December 9, 2008

Subtle sexism: analyzing The Witcher

Posted in entertainment, entitlement, gaming, gender, heteronormative, objectification, phallocentrism, representation, sexism, sexual politics at 8:00 pm by LB

This post is about the PC game The Witcher, which someone I know has just started playing. But this post is less about the game and more about cultural representations and assumptions about gender and sexuality. He and I had a conversation around it today, which got me thinking a lot about female sexuality, male entitlement, and homophobia in our culture. So please bear through my discussion of the game to get the “big picture” analysis.

In browsing around the internets and reading people’s discussions around gender and sexuality in the game, I very often read these reasons for why the game isn’t “that bad” vis-a-vis women and (women’s) sexuality: the sex scenes are well done (they are in fact pretty tasteful) and the women aren’t represented as all dumb bimbos (as if commodifying women’s sexuality is only sexist if the women are represented as idiots.) My friend mentioned that in reading reviews, many women said the sex in the game wasn’t “that bad.” But in the game, it’s not really the sex that’s the problem.

At first, I thought that gender and sexuality in the game wasn’t so bad, but the more I was told the more troubled I became. Originally, I thought the sex in the game was just optional, with no reward attached, and the sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or very objectifying. Point one for the game?

Well, that’s not exactly it. Read the rest of this entry »


November 17, 2008

Contemplating the significance of Playgirl’s end

Posted in double standards, entertainment, gender, phallocentrism, pornography, power hierarchy, representation, sex work, sexism at 10:00 am by LB

There was an article today in the New York Times about the recent end to Playgirl magazine.  Recently it’s publisher cancelled the magazine’s distribution.  I pulled out a few things from the article that I felt were very telling:*

So [in trying to rebrand Playgirl after the emphasis on gay imagery by previous ownership and editors] she and her fellow editors, all women in their 20s and all relative neophytes to the world of magazines — and pornography — resolved to fill Playgirl with something different. They aspired to bring Playgirl back to its roots, back to a time when the magazine covered issues like abortion and equal rights, interspersing sexy shots of men with work from writers like Raymond Carverand Joyce Carol Oates.

All the while, the editors juggled the demands of the publisher, Blue Horizon Media, which they said pushed to fill Playgirl with even more nudes and fewer words.


“I’m not a publishing expert, but it seems to me like it would be impossible to sustain a magazine on the quantity of ads Playgirl sold,” Ms. Collins said.

Although the Playgirl Web site is still running, the graphic content is geared more toward gay men. None of the magazine’s editors are involved.

Ms. Caldwell [one of only 3 editors] said Playgirl magazine suffered from the twin malaises of rising costs and declining sales.


Playgirl was started 35 years ago as a feminist response to Playboy and Penthouse. (Playboy sued Playgirl in 1973 for trademark infringement; the suit was settled amicably.) Over the years, the magazine changed ownership, began catering more to gay men, and whittled its operations down. Still, the magazine drew an avid readership, Ms. Caldwell said, selling 600,000 copies per issue in more than three dozen countries.


“For better or worse, this was a real blow for feminism. We were the only magazine that offered naked men to women.”

In the end, Playgirl was run by a skeleton crew of these three editors, along with what Ms. Caldwell described as “a whole horde of eager unpaid interns.”


The magazine had no marketing or public relations budget, so its editors sought to revive the Playgirl brand themselves, throwing parties at a Lower East Side bar. After Blue Horizon denied a request to finance a blog, Ms. Collins built one herself, starting it on WordPress, a free platform.

Their efforts, the women said, got virtually no support; indeed, their higher-ups, all of them men, usually resisted their push to give the magazine editorial heft.

Early in 2008, warning signs surfaced. While newsstands sales were up, Ms. Caldwell said, so were production costs. 


The magazine’s editors said they were never told why the magazine was shut down. But, they said, they were always struck by the paucity of ads.


I quote these segments, because I can see the writing on the wall: Read the rest of this entry »

July 23, 2008

Guest post: A feminist gamer looks at gender issues in the gaming industry

Posted in entertainment, gaming, gender, gender stereotypes, guest posts, objectification at 12:00 pm by LB

I have asked Cassandra from No Little Lolita to do some occasional guest blogging about gender and gaming. It is an area I’m very interested in, but not being a gamer myself, can’t give it the treatment it deserves. So I’ve asked Cassandra to fill in that gap here at Don’t you wish your girlfriend was smart like me? Please engage her ideas in the comments with respect.


Hi, my name is Cassandra – I post on No Little Lolita, a blog about popular culture, teenage years and feminism, gaming, and the pursuits and hobbies of a young Canadian feminist. I’m guestblogging to talk a little about the huge problems in the gaming industry, and why they affect women – even those who aren’t gamers.

We’ve recently entered a ‘new generation’ of gaming, and it’s only show how persuasive the siren song of gaming is. The Nintendo Wii broke records when it was launched – it was the first console that appealed to people beyond gamers, and the inventive remote with add-ons seemed more welcoming and approachable than the controllers of their competitors – the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. In contrast, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 seem to be in a market of their own – both of them are powerhouses that appeal to the ‘hardcore’ gamer and boast libraries of games that’ll last you tens upon tens of hours full of deep storylines and complex gameplay.

With this new interactive art form taking center stage, it would be great if we could shed the tired tropes and disgusting stereotypes that show up constantly in movies and on TV. Gaming is a medium that boasts large amounts of interactivity and choice – wouldn’t it be great if the writing was excellent without leaning on racist or sexist stereotypes, the action was tight without being pandering or offensive, and the characters were engrossing and sympathetic and yet realistic and enjoyable to play?

Unfortunately, it seems that most studios either don’t have the capacity or the willpower to create games that fulfill these expectations. Most games have either a shallow story, with the main objective being ‘blow this up’, or rely on stereotypes and tropes when they bother to develop the characters or the storyline at all. Female characters are reduced to simpering, slender sexpots relying on the main character while being just feisty enough to rile him up more often than not – that is, when they even exist. Even when a female is the main character of a game, she is usually designed to be attractive, available and open to possible advances – she’s tough, but not so tough that your average gamer would be threatened! The main character of a game is more often than not white, male, and straight. Often he’s taking down terrorists or criminals or some unsavory group while some female sighs over his hunkiness, and his POC sidekick serves as comic relief. The art form, so far, is heteronormative, overwhelmingly white, and sexist.

The gaming market has produced some feminist-friendly games for sure – the Mario games are a safe bet, the Metal Gear Solid games have a large cast with both genders, and even though the games are set around the American – Russian – Chinese conflict, the third game had a black support member who helped the protagonist on his solo mission talk about his experiences facing racism from the private corporations in America in the 60s; not something you would hear discussed in most media forms of any sort. But for the large part, games are like a gigantic soggy sandwich: you watch the preparation as you starve and drool, you rationalize “It’s still good! It’s still good!” even after the waitress dumps a glass of water over it, but you give up after having a few bites and mourn over what could have been.

There has to be reasons for this: it’s not like a game is somehow functionally incapable of being feminist. Let’s examine some of the prominent reasons as to why we have these complaints: Read the rest of this entry »

June 28, 2008

Entertainment and ‘choice’

Posted in entertainment, gender, gender stereotypes, ideology, myths, race and racism, representation, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 8:01 pm by LB

A recent thought I had on entertainment and choosing:

We all like (need?) to be entertained: all genders, sexualities, races, etc.

The sad truth is, we have to choose from what is out there. Sometimes people of progressive sensibilities have to “overlook” things in entertainment that are problematic in order to be able to relax and, well, be entertained.

This is why I am really sick of the following defense/excuse for systematic problematic representations and constructions of “otherness” (non-white/male/middle-class/heterosexual) in entertainment or simply of certain titles in entertainment:

“[insert marginalized group here] watch it/play it/buy it/read it therefore:

  • there’s no problem with the ideology perpetuated
  • it accurately represents what said people want
  • said people enjoy it every aspect of the entertainment”

The bottom line is that we can only be entertained from what’s out there, and what we like and want is heavily informed by what already exists. If every movie I saw was problem-free, I would rarely go to the movies. Just because people consume entertainment doesn’t absolve their -Isms.** I often decline from supporting and entertainment that is even a bit sexist/heterosexist/racist, etc., and I am fine with giving it up but many other people don’t make that sacrifice and that is 100% their prerogative. But that cannot be interpreted to mean that all entertainment consumed by marginalized individuals is not in any way offensive or problematic. Not to mention that oftentimes the problematic nature of some entertainment isn’t known until after spending the $$; thus, when commercial success=implied condoning, the damage is often already done, which makes public critique our primary way of making our disgust known.

Example: this, for me, especially applies to hetero women and porn, of women having resources for sexualized men. women want erotic imagery but the vast majority of images and films are targeted for heterosexual men, and often involve ideologies that progressive women find objectionable. More and more there are non-sexist, non-racist material available, but they are often hard-to-find and are almost never “free” (whereas men wanting “traditional” material have very easy and free access to material that is quite suitable for them). Therefore, many women (or prog-men), who want to satisfy their desire for erotic material, “settle” for traditional material and try to “look over” the deficiencies. Or many cope by occupying the male observer’s standpoint, and sexualize the female involved, thus they may be consuming and enjoying mainstream erotic imagery, but are deprived sexualized male bodies. In other words: when it comes to porn, women who want and enjoy porn as a category have to simply choose between the options they are given, which may or may not actually be 100% what they want. It’s just what’s easily (or freely) available.

Back to entertainment “in general”: These assumptions are further problematic:

  • Sexism/racism/homophobia/xenophobia/heteronormativity in entertainment is appropriate because it simply reflects the “truth” of what an identity group “wants” (i.e. sexism is ok because these games are “for men.”): -Isms are not just a “personal preference.
  • “Got a problem with it? Don’t buy it/play it/watch it!”: see above and also **above.
  • These are the kinds of entertainment that sell: ever think to question how much money and other resources goes into developing entertainment that is non sexist/racist/heteronormative etc? Or how such entertainment is marketed?

Entertainment for guys (read: straight guys) is only defined as such because of the sexism/heterosexism involved. There is no reason why women and gay men can’t enjoy certain entertainment, and they shouldn’t have to put up with BS hetero/sexism to do so. Take games for example. Games that would appeal to guys do not need objectification and homophobia. That is not the reason why guys play these games. Instead, they function to outline the proper audience for these games and to reaffirm hetero-masculine identity. And the fact that women play these games serves as “evidence” that women don’t mind or that women enjoy the roles they are given in these games. As I’ve been trying to show in this post, these are misguided conclusions/assumptions. But since women do choose to play these games (since there are little if any sexism-free equivalent alternatives) there is no incentive to make their games differently since it clearly isn’t affecting their bottom line. But women and queer gamers do voice their dissatisfaction. And the solution is not to make some second-class, underdeveloped alternatives that rely on pathetic tropes and stereotypical marketing (see this Broadsheet article that in part prompted me to write this post today). For example: if women only have the choice between lame-assed girl-games and more complex and interesting games with implicit or overt sexism, women choosing the former does not necessarily mean that’s what “women want” (they may in fact be so sick of the sexism in most games) or that their choosing the latter means that the sexism is acceptable to them.

Bottom line: what we “choose” is not always what we want. It’s just what we have to choose from. And what we want for the most part comes from somewhere-it is shaped by what’s available.

On a related note, keep an eye out next week for a guest post on current issues in gaming!

(cross-posted to The Reaction)