Monday, September 10, 2012

Appeals to Humanity, not Masculinity

There's something of a feminist revolution happening in the gaming world, thanks largely to the response of lots of great folks to the hating on Anita Sarkeesian's project, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  If you're not aware of the whole issue, Sarkeesian has a great roundup of the whole thing here, and I like this article in particular as a summation/commentary.

And, luckily, lots of men who are gamers are getting involved (though more involvement earlier would have been nice, I suppose).  I'm really glad men are doing some of the work here, so it's with mixed feelings that I point out that I think some of the help is less useful than other of the help. In particular, responses which focus on enforcing traditional masculinity as a way of encouraging guys to move away from misogyny are, to my mind, not taking the problem of misogyny on in a way that keeps an eye on long-term changes.  Earnest W. Adams' recent piece on Jezebel is a great example of a well-meaning piece that emphasizes traditional masculinity in such a way so as to sort of defeat its own purpose.

I like much of what Adams has to say, and I'm glad he has said it. He frames his point by basically saying that men who are misogynist gamers are victims of their own arrested development--they somehow got stuck in the "eww...girls!" phase of adolescence, rather than going through that phase and then maturing into adulthood. Even this analysis has its problems (he never asks why there is an "eww....girls!" phase to begin with; I suspect if our culture wasn't steeped in misogyny, there wouldn't be), but the basics make a lot of sense, as does his basic advice to the misogynist male gamers:  Grow up!

I really do think that Adams is on to something here (please read his whole article, because it has lots to offer), but he undermines his own points by confusing "grown up" with "real man". Early on he notes that
"What distinguishes a real man from a boy is that a man takes responsibility for his actions and does not abuse this power." The "real man vs. boy" distinction could just be about "young'uns vs. adults", but in using the "real man" terminology, Adams is invoking enforcement of traditional masculinity, and "real man" has so long been so synonymous with "don't be a pussy/woman/little boy!" that it doesn't take us in the direction we really want to go. Instead, we end up back at square one, with "real men" telling "little boys" how to be "real men".  Adams goes on to say:  Say these words into your headset: "I'm disappointed in you. I thought you were a man, not a whiny, insecure little boy." The "whiny, insecure little boy" language depends on emasculating, and really sounds bullying, which in the long range just reinforces misogyny, on my view. I'd like the "grow up!" approach more if it focused more clearly on appealing to guys' humanity rather than their masculinity.
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