Reviews: Feminist Frequency
Having watched the Tropes vs Women video, I have to say if it wasn't for the absolute circus around it of everyone losing their goddamn minds, I probably would've forgotten about it a long time ago. Anita's videos suffer from a lot of problems, namely they aren't very engaging, sometimes she takes things out of context sometimes she gets things flat out wrong, steers a little bit towards sex negative (You don't need to like Bayonetta but don't act like liking her is misogynistic) and overall just doesn't engage that well. I agree with her overall points (most of them, if I went down the list one by one I'd probably find some I didn't like) but she just doesn't have the talent to get them across properly. I honestly didn't even watch her latest video because the other ones just bored me that much. The backlash against her is just ridiculous though. I simply can't comprehend how her videos get so much hate (Partially because it's a chore for me to stay awake while I watch them) and makes me wonder if the gaming community as a whole has a problem with criticism. Sadly things have descended into mud slinging so odds are that's a question we aren't getting an answer to anytime soon. All in all, could've been great, turned out to be bleh, gets way more hate than it warrants.
Ok, first things first: I don't perfectly buy into the argument that Anita Sarkeesian is a Con Artist who fakes threats against herself via sock puppet accounts and gets money by being a professional victim. This is not what this review is about, anyway. Anita Sarkeesian herself has however stated that she is not a gamer and in fact had to learn a lot about video games before doing her mini-series "Tropes vs Woman" (especially in video games) that started in 2011 and so far is officially incomplete (7 out of 12 videos are done). And here is my first point I don't like about her - she is talking about a medium she had no prior knowledge of but takes many things out of context. Her most infamous case would be the Hitman example (described in the article). I don't like mis-representation of facts to fuel an agenda but I am getting the idea that Feminist Frequency does exactly that, on purpose. Having watched several of her videos and other reviews, this seems to be the main issue: Mis-representation and taking things out of context. I agree on the notion that equality is an important achievement of society and we do can slap our collective shoulders for having gotten so far, but for FF it's not enough. But strangely, it's still always about women. Women this, women that, women are being opressed by... someone? Are men not opressed at all (hint: the answer is "no") or simply not worthy talking about all that much (this seems to be the case). But that is not what feminism, according to a dictionary anyway, is supposed to be about. The strong, almost exclusive focus is off-putting, even for someone like me who is usually a very friendly person. If FF is against sexism, then focusing solely on women isn't something they should do. There are valid points, like that more video games could use cool female MCs like Tomb Raider, Portal (2) or Persona 3 Portable do, but not sexualised. There also need to be more games where male MCs are not sexualised either which is an issue rarely seen. Overall, the reliance on mis-representation and Manipulative Editing is a glaring issue that has to be solved but otherwise there are things that can work. I guess the series just needs better writing.
She has a point but so does some of her Critics
Prior to her whole game trope videos, I had I never heard about Anita. I must say that based on the few videos that I've seen of hers, she has a point. While some stuff against her is really bad, some of what her critics say also do have a point. Both Sides Have A Point basically, at least the sides that act mature. Here are some points that I've come across based on what I got from some others and my own views:
- Seeing sexist things in whatever
- A lot of things that she says are seeing subtle stuff in the simple things that can be taken as sexist. She has a point as some little things can be interpreted as sexist. Her Lego video is an example of this. The branch sold only for boys can indeed foster only aggressive attitudes. The one only for girls can indeed foster only passive attitudes. Some overlap between the two would indeed be a welcome.
- On the other hand, some of what she says can be over-analytical to the point of almost sounding like a Straw Feminist. Things like saying that I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is sexist as it implies that mommy is cheating or at best be kissing daddy in disguise, which the song is clearly about, can cause a Flat What or two. Her take on it can be seen as either over-analysis or child-like.
- Out-of-universe view vs. In-universe view
- In a lot of her videos, she looks at things from what can be best described as an out-of-universe view. She has a point as things seen from such a view can really be sexist. Women being kidnapped and serving merely as a plot device can indeed be very demeaning especially if you like the kidnapee.
- On the other hand, she doesn't seem to look at things from an in-universe view which have irked some critics. A princess that's probably been taught more about politics rather than fighting, and captured by the local Satan analogue, is obviously gonna need a hero regardless if she provides a male power trip or not.
- Getting the topic
- Some of what she says shows she gets the topic she addresses. Stuff like games would indeed benefit if they put a spin on old gender-stereotyped tropes. Heck, its an unexplored avenue that can provide all sorts of creativity.
- On the other hand, some of what she says really goes beyond topic due to their nature. Games that put a spin on things are not necessarily marketable. Games are supposed to be fun not political statements.
Let me start this review by saying that the harassment campaign against her is NOT okay. No one deserves to receive death threats and rape threats. It is not okay to harass people and the culture of harassment in gaming needs to be addressed. Furthermore, I think that the portrayal of women in video games is something that needs to be addressed. However, I find that Ms. Sarkeesian is not the one to address it. I find that her presentation style is far too dull to actually provoke any interesting thought. I think that the examples that she gives are either reading far too much into the situation to be thought provoking, or not connected well enough to bigger picture of things. I feel that her examples are far to general to the point where I question why she went after video games when these tropes (Damsel In Distress, The Smurfette Principle, Men Are Generic, Women Are Special, Tertiary Sexual Characteristics) are just as prevalent in other mediums. I find that her research is not very well done and that her methods (not crediting Let's Players and creating a Kickstarter for what amounts to a series of inconsistently uploaded Youtube footage) to be a bit questionable. Also, having seen several of her other, non-video game related videos, I find that I really disagree with her views on feminism. I think that she has a bad tendency of looking at the superficial elements of female characters without addressing how they are actually portrayed (something she actually, to her credit, improved in her most recent videos.) Furthermore, I find her tendency to shut out comments to be a bit strange. I understand she is getting harassed quite viciously, but I do not think that it is acceptable to shut out all conversation simply because of the actions of a few trolls. That said, I do support her overall goal, I just do not think that she presents it in a very meaningful way. To be honest, she does not go far enough. She seems to dance around issues in video games without really making a strong point about it and she does it in a way that does not seem to be well researched. There needs to be someone who brings feminism into video games, but Ms. Sarkeesian is not that person. The harassment campaign is a damn shame though. It makes a real discussion about the issues impossible because of tumblr feminists and misogynistic idiots that pollute it.
Much improved from earlier videos.
I have previously been somewhat critical of Anita Sarkeesian's videos. While I agree that sexism (mostly unconscious, but deeply ingrained) is still a problem in media, Sarkeeasian's previous videos have frequently been biased(In the Bayonetta video, she makes no mention of the fact that, despite her admittedly hyper-sexualisation, Bayonetta is also the most competent character in the game) or focused on trivialities (Such as going on a diatribe on the misrepresentation of the Black-Widow Spider- interesting, but irrelevant to sexism in media). Moreover, she frequently comes of as smug (telling filmmakers that "they should feel really ashamed" for including sexist elements) undermining her points, even when they are otherwise well made. These issues are far less prevalent with her latest videos. She has adopted a far more academic style of presenting accurate evidence in support of her hypothesis. Importantly, she has accepted that Tropes Are Not Bad. Instead of decrying individual examples of Unfortunate Implications, she instead identifies overall patterns of sexism within the industry. Not only are these harder to refute, but more indicative of the real problem- ingrained sexism in our culture shaping games to reinforce that sexism. She is also more positive, less smug and actually discusses ways that the traditional gender roles may be subverted and toyed with. Indeed, a later video will showcase such successful subversions. Essentially, she has gone from simply complaining about the issues, to suggesting ways that they may be remedied. I still have some criticisms of these later videos. She could have distinguished between damsel-as-lover and damsel-as-daughter- both evoke different emotions from male players (However, both still define female characters in relation to males). I also think that, while she has a point with the Unfortunate Implications of "male protagonist forced to fight/kill his brainwashed/disfigured damsel, often while they beg for it", she ignores that these situations tend to derive drama from the male protagonist's reluctance/trauma in doing so. Again though, the female is defined solely by the male's response- the critique retains validity. However, such criticism's are likely a product of the discourse that Sarkeesian aims to incite. As such, I must gives these newer episodes a tentative endorsement.
Good in concept but problematic in execution
I appreciate the series in basic concept. Feminist thought has typically been restricted to academia with an in-group bias, and Anita shares the ideology with common people using popular culture, a normal vocabulary, and an attractive news-style delivery. She encourages many people to engage with media through a feminist lens. Whether or not one agrees with her ideology, I think it's clear that she makes an effective show to preach it. When it comes to her actual content, however, I find it hit or miss. She often seems ignorant of the finer details of the media item that should matter in an assessment. Her style, which suggests authoritatively reporting objective fact, obscures what is really subjective opinion, often derived from the fallacious "wisdom of repugnance" belief. She comes from a culture of academia that promotes assertive behavior that serves a business career well but is problematic for what is ultimately subjective opinion used in a vehicle intended to persuade, leading to her very rarely acknowledging her own errors and never apologizing for offense. It's also problematic that her show title suggests her as a representative for all of feminism when she is specifically of a certain strain of gender-essentialist, third-wave, radical feminism. As a feminist, I find her assertions problematic for failing to acknowledge other feminist opinions as legitimate. Her True Grit video is all about why other feminists are wrong for calling a character feminist—specifically in a way that demonizes masculinity by associating it with violence and essentially saying girls who exhibit masculine characteristics cannot be feminists. For someone so devoted to promoting cooperation over conflict, it's ironic that her failure to acknowledge her fallibility and the legitimacy of others' opinions should discourage cooperation in favor of dominating the discussion. To her credit, she learns from her mistakes. She responded to criticism of gender-essentialism by specifically looking out for transgender interests and saying "all genders" instead of "both genders." However, she rarely acknowledges she was ever in error. Once she put up a clarifying annotation, but she's never actually said she was wrong in future videos or taken down past ones that reflect past opinions. She is like a poor actor still bowing to demand audience applause.
For Better Or Worse, Not Worth So Much Attention
So that those who read this review know where I am coming from; I am completely for gender equality and believe women and men are entirely equal, and women do need better representation in media. Further, I do not condone in any way the personal attacks Anita has suffered. Discussing her material itself; if not for the personal attacks she suffered, I doubt Anita's videos would have so much attention. Because they don't deserve it. Most of her videos have Anita looking straight forward reading a script accompanied by on-screen graphics or B-roll, not interesting to watch or listen to. This is a reason her Kickstarter confused me, I have produced videos for my college courses that look pretty much identical to what Anita produces, and unless she needed the funds to purchase equipment to film and edit, I could do videos just like hers for free. I do not make any accusations, I simply say it made me tilt my head. On the up-side, her videos look very professional. The graphics are clean, the B-roll taken from as high quality sources as could be expected (with an 80s TV commercial, you can only do so much), and Anita looks and sounds prepared. But aside from being professional, her execution is bland and she does not command attention well. Regarding the content of the videos, I strongly dislike Anita's execution. She raises some good points, but her videos tend to fall apart when one is familiar with the games she discusses. Anita's videos have a clear bias, which is perhaps inevitable given the subject. But having played some of the games she discusses, I often notice she makes errors or skews facts to support her arguments, or glosses over parts of the game that do not. I find it interesting (and frustrating) that she ignores strong female characters in games she discusses, instead focusing on analyzing the negative portrayals. One does not wash out the other, but again, this shows a bias on her part, and when I know she is misrepresenting her material, it undermines her and her position. A specific instance I frowned on, she discusses Max Payne and how the death of his wife is used as a plot device, ignoring the female assassin Mona Sax who flips the damsel in distress role (twice) when Max is injured and she rescues him. Overall, Anita is flawed but harmless, and gets more attention than either side need give her.
FF as viewed by a feminist
FF suffers from the same problem of any academic theory applied to the real world. Academic theories work in the macro, but real life exists on a very micro scale, which makes applying it very, very messy. So, yeah, in the details, her work is often wrong, even when it's right on a larger scale. That's why I find some of her best work is the work that focuses on broad trends within pop culture. Her Bechdel test video, for instance, works very well, because she's not signaling out any one work, just focusing on the trend. She's also got more of a streak of radical feminism in her view than I do. Not that she's purely rad fem. Academic feminist theory is a bit of ideological purity that does not exist in the real world — again, macro vs. micro. So I don't agree with some of her stuff, because I don't always agree with the basic framework. But, once you accept those limits, macro vs. micro and differing theoretical frameworks, her work is basically sound. It also explains why she doesn't spend a lot of time engaging her more rational critics — any discussion is going to be eventually just come down to a debate on the merits of applying academic discourse to pop culture, and who wants that headache? Truthfully, if it weren't for some her her more "moderate" critics, I probably wouldn't give her much thought, just note her as one voice among many. As I said above, there's a good reason she doesn't address issues of mistakes in the micro when the work is in the macro and differing theoretical framework. And I doubt anyone expects her to engage the extreme misogynistic trolls (And studies have shown that, yes, they really are misogynists, not just pretending for the "LULZ"). But it's others who speak outrageous claims in a rational tone that make me wonder why some people are so threatened by her. I've seen accusations of misuse of fundraised money, engineered "attacks" and such, all without any proof. But every time she comes up, there's always someone who is so threatened that they have to undermine her credibility on a personal level, instead of simply saying "I don't agree and here's why." Which is almost more reflective of the subtle sexism she talks about then any pop culture example.
Simple, but bland
Were it not for the Kickstarter, there would be a lot less discussion about the Sarkeesian's series. As it stands, the videos are simple enough - Anita starts out by explaining a specific trope that has problematic elements from a Feminist perspective, and then gives examples. Especially with the Tropes versus Gaming, the production is clean and simple enough to be used for different age groups. That said, they are not as academic as she would have you think - the research is extremely basic and relies on her already establishing that the examples in question do fit in a particular trope; there are no hard statistics nor critical discussion going on besides "this trope exists; it is harmful to women" without really explaining why presenting these tropes would encourage sexist behavior. What works against her is that these examples often lack context or are even wrong entirely such as her praise of Bayonetta as a "single mother" or Krystal's own game being reprogrammed to star a male. Secondly, it's important to note that there is no universal Feminist perspective to draw from, and that Anita tends to endorse what is called a "sex-negative" version. For other Feminists that support sex-positivity, there is an added layer of criticism about her arguments. It's also important to mention that she does not use her own play footage in her versus Gaming series, which is protected by Fair Use but does indicate some intellectual dishonesty on her part. What really works for Feminist Frequency is that it's the only vlogging of its kind. It's not that Anita is the top Feminist pop culture critic on You Tube; it's that she's currently the -only- well-known one. There are many video responses to her series, but no other kind that consistently gives a differing Feminist perspective on the same subjects. Watch it for a primer of Feminist theory and tropes you can find on this website, but don't take it as Gospel truth. Her series is ultimately the opinion of one person who is also a Feminist, but it is still just that - opinions of one person.
Sometimes odd, but hardly worth the backlash
I'll be honest: I found Anita through the internet explosion and have been wracking my brain as to why some were intent on shutting down a series of videos before the content of them could even be analyzed. Some general opinions I have had over all her videos: - She, as much as I think people avoid stating it, actually does know the field she's talking about to some degree. If I were a professor, I'd be comfortable using the "description of a trope" part of her videos. Additionally, her main field of social thought and communication is pretty obviously her bread and butter. - Her arguments typically have merit at their core. The tropes she often dismisses do have concerns if they are continually lopsided in usage. Where she heads with this after and the claims she makes are debatable (and something I wish people would spend more time debating as oppose to nitpicking her choice of words or examples), but the core generally has something that deserves consideration. - She struggles with parody, usage, and their implications. - Her arguments can come down to something that she doesn't describe: rates and hard statistics. Rate of usage of a trope can be fairly important to how much we perceive the trope as being associated to gender and she almost never does numerical studies, satisfied with a case study approach. Sometimes, it feels like she's proving by example, which can irk viewers who want to disagree, but can't speak to her to get more information on her conclusions. - Her logic is hardly flawless. Often, she starts with a reasonable point and then spins it into a point that not everybody can get on board with. And I think this is where a lot of people turn their backs and run. Overall, honestly she's not unlike bloggers I've heard from: her arguments sometimes don't add up and sometimes require further dialogue to understand and form your own opinion about, but she's (most of the time) familiar enough with the subject matter to at least be able to form an opinion. Sometimes she'll make odd logical jumps (to which the logic oriented part of your mind will go crazy on), but take it or what it is: another opinion on the internet.