Saturday, August 18, 2012

Super Special Saturday Bonus Post #5 Misogyny and Geeks Revisited: A Closer Look at Why

Well Internet, I'm still sick. I'm on the tail end of it; the sore throat and other general "Not getting out of bed" symptoms have gone away, but I've pretty much forgotten what it feels like to breathe through my nose, though I have gotten relatively well acquainted with what my sinuses feel like as they bang mercilessly against my pain receptors. No worries though, I have drugs. Yay drugs! Nothing like something to help you ignore all of your problems until they go away or you die.

Six decongestants later...
It seems a bit silly to have a news section in this post since I was here like three days ago, but stuff has happened, so here it is:

For those of you who don't know, Team Fortress 2 came out with a large update that added a completely new game mode, some items and, most importantly, ROBOTS! I've loved TF2 for years--pretty much since it came out, and I've experienced and loved every new update that's released since, but this one? Somehow this feels like the newest of all the ideas they've ever had. I realize that it's just a horde mode and it does, in fact, bear striking resemblances to The Killing Floor (Which is also good and worth checking out) but there's something about adding the completely batshit TF2 charm to it all that elevates it just a step above its predecessors. That being said, the matchmaking is totally bork'd; it took me--both by myself and with a full team of six-- more than an hour forty-five to find a server which I was immediately disconnected from. Me and the boys over at Ones_and_Zeroes were able to eventually figured out how to actually get into the game and once we did, we had a blast. You can find the evidence of such fun times here though since it's a full, unedited stream, be sure to skip to the 1:44:00 mark where all the action starts.


Okay, fine, here's your stupid bonus post.

Misogyny and Geekdom Revisited
A Closer Look at Why

Writing this blog has allowed me to prove a lot of things to myself. I've proven to myself that I can keep a schedule, work a deadline, juggle projects, drop juggled projects, and, perhaps most impressively, that there are people willing to come here every week to read me ramble about a chosen topic for about 2500 words. Weird, right? It hasn't all been roses and beds and roses in bed, those scandalous roses. One of the most important lessons I've learned from writing these 40-odd posts is that I can't always just expect to fart out words onto the post and have it be all rainbows. There have been a few posts that I haven't been satisfied with and want another crack at, this being one of them. Specifically, I think the original post was...well, technically competent, I guess, but I feel like it missed the point of itself. I was so tired or so busy or just so infatuated with what I had to say that I seemed to forget the title of my own article and just veered off in whatever semi-topical direction I liked best. 

Needless to say; I'm unhappy with how it turned out. I wasn't happy with how it turned out then, either, but I can remember being so tired as to think to myself "It sucks. I'll bury it in better content next week" and posting it anyways, hoping that everyone would just forget to check that day and we could all skip to the next week's post. Unfortunately, I made the amateur mistake of not forgetting about it, myself, and so it's haunted me to this day. Do you know what it's like to have the spectre of bad writing over your head? Do you?
Yeah, kinda like that, actually...
So let's try this again.

One of my major self-criticisms about the last attempt was that it seemed relatively difficult to approach if the reader, you guys, were coming at it from outside of geek culture. Being the kind of shut-ins as we are, our weird sort of inner politics don't really translate to outlying circles and while this wasn't necessarily a problem if you're on the pulse of the people and problem at hand; being outside, looking in made it kind of difficult to come around to this as being a problem because it's very likely you didn't know it existed and I sure as hell wasn't giving any kind of real introduction. Let's do that now.

Misogyny and sexism is a pretty big problem in geek culture. Really big, actually. How big? Well, in the case of games, it's big enough to be one of the last major hurdles keeping them from acquiring the coveted status of "Generally Accepted Art Form," both via the games being made and the gamers playing them. It's bad enough that, depending on where you're coming from, you probably pictured someone who was either lifeless, overweight, and in possession of a crustache or a screaming frat boy when I said "gamer." That's disappointing because women make up nearly half of all of gamerdom. 

I imagine the problem got its start in the earliest of days; the NES on back. When you've only got 8 bits to work with, you've got to shave some corners, story being one of the first things to trim down. A cursory examination of the kind of games that made it to any modicum of success back then saw the larger strokes of story explained through gameplay with maybe a little bit of directional text, if at all, and the finer points polished off in the player manual. That being said, how many stories are simpler than 'save the girl?' Not to imply that Mario was trying to keep gender roles in check, but because it was so deeply encoded into our gamer DNA it's become a dominant pose. We need to save the princess, boys save princesses, girls are the princess. Then they fall in love and have 2.5 freaky mushroom babies. That's how the story goes. Mostly.
Look, I'm not trying to say that she fooled around, just that it looks nothing like Mario.
Because of this paradigm that so infectiously permeated the larval culture and nearly every game within spitting distance, gaming in general became more specialized for boys with 'girl games' being less...common. Or good. 

Historically, it was kind of a vicious cycle. Someone noticed that boys liked games with jumping and stomping and shooting and being and just kind of assumed that all that fun stuff was what boys liked and, by extension, not what girls liked. Only problem was that this assumption left the list of "Things in games that girls like" to be disastrously short to the point where there basically wasn't anything useful left. Someone made this awful game and, predictably, it didn't sell well. Everyone looked at this and went 'Oh, well, girls must not like video games' and from that point on it was a downward slog of Barbie games as far as the eye could see. Understandably, this lead to the assumption that games were for boys which worked out pretty well for me because my childhood was badass

Regardless, this meant that a lot of little boys grew up with awesome games for boys and a lot of little girls grew up with awesome games for boys and shitty games for girls. It became a male-dominated culture, doubly so when the sausage fest that was gaming met the sausage fest that was the Internet. When we got 3D engines, one of the first games we made took place in a strip club. When we got true 3D graphics, we had a minor incident over some nude mods, thus cementing gaming as a place for adolescent boys and men who never made it past that step. By the time women finally got around to collectively saying "Actually, we do like games" the antithetical image was already well in place.

Antithetical; Tom's new favorite word of the week.
The results of this in gaming today are...well, I wish I could say they had managed to reach the kind of subtlety that blockbuster movies have acquired. Look back at the last five female supporting characters in blockbuster movies and think about what I just said. It is a topic that gaming is bridging, if only slowly and reluctantly, but the greater part of the culture is still pretty okay with the fact that a lot of female characters are either useless, essentially porn stars, or both. It's a running gag in gaming that if you play with a female avatar, your armor rating is inversely proportional to how much armor you're actually wearing. 

exemplified thus.
And that's just the actual games, to say nothing of the people who play them. I've heard horror stories of girls who feel tha simply can't play online games that use voice chat because the moment they speak, the entire server hones in on them and them alone with verbal abuse, sexual proposition, and singling them out in gameplay, almost to the point of griefing. I've heard that girls only play games to get attention, because they're fat or ugly, or because they're actually whores. I've heard that girls can only play X support class or Y game mode because they're just not good at the heavier play styles or that they should stick to casual games where they belong. This kind of attitude is, unfortunately, pretty pervasive to the point where we seem to have a hard time distinguishing between 'harassment' and 'good-natured ribbing.' I won't go into specifics here to save space, but Extra Creditz did a pretty revealing episode on the subject and there's at least one blog that documents this kind of harrassment as it happens, to comedic effect.

If gaming's misogyny is deeply rooted in gender stereotypes, then the kind of misogyny found in comic books is practically built from the stuff. Comics were born in the age when women wore skirts as a part of their dress code, assuming they worked at all. When Wonder Woman got admitted to the Justice League, it was as the group's secretary. Yes, really. Click on those links. Read those panels. This woman spent her life training as a warrior amazon, can lift cars over her head, and  has the kind of reflexes that lets her deflect bullets and she's thrilled to have a desk job. Granted, Comics have made some pretty impressive strides to that effect as it's moved away from all super heroes all the time, but even today they've got a pretty awful track record. Remember that picture of Starfire I used last time? The one where the only reason she wasn't naked was a clever colorist?

Yeah, that's the one.
Her costume...hasn't gotten any better. Not at all. In fact, it's kind of gotten worse. I was careful to qualify that comics have made great strides, except where super heroes are concerned. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two super hero characters that weren't sexualized to the level of a porn star in the books they appeared in and those two are Hit-Girl and Oracle, formerly Batgirl; a 12 year old and a cripple. Outside of that? Sure; The Walking Dead is a great example of a comic with an interesting cast of all types. Within the land of tights and stripes? If you've got growths on your chest, you better not be wearing pants. 

Now, I am very much more a gamer than I am a comic nerd so I'll happily admit to more than a few degrees of ignorance, but if I had to guess, I'd say that gaming was just now starting to outpace comics on this issue based on the explosion of the gaming community in the last couple of decades and the increased connectivity and intermingling of that community via online gaming. Comics, meanwhile, have almost been reduced in the broader societal eye; They're getting more exposure than ever, sure, but I'm not sure I've seen any kind of real surge in the comic community as a whole that lead to the kind of branching out into other titles; certainly not the more obscure, thought provoking ones. I'd be curious to see how many of you could name more than five X-Men never featured in any of the movies. Did you know that Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance, wrote a super hero comic? Did you know that it's actually surprisingly good? Let's get more recent and less obscure; did you know that Spiderman and Wolverine are actually current members of the Avengers? This isn't to imply that you're some kind of awful comic noob, mind you, just that comics aren't as well-equipped to facilitate the spread of it's own culture as games are. 

We're also pretty good at spreading the creep, if you get my meaning.
To its credit, gaming has stepped up to the plate on the topic of sexism in a fraction of the time that it took comics, even if it's yet to do much besides whiff the ball. That's not to say that comics haven't and don't want to address the issue, the opposing party has simply been allowed to remain a lot bigger and louder than they have in gaming. So let's say that you, yes you personally, wanna try to help fix our sexuality problems to see our mediums grow, artistically. What do you do? Well, the simple answer is to be active member and positive example in the community you want to change. Don't sit by the sidelines and let people talk down about others, take part in the conversation (in a calm, respectful manner, for the love of God) and get the ball rolling in the right direction. Let your favorite developers, publishers, writers, and artists know what kind of characters and stories you're interested either directly, by contacting them, or indirectly, with your wallet. Petitions always seemed a bit self-important to me, but if you've got a good cause, whatever works, I guess. 

Now, there is one segment about this conversation I haven't covered yet and, indeed, didn't cover in the last post on this topic. In hindsight, this was another reason my last attempt at this rubbed me the wrong way so let me address it here. There is, indeed, a number of female nerds, especially gamers, who act as living justification for a lot of this sexism and harassment. These are the kinds of girls who genuinely do use their female status to get attention and be recognized as a female gamer, who may not even like games, but plays them anyways because it's a venue where they can be acknowledged and guys, I'm sorry, this one's kind of our fault as well. Only kind of though, so keep reading. 

We've fetishized the nerd girl like crazy. Do a google search and you'll make it dozens of pages before your results starts veering. Do a porn search and you'll find all kinds of videos that inserted the word 'nerd' on the basis that someone's wearing glasses. How could these attention-seekers not see this and think to themselves "Well, looks like I've got a new and untapped audience to play to" To my fellow guys...well, I actually find it hard to criticize you here. It's more than natural to find similar interests attractive and the nerd gene is understood to be harder to find in girls, true or not, so it's difficult to find a lot of solid ground for turning this into a wet dream like everything else that turns us on.

Hey! I used this picture last time, too! 
To the girls...Well, I don't know what to say to this chunk of the gamer girls except "Stop. No one respects you for this. Your gender does not make you special here. Play the game." What's really painful to watch is when I see girls do this sort of display not to necessarily attract attention, but because they're trying to represent their gender due to also being under the assumption that they're such a rare breed. As I already said up there, Women make up +40% of gamers everywhere, so this isn't exactly as rare as it used to be. At this point, the only reaction I ever see to this kind of posturing is the same kind of misogyny and harassment it was aimed at kicking down, reinforcing those false perceptions and creating another vicious downward spiral. 

So if you're a girl in geek culture and you've ever found yourself announcing to a server "Yep, I'm a girl who is also a geek! Amazing! Get over it." then maybe pause for a moment and think because you may just be doing more harm than good. This skeleteton is truly starting to shift out of geekdom's closet and the best way to help is by being a positive influence on the culture; not acting like you're a rare breed, but just another fan.

And guys...chill out. Share the mediums. They don't belong to us any more than they belong to them and we can only grow by sharing them. I'm not saying we have to put away all the fan service and impractical armors, just try to understand how it's got to feel to be looked down on because of things that ultimately don't matter in this context. Also, maybe try to latch on to a couple of female characters who are interesting because of their characters, not their outfits. 

There's more I could say on the subject, but I think we've covered most of the important bits and hey; that's what the comments are for. All together, I feel better about this revisit than I do about the original post, though I always get a little nervous publishing something that's so divisive like this is. If you haven't already, head up to the poll and check out what's on the slab for next week and tell me what you'd be interested in.

Thank you, goodnight.

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