Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist, media critic, and blogger who writes and produces a Youtube series/website called Feminist Frequency. Her videos about women in video games are well thought, insightful, reasonable, and absolutely correct about the values they reflect (if you haven’t watched them yet, I recommend it). Despite this or probably because of it, her most recent video, which explored violence against women as background decoration in video games, earned her death threats and a swarm of misogynistic retaliation.
With that, I present the following list of four fundamental assumptions I see made against her that everyone is getting wrong:
1. Anita Sarkeesian hates video games
This one is usually the first assumption people wrong about her make and the one they couldn’t be more incorrect about. She starts every video by stating “it is possible to be critical of some aspects of media while still finding it enjoyable or valuable,” and looking at how aggressively detailed her videos are about video game history or keeping track with the sheer number of examples they cite should make it very clear that she knows her shit. Think about how absurd it would be for someone to invest that much time and energy playing something as obscure and dated like Star Fox Adventures just to make a point (seriously, that game sucked).
2. Anita cherrypicks some of her examples so her entire argument is inavlid
Yes, there a handful of examples Anita references in her videos that are cherrypicked, taken out of context, and made to look a lot worse than they are. Being hypercritical about these specific elements weakens her arguments, but that doesn’t mean they’re all completely invalid. Feminism in video gaming is a somewhat “new” concept that many haven’t contemplated or have the grasp of knowledge to argue about, and it’s because of this that Anita has been elected the unofficial “face” of this movement. Leveling personal criticisms or flaws against her for particular misgivings shouldn’t be enough to dismiss her ideas which speak to something much greater.
Which brings me to…
3. Anita is a feminist which means she hates all men and assumes all men actively hate women
Feminism is a loaded term that immediately puts some on the defensive and conjures up images of bra burning women castrating men en masse while getting an abortion and giving each other high fives during a Melissa Etheridge concert. Yes, there are extremists in feminism who would probably dig that just as there are extremists with everything in life, but that shouldn’t undermine the core ideal of feminism: to promote and encourage ideas and actions that strive to treat women with the same regard and respect as men. Anita doesn’t argue that there can’t/shouldn’t be violence against women in video games, that there can’t/shouldn’t be male protagonists, or that all developers are actively trying to promote sexists ideas.
She wants developers to be self-aware about their influence on culture and make efforts against misogynistic practices.
4. Anita is trying to destroy gaming as we know it
If you can’t see her videos on gaming culture as anything else, then look at them as an argument against bad writing. A lot of game developers are very technically minded people so it’s no surprise that they aren’t the most creative writers when it comes to storytelling. Using violence against women to give a story “grit” as a shorthand to establish “amorality” in a game’s world or to set off a hero’s quest isn’t terrible just because it comes at the expense of women – it’s terrible because it’s lazy writing. Gaming is a still relatively new art medium, but it has the potential to explore ideas and topics in much deeper ways than other art mediums can. If videogames continue to rely on the same tropes, though, they’re going to reach their max potential for storytelling really quick.
Some would argue that they already have.
Let’s just hope developers are taking note.