Activism

Get Thee to HR, to Be Hanged

So the now-infamous McKinney pool party happened, and it was terrible and continues to be terrible. I am amazed that incident concluded with nobody dead or in a hospital. And now we're in the everyone-is-upset-and-angry period, soooo of course I've seen some calls to try get a woman fired. Maybe a bystander, maybe even the woman who started the whole thing by saying racist crap and then slapping a black teenager. This makes me deeply, deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

Let's look at a counterpoint. This weekend, Tor creative director Irene Gallo got some heat for expressing some opinions on Facebook about the Sad Puppies, and was thrown under the bus by her employer. And a lot of people are calling for her to be fired, too.

This is our nuclear option on the internet, and we go straight there whenever our dander is up. Someone should get fired over this. Salt the earth. Wreck their Google results. Make it so they never work in this town again, or any other town for that matter. Sometimes it works. Mostly against women. But... not exclusively.

Every time I see this, I grow more and more upset. This is not the tool of a just and reasoned discourse. And this is a real slippery slope kind of issue. Look, I don't want to live in a world where "you made some people on the internet angry" is a firing offense. 

If the McKinney woman that people are trying to get fired is the right person who assaulted a child, then you know how justice should be done? By taking her the hell to court for criminal assault and battery charges. Or make it a civil case. The avenue for justice is not emailing her employer. Likewise, if Irene Gallo done wrong, the place for that is in court, too, for slander or libel, not emailing her employer to take her job away. And then if there are clauses in an HR manual or employment contract about criminal behavior (or opening the employer to lawsuit liability) then take it to HR for review, fine.

But that's not the very first step in the process. Unless you're happy operating as an angry mob like GamerGate, and I am very much not happy with that. I want to be better than that. If you believe in social justice, you damn well should be better than that. Due process. It's a beautiful thing. I believe in it, because I'd rather justice be slow than that innocent people have their lives ruined.

I'm starting to think we need some kind of Geneva Convention for public online discourse. Social media is not the arbiter of justice, and we should not be serving as judge, jury, and executioner. Because that sword doesn't just cut the people you think are racist, sexist, homophobic assholes. It cuts the people you like, too, the people who have opinions exactly like yours. And sometimes they bleed out right before your eyes.


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Striving Toward Perfection

There's some substantial discussion going on right now about... you know, I can't even explain it. But there are important questions being raised about activism, about trying to do better, about whether trying is enough, whether being a good person is enough, even when you set a foot wrong.

I have expressed terrible opinions in my life, because I did not know better.

These opinions have been grossly homophobic (because the newspapers told me about the pervy gay people and AIDS.) They've been about trans people (because also pervy, I guess? That one sort of folded in with gay people back then.) They've been about how fat people are lazy and greedy, about gender roles and how I was a superior girl because I was much more like a boy, about Christians and rigid, repressive fundamentalism. Don't even get me started about the racist "knowledge" I learned and repeated about Filipinos when I lived on a military base in the Philippines.

But I know better now, I think. I have aged and grown more compassionate, more experienced at life. I've come to understand that my life is just a small fraction of all the possible lives to be lived, and many are more difficult than mine. Or just different than mine. But other experiences than mine have merit and value. Other choices than mine have value. I'm not the center of the freaking universe, nor are people like me. I know that now.

None of that erases the fact that I started off so horribly, cruelly wrong, a product of my time and environment. All of those horrible thoughts and opinions have been in my head. They were mine. Over time, I try to find the bad patterns, the awful judgey opinions that hurt people, and wear them away with something newer and kinder, something that lets me see and hear more people. It's an ongoing process. And yet I feel it might be unfair, unjust, unkind, to judge me for not having already arrived at the ultimate destination.

In twenty years' time I expect to find with horror that I've been even more wrong about other groups. Because I cannot be perfect, and I will never be perfect.

All I have is trying. And if trying isn't enough, then what hope is there for any of us?


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Outrage Fatigue

There's a lot of terrible stuff going on right now -- police brutality unpunished. That torture report. GamerGate trickles on like a sewage leak, somebody poisoned a furries convention, and oh yeah other parts of the world are dealing with the manifold joys of ebola and ISIS.

Hate is everywhere. And anger is everywhere. It's impossible to escape the idea that the world is terrible and getting worse, even if it's not entirely true.

I've been having trouble with this, because I'm so tired of fighting. So tired of being angry. I want to focus on good, just to remind myself that good things still exist in the world. We landed on a comet, and we're going to Mars! It's finally raining in California. And... there's more, right? There has to be more, if only I could find it. I want to look away for a while.

But not everyone can look away. And so my conflict, born of my privileged position in life: it's a tremendous failure to be silent in the face of the suffering of others. But it's all too much, it's too overwhelming, and sometimes you have to save yourself because you can't help anyone else if you've been crushed by existential despair.

I don't know how to thread this needle. Spotlighting kindnesses, maybe, and perpetrating them. Fluffy kittens and delicious cookies and video games? But that's just looking away, isn't it? And so the worm bites its own tail and we start over again from the beginning. 

I suspect I'm not alone in this feeling. How are you holding up?


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Games Belong to Me

I'm a gamer. I also happen to be a woman and a feminist. And I am angry.

A bunch of frightened little boys led by a bitter ex-boyfriend have created this thing called #GamerGate. I haven't addressed it here directly before, though we've spoken about it on CulturesCast, mainly because I was afraid the filth would splash over onto me. And it couldn't keep up, I thought. The whole thing will blow over. It would be enough, I thought, to continue quietly playing and making my games; living well is the best revenge.

But that's a decision rooted in fear, and that's exactly what those frightened little boys are angling for. Meanwhile, game developers are being harassed, games journalists and critics are being harassed, and in the latest, these trolls somehow persuaded a major advertiser to pull a campaign from one of my favorite industry publications.

I'm not afraid anymore. I'm furious. I will not be silent.

Fuck those guys. They're not gamers. You know who's a gamer? I am.

Games are mine. I've earned them through trigger blisters and sleep deprivation, through screen headaches and corrupt save files and knowing the cheat codes but not using them. Games are mine, and they have always been mine.

Zaxxon is mine, and BC Quest for Tires, Centipede, Space Invaders. Joust is mine, and the Dragonriders of Pern strategy game that nobody else seems to remember ever existed. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is mine, earned in notes about currency made on scrap paper in a room lit only by screen glow long after I should have been asleep.

Infocom is mine, from my first whispering taste of Zork to Infidel and Wishbringer and Trinity, a game whose haunting premise is with me to this day.  I earned Infocom in all the years I spent all my allowance on their games -- and then waited eight to twelve weeks for international delivery to the Philippine Islands. Do you know how long twelve weeks are when you're eleven years old?

Infocom gave me Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Moonmist, Plundered Hearts -- games that even then catered to a female audience. Women have always played. We have always been here.

Games are mine from the lunchtimes spent staying in the geometry room playing Spy Hunter instead of going outside. Archon is mine. Wing Commander is mine. Nethack is mine, from a thousand corpses eaten and sinks kicked to the bottom of the pit where I found my own bones... twice over.

Ultima is mine, every damn one of them, even the last one when it was so bugged you couldn't find Shamino and so couldn't win. EverQuest is mine, and The Sims. Zelda is mine, and Ocarina of Time is my Zelda. Samorost is mine, and Boomshine, and Grow games. Katamari Damacy is mine. Phoenix Wright is mine. Kingdom of Loathing is mine.

Farmville is mine from the intricate spreadsheets establishing quickest time-to-mastery and the 4am wakeups to harvest a limited-time crop.

Glitch was mine, and always will be in my heart. May it be so again.

Dragon Age is mine, and so is Mass Effect. Journey is mine. So are Railroad Tycoon, World of Goo, and dozens of Big Fish hidden object games. It should go without saying that I own the hell out of Candy Crush, too.

Games are mine from the Space Invaders t-shirt I made myself to wear to E3, all the way to the Zelda cross-stitch map I swear I'll finish one day.

Games are mine because of the games I've made, games that have always pursued a social justice agenda, from Perplex City and our quiet matter-of-fact gay marriages back in 2006, all the way to that game I made called America 2049 that is explicitly and comprehensively about social justice and oppression.

When I speak about representation of women in games, I am no outsider agitating for changes that would ruin things for core gamers. I am a core gamer, and I am acting to shape an art form I love to promote a world I want to live in.

And when these frightened little boys growl and threaten that feminists are ruining games, what they do not understand is that they are attacking me in my place of strength. They cannot take something away from me, because it is not theirs to take.

Games belong to me. They have always belonged to me. And they always will.


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Equal-Opportunity Objectification

As a long-time strident feminist and also a believer in the power of stories to shape the world, I'm inclined toward certain opinions. One of those has to do with sexual objectification of women in media, more or less summed up as, "Objectification is bad, mmkay?"

Let's do a quick recap of what objectification is, and why exactly it's bad, though. If you're up on your feminist theory and can't be bothered to read it again, feel free to skip to the next subhead.

So here's the thing: women in films, games, TV, advertising, comics, and literature are very often super-duper sexy. They are sometimes super-duper sexy in a way that isn't in keeping with the role they're supposed to be playing in the story world. In imagery, they are placed in poses and framed in ways that emphasize sexiness above all, for the enjoyment of an imagined straight male viewer. And sometimes, that sex appeal is basically their only notable trait as a character -- they're not portrayed as real actual people so much as sex dolls who happen to talk or move around from time to time.

Think about women in an RPG with skimpy chainmail bikinis for armor. Megan Fox bending over an engine in Transformers. The loving ass shots of Miranda in Mass Effect 2. The fantasy cover of your choice, as demonstrated by Jim Hines. So many comics that I can't name just one. Hell, even ads for a hamburger chain.

Meanwhile men in media can be fat, thin, bald, graying, muscled, wrinkled. Women can be hot, or they can be gone. (This is, by the way, how you wind up with ludicrous situations where we're supposed to believe that an actress like Kate Winslet or Janeane Garofalo are actually ugly.)

Why is this a problem? Because what we see in media shapes how we behave and what we expect back in the real world. And showing women as being sexy above all ties into a cultural norm where a woman's consensus hotness and sexual availability are the most important things about her. A woman can be clever, funny, generous, hard-working, powerful... but none of that matters unless she can pass a basic minimum bar for attractiveness first. Don't believe me? Ask Hillary Clinton about her hair sometime.

This situation is not OK. Women are people. Women are not sexual objects that exist solely for the gratification of men (or to be fair, for the gratification of everyone who happens to enjoy seeing a particular flavor of sexy woman.) Women deserve to be -- NEED to be -- represented in media as doing all kinds of things that are not just swanning about pouty-lipped with their tits and ass mysteriously both stuck out for the titillation of an imagined male heterosexual viewer.

I could happily go the rest of my life without seeing another camera licking some nineteen-year-old actress's cleavage. Metaphorically speaking.

So yeah. Objectification. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. 

The Female Gaze

A funny thing's happened in Hollywood. There's this:

And this...

Oh and let's not forget this.

These, my friends, are examples of the female gaze, as it's called in film theory, where an actor is posed and framed in a sexualized manner for the gratification of an imagined female viewer. I have three observations about this.

One: It seems to be happening a whole lot more often lately.

Two: Scenes like this make a lot of guys really uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable. Not unlike the way that I feel really uncomfortable watching something like, say, this:

Three: You guys, I... I like this. I like seeing hot guys with their shirts off.

But objectification is bad, right? So surely objectification of men is bad, too? I mean... if it makes men uncomfortable, then arguing that this is OK makes me a hypocrite, right? Or have I been wrong this whole time?!

Well. It's... it's complicated. For one thing, despite the increasing volume of shirtless dudes flexing and/or smoldering vulnerably in front of the camera, it's important to note that most of those guys up there are the leading man. (...Team Jacob!) Hotness is an element of what's going on there, to be sure, but these characters are active. They make decisions, they have an internal life, and in general they're going about their business with an incidental helping of sexy on the side. Sexy is not the whole meal.

But Transformers isn't about Megan Fox. The James Bond films aren't about any of the Bond Girls (and note that there's no male equivalent of a Bond girl.) You play Halo as Master Chief, not as Cortana. The problem isn't with sexy women. The problem is when sexy = women, and that's the whole equation so far as female characters go. Let's see some more women who aren't sexy. Not even a little bit!

Now, Jamie Lee Curtis up there is the leading lady, too. But you'll notice that Ahnold kept his clothes on in that scene. That's another key difference -- sheer volume. it's a lot easier to find a sexualized woman in media than a sexualized man, it turns out. For every Old Spice Guy, there are a hundred, even a thousand Heidi Klums. And that just underlines that message that the role of women is to be hot, not to do important stuff.

Jeez, though! Why does this have to be so complicated and fraught when all we want is fun? Isn't there some way where everybody can just enjoy looking at the hot people of the genders they're attracted to and not get hassled about it?! 

Another Way: Look to Bollywood

Now, India is no shining beacon of gender equality. But I've been watching a lot of Hindi film over the last eighteen months or so, and I've noticed a startling and wonderful trend. Call it equal-opportunity objectification.

You guys, this is the closing credits of a sports film. About cricket. No, for real. Look at the camera licking the sweat off those sexy, sexy bodies. Look at them get splashed with sexy, sexy water. Look at them move! I think most people can find something to be pretty happy about in watching that, right? 

And this is a common thing in Bollywood, to the extent of my experience. Men and women both tend to be well-represented as sexual beings -- Mumbai has no qualms about portraying a dude as smokin' hot. (I'll let someone else write the thesis on whether this is the result of differing attitudes toward sex in India vs. the U.S.) I mean. Can you imagine this happening in a mainstream American film?

Yeah, me neither.

And women in general tend to be well-represented in Hindi film, so far as I've seen. You commonly see characters of a variety of ages and body types, not just the hot girls. (Plots often revolve around hot girls and boys, and their eventual marriage, but I'm admittedly mostly a fan of the Bollywood romantic comedy musical, so that goes with the territory. Forgive me.)

So look, when I think about the objectification of women, lately my perspective has slowly changed from "Hey! Stop showing us women's bodies all the time!" to something more like "Hey! Let's even things out around here so everyone gets a turn."

I get it. Looking at people you find visually attractive standing around and being hot for your benefit is fun. I can see why you'd want to keep that around. So I'm cool with women being objects... as long as men can be objects, too, right? And in the same degree. Give me my candy, too.

But here's the thing. Candy for the eye rots the same way candy for the teeth does. Objectification is still pretty bad in the sense that we shouldn't be setting "reduced to a passive object for desire" as a standard way of viewing other human beings. The way to solve sexism isn't to dehumanize everybody forever. Oh boy is it not.

But that's by far not the only way for superhot people to exist on the page and on the stage! The thing about those sexy, sexy people in Bollywood film is that all of them, men and women both, still have agency and inner lives. All of them are characters who dynamically move through the story and affect how events unfold. They are whole people, who have thoughts and opinions and not just secondary sexual characteristics. It's amazing. It's inspiring. It's a whole lot of fun to watch!

So my solution is this -- fine, let's have tons of scantily-clad, oiled-up, wind-tunneled, vaseline-lensed people in all kinds of media! Great! Fun! Men and women alike, and the more the merrier. But let's make sure that all of those sexy people, above all, remain human beings.

Because that's the whole point of feminism, right? Not to shut down sexytimes, not to kill all the funs, not to remove joy from the world. Just, everyone should be treated like a person. And as goes our media, so goeth our world.


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