“Wow, this game does not discriminate based on gender,” said my friend, as we watched a graphic cut-screen of my female orc merrily decapitating a heavily-armoured female Bandit Chief.
As someone who has spent over 800 hours of my life playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, part of me wants to agree with this assessment. In some ways, it’s entirely accurate. In Skyrim, there’s a distinct absence of many of the gendered tropes that put me off mainstream videogames. In all my extensive play time, I never felt like I was willfully ignoring offensive portrayals of my gender in order to enjoy the rest of the game. In Skyrim, as in many open world RPGs*, your character is completely customisable; their gender, their appearance and their skill set all come down your own choices. Both male and female bodies are equally idealized (though even the bulkiest lady body does not look strong enough to wield a warhammer). In general, female armour is not more revealing or sexualised than equivalent male armour. (Albeit, there are some female sets that have an inexplicable chest windows, which, considering the climate of Skyrim, always makes me think “wow her tits must be cold”.)
It’s a tale as old as the internet. A piece of male douchery surfaces, one that perfectly epitomizes the harassment and male entitlement that women must navigate in their daily lives. The women gather together to gaze upon douchery and nod and say, “Yes, indeed, this really does sum up the problem.”
Cue the trolls, cue the misogynists, cue the willfully obtuse assholes. But also, cue Nice Guy™, who is hurt and confused by these women and their hostility, for he is sweet and gentle and thinks you really need to know how beautifully your eyes match your scarf today.
This guy will leave a long blathering comment (what is it about sexism that makes dudes so long-winded?) that boils down to: “Let’s make this entire conversation about educating me on how best to approach women in public. I would like a foolproof formula that doesn’t involve me actually thinking about women’s experiences or expending any empathy. Please and thank you.”
And more and more frequently, women reply with a simple “Yeah, maybe just…don’t?”
“Just don’t approach women in public? Like, why do you feel the need to talk to strange women? Maybe just don’t do it.”
Cue the rage.
“Fine, so I’m just not allowed to TALK to ANY WOMEN EVER!? HUFF PUFF FOOT STOMP.”
Or, sometimes, the wounded self-pity.
“But but but if I can’t talk to women in public places, I will be FOREVER ALONE WOE IS ME.”
There’s a lot of stupid in this argument, but I’d like to talk about the main stupid, which is the idea that modern romance – and consequently the human race – will somehow grind to a halt if men are not “allowed” to talk to women in public. You see, by not “allowing” men to talk to them in public, women are thwarting casual encounters, which are the only way people ever end up going on dates ever. If women are not actively seeking a meet-cute, Nice Guy™ is doomed to a life of impotently lusting after potential soulmates on every train platform, in every elevator, across the dusty vinyl sleeves in every quirky secondhand record shop in every city in the world.
Ted: I just gotta bump into her somewhere. Now if only I knew her schedule, I could arrange a chance encounter.
This idea is, obviously, ridiculous and has no bearing on reality outside of romantic comedies. (You know, those things that women purportedly base their lives around.) However, not only does it have no bearing on the reality of dating, it also actively clashes with the reality of being a woman in public.
Earlier this year, I read an essay called Shining a Light on Cutoff Culture. It’s almost four thousand words long and before I was halfway through, my shoulders were drawn up around my ears and my head was vibrating with ill-defined rage. Fortunately, Captain Awkward chose to tackle it on her blog and helped me pinpoint exactly why this essay made me so deeply uncomfortable. It took me a long time to sort my thoughts out on this one, but here is my letter to the man who wrote that essay.
You claim to be trying to shine on a light the dangers of cutoff culture. But here is the thing.
Most women do not live in a cutoff culture. Far from it. Let me tell you a bit about the kind of culture women live in when it comes to dating, relationships and sex. Your essay extrapolated from an example from your own personal experience, so I’ll give you one from mine:
Hi pals! It’s been a while since I’ve updated, because things were very crazy at work, and then I was on holidays, and then I had roughly seven draft posts kind of halfway ready to go and just got paralysed and overwhelmed and decided I needed to lie down because blogging that’s just how it goes. Anyway. Here are some recent and not-so-recent articles I found equally entertaining and enlightening in the past month!
Patriarchy in action: the New York Times rewrites history Reclusive Leftist neatly busts open the myth that women have never invented anything or contributed to scientific advancement, then smashes it with a sledgehammar and throws the shards of patriarchal bullshit into the roaring furnace of common fucking sense.
Georgia Salpa, Catholic Guilt and Ireland’s Weird Misogyny The awesome Roisin Kiberd examines Ireland’s specific brand of “kitsch misogyny” as it manifests in Irish Models (not to be confused with models who happen to be Irish) “who occupy an uneasy cultural space between nation’s sweethearts and national joke.”
No one is paying for my birth control but me A lot of people in the US are wringing their hands over employers having to “pay for birth control” for their slutty slutty female employees. That is to say, a lot of people in the US don’t seem to understand how their own incredibly fucked up health insurance system works.
All lead actors in The Gods of Egypt will be white because of course they will. But it doesn’t matter! Because race doesn’t matter! As long as all the main characters are white! This article is also a pretty good rundown of some of the more egregious cases of whitewashing in Hollywood’s recent history.
Manfeels Park is a webcomic that finds comments from real “hurt and confused men with Very Important Things To Explain”… and turns them into conversations between Jane Austen characters. And why yes, it is my new favourite thing on the Internet ever, in case you had to ask.
How to be PoliteAn entertaining and thoughtful personal essay on the “stubborn power of politeness”. As someone who is usually quite polite, but occasionally not polite AT ALL – and as a woman, which means my bog-standard politeness is often interpreted as a) a sign that I am a doormat or b) an invitation to touch my leg – it gave me a lot to think about.
Right, Internet. You have driven me to it. I am going to write a post about Miley Cyrus and I have no idea how I got here.
First off: I have literally zero fucking interest in Miley Cyrus. For a long time I did not realise that Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus were the same person, then I watched most of a Hannah Montana movie once when I was drunk. I think the screaming goat version of Party in the USA is comedy gold and there is a Miley Cyrus reference in an Amanda Palmer song I like and that was literally the extent of my knowledge of her until twenty four hours ago, when I became aware that I had missed the memo on her transformation from teeny-bopping American sweetheart into the gyrating mess of latex and lolling tongue that was jamming up my newsfeed yesterday morning.
As a piece of theatre, stripped of all social and cultural context, Miley Cyrus’s appearance at the 2013 VMA’s was abysmal. Her movements looked uncomfortable and uncoordinated, her costumes did not fit her properly, her voice sounded strained, the choreography was sloppy (I am generously assuming there was choreography involved.) Then Robin Thicke made his listless entrance and the whole thing was catapulted into the realm of the truly surreal as Miley’s cavorting became even more frantic and the presence of a much older man made her look even more like a toddler doing wobbly burlesque in Mummy’s heels and lipstick. It was awful. Nobody had a good time.
Last week, I moved to Oxford, which involved a lot of driving in the car with my mother, which in turn meant a lot of listening to the radio. I love Irish radio. We are a nation of excellent talkers.
However, last week on Irish radio, there was a moment of epic genderfail and I said several words that I would never normally say in front of my mother.
Don’t get me wrong, I hear a lot of genderfail from mainstream media outlets on a regular basis. As I have previously discussed, living on Feminist Internet can be an insulated experience and I am frequently startled by the levels of stupidity I encounter outside it. On Feminist Internet, even in the heat of disagreement, people understand the basics; for example, vague stereotypes are not a good starting point for productive debate.
This incident of genderfail was particularly infuriating because it came from a successful businesswoman who was trying to advocate for other businesswomen. To do so, she resorted to ridiculous generalisations about Women: The Monolith that would have been shouted down on any reputable feminist blog or forum within seconds.