In case you haven’t heard, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency decided to Kickstart a web series about female characters in videogames. She wanted to raise $6,000 for the project. She ended up raising $158,917. In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should mention that one of those dollars was mine.

On the way to her success, Sarkeesian encountered what could be generously described as a grand-scale Internet shitstorm. The substance of the backlash ranged from garden variety trolling to gendered insults laced with antisemitism to numerous at-least-semi-serious threats of violence. (Google it if you really want to know the details, trigger warning, trigger warning, trigger warning).

Unsurprisingly, some of the best coverage came from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. John Walker noted an emerging theme in the backlash, namely “that men are poorly represented in gaming too.” Walker agreed that indeed, “they are.”

Men in games are often represented as huge, muscled heroes, essentially weapons of war with biceps, gruff and focused and all-powerful. It’s not an accurate representation of men at large, indeed not. Because it’s a power fantasy. It’s aspirational (as much as very many men may have no desires to be anything like that). It’s about being big, and strong, and in control. Oh boo hoo. Yes, it is daft, and cliched, and tiresome. But to compare it to the default representation of women in games—either huge-titted, scantily clad sexual fantasies, or helpless, pathetic and weak—is deeply erroneous.

Walker answered the detractors’ implied question (Why are we even talking about this?) with a simple and sensible demonstration of male privilege. You wouldn’t know it from reading comments sections, but we’re talking about observable reality here, not some far-flung intellectual burg on The Island of Purely Hypothetical Feminist Wheel-Spinning.

One RPS commenter tried to refute a fairly straightforward observation—”I hear far more blathering about how crazy modern feminism is than I hear actual crazy modern feminism”—with another, weirder, considerably more confusing one: “The problem is that I hear far more blathering about how modern feminism isn’t crazy than I hear actual non-crazy modern feminists speaking.”

If most discussions of gender seem to crash into a brick wall of nonsense, then this is precisely that brick wall.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

Look. Anyone who is speaking about gender in a non-crazy way is a non-crazy feminist. Feminism is, fundamentally, the act of looking at history, media, language, or anything else, and realizing that all subjects in all disciplines are gendered—and that gender has been rigidly hierarchical throughout human history, predominantly advantaging men while predominantly disadvantaging women. Most importantly, feminism reveals that this dynamic has frequently (though often quite subtly) shifted, and that we can and must continue to shift it.

The central, irrefutable insight of feminist thought is that gender operates through taught assumptions and learned behavior, and is therefore subject to revision and improvement—even though its machinations so often seem, as Simone De Beauvoir said in The Ethics of Ambiguity, “to be immediately given by nature, by gods, by powers against whom revolt has no meaning.”

And fine, she was talking about freedom in a more general sense there, but that’s sort of my point. Our responsibility to address and redress inequality goes beyond gender. It’s bedrock. Feminism is bedrock when dealing with other human beings in the same way that the Magna Carta is bedrock when forming a just, legitimate government.

To dismiss “feminism” as a fringe mode of thought, in other words, is reductive to the point of willful meaninglessness. Unless you think that gender roles really are (or ought to be) immutable, fixed, and unchanging, and that inequality between men and women is acceptable and/or unavoidable, you are a feminist.

That doesn’t mean we all agree, of course—who the hell would want that?—but it does mean that we’re all on the same side, or should be. Feminism is not so much an ideology as an event—an event that is already taking place, and from which there is no turning back, and which demands participation from anyone interested in fully understanding any topic. It’s too late to unsex the subject. We’re all feminists now.


  1. “….The central, irrefutable insight of feminist thought is that gender operates though taught assumptions and learned behavior…”

    The central, irrefutable consequence of the feminist movement has been for women to shift from being dependent a husband/ breadwinner to being dependent on wealth redistribution service based on a monopoly on violence (AKA government).

    The central mistake of feminist thinking is to assume that just because we happen to live in a patriarchal, violent, rigid, pyramidal, male dominated, hierarchical society that all men are free and so to become more like men is to become free too. In reality, 99% of men are also slaves to the patriarchal system. They are tax cattle. They are cannon fodder. They are slaves to their violent rulers. By fighting for equal rights as men, women have fought (and won) the right to be equal slaves as men under patriarchy. Only now there’s no one at home full time to raise the children. The children are now raised by the state and corporations (daycare, government schools, Disney, MTV, Hollywood). Hollywood is (provably, through out its history) the propaganda arm of the military industrial complex. The Pentagon has a ‘Film Liaison Unit’ which admits to scripting Hollywood blockbusters (example: ‘Top Gun’) in return for free use of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks etc.

    Feminism was hijacked and funded by the international bankers and the CIA.

    Feminism is socialism. Feminism is destruction of the family. Feminism is handing your own children over to be raised by strangers, while you have a ‘fulfilling’ career in your trendy office job. Feminism is women paying taxes to fund wars which kill children. Feminism is the patriarchal solution to women demanding freedom. In the end feminism is increased violence and subjugation of men, women and particularly children.

    1. First of all, thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting. Second, what you’re saying really doesn’t make much sense, and here’s why:

      1. You seem to describe feminism as being monolithic—something that can be pinned down to a discrete set of political goals and/or economic policies. As I tried to explain in my post, feminism is significantly bigger than that, less centralized than that, and more abstract than that. No one can “hijack” feminism, any more than someone could “hijack” the Socratic method. Even if lots of people were to misuse the Socratic method, that wouldn’t somehow devalue the idea itself. The idea itself would remain unhijacked and unhijackable.

      Your linked video discusses the monied interests behind some aspects of women’s liberation, arguing that these interests discredit feminism, which they do not. Such interests simply demonstrate that, when asked to expand a minority’s rights, the majority always wants to know what’s in it for them. That men only want to give women the vote if they think those women will vote “correctly” is not an indictment of women’s suffrage, but of entrenched patriarchy.

      2. You’re saying that women are now morally culpable for war and other forms of state violence, and that they are now victims of taxation, implying that they were somehow protected from such concerns before their rights were expanded. This is a common argument against women’s’ rights—against women’s suffrage in United States, against women’s education in Afghanistan, and on and on and on—and at bottom it’s nothing more than paternalism.

      You’re seriously arguing that women are less free now that they have more rights? That now they’re “slaves to their violent rulers,” as opposed to before, when the law considered them children at best and chattels at worst? If we’re all “slaves” now (which is a pretty hyperbolic assessment in any event), then yes, being an “equal slave” is objectively much better than being a slave with even fewer rights than other slaves.

      3. You also seem to be implying that state violence has increased as a direct result of women’s liberation. I cannot for the life of me figure out how you’ve reached that conclusion.

      4. If it’s such a big problem that “there’s no one at home full time to raise the children,” then may I suggest, as one possible pool of candidates, those children’s fathers? Even if children absolutely need one stay-at-home parent (an unproven claim, by the way), why does that stay-at-home parent need to be female?

      5. You’re saying that feminism is women wanting to be “like men,” but let’s take a moment to notice that “like men” is here defined as having the full rights of citizenship. If we’re thinking of sovereignty and agency as intrinsically male qualities, then we desperately need to recalibrate our thinking, which is what feminism is for.

      1. It’s probably not all that insightful to say, but I think this sort of clash of starting premises is a result of the term “feminism” having something like three widely accepted, but very different meanings. Much like “socialism” in American politics, “feminism” means what you say it means, it means “misandry”, and it means “female-supremecism”, depending on who’s hearing it and what their background is like. And the kicker is that few people (even in academia) bother to find out which meaning a speaker is using; we just assume our meaning is the one everyone is using.

        That’s not to say you weren’t clear in what you wrote either in your post or in this reply, but if, every time I say the word “feminist”, I was understanding “misandrist”, well, I imagine that could make the post awfully vexing, perhaps to the point where I didn’t slow down to realize that that *couldn’t* be what you were using the word to mean.

        If any of that makes sense.

      2. I think we probably share the same basic core values/ desires but we seem to be arguing over definitions and approaches – it’s all good though! :)

        1. I’m sticking to my guns on this one! I would argue that causes which appear to be ‘no brainers’ (ie ‘more rights and freedoms for women’) are actually the easiest to hijack. Most religions are about being virtuous and respecting each other and it’s hard to argue against that, yet organised religions have always been hijacked and used to justify the setting up of an elite class of priests, horrific persecutions (often of women) as well as genocidal wars!

        Environmentalism is another ‘no brainer’ cause. This has also been hijacked by the ruling elite who have used people’s genuine concern about pollution to bring in a global taxation scam involving CO2 (a natural gas!) as well as various evil social engineering agendas such as the UN’s Agenda 21.

        So I would argue that outwardly good causes which are supported with great passion (environmentalism, feminism, religion) tend to be the *easiest* to hijack. Does that invalidate the original cause? No, of course not and I never meant to suggest that.

        2. Maybe I wasn’t expressing myself very well. I was trying to suggest the type of feminism which is being reflected back at us (from the media, Hollywood, government education etc) is a very selfish and amoral / immoral type of feminism which is very short sighted and ‘dumbed down’. It promotes a kind of “if you can’t beat em, join em” mentality.

        “…You’re seriously arguing that women are less free now that they have more rights? …”

        In many ways no. But in many ways yes ;) Think of your stereotypical family in the 50’s. The man could afford to support the family on his income alone. This left the woman free to raise the children full time and take care of the household. If they had old parents needing care they could also live in a ‘granny annexe’ (or a house nearby) allowing the wife to easily provide whatever level of care was required at low (or no) cost. If the family needed more money in an emergency the wife could still get extra (temporary or part time) work even if her job choices tended to be more limited (nurse, secretary, teacher etc). These earnings may not have been super high BUT they were surplus to the husband’s wages which could already support the whole family and pay the bills. So her earnings were pure ‘profit’ as it were.

        Fast forward to today’s post feminist society… As more women began working full time and earning a proper wage the state naturally increased taxes and started to grow bigger and bigger. As a result a man today can rarely support a whole family on his income alone. Typically *both* partners are forced to work full time just to pay the bills these days. All child care and household duties must now be performed outside of work hours and that means paying for daycare during the day. If granny can’t be left alone all day then she will have to go into a home which is another cost (plus you’re losing a free babysitter). The children end up in daycare and shoved in front of the TV in the evening watching adverts which programme them to be greedy materialist consumers – more cost! LOL And crucially if there is a financial emergency the family have no leeway at all. They are both ALREADY working full time! So their only option now is to go into debt (which is actively encouraged – it used to be considered a bad idea!).

        This makes the post feminist family worn out, stressed out debt slaves to the very banks who funded and promoted (and hijacked) feminism in the first place. It’s all starting to make sense now……

        And so by by hijacking and manipulating a good cause (feminism) the banking elite have ended up sucking all the wealth out of society and enslaving the population with debt.

        This is the same basic strategy used for centuries by the religious elite who ended up sucking all the wealth from the population and enslaving them with ideas of sin and penance when they hijacked spirituality/ religion.

        It’s the same old story. A good cause gets hijacked by the ‘money men’ and ends up enslaving the population.

        3. The government is an agency of violence. That’s all a government is. All government ‘laws’ and policies are imposed and enforced through the initiation of violence against society. Therefore any aspect of feminism which uses government as a ‘lever’ to gain more ‘privileges’ and ‘entitlements’ is, by definition, resorting to violence to get what it wants.

        Where once she relied on her husband to provide financially for her family or herself, the modern woman now increasingly relies on the state. But unlike a husband the state does not generate any money itself – it has to steal all its money through taxation by force and by going into debt (which is a way to tax future generations by force).

        Once a sector of the population becomes dependent on the state for ‘free money’ and other entitlements they will oppose anyone who wants to reduce the interference and the size of government. This is how the government can get away with being so evil (wars, bank bailouts, fake economies etc). Everyone would love to get rid of government but they can’t because they are so dependent on the government teat (state welfare and state benefits and social programs). They have allowed themselves to become dependent on this agency of violence….. just like a woman who is dependent on her abusive and violent husband. She would love to leave but she has nowhere to go and no other means to support herself. This is how abusive husbands AND the state both enslave women. They do it by giving the woman free stuff (clothes, a house, food on the table etc) until she is dependent on him. See this video: Barack Obama: Get Off Julia!

        4. Yes fathers or mothers – it doesn’t really matter. As long as young children have at least ONE stay-at-home parent they will thrive. But as I explained above, both parents are usually forced to work these days and young children have never had so little parental contact – and so much contact with ‘alien parents’ (daycare, TV, school etc)

        And yes the studies are conclusive. Any more than a few hours a week of daycare is experienced by the child as full on abandonment (a form of abuse). The bottom line is that young children are still *dependent* and they need full time one-to-one parental care – why is this not a given, it should be obvious?!!

        If someone were trying to develop a small business and they left it to strangers to run during the day and only returned in the evening we would all agree they were *neglecting* their business, right? I mean even competent strangers are just not going to be familiar with that business and all of the complex client relationships, accounts, long term strategies etc. That business is just not going to develop as well as it would if it is being managed by the owner full time, right?

        So why is the raising of a young child by strangers all day considered acceptable? Surely raising a child is more complex, subtle and difficult than developing a business?!

        If you work full time in an office climbing the career ladder and you suddenly take extended time off to have a baby your career is going to suffer, right? I mean it’s just inevitable. We all accept this. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

        But we are told that if you start raising your newborn child full time but at 6 months you suddenly take extended time off from parenting to return to your full time career the development of your young child is somehow not going to be adversely affected by that. How does THAT work?!!!

        ‘Mother’ means ‘full time mother’, just as ‘house’ means all four walls and a roof on top! A ‘part time mother’ is like a house with only two walls – it is not a house! Young children need full time care. It’s just a fact. It can be mother or a father as long as it’s someone!

        The state will tell you that young children do NOT need full time parents. And when these unparented children start malfunctioning as teenagers (cutting themselves, shop lifting, smashing up the bus shelter etc) the state will either drug them with anti depressants or put an electronic tag around their ankles. WTF!? Like I said, the government is an agency of violence – the government is an agency of insanity! They drop depleted uranium bombs on children in Iraq – and back home they tell us how to parent and they are in charge of education! This is madness!

        5. To me personal sovereignty means being free of coercion and violence which means being free of government. End of story.

        You cannot have a child without (temporarily) sacrificing other things (your career, figure, sleep etc). Likewise, you cannot have a career without sacrificing things (having children, travelling the world, becoming a nun etc). If you try to combine the two then one (or both) is going to suffer.

        For millions of years men have provided for the women they had children with, while the women raised the child full time. This traditional marriage and family unit set up is a very successful survival strategy as much as anything else. It puts the needs of the child (who is vulnerable and dependent) ABOVE the needs of the parents. We see variations of it throughout the animal kingdom.

        Does that mean the traditional family with its fixed parental roles is the only way we can or should do things? Of course not! – we humans are innovators after all and we are now in a post industrial/ post technological age where all sorts of possibilities are open to us…..

        …. BUT I would argue that any alternative strategy for women to live, to earn a living and to raise a child MUST NOT involve violence because violence can only lead to misery and dysfunction in the short and the long term. So that rules out government then!

        Any aspect of feminism which relies on government (laws, rights, entitlements,’free stuff’ etc) is by definition relying on the initiation of violence against others to achieve its objectives. And a very large amount of (what we call) feminism today is based around using government as a lever of violence to help give things to women. The government is only too happy to oblige because it justifies government growing as an agency of violence and social control.

        Not only is violence NOT the way to go about things in this more civilised/ enlightened age, but on a practical level governments are the very last agency we should be running to to make society more fair, or to give us more freedoms. Governments do not care about women or children (or men) or freedom.

        The social changes which have led to an end to slavery, an end to putting children up chimneys, and more freedoms for women have all been the result of ORDINARY PEOPLE figuring out how society can and should work. The more time we spend sharing ideas and discussing life the higher our moral standards become and the more intolerable inequality and oppression becomes. We are the ones improving society not government and we do it through voluntary means – through our attitudes and behaviour. Laws never stopped African slavery, our changing attitudes and values stopped it.

        Governments are always centuries behind the rest of us when it comes to morality! Even today they still use violence to get everything done whereas the rest of us use voluntary contracts and peaceful transactions. Government do NOT bring positive social change – they reluctantly ADAPT to our positive social change. And worse they always try and turn social change to their advantage. This is especially true with feminism.

        That is why I would rather think in terms of freedom rather than feminism. Freedom has to include everyone (including children!) and it automatically rejects any use of coercion and violence. Feminism is inherently divisive (no matter how much we pretend it is not) and as such it lends itself to being hijacked by all sorts of crooks and fraudsters.

      3. Thanks for hanging around and hashing this out. I think definitions are indeed the central issue here, so let’s drill down into those.

        • You’re using “hijacking” to mean doing something awful in the name of the thing being “hijacked.” Fair enough. But what awful things are actually happening in the name of feminism?

        All this stuff about families being weaker and more financially burdened, and government growing beyond its means—none of that is directly attributable to women’s liberation. It’s got much more to do with the cultural ascendancy of credit and debt (as you mentioned), and with our overall transition from an industrial economy to a post-industrial one (corresponding with the increased availability of almost-free labor overseas), as well as the slow fiscal bleed of the Cold War, the War on Terror, and the War on Drugs.

        • You’re defining “government” as state power leveraged thorough violence or the threat of violence. This is an accurate representation of how governments assert themselves, but it is by no means a comprehensive assessment of what governments do. Governments also build infrastructure and safeguard civil rights. Indeed, how could a minority ever obtain legally defensible rights, if not by petitioning their government? The idea that governments can only take rights away is ahistorical.

        Of course a social movement starts with ordinary people—but if it also ends with with them, then it ends without much of anything having been accomplished.

        • You’re defining “slaves” as… well, honestly, I’m not sure about this one. Is a “slave” just someone subject to someone else’s power? If so, then everyone ever is a “slave.” Again, I get the sense that you’re just using that word as go-to hyperbole, but if you’re making a larger or more specific point about “slavery,” then I’m missing it.

        • If a “part-time mother” is not a mother, then why is a “part-time father” still a father? And if being apart from one’s parents for “more than a few hours a week” constitutes neglect—I would be genuinely interested to see the studies to which you’re referring, by the way—then are you saying that every elementary school student who is not home-schooled is being neglected? And if we’re just talking about very young children, then wouldn’t extended maternity/paternity leave (yet another positive thing that the government can in fact offer) go a long way toward solving the problem?

        • Now, the last really big disconnect: I think you’re gravely overestimating the degree to which the government is giving free money to women. Women work for their money, just as men do. They do the same work for less money, in fact.

        Do you mean simply that, by relying on legal protection, women are making themselves government “slaves?” Because again, everyone everywhere is a “slave” under that definition. You and I are “slaves” for expecting to walk down the street without being robbed or killed, since law is a function of government. You and I are “slaves” for using interstate highways, since it’s the government that builds and maintains them. And of course, we’re “slaves” for ever using money, since governments create currencies.

        See how that kind of limits us? Governments are not pure evil, or pure violence, or whatever. Their power needs to be vigorously checked, no question—but without them, social progress can never be scalable, defensible, or lasting.

        Or to put it another way, how do you think women should have sought and should continue to be seeking equal rights?

  2. I’m really disappointed (but not shocked) by the response to Anita, but heartened by how much money she has actually raised. Sexism in video games needs to be addressed, and this is a really good start.

    1. I don’t envy the pressure under which Sarkeesian now finds herself as a writer/producer/researcher/performer. I’m sure she wants this series to be her best ever, and she has a lot of people rooting for her, and also a lot of people hoping she’ll fail. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the series develops, and whether it remains a focal point in the noisy collision between gender studies and videogame culture.

      Also, thanks for commenting!

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