Movement…

and not in a good way.

Basically, two authors for the SFWA Bulletin wrote an article about “lady writers” and “lady editors” that focused on… how they look in bathing suits. After that, there was a seriously sexist cover on the next issue. Then the next issue had an article written by a man telling women to “emulate Barbie” and “maintain [their] quiet dignity as a woman should.” And finally we come back to the original two morons this month complaining about, you guessed it, being “censored” and “suppression of ideas” and “trying to get [people ] fired”. One even points out that Romance novels have shirtless men on them, and we all know that the pirate Captain Dashing McManlypecks is exactly the same as an accomplished woman who is also an editor.

I knew Vox Day was a member of SFWA, but with such sexism on display it looks like the Vacula would fit right in. The two sexist authors in question make the same intellectually bankrupt arguments and hyperbolic claims of martyrdom that women in secularism hear all the time.

Follow the two links in the second paragraph for a complete idea of what is going on. Credit to Scalzi who took responsibility as president of the organization, though I don’t think it was a decision he actually made.

EDIT: I realized after I published this that I am not being precise in my comparison. I am saying that both groups have great people, but are made less by the vocal presence of people who’s solution to sexism is “Don’t take everything so seriously. Tu quoque!” Hope that is a little clearer.

Paying Attention to the Experts

In March 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary invented the following words: boccio, podium, and whip-smart. They also created an entirely new definition of the word “blue,” so you may want to consider looking it up so that you don’t mis-use it.

What’s that you say? The OED didn’t invent those words? Well, my good fellow or female version of the word “fellow”, you would be mistaken. You see, Richard Dawkins is quite emphatic on this point, though I’m not sure he understands that implication of his recent Twitter-splosion.

Ok, first thing’s first. Can somebody, anybody, when speaking to Richard Dawkins in person, try to talk him out of his weird insistence on trying to discuss deep, meaningful questions in 140 character bursts? I mean, this seems like a lot of fun at a party of philosophers (especially if you add a strip component), but when you are looking to actually address a situation, the intentionally limited nature of Twitter makes for more confusion than anything else. If it were simply useless, that would be one thing, but it is actively confusing, and that can be a problem.

What Dawkins actually did was claim, essentially, that it’s so unfair that people who point out white male privilege aren’t consider racist or sexist because of it.

Now I will give him some credit, this didn’t come out of nowhere. He started by talking about what had happened in Woolwhich and discussing the murderer’s words, specifically how he both seemed to consider the British to be Other to him and how he considered Britain to be “our land”. It’s a weird dichotomy that I think bears exploration.

Then somebody said this.

NadiaNouiMehidi Nadia Noui-Mehidi
@RichardDawkins you do the insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers thing well, but maybe stick to biology.
I’m not quite sure where this came from, but again, Twitter. Context is the first thing to go. However, I don’t think that can explain Dawkins’ response.
  1. @NadiaNouiMehidi Why is it permissible to be racist & sexist, just so long as you attack white males?
  2. “insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers.” Racism & sexism are fine, so long as they point in the right direction!
OK, what the fuck just happened there? Suffice it to say that it goes on and Dawkins continues to insist that pointing out his privilege is racism and sexism because the dictionary says that that’s what those words mean.
RichardDawkins
Richard Dawkins
Some people here think you can’t be racist against white people! Look it up in dictionary. Needless to say, no power asymmetry is mentioned.
RichardDawkins
Richard Dawkins
@rachelmack @CabbagetownMatt Really? By whose dictionary? Certainly not the Oxford Dictionary. Dictionary of sociology perhaps? Ah yes.
This poses two major problems.
The first is his immediately going to the dictionary, which is where I started this blog. Dictionaries are not authoritative arbiters of words and their meanings, they are reflections of the state of language. The writers of the Oxford English Dictionary did not invent a single word placed in it, and when they change the meaning of words that’s not where the change originates. The words that are added and the changes made reflect a long-term change in how a word is used in actual conversation for a long period of time.
The last part is key. It takes quite some time for dictionaries to update their definitions of things, because they’re trying to reflect an accurate and stable definition of words. It’s part of the reason why the definition of “radical” didn’t change to “expressive of the best potential in life; awesome; gnarly; tubular” in the 1980s and early 90s. This was unquestionably what a huge proportion of the population (myself included) used the word to mean during the period, especially with the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but OED is careful about changing the definition of words in their publication to avoid fads. However, that does not change that that is precisely what that word meant in certain contexts during the time, even if the OED says that “radical” means, “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” I suspect that’s not what Raph was talking about, at least.
The second problem is that Dawkins shows a pretty extreme contempt for sociologists throughout this exchange. This is absolutely baffling, since sociologists are the people who dedicate their lives to studying this sort of thing! For a guy who spends a good portion of his life arguing with people who think they know more about biology than him despite having never studied biology, you would think that he would be a little more accepting of other people’s expertise in various fields. To quote Aoife over at the Tea Cozy,
People who have never taken a sociology class in their lives, who know nothing about social theory, research, methodologies (and the reasons behind them), who figure that they somehow know more about it than, well, the entirety of sociology and sociologists. And anthropology and anthropologists (lovely bunch).
I think what Dawkins is saying here is even worse than just that sociologists aren’t qualified to talk about society and social science. He is actually saying that while sociologists aren’t qualified, dictionary writers are. Seriously, he’s saying that the definitions of racism and sexism that were written at the OED offices are somehow more accurate than the one used by people who spend their lives advancing scholarship in the field that studies those phenomena. It’s one thing to entirely dismiss a field of study with centuries of research and data that accurately predicts societal trends and advancement, but it’s quite another to say that the people who figure out how to explain the way that people use certain words should be more trusted to answer questions related to that field.
Today, Cracked.com wrote a followup to John Scalzi’s famous “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post, which was reposted at Kotaku. Basically, Luke McKinney went into the comments of that Kotaku post and found examples of exactly the kind of privilege that Scalzi was talking about. Dawkins fairly often exhibits four out of five of the ones McKinney points out, but #1 is the most applicable to this situation. Let me quote, emphasis his.

Apparently, being a straight white male is actually the hardest difficulty because of political correctness. People can’t mock anyone else, so they mock the poor straight white man! Listen: If the people victimizing you are affected by political correctness, you have never been victimized.

Political correctness only stops the kind of people who use a thesaurus to get away with being snide. “Political correctness gone mad!” is how you announce to the world that you have no real problems but don’t appreciate the fact and should be harvested for organs as soon as possible.

Dawkins has a habit of digging in and dismissing expertise that isn’t his own. Basically, unless you happen to know a lot about things Richard Dawkins knows about, your knowledge is considered useless. I think part of this is that Dawkins has a lot of respect for his field, and part of it is that because he knows so much about evolutionary biology, for example, he is less inclined to be hyper-skeptical because he can more readily evaluate the worth of a given argument.

This is important. It’s pretty easy for me, with a degree in English, to determine whether a given interpretation of a text is valid. I’ve had years of training to be able to do so. Even if it’s an interpretation that goes against what I would normally consider to be correct, I am able to, with the knowledge and resources I have readily available, determine almost instantly whether I should give it credence, so I’m less inclined to be hyper-skeptical about it because I have a basis on which I can make a determination. This wouldn’t be true of evolutionary biology, which I know very little about, especially in comparison to somebody like Dawkins.

However, what often ends up happening is that Dawkins will hear something that violates his pre-conceived notions of a subject he knows very little about, and when somebody who knows more than him points out that he’s saying something entirely incorrect, he’ll dismiss the more experienced and knowledgeable person because… he knows a lot about evolutionary biology, I guess. It’s like when he had an argument over Twitter with Ana Mardoll in which he claimed to know more about the purposes of gene testing embryos for IVF (i.e. it’s about testing for potential to survive pregnancy, not for creating designer babies) than she did, despite her having done so and he having not. Mardoll clearly knows more about this than Dawkins, yet he refuses to accept that, so much so that at the end he points out that he always says exactly what he means, and people who misinterpret his words are the wrong ones, basically insisting that language is a solitary activity, not the most efficient way of transferring data between two or more parties that we currently know.

Dawkins has always had an ego. Some people consider it charming, I find myself more and more irritated by it every day. It’s not that Dawkins is a bad guy and I recognize his contributions to atheism as a movement, but given the choice I would rather hear Julia Galef, Melody Hensley, Dave Silverman, Darrel Ray, Jen McCreight, or JT Eberhard speak than Dawkins. I can be sure with them that they haven’t stopped exploring a topic because they think they have an answer, that they recognize the world is more complex than can be expressed in 140 characters, that they are willing to listen to people who might know more than them about a given subject, and, most of all, that they know how dictionaries work.

“If You Can’t Bring Yourself to Fight…”

Of the many members of the organized atheist movement that I have been privileged to read and hear speak, Dave Silverman is absolutely one of my favorites. The closest I’ve ever come to interacting with the guy was a conversation with a friend of mine who happened to be his niece that was passing messages between us over G+ a couple of Thanksgivings ago (she was in the room with him, I was at my parents’), but even then he seemed congenial and kind. Having just gotten into movement atheism, this simple interaction through a third party made me feel welcome.

I bring this up because Silverman has a wonderful series of tweets in which he specifically goes after the anti-feminist trolls in the atheist movement, especially following Ron Lindsay’s embarrassing opening speech at Women in Secularism where he proceeded to tell women how they should talk to men, then welcomed Justin Vacula (who has personally harassed some of the women there), then spent days making hyperbolic defensive posts where he compares being called out in pretty moderate fashion to being targeted by North Korean thought police. All in all, it has been a rough time for Lindsay, and the anti-feminists have been crowing, including the Vacula who keeps claiming that he supports women, just doesn’t want to “silence” people who don’t.

Ophelia Benson has several of the tweets screencaped, but I really want to focus on one of them.

@justinvacula can’t get into this now. One final word. If you can’t bring yourself to fight shit, you will be seen as approving it.

Yes. That. That thing he just said, right there. It sums up so many of my opinions.

The thing is, this doesn’t just apply to MRAs and their ilk. This applies to anti-gay protesters, this applies to religious wingnuts, this applies to advocates of corrective rape and the people imprisoning 50,000 children in the Congo on suspicion of being witches (there are no witches trying to cast black magic on you, assholes! If even one of those kids had magic, they would have fucked you up for imprisoning them by now! But they don’t, because black magic doesn’t fucking exist, you child abusing, superstitious fucksticks!).

And it’s not just Silverman, either. Dave Muscato, also of AA, made a statement on behalf of the organization specifically on their dedication to women’s rights and the rights of other minorities.

Although American Atheists’ mission is fighting discrimination against atheists, advocating for atheist civil rights, and addressing issues of First Amendment public policy, we care very much about feminism & social justice in the atheist activism movement and how these issues relate to and involve individuals involved in our collective efforts.

Meanwhile, the Vacula has done another interview with the creeps over at A Voice for Men (where he is a contributor). As per usual, he claims that he’s just trying to be fair to everybody, that all perspectives are valid, etc. The problem, of course, is that right now the rape apologists over at AVfM don’t really have a valid perspective, they have a skewed one that I have already gone into great detail about. And theirs is the dominate cultural perspective at the moment, at least functionally, so maintaining a neutral stance simply supports even the things that they say that the Vacula claims to oppose.

Neutrality and moderation have their place, but there are times when an opinion is so onerous and so entrenched that attempting to not choose sides de facto supports the oppressors. We cannot be silent about the horrors that happen around us. We cannot grant legitimacy to the illegitimate with inaction. Injustice requires action, it demands we be active, and anything short of that means functionally standing with it.

Various and Whateverthehell

Since I’ve been so busy, it’s time to just have a quick link roundup to cover everything I’ve wanted to talk about.

Miss America Chavez (designed by Jamie McKelvie, personal work 2013)

Absolutely beautiful comic about somebody who’s girlfriend is transitioning. For only a few panels with a bunny and a frog and a bear, this is really touching.

– More from the annals of “Feminism is already working on men’s rights issues.”

– A young man in Toronto is sexually assaulted by four women, and Rosie DiManno of The Star insults him. This lowlife seems to think that most men would love to be non-consensually ganged up on by four women. Look also for the fat shaming, slut shaming, and homophobia embedded in her assumptions about the perpetrators.

– A Christian school has decided that a married lesbian couple needs to get a divorce in order for their child to keep going to that school. Why they would want to send their kid to such a backward place, I have no idea, but since this is in Mpumalanga, South Africa, I’m sure there are other factors involved.

– Speaking of schools being the absolute worst, a Polk County high school (which is less than an hour from me) has expelled a student for a science experiment that created a small bang and some smoke but didn’t hurt anyone. JT writes about it and suggests how you can write a polite and well considered email to the school administrator explaining why this is an overreaction. Also read the comments in which they ask whether the school’s football players are expelled for breaking the school’s policy against hitting other students every time they tackle somebody.

“Angering the pope” should be an euphemism for masturbation now. Like “choking the bishop”, really.

– Researchers at IBM have made a movie by manipulating atoms on a copper surface and filming it. This is really, really awesome.

Ok, enough procrastinating. Back to work.

Intersectionality Fails

The trick to social justice is that it is generally about supporting marginalized groups because they are marginalized. It addresses power and, more to the point, the consolidation and abuse of power by the groups that wield it in an effort to protect the benefits that come with their favor within society. Even groups like homophobic crusaders that are becoming less favored socially still maintain vast control of the workings of society, so they continue to be addressed as a powerful group, despite arguments to the contrary.

That’s why when I see things like this post from Chief Conversationalist Kristycat, I cannot help but facepalm to near unconsciousness.

For those who haven’t clicked the link (click the link), Kristycat talks about the unfortunate habit of radical feminists to be extremely trans*phobic and to use the language of the people who oppress them in an effort to oppress trans*women, invisibling them and denying their right to define themselves because of some absurd idea that transitioning is some invidious plot by men to take over the female identity, simultaneously reducing “womanhood” to strictly being about genitals.

And the frustrating thing is, pretty much all of feminism is that same message!  You define yourself.  Your identity is your own.  You have agency, you own yourself, no one else is allowed to tell you who you are.  You create your own identity.  You are more than the definitions other people want to put on you; you can reject them, you can insist that other people accept you on your own terms, as who YOU say you are, not as who they think you should be.  Feminists – radical feminists like UK Feminist over here – accept that fully when it comes to themselves.  But somehow the idea of extending that same right to someone else is foreign to them.  It’s rank hypocrisy.

I would like to go on a small digression at this juncture to, again, point out that “radical feminism” is a thing, a real thing, that is not synonymous with “feminism.” Again, please click the preceding link to get a more detailed explanation of the difference. But my point is that I am not appending a scary-sounding adjective to another word to mean “feminists I don’t like” so I can later say that I’m not against such-and-such thing, but just don’t like an extreme version of it. This is very little different than people who talk about “militant homosexuality,” which apparently means “gay people who would like to not live in the closet” or “militant atheism,” which means wearing t-shirts that advertise our non-belief (because, as everybody knows, many a South American government has been toppled by militants doing nothing more than wearing Che Guavara t-shirts. Also, Che Guavara was a monster, stop wearing those shirts).

So, we’ve established that there is at least some evidence that there are radical feminists who see their marginalization is bad, but the marginalization of trans*people to be totes ok. So when Phil Mason (Thunderf00t) talks about “radical feminism”, he’s clearly talking about the trans*phobia exhibited by actual radical feminists, right?

Hahahaha. No.

Thunderf00t is one of the people who considers “radical feminism” to mean something along the lines of “you’re talking about things I don’t want to talk about!” And, of course, he compares Atheism+ to Hitler and McCarthy, because that’s a clever and original argument!

Mason is virulently anti-feminist. Now, he will claim otherwise because he knows women and some of the women he knows don’t care when he bites their legs. Again, we see much of the same brand of meaningless tripe in this video as we do in screeds from privileged groups when they seek to oppress minority groups. He speaks a lot about how “extreme” feminism is, how against critical thinking it is (this is the atheist version of a fundamentalist saying that something is “against common sense”), and then talking about “divisiveness” and the ways that feminism in the atheist movement is separating people who otherwise agree and weakening our message.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: division is not always a bad thing, and I would rather be divided and standing on the side of justice than united in injustice. These types of arguments are used to try and reframe the debate in such a way that those who are calling for positive changes are instead attempting to tear down whatever institution that are trying to change. It reminds me of the first episode of All in the Family, where Mike arrives and gets into an argument with Archie over the Vietnam War. Archie accuses Mike of hating America, to which Mike explains that it’s because he loves America that he doesn’t want it to be involved in illegal and pointless conflicts.

To which Archie replies with meaningless slogans and drowns out Mike’s arguments by singing a patriotic song. Some things never change.

So, we have radical feminists arguing against trans* rights, we have an atheist arguing against women’s rights. That’s it, right?

Nope. We now have a lesbian arguing that acronyms that include people other than gay men and lesbians waters down the QUILTBAG message and tries to determine who can be in the “Gay Club”.

In this case, the person is Ciara Mc Grattan writing for the Irish publication GCN (Gay Community News).

I propose it’s time to simplify and perhaps employ a modicum of moderation to the unwieldy beast of LGBTLMFAO initials. Do you sleep with people of the same sex? Welcome to Gay Club. In a relationship with someone of the same-sex? Welcome to Gay Club. Trans and exclusively attracted to people of your gender? Welcome to Gay Club. Attracted to both sexes? Good for you, but unless you’re with someone of the same-sex, you aren’t part of Gay Club.

On one hand, at least this acknowledges that trans* people are the gender that they identify as, but it also eliminates them from the queer umbrella, saying that the “T” was just “tacked on”. And bisexuals? Well, unless you’re actively dating somebody of the same-sex, sorry, you’re basically straight. In much the same way as the religious right, it reduces bisexuality to a function of outward expression rather than an inborn trait.

So, I’ve rambled on quite a bit now, but what point am I trying to make? The point that I’m trying to make is that I am always disappointed by failures at intersectionality. It astounds me when a group that is or has been traditionally marginalized then turns on other marginalized groups, often accusing them of trying to piggyback on their work.

The instant classic “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit!” addresses this idea pretty nicely through example.

And I am screaming this because I want to convince you, I want to get it through you that this is not a choice or an abstract concept or an intellectual exercise. I am not screaming because well, you know, I just discovered intersectionality and OMG SO COOL GUYS. YOU NEED TO READ THIS. No. My feminism NEEDS to be intersectional because as a South American, as a Latina, as someone who knows certain parts of the Global South intimately by virtue of being a Southerner, as an immigrant living in Europe, as a woman, I am in the middle of what I like to call the “shit puff pastry”. The shit puff pastry is every layer of fuck that goes on above me, below me, by my sides, all around me. And in this metaphorical puff pastry with multiple layers of excrement, I am the dulce de leche that is supposed to make it palatable so that someone else, more specifically the kyriarchy, can eat me.

I should also point out that this doesn’t mean that you have to have ALL THE FEELS for every subject. There are a lot of forms of oppression that I simply don’t discuss that often here, even when they matter to me. For example, I sincerely would like to see more acceptance of kinky individuals in the mainstream, and the word is the first of my self-description in the About section of this blog, but the fact of the matter is that even having been part of that culture for several years, I don’t feel qualified to examine that, any more than I feel qualified to talk about child soldiers.

Blogs and activists tend to find their focus, and that’s ok. As passionate as I am about highlighting the dangers of belief in demons, prayer healing, and evil witchcraft, Leo Igwe is much better at it than I am, and can more accurately portray those problems. I think that the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverful movements are terrible things that encourage cult-like behavior, but Libby Anne is much better at talking about that than I ever will be.

The thing is, while you’ll hear mostly about atheism, LGBT issues, and feminism here (and comic books and rock/folk music), there is a complete lack of denigration for the plight of those other groups. You don’t see me saying that people who complain about the Christian Patriarchy tendency to homeschool so they can control their children’s education are overreacting because the kids can always read the truth on the internet. I’m not making twenty minute videos saying kids abandoned by their parents for “casting spells” are just “professional victims.” And you don’t see me saying that kinky people can’t be feminists.

If it is wrong for the powerful to oppress the marginalized, then it has to be equally wrong to ally, explicitly or implicitly, with the powerful to perpetuate that. To fight it? Absolutely! But purchasing rights for yourself at the cost of rights for others does nothing but further entrench the status quo. We can, and should, all sit at the table without having to eat one another.

Women in Video Games Videos

While I was out playing Renaissance Man, several people have responded to the Tropes vs Women video that I posted before I left. Not here, of course, but people have been responding all over the internet, and for the most part it’s exactly what you’d expect. I’d like to address a few of those responses.

The first to go through is Thunderf00t’s insipid and blinkered response. Now, I expect very little from Thunderf00t when he’s not debating creationists, largely because with the exception of that singular subject he seems entirely incapable of addressing actual arguments, preferring instead to carefully construct strawmen that he can beat to pulps later for the amusement of his equally vapid fanbase. But let’s look into the arguments he makes in his response video.

Thunderf00t makes precisely three arguments:

1. If Sarkeesian were making the points he is claiming rather than the ones she is actually making, then she would have no point.

2. Double Dragon isn’t sexist because in the 2012 remake the bad guy gets punched in the nuts once by the person he kidnapped.

3. If the market supports something, that makes it automatically right and good.

Really, that’s about it. Avicenna at A Million Gods does a great job of tearing this apart in great detail, but here are the things that Mr. F00t leaves out:

1. By switching focus to the original Double Dragon, he invalidates his “but she punches him in the nuts” argument because that wasn’t in the original.

2. According to backstory of the game, Marian is supposed to be one of the people who teaches at the dojo, yet when put up against the most common of male street thugs (guys you beat up dozens of times through the game), she goes down in one punch.

3. She didn’t make this happen and defeat the bad guy. She held her fist in the air while he fell on it. This is no more some sort of example of her strength than my tripping over a sleeping Navy Seal makes me an unqualified badass.

4. The original game ends with Jimmy and Billy fighting one another over who gets to be with Marian. Despite all of ‘F00t’s moralizing about how it’s such a pure expression of human kindness to want to rescue a loved one in danger, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with this. Because I can think of no better way to show somebody how much I love them than by beating up another loved one to determine which of us has the right to fuck her later, apparently regardless of her feelings on the subject.

But one nut shot in a remake 25 years later totes makes up for all of that, because what possibly worse thing could there be in the world, amiright?

I could probably dedicate an entire post to how he doesn’t seem to understand that “strength” is more than physical strength, that the chart in Sarkeesian’s thesis is where those qualities are socially attributed, not some sort of wishlist, or his incredibly poor hospital analogy wherein he says that feminism must treat hospitals as bad because doctors are acting upon patients (for the record, a major problem with the health care industry is that doctors treat their patients like objects rather than like individuals), but it doesn’t seem worth it. Thunderf00t will never read this, and if he does, it’s highly unlikely to have any impact on somebody who is so dedicated to opposing feminism yet continues to have absolutely no idea what it is.

As per usual, for a more rational response, let’s turn to Bob Chipman (a.k.a. MovieBob or The Game Overthinker). The first thing I want to address is that he had an excellent response to the people who immediately complained that Sarkeesian was somehow ripping people off because, I suppose, her first video didn’t have enough explosions and alien robots. Here’s a sample.

Having watched the video itself: She’s shooting and outputting in HD/broadcast-quality (this has clearly been designed for classroom/seminar presentation moreso than the web video) and most the MASSIVE amount of game footage looks to have been captured from either original sources (I’m assuming MAME or download-service copies for the retro stuff) – which requires both expensive equipment and the expense of the systems and games themselves. Also, I don’t know if she does her own graphics and animation, but her transitions all look like original work; and even if she did do them herself the “going rate” for that kind of work can get pretty damn high especially if you plan to buy or license it in perpuity.

However, I highly recommend that you watch his Overbytes episode about it. For some reason I can’t embed this type of video into my WordPress blog, so just follow the link.

Bob’s point is largely that after all of the controversy, all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, all of the months of fear-mongering about how this will…do something, I guess. I was never really clear on what people were afraid of other than some woman might not be talking about how wonderful men and video games are. But after all of that, the result was fairly non-threatening. It’s not some excoriation of video games and the video game industry, nor some fiery manifesto imploring women to stand up and burn game cartridges on the bodies of the men who owned them. It’s a reasonably dry but interesting academic discussion on the use of the damsel in distress trope in video games and how the games industry keeps falling back on it.

In fact there is almost zero criticism in the first episode other than acknowledging things like the repetition of themes and the overuse of character types that the gaming community was complaining about long before Anita Sarkeesian showed up.

Bob also addresses Double Dragon, pointing out that Sarkeesian’s only real criticism of anything in the video is calling the opening sequence of it “regressive crap.” But, of course, it’s supposed to be regressive crap. Double Dragon works very hard to be this, “sleezy, cheesy, grindhousey 80s mashup of…The Warriors and Fist of the Northstar.” That’s not to say that that makes it less problematic, and it’s also not to say that I don’t love Double Dragon and that people shouldn’t play it, but that is a completely different topic. The point is that when people like Phil Mason (Thunderf00t) try to make the argument that it isn’t, that’s much like saying that this blog is not attempting to be polemical. Of course I’m making an effort to say that some things are right and some things are wrong and demonstrate my point through evidence, and of course Double Dragon is attempting to play up the worst aspects of the ultra-masculine action genre so popular in the late 70s and through the 80s. To argue otherwise is to reveal that you either haven’t paid attention, or are ideologically committed to that not being the case.

Jim Sterling’s video today also takes on a similar point (sorry, again I can’t embed this type of video in WordPress for some reason), which is that not only are there very few female protagonists in video games, there is active opposition to them and, when they are introduced, to allowing them to behave like human beings. In this video, Sterling addresses Mason’s ridiculous free-market fapping (albeit indirectly) by pointing out the chicken and egg nature of video game marketing when it comes to gender.

Basically, Sterling’s point seems to be that it’s very hard to tell whether games marketed to women (or at least not exclusively to men) don’t sell well, so they’re not worth marketing, or whether the fact that only about half the budget is given to marketing games not primarily aimed at men reduces the sales for those games.

What really struck me was the quotes from Jean-Max Morris, the creative director of Remember Mewho said in an interview with The Penny Arcade Report that, “We had some [publishers] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.'” and, even more disturbing from my perspective as somebody who would love to see just what they’re afraid of in more video games, “We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’”

I’m really not sure what to be more offended by, the idea that women can’t be main characters in video games and have relationships because the player is likely male, or that male players feel “awkward” at the very idea that their on-screen avatar might be doing something that could make them, as players, feel gay. And that’s somehow bad.

The point that Sterling eventually makes, and I would use to respond to Mason, is that it may be true that video games with female protagonists or that don’t immediately satisfy the sexual power fantasies of male players might not sell as well, but that’s still really, really sad. More to the point, that doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It’s the result of a society that tells women that they aren’t supposed to like video games, then turns around and refuses to make video games that might appeal to women because “women don’t like video games.” Games with male protagonists and heterosexual love stories are no inherently more fun for satisfying some magic formula. This is no more valid or reasonable than when people, notably even the otherwise pretty brilliant Christopher Hitchens, suggest that women are somehow less funny because…something. Well, in Hitchens’ case, he makes the incredibly stupid suggestion that it’s because women have boobs to get attention and don’t need humor, which reveals how even very smart people can have really, really ridiculous ideas.

The point is that the “market” argument only holds water if games are marketed the same way, but they aren’t. You’re otherwise left with this circular argument of “we don’t market to women because women don’t play video games because we don’t market to them…” ad infinitum.

I suspect that video games, as they struggle to find their place as an artistic medium, will also continue to struggle with gender like every other artistic medium has or is. However, this is also a really good time, while gamers are already angry about other things (like the Sim City almost-launch), to really start to address these issues and demand a better product overall. Not just one free of online DRM, but one that begins to represent other types of people, notably women, and treats them as valuable characters, not simply side-kicks and objects to be won.