No ur a feminist whore

Since the birth of our son this past summer — a bit early but not a moment too soon — it’s taken me a while to settle back into my gaming niche, but it seems to me that there’s been a miniature feminist revolution across the online geek landscape. Geek Feminism framed Slave Leia cosplay at gaming cons as self-objectifying but ultimately a problem with geek culture. An Australian gaming panel was lambasted for its ignorance of female gaming journalists. BioWare was criticized for holding not one but two virtual beauty contests to select Mass Effect 3’s Femshep. Gawker went gaga over the Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor tumblr. Even the skeptical community erupted over sexual harassment issues at the World Atheist convention.

While I’m happy to see geek women sticking up for themselves, there’s one recurring, depressing theme in all these relatively petty dramas: Far too many male geeks still don’t get the problem. If you don’t want to wear something slinky to a con, well you’re probably just fat, right? If you don’t want Femshep to be a glorified barbie doll, you must be ugly or jealous. If you like your female characters to don armor that would deflect more than a toothpick, you’re clearly a prude! If you don’t want to be harassed in an elevator at a con, you’re just some slut who had it coming and/or you’re a lesbian who should be so lucky as to be slobbered on by anyone with a penis. And who really cares what some dumb girl game blogger has to say anyway, am I right?

Comments like those are everywhere, on every gaming site and in every games company. Consider last week’s Dead Island debacle. A Techland programmer slipped a skill called “Feminist Whore” into the game code, which made its way across Steam and onto PCs everywhere. Techland apologized and strung the offending employee up by his toes, but is that enough? People who pull these sorts of “pranks” (air quotes!) do so because they believe their colleagues will find them amusing. In other words, Techland likely tacitly encourages this behavior else the employee wouldn’t have risked his job to do it in the first place. Chalk this one up to the “culture of permissiveness” problem, and by culture I mean the social culture within both that specific company and the industry in general.

Joystiq’s thread on the topic has a bizarre mix of comments from both enlightened dudes and complete asshats. “No big deal really,” said one poster. “Should of [sic] left it in the game. It’s artistic expression.” See, “people make jokes like this all the time when they’re in the company of friends.” Another: “We apologize to any Whores who were offended.” And finally: “Seriously, who cares?” Er… women? Men who don’t want women referred to that way in a business setting? People who don’t want the gaming industry to remain a haven for angry entitled boys rather than a post-gender zone for making awesome video games? How cool would it be to strip our hobby of all the machismo and “virgin geek living in mom’s basement” stereotypes and really go mainstream? Guess what, guys — that doesn’t happen when you act like this. Women stay the hell away from the industry and gaming itself when they’re basically told they aren’t wanted, don’t matter, and deserve no respect.

I guess it’s all OK, though, because “there’s nothing wrong with stereotypical jokes,” and after the Techland guy slipped his misogynist little snark into the game, he likely “went home to his wife[,] whom he respects more than anyone else in the world.” See, hating women is OK as long as you love the one who debased herself by marrying you. I get it now! Oh wait, no I don’t. Actually, I found myself echoing this poster: “If you can’t comprehend why this is inherently misogynistic then you should do us all a favor and drink as much bleach as you can find.” It’s in the home cleaning aisle.

It’s easy to dismiss commenters as kids mouthing off anonymously, but the problem is present in games journalism too. For example, GameFront’s coverage of Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor included a title suggesting that the tumblr site “Shows [the] Value of Modesty.” Not “Shows Women Kicking Butt.” Not “Shows Women in Armor Just Like Men.” Not “Shows Women in Survivable Combat Gear.” Modesty. What the hell does it have to do with modesty, again? I suppose the man who wrote the article just can’t conceive of any reason women might wear armor except in the pursuit of modesty, which is really just a fancy way of calling them prudes. On some fundamental level, it’s always about sex to sexists. Presumably, women want to cover their boobs with platemail because they want to avoid appearing sexy, not because they want to, you know, live through a sword fight. That’s probably what our soldiers in the Middle East are thinking: Thank GOODNESS no one can see my tits through my bulletproof vest!

Here’s some irony for you: My expectations for equal representation of gender in MMOs are so low that I even managed to write an article last week with a City of Heroes screenshot in which the characters’ excessive boobage was prominently over-displayed. The problem is so pervasive that I was in the middle of working on this very post and still managed to crop, insert, and publish said gratuitous decolletage and I didn’t even notice. It’s not, as one commenter informed me, because I’m a girl. It’s because huge boobs are a staple of the genre, and as far as sexism in gaming goes, double-dees are relatively innocuous, such that even feminists often overlook them because so many other feminist issues are so much… bigger. A huge rack is tame next to, say, rewarding the male protagonist’s sexual exploitation with a card game in The Witcher or trying to justify Age of Conan’s outrageously misogynistic and racist content as being “faithful to the source material.” I’m sure I’ll rant about those some day too.

In the meantime, misogynists and apologists: Call it a joke or an isolated incident or a harmless prank if it helps you sleep at night, but don’t think you’re fooling anyone. We gamer girls may be feminist whores, but we’re not idiots.

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3 Comments

  1. Yup. I am Feminist Whore, have been for years now.

  2. Adam says:

    I completely agree with all that you’ve said here.

    I hate that the gaming industry has gone this way (arguably has been this way since the beginning). Yes, there is place for the fantasy port-star like harlot, but there is also room for more realistic depictions (and ultimately more fascinating) female characters.

    Frankly, it’s that kind of completely obvious pandering to male fantasy stereotypes that make me loathe gamers in general. It pisses me off because I can’t help but feel that it does put female gamers at a disadvantage because it’s just acceptable to objectify them.

    I agree, I think that the gaming industry will be hard pressed to become more mainstream if it continually shuns women in this fashion. Because of this the stereotype of anime-port watching 40 year old virgins in the parents’ basement gamer will persist.

    Gentlemen, if you start acting like gentlemen than maybe women will actually pay some attention to you!

  3. laurascott says:

    Super post, really enjoyed it.

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