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Three Arguments about Anita Sarkeesian that Hinder the Whole Discussion


Howdy, D-toid.

I wanted to take a break from writing “Ga(y)mer”, my totally-not-shit blog series about homosexual portrayals in video games, to talk to you about a subject that has been basically inescapable in the gaming press, as of late. About a week ago, Anita Sarkeesian posted the first in her long awaited/dreaded series of videos regarding “Tropes vs. Women” in video games. The video, entitled “Damsels In Distress: Part One”, has already received a wide amount of attention and response – some of it great, thoughtful stuff. Some of it . . . yeah, not so much.

That’s why I wanted to talk to you today, D-toid. I don’t want to name names, I don’t want to call anybody out here – there are plenty of people out there talking about this topic that do so with respect and level-headedness, that bring up great points and counter-points to arguments made in “Tropes vs Women.” But there are three arguments floating about the internet, pervasive ones at that, that not are not thoughtful, not great, and should really just go away (for now.)

Might as well just go down the list.

1. “Anita didn’t talk about (X).”

So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of you are familiar with writing in an academic form. That at some point, you’ve had to write an essay that follows a basic Intro-> Background-> Point 1-> Point 2-> Point 3-> Conclusion format. I’m also going to assume, based on this, that you understand the idea behind content division – breaking a larger work up into smaller, more manageable chunks or points so that the whole work doesn’t end up feeling bloated or unfocused.

Now, whether or not you think Ms. Sarkeesian was successful in avoiding this bloated/unfocused feeling in her video, a topic well-worth talking about, you surely understand the fact that the “Tropes Vs. Women” series is being broken into smaller, more manageable chunks – divided first by individual tropes, then, if this video is anything to go by, into smaller pieces as the trope requires. It’s made overwhelmingly clear in the first video that it is, in large-part, background on the topic, with Sarkeesian saying at the end that the next posted video will follow the trope into modern gaming, and how it impacts us today.

So why, then, did a large number of people criticize her for only addressing games from the 80s and 90s? Why was it argued in several spots that she overlooked, say, Beyond Good and Evil as subversions of this trope? Why are so many people criticizing her for something she addresses within the actual video itself? Well, two big possibilities – either they are angry that Anita’s videos aren’t efficient enough to adequately address the topic in a single go, or they didn’t watch the whole video. Because the acknowledgement of a second part to this point comes at the very, very end.

It seems quite common to put something like “I’m not writing this because I’m a big smelly sexist but-“ at the beginning of your Anita Sarkeesian response. And I can understand why. This “Good Guy Greg”ing is an effort to distance oneself from the overwhelming vomit-wave that assaulted Anita when her Kickstarter was first announced. Nobody wants to associate with the shitheads that posted rape threats, or grotesque flash games. But all of the “not sexist” qualifications in the world won’t make you GGG if you’re so desperate to talk about why you don’t agree with Ms. Sarkeesian’s point that you don’t actually listen to all of Ms. Sarkeesian’s point. If you’re positively frothing at the mouth to tell the world about the shortcomings of this web series without even finishing the videos, then maybe you’ve got a few more personal issues with the material than you thought.

It’s like complaining about plot-holes before you’ve seen the whole movie. If you want to complain about it lacking certain content, maybe you should actually see the entire work first.

2. “Anita got way too much funding.” Or, alternatively. “Anita is just an attention hog.”

Let me ask you something. How many of you actually donated money to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter? I did. Five bucks, right in the kisser. I did so because I’m into seeing discussion on power minorities within the media that I consume. I didn’t have any massive expectations, I didn’t expect my world to be changed, I did so because it might help a kind-of cool thing get made.

Now, of course I know that there are people who produce content like this for free. I’ve spent enough time on Blip.tv to enjoy some really great work from folks who don’t really make much money off of it, save for donations. But I’ve also donated to some of them, too. I don’t mind pitching in for content that I think is worthwhile – I don’t do it often, with the whole “I eat nothing but ramen and corndogs”-poverty thing – but when I do, I don’t feel like I’ve been swindled or like my money has been wasted.

So when I see the argument made, either directly or through snide “Anita Sarkeesian’s $160,000 project”, I find it a little irritating. It’s got this bizarre tone, like Anita personally came into people’s homes and shook them down for cash. Like she’s some sort of Power Rangers’ super-villain who feeds on money and attention, and has invented a machine to steal all of the west coast’s money and attention supplies. Whether you think what she’s got is deserved or not, don’t fault Anita herself for it – she has exactly as much as people are willing to give her. If you’re a backer, and you don’t feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, that is one thing. But if not, why do you care?

(I spent five bucks on Skittles and Pepsi yesterday; I don’t get to comment on good investments of my own money.)

3. “By blocking comments on her video, Anita isn’t fostering discussion.”

Psh, as if reasonable discussion has ever occurred in a Youtube comments board.

No, but seriously. This one is a point that I really don’t understand. It seems to argue that Anita Sarkeesian is personally responsible for responding to criticism leveled against her work. Directly. On a Youtube comment thread. Okay, maybe that’s a little reductivist. The real crux of the argument, such as I see it, is that Ms. Sarkeesian doesn’t seem involved enough in the community. That she is purposefully sequestering herself from criticism.

Two things about that. First: How is that a rational conclusion to draw from this situation? How does disabling the comment thread on her video suggest that she’s not, say, paying attention to Destructoid, Kotaku, The Penny Arcade Report, and assorted other gaming media and what it’s response is? How can you possibly know that she won’t, say, acknowledge criticisms in later videos? Or do what most creative types do and just shift her content based on criticism that she receives? The collective answers, in order, to all of this: it’s not, it doesn’t, you can’t, shut up. You’re not making a real point.

Second: Are you really surprised? After all the backlash, all the pointless hate and knee-jerk criticism levied against her work by folks that hadn’t, y’know, actually seen it – is it any surprise that Anita Sarkeesian is playing things a little safe, for now? Is that really something you can fault her for? If you think so, then fair enough. But I see things a little differently.

These three arguments as a whole shed light on the fact that, despite what they say, there are a fair amount of people within our community that don’t actually want to have a serious, mature conversation about this topic. They want to pounce upon any perceived weakness or flaw that they can find, and dissect it viciously until they “win the argument.” They don’t want to try to take Anita Sarkeesian seriously, to hear out her side of things. They are doing the exact same thing that Anita Sarkeesian is often accused of.

So I get why Anita might want to avoid direct discussion with large parts of this community. For the same reason that I get why someone might want to avoid feminist (or other social movement) rhetoricians that aren’t interested in discussion or education, so much as ‘winning.’ Because that kind of argumentation doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t change anything. And nobody ‘wins’.

If you want to offer criticism towards Anita Sarkeesian, I implore you to at least think about why you want to do so. Is it because you want to advance the discussion that she’s trying to start, or because you want to shut it down? Because you want to ‘win’. If it’s the former, then great! There is a lot worth talking about and, indeed, a lot worth criticizing about the “Tropes vs. Women” video series, such as it is. If it’s the latter, then tell me – what’s it like becoming the thing that you claim to despise?

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About Azudarkoone of us since 12:59 PM on 05.12.2011

I am a 22-year old college graduate, currently trying to figure out what the hell I'm going to do with an English Writing degree. So far, the answer seems to be "play a lot of video games, sleep, and slowly starve to death."