She is a freedom-fighter cyber warrior, working every day to protect your child’s imagination, and because of her courageous acts, her life is in danger.
Sarkeesian is a fan of video games. She has been since she was a child. She has always lamented the lack of female protagonists in games, the repetition of the trope of damsel in distress, and the prevalence of the sexualization and violence against women in games. Sarkeesisan has created several videos exploring these damaging tropes throughout the history of gaming. She wants more creative narratives where females get to play heroes. For pointing out this sexism and for imagining gender equality in the gaming world, Sarkeesian’s has received numerous threats of violence. Yesterday, for the first time, she cancelled a speech. The New York Times reports:
Not until Tuesday, though, did Ms. Sarkeesian feel compelled to cancel a speech, planned at Utah State University. The day before, members of the university administration received an email warning that a shooting massacre would be carried out at the event. And under Utah law, she was told, the campus police could not prevent people with weapons from entering her talk.
“This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it,” said the email, which bore the moniker Marc Lépine, the name of a man who killed 14 women in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989 before taking his own life.
Of her decision to cancel, Sarkeesian Tweets:
To be clear: I didn’t cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats, I canceled because I didn’t feel the security measures were adequate.
Sarkeesian cancelled because the university and the police refused to screen for weapons.
Peggy Orenstein posts on her Facebok page:
I am absolutely sickened by what is happening to Anita Sarkeesian. Every person of conscience should speak out against this–ESPECIALLY men and gamers!
Please speak out for Sarkeesian. Share her story and state your support.
Last night, like many of you, I Tweeted that to look at stolen pictures of Jennifer Lawrence is to participate in her assault. Today, I woke up to multiple Tweets on my account where the sender used a naked picture of Jennifer Lawrence as a profile pic. I’m assuming the picture is one of the stolen ones, though I’m not doing the research to find out. I Tweeted that I would be forwarding these Tweets to the FBI, to which I got this response: “Stop harassing me you fucking cunt.”
Last night, I posted on Facebook and Twitter that, contrary to reports on the internet from People Magazine and CNN, the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities is not a “scandal” but a sex crime.
I was relieved I didn’t have to argue language when I saw the LA Times report:
The FBI is aware of the allegations concerning computer intrusions and the unlawful release of material involving high profile individuals, and is addressing the matter,” an FBI spokesperson told the LA Times.
In spite of getting called a cunt (yet again) it is good to be able to forward info to the FBI’s ongoing investigation. It’s crucial that the U.S. Government take crimes against women seriously, and it’s a relief to see a fast and public step in that direction by the FBI. It would be nice if the media followed suit, not only using the word “crime” instead of “scandal” but by allotting crimes against women the news status they deserve.
Last week, the writer, filmmaker, and activist Anita Sarkeesian was forced to leave her house because of threats of violence against her. Sarkeesian’s work is about violence against women in video games. Those who attack Sarkeesian claim that violence against women does not exist. I suppose the irony here is lost on them. Why isn’t more mainstream media covering the Sarkeesian story? Sarkeesian is a hero-freedom-fighter-cyber-warrior whose actions are dedicated helping a new generation of children to grow up in a safer world. So why don’t parents know her name? When are we all going to start taking crimes against women seriously and stop ignoring or trivializing the safety and privacy of half of our population in the USA?
“Actually that comment I made jokingly,” he said. “It’s not that I said that it wasn’t Link. It’s that I never said that it was Link. It’s not really the same thing, but I can understand how it could be taken that way.
“It seems like it has kind of taken off where people are saying ‘oh it’s a female character’ and it just kind of grew. But my intent in saying that was humour. You know, you have to show Link when you create a trailer for a Zelda announcement.”
Because who would ever think that a game titled “Zelda” and a show titled “Zelda” would actually feature a female protagonist making the moves, taking the risks, and calling the shots at the center of the action? I, myself, made this same mistake when I let my 5 year old daughter watch “Zelda” because I thought it was a female based spin off of the Mario Brothers. Silly me! Here’s her pissed off reaction:
Here’s the diamond she’s talking about:
I’m holding out from seeing the show or playing the game, or letting my kids do either again, until Zelda is actually in charge.
The Internet spreads all kinds of social ills, from cyberbullying to mainstreaming hardcore pornography, but for me, the good far outweighs the bad, because I’ve “met” people like the excellent and amazing author of Redefining Girly, Melissa Wardy. Melissa’s blog and online community are a truly invaluable resource that support protecting childhood and raising healthy kids. Now, lucky you– she’s written a book.
From author Melissa Wardy: Hi Margot and hello to all of your Reel Girl readers. I’m so thrilled to be making a stop on the Redefining Girly Blog Tour at one of the blogs that I personally really love. I hope all of you enjoy reading Margot’s thoughts on my new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween and at the end of the post find out how you can win one of two Redefine Girly t-shirt gift packs.
Melissa started her children’s clothing company, Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, not long after her daughter was born, because she couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with an airplane. Really not cool, especially when she named her child after Amelia Earhart. On her site, Melissa writes:
Pigtail Pals was born in May 2009 with the mission to Redefine Girly! I believe girls need to see messages in early childhood that show females being smart, daring, and adventurous. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
What I love about Melissa is that she walks her talk. A mom can tell her daughters all day long that pretty isn’t the most important thing about them, but if she’s obsessed with her appearance and dieting, what is she showing her kids about her values? The sad truth of parenting is that actions matter more than words, and kids learn from what they experience, not from what they hear you talk at them. That, in my opinion, is the hardest thing about being a mom: trying not to be a hypocrite. Notice I write trying, which brings me to why I value Melissa’s book and believe it’s essential reading for every parent. She helps me to not be a hypocrite and– this is super important– to be kind as well. I know how to be reactive, to tell the truth and be angry about it (as Gloria Steinem famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.)” I’m not always sure how to effectively handle a sweet teacher who tells my daughter every morning how pretty she is, a “princess party” birthday invitation sent by a best friend, or a proposed “playdate” to the mall.
In 2014, the world our children live in is horribly sexist, a place where teachers, doctors, and family, often the people your children love and respect, indoctrinate them to expect and accept all kinds of gender stereotypes. But thanks to Melissa, you don’t have to cave in or isolate. You actually have choices in how you respond and act. Knowing this is liberating and calming. Melissa helps families transition from victims of gender stereotyping to creative heroes who are redefining a nd restoring childhood for our kids. For example, Melissa teaches you how to redefine girly in your own home, again by showing kids a new way with, for example, a hands on dad in the family who does laundry, by encouraging her son to play with dolls, by being a mom who uses tools and fixes things (along with cooking and cleaning), by eating desert with her kids and enjoying it. She gives advice on what to do if a friend or family member gives you hand me down clothes or toys that don’t fit with your ideal:
We’ll say “Thank you so much for thinking of us” and then politely decline or donate away items that carry messages that don’t fit with our family morals.
Simple, right? Yet, so many of us get tongue tied. Melissa’s book is full of useable, practical advice. With her signature combination of compassion and unflinching directness, Melissa gives tips for how to get friends and family on board. First, she reminds you: what you are doing is important. You are not insane. If you care about redefining girly, have no doubt that people will tell you the sexism that you see hurting children is trivial or doesn’t exist at all. Melissa writes:
Remember that you are not alone or crazy for seeing problems with the emotionally toxic ways our culture treats girls. The Resources section at the end of this book is full of alternatives, information, and the names of experts who can help. Our daughters deserve a girlhood free of harm and limitations.
Melissa lists specific tips on how to deal with criticism of your views:
Have a prepared team response you and your parenting partner will use that lets family know this is an issue you take seriously and that you want to have your wishes respected. My husband and I use “We want Amelia to be healthy and happy and we feel this is the best path to achieve that.” (We use the same message for our son.)
Have fun alternatives ready to suggest to family and friends who bring media into your home that you feel are unhealthy. This way you are not just saying no to their media, you are saying yes to healthier choices.
Have a secret signal for your kids to use so they can communicate to you that they need to ask you a question or talk to you about something later (like a baseball coach signal– helpful when a gift is given or a comment is made that your kids know goes against what you teach in your home.)
Melissa also has great one-liners that come in handy including: colors are for everyone, pretty’s got nothing to do with it, toys are made for kids not genders, there are many ways to be a boy/ girl.
Excellent sections in the book include: Encouraging kids at play– the Diverse Toy Box, Around the Kitchen Table– Fat Talk and Body Image, Using Your Voice and Consumer Power To Fight the Companies Making Major Missteps, and my favorite– Becoming the Media You Want to See.
I can’t recommend this book more. Not only will it help you redefine girly, but it shows you how to have fun and be happy while you’re changing the world. I’ve been trying to blog about this book since it came out in January and I tore through it, but it was too damn hard because I wanted to quote the entire thing. Today, I set myself a time limit and my time is up. (I only got through my notes on the first couple chapters.) So I’ll end with THANK YOU MELISSA. I think you’re about 10 years younger than me, but you’re my role model. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
From author Melissa Wardy: Thank you Margot for those wonderful words about my book. It is an honor to receive accolades from such a well-versed writer in this area but also from a woman and mom whom I highly respect. I would love to hear from your audience now and have them share either something they have learned from Redefining Girly if they have already read it, or have them describe an issue/concern they have currently with their daughter that they are hoping to learn more about when they do read the book. I’ll pick two winners to receive a Redefining Girly t-shirt gift pack (two tees + shipping). Winners will be chosen Friday May 30 at 8pm PST so make sure to get a comment in before then! Okay Reel Girl readers, what are your thoughts on Redefining Girly?”
For thousands of years, in narratives females have been sidelined and marginalized. How would female characters look if they didn’t have a long history of being cast in the supporting roles? The minimal thing we should all be able to agree on is that we don’t know for sure.
Because we live in a strongly male-identified society the idea of a Pac-Woman as the “unmarked” default and a Mr. Pac-Woman as the deviation “marked” with masculinizing gender signifiers feels strange and downright absurd. Meanwhile Pac-man and the deviation Ms. Pac-Man seems completely normal in our current cultural context.
Here’s how the game might look if male characters were always on the periphery.
This same gender dynamic manifests in movies, TV, games, toys, and apps made for children. What are we teaching a new generation about who boys and girls really are?
In music, we love the idea of the screwed-up, shooting-up. fucked-up artist. The one bleeding in the garret having cut his own ear off. Jay-Z is a new kind of 21st-century artist where the canvas is not just the 12 notes, the wicked beats, and a rhyming dictionary in his head. It’s commerce, it’s politics, the fabric of the real as well as the imagined life.
Stephen Mitchell in Can Love Last, the Fate of Romance Over Time
It is the hallmark of the shift in basic psychoanalytic sensibility that the prototype of mental health for many contemporary psychoanalyitc authors is not the scientist but the artist. A continual objective take on reality is regarded as neither possible nor valuable in contrast to the ability to develop and move in and out of different perspectives of reality.
New York Times, October:
Public narratives about a career make a difference. The most common career aspiration named on Girls Who Code applications is forensic science. Like Allen, few if any of the girls have ever met anyone in that field, but they’ve all watched “CSI,” “Bones” or some other show in which a cool chick with great hair in a lab coat gets to use her scientific know-how to solve a crime. This so-called “CSI” effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one.
Jezebel reacting to New York Times piece:
The New York Times today would like to suggest that storytelling is powerful, that, in the whole art/life dynamic, it’s life that imitates art, not the other way around, at least not when it comes to kids imagining viable career paths for themselves.
Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.
In the fantasy world, anything is possible, so why do little kids see so few female heroes and female protagonists on TV and in the movies? While boy “buddy stories” are everywhere you look, why is it so hard to see two females working together to save the world? Why are females, half of the kid population, presented as a minority in fantasy world? Why are TV shows, movies, and books about boys “for everyone” while shows and movies about girls “just for girls?” When we pass on stories to our kids, what are we teaching them about gender, about who they are right now and who they will become?
One more quote for you from neuroscientist, Lise Eliot:
“Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”
Eliot believes: “Simply put, your brain is what you do with it.”So let’s all use our brains to imagine gender equality in the fantasy world, take actions to manifest that vision, and see what happens next. I bet it’ll be amazing.
When our family plays games, there are fights and tears. I’ve blogged about Scrabble, Clue, card games, and there are moments of fun, but mostly, it’s miserable.
There is an activity that all three kids (ages 4 – 10) my husband, and I love, where everyone works together towards a goal: Bella’s Mystery Deck. We had 3 soccer games scheduled for 3 kids today, but due to bad weather and a scheduling mistake, 0 happened. Bella saved the day.
Bella is a 13 year old Mexican-American girl who lives in Tucson with her family and black lab, Noche. The game consists of 52 cards, each with a story that describes a mystery to solve. Besides Bella, the stories are full of colorful characters in Bella’s community. To check your answer, or find it out if you’re stumped, the package comes with a mirror to decipher the backwards writing at the bottom of each card. My kids love that part.
Bella is a female protagonist who is smart, brave, and kind. This game rocks.
I guess Disney was right to be so terrified of creating a strong, BRAVE, female protagonist (along with Pixar studios which hadn’t had ANY female protags before “Brave.”) It looks like Merida could be turning Disney’s franchise on it’s head. That’s pretty damn heroic.
Another mistake Disney made with “Brave?” They hired a female director. They fired her, but it was too late. Brenda Chapman wrote “Brave” based on her daughter. She was furious with the character’s transformation and wrote publicly about Disney’s terrible mistake.
That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “Moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because ‘princesses don’t cover their shoulders.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)
Is the sexualized image of Merida gone for good? Has Disney learned a lesson? Or will that lesson be: No more strong female characters leading a film! No more female directors writing about their daughters! Keep the females weak and quiet!
Objectifying and sexualizing girls is dangerous. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale.
Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938
Africans circa 1931
Females circa 2013
It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it, not to mention expose my child to it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?
Be part of the solution. Demand narratives with strong female characters for your kids.
Update: New Merida may be off Disney’s site but she’s showing up all over the place including Target. Below is Target’s web page.
Feminist Frequency has created an excellent must-watch video on the lack of strong, female characters in gaming, specifically the “damsel in distress” trope. The video begins with the story of Krystal, the fierce and magical protagonist of the game Dinosaur Planet.
The narrator of the video, Anita Sarkeesian, describes Krystal as she was originally meant to be:
The game was to star a 16 year old hero named Krystal as one of two playable protagonists. She was tasked with traveling through time, fighting prehistoric monsters with her magical staff, and saving the world. She was strong, she was capable, and she was heroic.
But as development neared completion, the strategy for the game changed. It was rewritten and redesigned, released in 2002 as StarFox Adventures for the GameCube. Sarkeesian describes the new incarnation:
Krystal has been transformed into a damsel in distress and spends the vast majority of the game trapped inside a crystal prison waiting to be rescued by the new hero, Fox McCloud. The in game action scenes that were originally built for Krystal were converted to feature Fox instead. Crystal is given a skimpier, more sexualized outfit.
Here’s the new Krystal.
The tale of how Krystal went from protagonist of her own epic adventure to the passive victim in someone else’s game illustrates how the damsel in distress trope disempowers female characters and robs them of the chance to be heroes in their own right.
Watching what happened to Krystal on a few minutes of video, I felt like I was watching what’s happened to women throughout history; we’re minor characters in a story that someone else has written. Sarkeesian says: “I’ve heard it said that ‘In the game of patriarchy women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.’ ”
Here’s how the video goes on to describe the “damsel in distress” trope that dominates our cultural mythology:
The Damsel in Distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must be rescued by a male character, usually providing the core incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest.
Think about how the weak and passive female is so intricately built into our cultural narrative. She’s in stories we’ve heard from birth, from Greek mythology to the Bible to Hollywood. She’s in the books and films that win our highest awards and accolades.
Because the human brain put events into context in order to understand them, this repetitive narrative gets embedded into our minds. If this trope were just one story of many, there would be no issue. It’s the constant repetition, the ubiquity of this story line, especially in the fantasy world marketed to children, that’s so alarming. Girls and boys don’t get to see females act, make important choices, take healthy risks, and become leaders. This sexist narrative affects who we are, how we see each other, and who we become.
This video from Feminist Frequency shows you what happens when a character tries to break free of this restrictive narrative. She’s put right back into her crystal prison. How is Krystal going to get out of there when the guy who’s supposedly rescuing her is the problem? There’s only one way she can break free. She must write her own story.
In addition to the aggressive actions against me that I’ve already shared, the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported my Twitter and YouTube accounts as “terrorism”, “hate speech” or “spam”. They also attempted to “dox” and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).
Thank you, Sarkeesian, for having the courage to tell your story while people kept trying to shut you up. We all really need to hear it.
Another cool thing Sarkeesian did: she begun her video with this quote:
This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.
She likes games, got it? She likes to play them. She doesn’t want them to be sexist. She wants strong female protagonists. It’s not that fun attacking loveable characters who make up the fabric of America. And guess what? You can be a fan of “Ratatouille” and still be disheartened and discouraged that it’s yet another kids movie where females go missing. Unless we want to live on an island or a mountain top, this is the world we exist in, so stop telling women to shut up or get out already. Attempting to silence female voices– in games, movies, videos, or on the internet– won’t work anyway, because we won’t stop telling our own stories. That’s just human nature.
Update: My six year old daughter watched this video and totally ‘got it.’ Obviously, I’ve talked to her a lot about media literacy, but it was great to have her see this POV coming from someone other than her mom. This video is a great educational tool, and I hope that you show it to your kids.
The iron, forced upon young girl Monopoly players everywhere, has been ousted by the Internet generation. Here’s to that new Monopoly token, a cat, clawing away at old gender roles.
Are you thinking: How silly! How outdated. I can’t believe kids of olden times had to deal with that housewife bias.
At first, I was. I never even knew what that iron was for. Isn’t it great that Monopoly has the guts to be progressive while so much of kidworld becomes ever more gender segregated?
Here’s just the latest example of sexist stereotyping from my Twitter feed today: Hasbro’s pink Heartbreaker Bow, part of the new Nerf Rebelle line for girls. Rebelle, seriously? Gag.
The Heartbreaker Bow attempts to mutate the archery craze– incited after girls finally got to see Hollywood images of powerful bow wielding heroines like Merida of “Brave” and Katniss of “The Hunger Games”– into something cuter and more “feminine.”
Yesterday on my Twitter feed? This display of books from Harrod’s in London:
So good for Monopoly, a new leader in saying no to gender segregation. But then something occurred to me. Even I, a 44 year old woman obsessed with the gendering of toys, had no idea that the iron was created for girl players. Do kids today even know what an iron is? No one irons anymore. That’s when I got it: It’s not the sexism that’s outdated, its the iron. Girls don’t know that they’re supposed to pick the iron. Monopoly isn’t abandoning sexism but updating it. The iron is being replaced with…a kitty.
Monopoly’s month-long “Save Your Token” contest ended Feb. 6, 2013 when fans’ least-favorite token was replaced with this newer model. I suppose we should be grateful the diamond ring option wasn’t chosen.