Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Anita versus Shouty Guys Part One

This is Anita Sarkeesian. Over the past year or so, her YouTube channel, Feminist Frequency has presented a series of short programmes called Tropes Versus Women. Although it revisits an already recognised set of tropes - Women in Refrigerators, for example, has been explored in detail - the specific emphasis on gaming and Sarkeesian's consistent format offers a useful cataloging of both historical and contemporary examples. It increasingly examines the use of anti-feminist tropes within gaming.

Tropes versus Women is not an academic analysis of trope usage. It is clearly, if gently, polemical. While Sarkeesian does not dwell on her overall vision - she'll occasionally mention her resistance to companies that are only about the selling, or slap down neo-liberalism - she removes various examples from their immediate context and places them in a wider, social situation. Her condemnation of the sexualisation of otherwise dynamic female characters draws a sharp contrast with the representation of male characters, and suggests that they reflect a, perhaps unconscious, patriarchal bias. 

Tropes versus Women, however, has become a controversial series. While some of the critiques aimed at the programme are justified (for example, her crowd-funding success has not produced a body of work that reflects her income (yet)), there is a more worrying trend towards personal abuse directed at her. Many commentators (Thunderf00t, Sargon of Akkad) claim that their responses are  reasonable, but the subsequent comments on their videos are frequently violent and aggressive.

Perhaps Sarkeesian's notoriety and popularity are the result of gaming's insecurity about its social and aesthetic status. Her examples of sexualised characters are difficult to ignore, and follow from the critique of comic books and films. Her idea that gaming - with most other artistic forms - is dominated by unquestioned patriarchal norms is not too outrageous. Even the defence of these characters is often that 'they appeal to the demographic'. 

Sarkeesian is interesting because she has attracted so much attention. There are plenty of feminist commentators - Laci Green for example - who attract equal hatred, but other feminist YouTubers who cover similar aesthetic areas, like The Nostalgia Chick, get less grief. Her recent political appeals to the UN, to challenge anti-social on-line behaviour, place her in a category of influence beyond most vloggers. 

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