Mad Max, Fury Road: Bear Witness, For Glory, For Feminism

Imperator Furiosa pins Mad Max down.

I was really surprised that I liked this film so much.

As The Spectacle

I have not seen a Mad Max film in a very long time. The hype for this movie snuck up very quickly and so did the previews; one day it was not here and then the next, one could not escape from it. I was not convinced but as more and more of my friends started chattering about how excited they were to see it, I thought that it would be in my best interests to do so. The word “feminism” was coiling around the initial salvos of press and that’s what really ensnared me: could an action movie really do that? I still felt hesitant, because for as much as I consider myself a feminist media critic, I am allergic to the idea that a piece of media can truly be part of some “feminist”/”not-feminist” binary.

One of the first waves of criticism I heard was about how the film was pretty and truly well stocked with white people, despite this being post-societal collapse Australia. It is pretty common at this point to see fantasy and sci-fi movies neglect that the future will most assuredly contain people of color, so I was a bit dismayed.

However, before I could really ruminate on what the movie might possibly be doing, suddenly it was everywhere: MRAs were up in arms about this shit. It’s like the entire nerd portion of the Internet got a fire under its ass and demanded that we go watch this movie. It was our duty to go see this film! Won’t it piss off those backwards misogynists who think this film is carrying some subversive feminazi propaganda! It will be the feminist film for the ages! Any and all other criticism of what this movie might be selling was instantly extinguished and it felt like a banner for Feminism being waved around.

I didn’t feel those sentiments exactly, as I penned that day of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in theatres:

I find people (a lot of them ally men) becoming engrossed in punking more sexist/MRA men really gross. It turns away from wanting to elevate feminist discourse and turns it back around to power dynamics by two marginally different groups of men, separated by slight ideological gulfs.  This division being made to the tune of millions of dollars that goes back into the pockets of mostly male movie execs and producers doesn’t liberate anyone, really: it doesn’t guarantee that movies will take more risks in the future, that more WoC actresses will be hired, more female directors will get their projects green-lit and backed. The way to progressive media is not that we have to “buy in” with our participation. It is a pretty performative and meaningless gesture.

In the last couple of months, I’ve really shied away from the kind of feminist act that is purely oppositional; I don’t do what I do as a critic or a woman because it will piss off men, I do what I do to speak and live my truth. It benefits no one but other men, in this instance, to fork over money so that some group I do not talk to will be angry in spirit. Men will always be angry. A movie does not change this, nor does it drive my politics.

I was also extremely hesitant to buy into the idea, as I stated before, that this was a noble, feminist act, that this was a purely feminist film. While it might have some effect in Hollywood by showing that these kinds of films with the bare minimum of respect for women characters can be profitable, overall the world is as it is. My soul is restless at the idea that money can truly buy progressiveness.

(I found out that Eve Ensler consulted on the film as well, with regards to how women react in war-torn countries, for accuracy. Eve’s own politics veer very far from mine and I find her methods and treatment of many groups like trans women and women of color to be incredibly violating and distasteful. But I digress.)

As The Film

From the moment the first shot opens until this movie closed, I could feel myself not breathing.

This is an action movie of the highest order and it puts so many others to shame. We have been truly wandering in the desert up until this point – in terms of epic (actually epic, Odyssey-epic, sweeping epic) film-making and story, there’s very few others I’ve seen that attain a pure crystallization of vision. The film does not burden you with much dialogue and exposition. It is a tale of going there and back again, writ against the struggles of Max as he wrestles his demons and the Wives, under Imperator Furiosa’s care, attempting to gain escape velocity behind the wheel of a war rig.

The cinematography was sweeping, allowing for moments of delicate close-up shots of Furiosa’s face, wide-angle desert pans and action that danced, clear and lucid on the screen. At no point was I confused about what was going on, and the use of movement in among all of the vehicles was spectacular. What the movie did the best was that excellent sense of vertical space: everything loomed large, whether unseen or all-too-close in the rearview. What also shone was the stunt work and prop design – from the very real flame-throwing guitar to the polecats men that wove in and out of shots.

The story was kept bare and allowed you to hyper-focus on the characters in the moment and on their impossible journey. Max is laboring under the sins of his past, and Furiosa is looking for redemption: for herself as well as the young women she wanted to save. All that we need to know is that they must get away, and when they do, what comes next is the arc that carries us triumphant across the finish line. The women’s struggles to exist in a world where they are nothing but walking meat felt familiar to me, set very starkly in the world of the film. Not knowing exactly how this world came to be made it easier to focus on what it was trying to say. Max and Nux are two men attempting to be their own true selves but unsure of what that means when their roles are so tightly defined at the beginning of the film and in the end, are allowed to be heroic and compassionate. Their sacrifices and bodily nurturing flips much of the action hero archetype on its head, and allows the women space to enact violence and empathy on their own terms instead of being on the sidelines to Max’s pain.

It’s been a long time since a movie has taken hold of me so strongly that I find myself laughing aloud at points, clapping or hooting and hollering from the back rows.

As The Work

The one thought that really itched at the back of my brain and made its way onto Twitter after I had seen the film was this: this would have been better as a film that wasn’t about Mad Max. The sparseness of story and his own participation as the point-of-view just made me realize that I would have really liked to have seen this from Furiosa’s perspective. Obviously, her ascension through the ranks is alluded to but it speaks to many questions: why is she not part of the base classes of thirsty people around the plateaus? She’s certainly not “fit” to be a wife or a milk mother and yet all of the war boys seem to be men. I would have liked to see this movie from her perspective, a heist movie of the highest order. Having Max’s titular story be draped on top of hers, rather than a supporting lead felt like the less attractive option. I know it is a franchise but I just think it would have leaned even further into showing that this world’s women had much more interesting stories to tell.

This is where I find the idea that this movie is “feminist” to be a really erroneous take. Does it have merit from a feminist critical lens though? Absolutely. As a work, it grapples with a lot of things that I find both add and subtract from my enjoyment of it, as a feminist.

The criticisms that the movie was dominated by white actors is absolutely on the nose, to almost literal effect. While there were a few people of color in the supporting cast, the story is surrounding two or three white characters in a world that also feels similarly white. I think it’s incredibly lazy to constantly create futuristic sci-fi worlds, especially dystopias that reproduce the plights of underclasses and marginalized people (resource scarcity, slavery) and making them completely about white people.

As far as the way the Wives and Furiosa were portrayed, I felt that overall, it was pretty strong. Each were given a least a touch of their own personality and way of dealing with things: confusion about the outside world, pleas for pacifism and compassion. The struggle among them over whether to give in and go back to Immortan felt too real in terms of what happens when trying to escape an abusive relationship, but the fact that they didn’t shit all over Cheedo for attempting to do so was a nice touch (the fact that this is later mirrored in her part to help kill Immortan was especially poignant.) I also loved the inclusion of the Many Mothers clan, while decimated, they were still glorious as well as key to the eventual survival of the entire group.

The violence in this film and seeing Furiosa save the day time and time again by the skin of her teeth, shooting guns and stabbing fuckers in the face, all while driving the war rig was thrilling to me. I know women enacting violence is going to be the biggest battleground over the ideology of this film and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, violence is not a masculine pursuit, solely. There is absolutely fuck-tons of masculinized violence in this movie and I feel that there needs to be a difference in looking at using violence as a survival mechanism (which is something Max does, repeatedly) and violence as a subjugation tool. The War Boys are looking to destroy the uppity women attempting to leave, and grind them back into their place. It is about conquest and attempting to correct a theft: the wives are property. What all of the women in this movie are attempting to do is to not even just get revenge (though that factors in) but to get away with their lives and their bodily autonomy. I couldn’t help but feel a stirring in my heart when Immortan Joe’s body was ripped apart because that darkness has been in my body for most of my life. We have to allow women who have been victimized this truth.

The flip-side of this however is when I saw the people claiming that this violence is what made it the most feminist without critical looks into what violence actually was doing in this movie. Frequently, violence from white women is seen as the ultimate power one can attain after being seen as weak and feminine. However, both this delicacy, prized and pure as well as the ability to enact violence is open to only white women. If Furiosa had been black or brown, I feel like the reactions would have been very different. It would have not been hailed as the second coming of feminist films.

All that being said, there was still something potent in seeing it, especially in a world that was set up to still continue the treating of women’s bodies as property, taken to a very scary conclusion. It always saddens me when we keep seeing bleak futures in this way and gives me a lack of escapism. While I felt that the film ultimately balanced the grossness of women-as-livestock metaphor with the tenderness of the main players with eachother, one day maybe we will see visions of the future where women are not crushed beneath the boot of Men, if not forgotten entirely from the world.

If there was any one thing that gave me a small bit of hope that we can achieve this, was seeing Max give his blood to Furiosa so readily. A man putting aside his own needs to help and comfort the woman whose crusade drove the entire plot almost made me cry. It was well worth the price of admission.

 

 

Supergirl is Not a Saturday Night Live Sketch

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it might fetch you a latte – CBS dropped a first look of their new series Supergirl yesterday, amid a weirdly mixed audience. I watched the six-minute trailer/edited plot summary and walked away feeling pretty positive about it. If I had any complaints about this at all, it is that this feels targeted at a much younger audience than CBS’ typical demo, if not something that I’d expect on the CW. The fact that the pilot and second episode are written by some of the people from Arrow and The Flash, as well as Glee doesn’t surprise me, though I feel that a show like this might lean closer to The Flash than Arrow in terms of pure grit.

Don’t get me wrong though – I just think the show is on the wrong channel. As far as love for the new generation of comic book-adjacent TV shows, I have much of it. I watch everything from Daredevil to The Flash to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The reasons I think some of these shows are so popular is often because they draw in a much younger, female audience. If anything, I feel like including gratuitous shots of Oliver Queen doing pull-ups with his rippling abs and biceps makes their target demographic pretty clear. All of these comic book shows have pretty cool ensemble casts, often with an emphasis on a cute, younger male protagonist and some level of more emotional interpersonal drama. It is a marked contrast from how male-dominated comic books have been written and marketed in the past. However, these shows have been lacking are a female protagonist, even still. This could be due to the fact that it’s seen as risky business to pitch a show like that or get ratings (Agent Carter springs to mind, same with the failed Wonder Woman venture). This is why I want to see Supergirl ultimately succeed.

However, some of the reactions to the first look video had me a touch annoyed and unsure if my fellow nerds feel the same way. A lot of people took the more breezy, feminine approach to task, stating that it felt very “rom-com” and also reminiscent of a recent SNL sketch that lampooned how Marvel handles female protagonists, notably Black Widow:

 

While I think the sketch is absolutely ferocious satire, I don’t think that and the Supergirl trailer are alike. For one, Supergirl is earnest, and not in a way I find offensive to the character. Black Widow, much like many other women characters in that universe being underutilized or badly written has been a long-term critique of Marvel for a while, particularly now after the debut of Age of Ultron. Supergirl as she stands herself, is a younger, feminine woman who is struggling with her super-identity as well as her “real” one at her job and social life. It feels very much in-step with some of other Superman series like Dean Cain’s portrayal as well as Smallville – a contemporary take on how to balance it all. The fact that she is a woman who wears skirts or does menial tasks for her boss doesn’t mean that it’s shoehorning the character into a romantic comedy situation, particularly given that she rebuffs her “nice guy” friend from the jump. There’s a difference, a marked one, between writers leaning into boilerplate stereotypes for “what women act like” and writing a woman who is young, fashionable, office-working and has to navigate that particular space. So far we haven’t seen Supergirl crying into any pints of ice cream or talking to her cat. As someone who has watched far too many rom-coms, there’s a distinct difference here. Kara Jor-El feels, so far at least, like her own person and not a construction. A certain empty construction of femininity applied to every woman character is not always on-key but it doesn’t mean that femininity itself is what is the problem. The bigger context we should be looking at is just that we have so few women characters that there’s just a very narrow spectrum of the kinds of characters they are allowed to be.

Now, none of this is to say that I don’t think these types of shows are above critique, far from it. What Supergirl might still suffer from, as many other comic book shows do, is often relying on offensive gags/jokes, under-casting (if not completely whitewashing) characters of color as well as yes, sidelining female characters. Some of the writing I saw in the heavily edited first look definitely fell into the former category: the “oh your big secret is you are a lesbian and that’s why you won’t date me” joke as well as the speech Calista Flockhart’s hell-boss character (WHERE ARE HER EYEBROWS) gives to Kara about “hating being a girl.” (Hey, girl is a pretty annoying diminutive if you are over the age of 15, writers!) I don’t think Supergirl will be entirely free of issues, but it is nice to see something like this come out.

The ultimate takeaway I got from the first look is that it will be awesome to see a 20-something lady try to balance her life and her attempts to save the world, especially in the shadow of her famous older “cousin” that was mentioned several times. Melissa Benoist’s Kara feels sympathetic and relatable as she tries to do it all, and Mehcad Brooks’ Jimmy Olsen seems like a really cool mentor-type character. I don’t have a lot of love for Rick, the best friend-type character but if he ends up filling a more “Cisco” role of engineering Kara’s costume and tech over the course of the series, it might be slightly more palatable.

Overall, I am excited to see yet another female-lead show finally take off. Too often I think we expect that every superheroine or bad-ass has to always have her shit together and this might be a nice departure from that.

 

Jem and the Holograms Trailer: Magic and Glitter, Exit Stage Right

Call me surprised when I opened up Twitter last night after watching a documentary to find most of my timeline to be extremely upset about the Jem and the Holograms global trailer that just dropped. I was only vaguely aware that Jem and the Holograms were making a comeback (mostly in the form of a comic book) so the idea that they were leaping onto the big screen as part of the wave of 80s nostalgia reboots/remakes seemed fairly interesting to me. However, it seemed like most people, even before I had a chance to watch said trailer, were deeply unhappy with the direction that the movie seems to be taking at this juncture.

Granted, trailers are always edited together in a masterful way to give you a sense of the plot but also to get the hype machine cranked up well before a film’s release and might not be accurate to what the movie is really, truly about. However, upon my own viewing, it seems like there’s so much off-key here that I have to agree with the legions of upset on social media.

It is sad because honestly, if this wasn’t called a Jem and the Holograms movie, I would sit down and watch this. It’s no accident in that, especially since I saw this immediately after watching the documentary Beyond Clueless. I’m a teen movie-holic and find myself passionately interested in the genre. This movie, for all of its sentimentality and earnestness, seems like something I’d enjoy. That being said, a Jem and the Holograms movie it is not.

Even if many of us (like myself) watched this cartoon when we were too young to absorb most of the plot (though this has been fixed lately with re-watches), much of the aesthetic and overarching story of the show stuck with us. Jem is and forever remains a superhero story, one that wasn’t popular with primarily boys first. She used magic to change into an alter-ego, she battled opposition forces and she stuck together with her gang of other cool musical superhero band-mates. How is this not similar to the Avengers? So when I watched the trailer and saw that the movie was realistic, earnest and contained no magic whatsoever, I felt cheated. If Hollywood can create an Earth that supports men who are god-like, enhanced by mysterious chemicals or have supernatural abilities, why not one where women can use their earrings to change into rival musical superstars? It is this fundamental change to the nature of Jem that feels the most lacking.

This movie, if the trailer is any indication, is made by someone who doesn’t grasp the fabric of the world, and all of the things woven into it. It honestly feels like a script driven by someone who had no proximity to the show at all. Jem’s story is fundamentally about her struggles with stardom, her friendship with the Holograms and her clashes with the Misfits. (Where are the Misfits too, I might ask.) Pasting the name over a typical story of a young girl who gathers her family around her and then is pushed to go solo is a well-worn trope. It doesn’t jibe with what Jem was really about: sticking together with your friends. Radically altering that story so you can shrink-wrap the franchise on top of it creates a soulless automaton that resembles nothing about the show we all loved.

That’s the thing here, that I think is bugging so many of us: it’s not about the show we enjoyed. Nostalgia seems to be sacred in creative properties if we’re trying to re-create stories from comic books that have origins in the 50s-60s, but girly cartoons from the 80s? Eh, let’s market that to girls who are teens now, who may have never seen the show. At the risk of sounding crotchety, it shows a lack of understanding of who the audience for this movie actually is, as women aged 25 and up are only allowed to be into pre-determined genres like romantic comedies and not the stuff we were into when we were kids. What if we’re parents who want to take our daughters to see things we enjoyed at their age? What if we’re older nerd ladies who want to see a faithful adaptation of stuff we have fond memories of? There’s such a lack of consideration, still, in the nerd sphere for the things we enjoyed as kids, despite the wave of 80s and 90s media making a comeback. (I feel that this ties neatly into why we also don’t have a lot of adult cartoon shows geared more towards women, but that’s another topic for another time.) The ability to enjoy retro is still firmly in the grip of a pretty male nerd culture.

Jem and the Holograms should not be this realistic, this earnest and solely developed for a younger audience. You can’t slap neon face-paint on and call it good. It feels like it was written by John Green with all of the annoying mawkishness that come with it and a lack of experience with what girls or women actually want, just what we’re supposed to enjoy. We’re a group continually passed over and seeing the things we loved writ accurately seems impossible.

Give me the glamour and glitter, fashion and fame. Keep it truly outrageous.

 

Monday Round-Up, Part 1: Lucy

LucyI’m going to lay it out here: Lucy is a terrible fucking movie. It barely has merit as a film at all. It’s much like Scarlett Johansson‘s eponymous character in the movie: cool to look at but very little substance beyond that.

I chose to watch this because I like to punish myself.

The general conceit of the movie is that Lucy, through some vague machination of a man she’s been dating a week, is forced into being a drug mule for Korean drug lord (Choi Min-sik) in Taiwan. While in captivity, the bag holding the drugs that have been sewn into her organs is busted open and she suddenly gains the ability to use more than 10% of her brain. The rest of the movie is the even more improbable events of her trying to reconcile with this fact and seek revenge on the organization that put her in this state, along with a professor (Morgan Freeman) and a french detective (Amr Waked.)

Movies have been playing around with the idea of drugs that somehow give us superhuman mental abilities (like Limitless) but have done a way better job of maintaining believability; this movie harps visually on Lucy’s numeric brain potential rising over the course of the story and it’s ridiculous. The idea that we only use 10% of our brain’s “potential” is trash science (imagine if you didn’t have access to the 10% that controls autonomic functions) but the ultimate conclusion that we’d be able to access X-Men level powers of telepathy and time-control just sort of spirals out from there. It doesn’t even try to make the movie logically consistent, and I consider myself willing to swallow quite a lot of science-fiction (except that the Flash can move faster than the speed of light.)

Narratively, the movie is cob-web thin. Both plot and dialogue are insubstantial and wholly unbelievable.  Lucy moves from location to location, beating up people, using her powers inconsistently as she grows more and more into a supercomputer of terrifying proportions. No, I am not even being metaphorical on this count: she literally turns into a giant oozing black supercomputer, Akira-style, and then dissipates into the electronic ether. (My head-canon for this is that she eventually transforms into the voice-activated AI from Her, in a cruel twist of fate.) Characterization is also in short supply, as well. Characters are no more than talking heads or action-doers, simple organisms that shoot or throw out lines. The only characters who seem to merit names or individual personalities are Professor Norman (who provides the flimsy scientific plot hooks and awed expressions), Pierre del Rio, Mr. Jang and that’s it. It would be clever to say that they are merely obstacles to Lucy’s ascension into a pure being but that would imply a level of depth that is not found here.

Lucy’s characterization is similarly shallow but in a more problematic way: I noticed that the larger her brain capacity grew, her humanity fell away. I know this is intentional, as several times through the film they make a point of her remarking that human beings and their “lower” brain capacity are ruled by base desires and fear. It is a really gross and fairly ableist view of intellect and emotion, positing that rationality and pure knowledge rule out over feelings or that people with more brainy pursuits are somehow a higher echelon of human being. It comes across to me as a more artistic interpretation of gendered views on reason, that rationality is better and emotionality is not. Lucy moves from the beginning of the film where we are given nothing but a scared lady wearing typical club gear, scared out of her wits, to being transformed into a robotic, and even god-like (there’s an actual scene where she touches a primate ancestor’s finger in the exact method of Michaelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting, I shit you not) being that is “so much better” then her former self. This leads into where I felt the real problems of the film were from a feminist perspective.

When the movie’s marketing engine first cranked up, there were some initial salvos that this was the “feminist film” we had all been waiting for, with a particularly bad-ass Johansson wending her way through Taiwan with a flurry of gunshots and kicks. Feminist it is not, not in the slightest. Not only is Lucy’s transformation presented in a very flat, unappealing “strong female character” way that relies entirely on masculine traits of violence and stoicism, but there is nothing feminist about the staggering amounts of racialized violence that occur in this movie. All of the aggressors in the movie are portrayed as some combination of Asian gangster stereotypes without acknowledging that one of the biggest aggressors in the movie is Lucy herself. I guess a white woman shooting down several Taiwanese people (one of whom is merely on a surgical table at the wrong time) is totally “kick-ass”? I was not really seeing how this was some feminist triumph when Lucy is basically a white female version of a thoughtless white male action hero with even less concern for human life.

It was not surprising to me that this movie was written and directed by Luc Besson. Besson has a pretty solid body of work that features complicated women characters like NikitaThe Messenger, and my favorite The Fifth Element.  This movie felt weighed down by a huge CGI budget, confusing visuals and a really shoddy script. It felt like the typical Besson “girl” on the surface but the rest is phoned in, offensively so. In other films, particularly Fifth Element, the woman’s “chosen one” status is played artfully or at least in a clever way; Lucy is just incredibly hamfisted and empty.

Overall, I’d say that this movie was disappointment, but that would imply that I had high expectations going in.

Monday Rundown: Saved!

Hillary Faye (Mandi Moore) pelts Mary (Jenna Malone) with the Bible, in one of the movie’s most hilarious moments.

Instead of typically explaining what I would like to achieve on my blog (and therefore letting it lapse for long periods of time), I figured I’d just right into it and let God sort it out. I’ve been sort of loosely maintaining this idea that I would watch one film a week, no other stipulations other than that, just to kind of re-expand my love of the form and generally unwind after a long week at work. Since my prime movie-watching time is the weekend, I figured that summarizing on Monday what I had watched the days prior would be a good way to also start my new life as a general feminist media critic versus solely focusing on video games.

This week’s pick was not intentional – I was looking to watch Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier in anticipation of seeing Age of Ultron with my boyfriend this week but sadly neither film was available for rent on Amazon Prime video. So when Saved! turned up randomly on my Netflix recommendations, I figured that maybe this would be a good time for a fun re-watch. I’ve seen this movie at least two times before but the last time was at least 6-10 years ago. Would it hold up? Many of the teen movies I was obsessed with in the late 90’s/early 00s renaissance for that genre still hold up relatively well these days, even if none of the characters have smartphones or social media. I didn’t back then, so they still feel real to me.

Saved! is somewhere between earnest teen drama and tautly written satire of Christianity written for adults. It’s obviously very accessible though, speaking as someone who has no access to what really goes on in “born again” and “charismatic” Christian circles. The story follows the protagonist Mary (Jenna Malone), as she struggles to deal with a crisis of faith, brought to her by an accidental pregnancy with her actually-gay boyfriend. The movie moves briskly through the 10 months leading up to her giving birth, and introduces a really hilarious cast of characters that attend the American Eagle Christian school with Mary: her ex-best friend Hillary Faye (Mandi Moore), Hillary’s disabled brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin), as well as the school’s single Jewish student and trouble-maker, Cassandra (Eva Amurri). Adults are conspicuously out of the picture, which is pretty true to form in most teen films, other than Mary’s absentee Christian Decorator of the Year award-winning mom Lillian (Mary Louise-Parker) and the overly-hip Pastor Skip (who is father to Mary’s crush, Patrick, played by Patrick Fugit.)

What really kept this movie from being too bogged down by what could have been sneering disgust or overt familiarity with the topic was mostly Mary’s struggles with reconciling that her own actions, not Jesus’, are really at work here. Losing your faith is a pretty earnest moment for a lot of people, especially young people, and struggling with teen pregnancy on top of that is no easy task. The jokes are kept pretty blasphemous but not exceptionally cruel. The world as it is seen through Mary’s eyes is obviously to be mocked but not in a way that felt too distanced. I got a sense that the script was written with a lot of care. That being said, the movie as a whole is extremely wry whether it’s Hillary Faye’s intense, militant religiousness wrapped around a fairly offensive center or Pastor Skip and Lillian’s obvious affection for eachother despite Skip still being married to Patrick’s missionary mom. The whole movie serves to very delicately show that adhering to the rules does no one good when so much of the human existence is that we’re all flawed in some way. It also played heavily on the idea that the facades that we want others to buy into aren’t truly who we are deep down inside, where only God (or whomever), can see us.

Despite the fact that the movie takes place over a decent length of time (most of Mary’s entire senior year at American Eagle), they did a lot of very subtle jumps in time, seamlessly cutting from one holiday to the next, using that as a way to vignette a particular moment in Mary’s arc and on-going attempts to hide the pregnancy from most people around her. It also weaves in quite a few scenes that give us a greater understanding of many of the people in Mary’s orbit, such as her mom’s loneliness, Roland and Cassandra’s burgeoning relationship and Hillary Faye’s more desperate attempts to “fix” Mary and her friends. Subtle things like Tia’s (Heather Matarazzo) eventual transformation into Hillary Faye Jr. play out in the background, much like the holiday decorations strewn around the school, and underscore what happens at the pique of the film’s tension – the end-of-year prom.

Prom scenes are often the hyper-focus of many teen films and so it’s hard not to fall into cliches. They work as a place where power relationships are thrown into stark relief and the real magic of a film’s climax happens. Memorable prom scenes like Jawbreaker and Carrie are rife with stylistic conventions that seem to occur in every film going forward. Saved! keeps it a little less dramatic but twists everything around with it’s own flair; Hillary Faye is revealed as the actual villain who orchestrated a frame job of Mary and Cassandra (which Mean Girls feels reminiscent of), Dean shows up with his boyfriend from Mercy House (the Christian deprogramming school, alluding to something that wouldn’t become a bigger story until years later), and all of this is punctuated by one falling Jesus statue and Mary eventually giving birth.

The movie is sweet without being too schmaltzy, referential without being trite (I got shades of Mermaids here) and embraces the extremely dry humor without being alienating about the subject matter in a way that I found really refreshing. It’s a teen movie with a lot of outside elements and still stays pretty true-to-form. If you’re looking for good satire with a decent story, this is a great place to look.

 

 

A Brutal Landscape: Sexual Assault in Gaming Narratives

Content warning: discussion of rape in video games.

It’s like a wave is rolling in, borne of several currents: a Nightline special, an errant tweet, a sequel to a hot gaming franchise. People wondering if we’re going to “start” having this conversation of how to “tackle” rape in video games, but I don’t feel like the conversation ever has stopped. It never, ever stops for me.

Sometimes it feels like the discussions that rape and abuse victims have among themselves is significant and invisible. We pass along content and trigger warnings for shows or games we consume. We acknowledge something off to the side, just out of your line of vision, a thing that lurks in the dark. If you believe that the games industry cannot discuss or approach a conversation about rape, I believe it is because many people feel like we are set apart from this somehow. It doesn’t acknowledge that you might not know who is a victim or a survivor. You don’t know who could contribute or maybe the ways that we have been, all along.

Rape is a topic I’d be okay with striking altogether from gaming, outside of victim- or survivor-written narratives. It’s obvious that the game industry barely recognizes what counts as sexual assault, let alone acknowledging that people are victims of it. The insistence to include rape in games creates this uneasy message that someone like me doesn’t belong here. Given that sexual assault is an assertion of systemic power and violence, it is grimly ironic.

I want to ask all of these developers, writers, a simple, “Why?”

Why put this in your game? Why this and not something else? It leads me to think that many find it essential as texture, to make the world “come alive.” It creates a world that so many don’t have to live in day-by-day but can participate in, like tourism. When you make a game and use it to bolster the game’s “realism,” what you’re telling me is that you need our suffering as a fixture in your world, placed just-so, like a lamp. What is actually disruptive violence in the real world, exists as something inevitable and crucial for your fictional one.

“But rape exists in movies and comic books too!” 

When I watch a movie or read a comic book, there is a passivity there. I cannot affect the story at hand, I am not a part of it. I can either regard or turn away. The fact is that I have more control in being passive than what gaming frequently offers me. At best, a game’s interactivity absolutely positions us as a silent participant, a complicit bystander, with no ability to change course. At worst, it puts us into the position of the rapist. These are two alternatives that I cannot bear, time and time again. The fact that so many games rely on showing us these things and never center a victim or survivor in the narrative indicates that games care more about rape than those who are raped.

Rape is complex. It’s not picking the wrong item to equip or taking the wrong road. Games are focused often on player choice and it never seems to address that it is not about a victim’s choices, it is actually about a rapist’s choices. But the narrative never really reflects that, indicating that rape is just something that sort of happens. It also neglects that rape is the escalation of many more innocuous things in our culture. Rape culture, which feminists talk about often, isn’t just a buzzword – it literally describes the seemingly endless language that builds slowly to enable rape at all levels. Much like playing enough games gives you a familiar sense of inputs or consequences (jumping off a cliff often kills you, hitting D on a keyboard turns you right), rape culture is our society’s way of developing language to violate someone. We don’t value people’s personal spaces, we demand that women smile or allow us into their immediate vicinity. We overlook if someone is too drunk, we overlook if someone is uncomfortable with disagreeing, we value our own sexual desires over others needs or safety. We place certain groups above others, put people into power over others and give them the ability to enact it without culpability. We strip people’s ability to ever say “no.”

The pinnacle of this is often sexual assault, a finishing move.

“But this guy in the game is evil, that’s why he’s a rapist! It is showing us he’s bad!”

This is a lazy writing trope. It’s just as empty and useless as promoting this idea that all rapists are scary men that lurk in alleyways, that they are people you don’t know. Rapists are not always evil people that wear capes and kidnap young women. Rapists are often the hero, the friend, the family member. They are people who even might think of themselves as good, right, or justified. Many men can’t even reliably identify rape (or even would consider it) even when it is described to them, so how is an huge industry supposed to recognize it when they put it into games?

It is also laughably facile to position rapists as a villain, when it’s horribly rare that we even get to name our rapists in real life, much less bring them to justice. Many times in video games, the rapists are bad, but they are horizontal or parallel to the incredibly violent antagonist, because a victim would never be the person centered in the narrative, much less able to bring retribution on their attacker. If anything, the ability to enact revenge is only ever given to someone who is adjacent to a victim – such as a husband to a wife. Many times, victims are often people who are not even considered worthy enough to be a character. We’re dead and cast off to the side in places where it should be our story.

These are all things I’ve been trying to address in my work for a really long time, as someone who is a survivor and a feminist. The gaming industry has a long way to go because it barely understands how to see us as real people, but only cares as much as we can lend realism. The fact that most of us barely register as human beings means that it will not have the empathy or concern needed to put our stories first and foremost in a video game. The fact that games seem to value rapists over people who have been assaulted means I will always sit uneasily on the sidelines whenever this conversation comes back up, every single time.

 

Memes, Context and Teen Girls: How ‘Just Warlord Things’ Rings False

#justwarlordthings image macro

Image courtesy of Just Warlord Things tumblr.

Memes and other forms of memetic communication that have sprung from various social media outlets are something of an interest of mine. Whether it’s Twitter jokes (like Jobs/Hope/Cash) or Tumblr text posts, there’s something charming to be examined about how we talk to each other in-group in the various spaces we occupy.

One of the stranger things that has come about from this is that companies have definitely noticed that there’s cache in adopting the mannerisms of the population they wish to sell to, especially via the same channels their demographic will be browsing. Most times the attempts are incredibly tone-deaf or straight up incomprehensible, with at least one notable exception. It feels goofy on the surface but the larger capitalistic intent is to try and don the apparel of your audience in order to get them to identify with your brand. Most companies do not realize that they are not people, as much as they like to try. Plus, since most social media outlets are moving towards making their huge client base into more active consumers, the effect feels chilling.

Memetic jokes and language in online spaces are designated for entertainment and to also bolster a sense of community, but something people often forget is that they are also purposeful and create cultural meaning. They inherently refer to both the medium and the people who inhabit said media. Companies often run aground because they attempt to remove the contexts that created the language in the first place.

Take, for instance World of Warcraft.

Warcraft started a Tumblr this week called “justwarlordthings” and has created both image macros and video content to go along with, plastering both (with attendant tags) on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. The whole shebang is an artful parody (homage?) of the well-known #justgirlythings Tumblr. For those people who weren’t aware of that blog, #justgirlythings produced the kind of basic but relateable image macro that was delicately indicative many of the things people ascribe to Tumblr generally: teen girls. The pictures often of headless white young women frolicking often dreamily talk about boyfriends and simple pleasures that are no doubt the height of femininity.

Warcraft is not even close to being the first to do a send-up of #jgt, given that the blog itself was so easy to poke fun of. Many parodies often subversively undermined what is presumed to be a very normative, white performance of femininity by suggesting that it is typically girly to summon demons or be a witch. There’s a resistance there, via satire, to the presumption of what it means to be “girly” when that meaning is so rigid. It is powerful, especially when Tumblr’s high population of girls, women and other femme individuals is so soundly made fun of.

It’s this general scorn for Tumblr by the rest of the Internet community that makes Warcraft’s joke feel less like “laughing with” and more like “laughing at.” There’s also the matter that their meme overlays what is traditionally a pink, feminine meme with their newest expansion’s trappings: masculine, brutal and violent. There’s nothing smart being said here, but rather another instance of nerdery that adopts something for girls/women (even if it is problematic) and makes it about men and their interests. The ability to critique can come from outside the group, but it often rings false if there’s a substantial power differential at play. This goes doubly so for a company who has no real interest in making a statement or undoing societal structures.

The extra layer to all of this is that Warcraft is not absent of girls and women; the giant MMORPG boasts quite a large population of both. This, along with past issues with representing gender is why Blizzard has been making attempts to rectify how they come across to their audience. They just recently debuted their newest IP, Overwatch, which prominently features women as half of their new characters, as well as replied to many of their fans who felt left out by Warlords’ story.

It is weird that Blizzard is doing a campaign like this. Given how their expansion was marketed prior to the release, it feels off-base and callous. No one owns a meme, per se, but given a company’s ability to leverage it into sales or a deeper community buy-in, is it really Blizzard’s right to cash in on something that is largely not theirs to dance all over? Do they really want to alienate the people who might have created the whole girly meme from playing their game? Who knows.

This just feels like another instance of a big business not really getting what some of their potential demographic is really all about.

Writing In the Margins: Bayonetta 2, Sex Criticism, and Power Dynamics

I won’t pretend that this is even remotely an objective look at literally anything and rather a bag of cats that I’ve had going around in my mind for a week now. It’s almost 4 AM my time and this is nothing but one of those dreadful, self-absorbed noodlings on personal experiences and feminist theory. But isn’t that the point of discourse of in our community?

All of this started because I started seeing (whether some phenomenon or actual increased usage in just specifically my circle of Twitter acquaintances) sex positivity and sex negativity being mentioned in the last couple of days. It feels good to see feminist discourse happening in the video games community because I think it is sorely needed after the last 3 months. Admitting that we’re allowed, as feminists, to disagree with each other, feels like a positive first step in healing and growing a community where we’re not letting harassment cause us to constantly have reaffirm each other’s humanity to disgusting people versus having diverse discussions about the nature of our critique.

This seems, of course, all related to Bayonetta 2.

(Here is where I admit I have not played either 1 or 2 to any great degree. As a cultural work though, I feel it has quite a lot of innate context just from the the design and mechanics.)

Not only have I seen several comments painting Bayonetta 2 as enjoyable because of a sex positive viewpoint, but I’ve also seen sex negativity specifically float around as the opposite of that. If you enjoy Bayonetta, you’re the champion against sex-negativity. I find this really hurtful and reductive, especially as someone who tends to fall closer to sex critical or sex negative. I feel that reducing one’s ideological stance to your feelings on literally one video game character undoes a lot of the real nature of sexual discourse in feminism.

This is where I pause and say that you should all read Maddy Myer’s incredibly awesome look at Bayonetta 2. I don’t agree with all of it but I think it’s a really important line of conversation to have and it has a lot of nuance and angles to look at. This is the kind of stuff that games criticism should touch on and we should always make room for. Here’s also where I draw a circle around this conversation with salt , because, straight men, I do not actually give a shit how you feel about any of my thoughts today.

I think I should backtrack a bit and maybe elucidate on why sex positivity/negativity are particularly unsettling concepts to flatten out. For one, neither sex positivity nor negativity initially started as feminist dialogues. Both were schools of thought that date back pretty far in history and eventually came into the fold of critical discourse later on. Sex positivity was a celebration of sexual behavior without moral judgement and sex negativity was the fairly prudish opposite of that, crying that sex was a root of many different problems. Neither are particularly interesting at that basic level and I believe that they became much more interesting once feminist and other social justice movements got started. Much of what was dubbed the “Feminist Sex Wars” were a struggle between two wings of feminist thought – one that openly embraced the Free Love aspect of the 60s and 70s and the other wing that became much of the second wave’s anti-pornography collective. Again, both have really interesting things about them. Second wave also had issues with not just a lack of regard for sex workers but also trans women as well, which is why a lot of sex negative critique is largely not useable. However, moving past that into more 3rd wave and more intersectional analysis of feminist critique, we can see why both approaches are valuable.

I do not see sex negativity or positivity as wholly bad positions. I also don’t see them as opposites necessarily, either. If sex positivity in feminism is embracing women’s agency and sexual empowerment, then sex negativity is critiquing the structures that make enacting that agency and empowerment an issue. I think both together make up a body of sex criticism that looks at the ever-present issues of misogyny, abuse, rape culture and sexual performance, sexuality that is part of our work as a whole. Looking at one without the other, in my mind, does a disservice to large concepts and methods. Both, taken to logical extremes, also have sufficient issues. On the one hand, sex positivity performed in an uncritical way can ignore people who struggle with sexual behavior due to abuse, rape or other traumatic experiences. It can gloss over how sexual performances by women in our society can be co-opted by patriarchal concepts (Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, while a problematic text, rotates around this idea.) However, it’s also a way for women to embrace their own sexual agency that can be uplifting. It can define what that agency means. It can widen the way we perform our sexuality in our culture and ameliorate those who have been marginalized in a sexual way.

Sex negativity, when taken to this same way can be incredibly harmful to sex workers, focusing on how damaging things like porn can be without respect for the women who work in the industry. It can be incredibly narrow about sexual performance that does not happen in a male-dominated space or with the involvement of men. It can fall back largely on white supremacist concepts of sex that were enforced by colonialism and hurt women of color. However, sex negativity also pokes at the meaning of consent in a society that is founded and enforced by men (Andrea Dworkin’s work has a lot of this), it can tackle power dynamics that surround sexual performance as well.

Both things are incredibly essential to a larger critique of sexual practices and themes. Reducing them to “sex positivity means you think sex is good, sex negativity means you think it is bad” is hearkening back to those roots of the theory and inimical to progress in feminist discourse. Sex cannot be all good or all bad and even framing it in that way is reductive.  As someone who finds herself incredibly critical of sex, seeing these views crop up in gaming, which is still perceived as male-dominated, is alienating. It also falls back onto actually very misogynistic concepts that reduce women on some level to “bad” or “good depending on one’s views on sex. There’s two flavors of this, one being the more contemporary idea in nerd culture that fun women are sexy and cool, and bad women are frigid and stuck-up. The other older idea is the whole virgin/whore dichotomy, which chides women for being lascivious and sexually impure. Both remove the ability for women to act authentically with their sexual behavior and defines it in a moralistic way. The former is the one I see the most happening lately, especially given that nerd media, like video games, portrays women as sexual beings for men’s benefit only versus any of us. Maddy’s article squarely tackled the idea of male gaze being outdated and I largely agree with her. However, I don’t think that negates that there is definitely a very heterosexual male way of looking, especially in media.

A digression, if you’ll allow me.

One of the points that gets brought up in Maddy’s article regarding how rigid the idea of male gaze is that it does, rightfully ignore that the potential audience that is looking could potentially be queer women. Queer women are often a subset of participators when it comes to media consumption that are overlooked when it comes to women being sexy. It seems to follow logically that we’d be in the same general demographic as straight men when it comes to consuming sexualized women in media – except that it really doesn’t. I’ve felt very pushed aside when it comes to seeing the same images of women that are obviously styled for straight men due to the fact that they both reflect their interests (versus mine) but also have a double effect of how those same men perceive me. Many images of sexualized women are reliant on a larger context that derives from a very male-dominated, heterosexual society and it’s very hard to escape that, no matter who you are. Sexualized women are often portrayed as enticing due to their objectification, lack of agency as well complacency. To say that queer women don’t internalize both the idea that this is what we should find sexy in women, as well as ourselves would be faulty. But to say that that’s where it ends is faulty. I don’t find how women are created to appeal to straight men to be representative of my tastes, especially now as a feminist. It relies on too many problematic and frankly, harmful elements for me to feel comfortable.

The personal aspect of this is that as a queer woman navigating internalized misogyny, sexism and my own sexuality as a nerd, I spent a lot of hours sucking up to male friends by joining in their ogling and chatter of women in a sexual way. One of the easiest ways to fit in with nerd guys as a woman is to be “one of the guys” and being a queer woman who also finds women sexually attractive? That’s like a huge stat bonus. Being bisexual also meant I was technically available, so the possibilities were endless. It’s a fantasy of men to subsume a queer woman’s identity – have her enjoy his sexual overtures but also indulge in objectifying women alongside him. Nerds eat that shit up and so it was one of the ways I got my “cred” and tons of attention. It’s one of the most persistent strains of biphobic misogyny as well, that bisexual women are just attention whores and faking it for men. The fact that you are encouraged to do so for men’s validation is besides the point, right? (Heh.)

But when I really thought about it, especially after I broke out of that part of my life, my sexuality was confusing. I didn’t find women attractive in the same way these men did. I didn’t really want to degrade women or treat them like garbage or sex dumpsters. I wanted them the same way I wanted men – meaningfully, in a fun way, as a fellow human being, in a romantic, emotional or sexual way. In short, I wanted to treat them the way I wanted to be treated.

However, that directly deals with how we as people talk about ourselves, but what about applying these things to media? This is where it gets trickier and why Bayonetta is so contentious. Sexualized images in our media are both subject to the same things real people are but on a much different level. The easiest way to think about is that a fictional character does not have agency. A fictional character does not act on her own steam, she does or says whatever the author (or authors) want her to do. This is why when nerds fall all over themselves to say, “Oh she’s such a sexy, strong woman, look how empowered she is!” I roll my eyes a bit. The author has made a character perform in that way and it means that it’s not immune from criticism in quite the same way a real woman would be regarding her own choices (which are still subject to criticism, I must interject, but it’s still her choice to do those things.) This is why media is such an intriguing topic to engage on a feminist level – we have to both account for the potential author’s intent but at the same time reject it past a certain point. Looking at media on a critical level as a feminist means both picking apart what makes it problematic but can also be celebrating how to derive meaning and enjoyment from it.

This is where we turn back to Bayonetta. She is both the product of a woman designer, who had her own goals for her, as well as a product of our feelings towards her as a character. Her contentious position in videogames comes with a much larger context and that is why so many different people have different opinions about her. I don’t think you have to be looking at it from one particular way to simultaneously hate it or enjoy it and the idea that to embrace Bayonetta means to completely embrace sex positivity does both the character and the concept a disservice. Because from where I stand, I believe it is possible to look at her position as both a potential power fantasy that we rarely see in videogames but also positioned squarely in an industry that allows so few woman characters to exist at all that it’s hard to ignore the sexual elements. It’s an industry in a society that still is controlled on many levels by men, especially sexual performance. Sexual nuances to characters are never apolitical in this climate and they go over about as well as sex in our society. We all have our personal experiences and struggles to consider when wanting to engage with this kind of content and that’s where my fallback onto sex criticism comes – I want women to feel free to reject or embrace as little or as much of Bayonetta as they choose. She’s the product of many people and is both a fetish object and also a rejection of the dehumanization that often occurs. She’s a mockery of masculine ideals of sex appeal and also panders to them at the same time. Bayonetta is both strong and is also subject to the whims of her creators. She flirts with kink and domination while also potentially being a man’s idea of what that means. It’s a confusing bundle of many things and that’s why there is so much disagreement.

In that way, I do agree with what Maddy said – I don’t think she’s solely positioned within the debunked male gaze, but I don’t know how we are supposed to perceive her. Women finding joy and excitement from her, as much as loathing or criticism, is valid. Until we start seeing a landscape more thoroughly populated with nuanced portrayals of women, more of whom are sent out into the world by women authors, I believe we will continue to have this conversation. I embrace it and would love to see more of it, as long as we’re not shutting out other avenues of criticism.

 

Not A Photograph, But A Mirror: Sexism, World of Warcraft and Gaming Communities

A screencap of an item on Wowhead.com, called An Autographed Portrait of Jaina Proudmoore. It has flavor text that reads, "Before she went crazy."

A screencap of an item on Wowhead.com, called An Autographed Portrait of Jaina Proudmoore. It has flavor text that reads, “Before she went crazy.”

This is about a photograph.

But not really.

 

It’s about a fake photograph from a fictional woman, in the hands of a gaming company that made her, who also made her the butt of a joke.

But not really.

It’s about how we continue to talk about women, and how we talk to women in gaming spaces.

I had, perhaps naively, thought that when I quit World of Warcraft that it meant that I had a certain freedom to leave it behind and never talk about it again. But the problem is that even if I walk away from the game, the shittiness that permeates some of it and the community at large is still there. I still have friends and acquaintances who deal with this stuff. So while I gave up making World of Warcraft my 24-hour job in terms of combating sexism, seeing the continued effects of it ricochet around just makes me sad. In a positive way, it gives me a new freedom to address the subject in a more complete way.

Perculia, Wowhead‘s site director, is one of the more visible women in the World of Warcraft fan community. She runs a site that is the largest database for World of Warcraft as well as an informative news site about updates to the game. She’s good at her job herding digital cattle, whether it’s keeping up on news culled from developer’s Twitters, coallating data from a new beta patch or putting the massive amount of information in the database together in a relevant, clever way. She is an extremely important person in the game’s community as well as to the game itself – even Blizzard’s own employees use Wowhead to look for stuff. Despite not playing the game anymore, I still like to keep up with what she’s doing.

On Wednesday afternoon, she brought up a seemingly unimportant gray item that had come in the latest beta update for Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor expansion. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, Jaina Proudmoore is one of the few prominent female leaders in the game’s canon, who has had many appearances in the overall world story of this popular MMORPG. However, her story took a bit of a turn between the last expansion, Mists of Pandaria as well as a tie-in novel, Tides of War. The powerful mage suffered a tragic levelling of her port outpost by an opposing faction using a mana bomb and has gone on the offensive since then, struggling with her own anger and grief. Whether or not she’s a moral person at this point is up for debate (as she also jailed and hurt neutral-aligned blood elf mages, staged military motions against the Horde) but within the game’s own lore, she’s not very different from other warring male NPCs with the same narrative prominence. However, many of the game’s players have taken Jaina’s turbulent actions since the bombing of Theramore as proof of her being “crazy” and have cracked jokes along those lines.

It’s obvious that this item is in reference to that, but despite protests from players that this is merely a joke on Blizzard’s audience, I don’t believe it. Jaina has become one of the more polarized characters in the game and there’s no mystery as to why – she’s a woman with extremely strong emotions. Prior to this latest character arc, she was powerful but she also was very loyal to a more pacificist, neutral approach to relations between the two factions in-game. Blizzard has done a pretty mediocre job respecting that change with nuance or sympathy, despite characters with far more morally bleak outlooks (see Garrosh Hellscream, leader of the Horde) garnering equal or greater spotlight and admiration. If Blizzard is cracking wise on their fanbase, which I don’t buy for a second, they would have to have a position distinguishable from who they are parodying. That’s how satire works.

One of the things that eventually drove me away from World of Warcraft is just that kind of jokey disregard for many of the under-utilized female characters that the game boasts as well, combined with an overall lack of understanding of their female audience at times. Seeing them continue to make little jabs like this at a character who’s gone from being made fun of for being a bookish nerd, to being made fun of as a “slut” because fans think multiple male characters were interested in her, to being too peaceful, to now being too crazy, is really disheartening. There’s also just the fact that underneath all of this is that she’s a woman, and that’s enough for players to dislike her. Having the company who created her undermine pride in who she is doesn’t send a very good message to Jaina fangirls as well as the rest of the community. What this really says is less about one particular fictional character but more about the real people who wrote her, the real people who thought this item was a good idea, and this has a ripple effect throughout an already pretty sexist community. Because it’s not really just about how we represent and treat fictional women, but moreso how it makes us look at real women.

Perculia bringing this item to light sparked not only enough discussion to get Warcraft to put in a fix immediately (to be updated in a future patch) but also a round of detractors, harassers and other miscreants who generally hate it when anyone criticizes the game, especially for reasons that have to do with things like sexism. That’s what this is, in case it wasn’t clear. It might have been a joke, but it wasn’t very funny to everyone and it was just another moment when women (and their mental health) were the punchline. Seeing Perculia deal with harassment for almost two days now over something that amounts for passing disappointment for a company she works closely with is more indicative of the problem than some flavor text. It might have been a throwaway item but over time little things like this just add to the constant river of shit you have to deal with as a woman trying to play this video game, if not video games in general. The item, as well as her tweet, has shown up on a noteable cesspool known as the MMO Champion forums, which stoked anti-“SJW” mockery and keeps bringing in fresh waves of people to berate her (but notably not as harshly to the devs who spoke to her about the change) or troll her about caring about it. It’s sad.

When I started poking at the larger game community outside of the insular crowd of Warcraft players, I thought that maybe some of the things I’d seen being an outspoken feminist would have gotten slightly better but then the last month happened and shattered that belief. What happens within WoW’s borders is nothing different than what happens when Anita Sarkeesian makes a new video. The only difference is that instead of finding lots of different female journalists, media critics or game developers to fixate on, WoW’s community often only has a scant few women who work for big fansites, post on the forums, or make fan works like YouTube videos. Instead of someone like Zoe Quinn being a target, I’ve seen people harassing Trade Chat on Twitter or post derogatory comments on Liz Harper’s editorials. I even caught a lot of flak when I brought up Ji Firepaw having sexist dialogue back in Mists of Pandaria. Big game companies have just as much responsibility to diversify their works as they do to make sure their fans feel safe discussing and criticising their company, especially when so many women (and other marginalized populations) put in so much time and work promoting their products and making them accessible to other players. I’d even say it’s a responsibility despite it potentially costing the loyalty of other segments of their audience.

At the end of the day, fans of World of Warcraft are no different than someone who writes for Polygon or makes indie games if we’re all talking about women. Gaming has a sexism problem, whether it’s towards real women or fictional ones and the two are intimately connected, no matter what we think. And as much as I’ve seen progress, we still have a long way to go.

Really.

Interlude: Oh, But It Is Social Justice

I know that the dust has barely settled on my post about leaving WoW but I felt the need to say something, especially with this week being E3 and pretty much dropping jewels at my feet to talk about. There’s several large stories that I’d love to cover in more depth (and probably will on Justice Points) but given the lack of time this week, I just wanted to highlight someone who was saying these things, especially regarding Ubisoft’s admission that they did not include a woman in their upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity multi-player (or even as a main protagonist).

Ashelia is someone I don’t agree with sometimes, but I feel this article in particular hits a lot of right notes. The only thing I really disagree with though is this:

Honestly, it’s not even about women’s rights or so-called social justice at this point, either.

I hate criticizing women in games journalism but I feel this sentence really bears harping upon. I don’t want to speculate about why this was put here, but this is a common admission from quite a few women over the years. This isn’t unique to just Ashelia’s work, basically. But it is pretty untrue, in my opinion. I get not wanting to be seen as one of those “crazy” “feminists” that scream and cry about inclusion in video games, despite espousing feminist virtues for the other thousand words in the article. Not embracing that identity is someone’s choice, but to say that not including women in video games isn’t a women’s rights or is “so-called” social justice (by the way, social justice is an academic term that became more popular in the 1970s but has roots in pre-20th century discourse) is just flat out wrong in my eyes.

People seem to want to restrain caring about women to a couple of subjects like voting rights, the wage gap and possibly parental leave but do not think it includes media representation. As someone who has been hammering on these topics for almost four years now, I say that it does! How we feel about ourselves, whether we see ourselves as important absolutely demands that we see ourselves in the media we consume. It validates ideas that people internalize – if you fail to include women (or people of color, disabled people, trans people, etc) you are saying that they are not important, that their stories are less worthy of recognition. The fact that video games is one of the fastest growing forms of media (as well as experienced by an audience that’s 48% women) means that this absolutely is a crucial place for representation and diversity. This means that it is absolutely a social justice issue.

—-

This week has kinda gotten away from me, but I wanted to just say that I will be tackling some of E3’s offerings in the coming days.