Sunday, October 05, 2014

"Anita Sarkeesian Was Right"

Amazingly, I don't think I've ever blogged about video games and sexism. I suppose that I don't say much about video games because I really don't play many of them. (I mean, I've owned every Nintendo console but the Wii U, but I wouldn't call myself a gamer and I don't think that would qualify me, regardless.) But it's still a bit odd, isn't it? Anyway.

You've probably heard about Anita Sarkeesian, or are at least familiar with her Tropes Vs. Women series of videos. (And if not that, you've probably noticed that the heroes and villains in most video games are men, and that women are often reduced to the role of victim, prize, or simply eye candy. Right? Right.) For her effort, Sarkeesian has been threatened with rape and murder by dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of male video game fans, who perceive the criticism of their games as personal attacks. There have been apps that simulate beating her up, attempted hacks of her Twitter and Google accounts, threats against her family, and bomb threats preceding her speaking engagements. She's had to call the police, had a case referred to the FBI for further investigation, and briefly went into hiding, recently.

Let me spell out the irony, if it isn't already painfully obvious: Sarkeesian points out that video games are dominated by narratives of masculine violence and feminine submission; her critics, who deny the veracity of her claims, demand her submission and threaten her with violence. No, really. You can't make this shit up.

Anyway, a month ago, my brothers and I attended Fan Expo Canada in Toronto. It's a geek convention - comic books, anime, and video games, mostly - and one of my brothers wore this:

A lot of people are confused by the use of the past tense.
In true geek culture mash-up fashion, the shirt is simultaneously
an homage to Magneto, whose teenaged supporters have been
known to wear "Magneto was right" t-shirts.
So, it's a thing, not a mistake.

Needless to say, I think, this shirt is about as controversial as it gets at a geek convention. A lot of people feel strongly that Sarkeesian is right or that she's wrong. And when these people who strongly feel she's right speak up and say so? They're also sometimes threatened with rape and death.

Well, some of them are threatened, at least. When an activist named Stephanie Guthrie spoke out against the 'Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian' game, she was also threatened, repeatedly and by multiple people. And so, as my brother walked around this convention with a shirt that practically begged people to threaten him with rape and death - and almost immediately posted pictures of it to Twitter and Facebook, increasing the likelihood that the right/wrong people would see it - I wondered... would this muscular, tattooed white dude get even a fraction of the same response?

So, I gave it a month. Five weeks to see whether anyone would bat an eye, whether the guys claiming that Sarkeesian was the real sexist would prove themselves equal opportunity harassers. And our friends were curious, too. Here are the first two responses to the picture on Facebook:

The finally tally on Twitter? 419 Retweets, 1264 Favorites. Two jokes that he should ask for a refund. (Though these responses were made in response to me, not him.) One accusation that he was being a "white knight". And one threat of a "shanking". That's it - and the tweet seems to have since disappeared.

My brother also told people that he received nothing but compliments - most notably from Sex Criminals artist Chip Zdarsky, aka Steve Murray - but this isn't entirely true. Sure, everyone who spoke to him complimented the shirt. What he didn't see, though, were the sideways glares and glowers, which usually only happened after he had passed by and which I noticed because I was sometimes walking behind him. I only saw a half-dozen or so of these, but I wasn't paying exceptionally close attention. It was clear that the shirt surprised, annoyed, and/or upset some people. It just didn't surprise, annoy, or upset them enough to say or do anything to the guy who was wearing it. (I won't explicitly speculate as to why that is. I'll leave that part up entirely up to you. Give it a try. It's just as easy as it seems!)

So, the negative reactions were there. They just weren't particularly loud or threatening or... anything, really. Just deafening silence.