#NUVOPop OpEd: Sarkeesian and Female Tropes


Anita Sarkeesian.

Saying that name on the internet these days is pretty much an invitation to turn any comment section, forum or twitter into a shit storm beyond reckoning,

Since her Tropes vs Women in Video Games project launched a few years ago, Sarkeesian has found herself as game cultures most controversial figures, with every single video, article, or tweet she puts out being analyzed and investigated to the point of absurdity.

A LOT of people outright despise Sarkeesian. So much so that YouTubers have built entire careers around bashing her, and preaching about how feminism is ruining both video games and the world.

Speaking personally? I’ve never really been all that upset by her work. I disagree with her work a good portion of the time, most of the time in fact, but I agree with her overall points that video games have historically not done very well with female characters overall, or tried to appeal to a female audience outside of Kingdom Hearts Yaoi bait.

That being said, I disagree with a lot of the examples she uses in her videos, as well as some of her stances of masculinity, femininity, and the role of violence in society and storytelling.

In essence, she discusses an important issue but does it badly.

Quick example, she discusses a trope wherein female characters are possessed, turned against the hero, and have to be put down either in self defense or out of mercy; except that isn’t a female trope. That’s a “loved one of the protagonist” trope, that happens to characters of both genders all the time.

It’s an issue of euthanasia, not an issue of gender.

I don’t entirely agree with her, but I don’t fully disagree either.

See, the thing about Anita is that she has a very particular set of viewpoints. If you’ve watched her Tropes Vs Women videos, or her other previous material, you can draw a pretty decent picture of her worldview and opinion are certain tropes, themes or other narrative devices.

She’s vehemently against any kind of sexualization, deeming it offensive and off putting to women. This includes scantily clad heroines like Bayonetta, as well as impractical clothing/attire like midriffs or high heeled shoes in combat.

She views combat and violent problem resolution as inherently masculine traits, and cooperation and pacifism as inherently feminine. This is why in her view, Zoe from Firefly should’ve just been a male, because her character type is a traditionally male one and her femininity is basically inconsequential.

Her exceptions to this are female characters who she dubs “the reluctant warrior” type, meaning they only fight either when there life is threatened or there’s literally no other option. They don't fight because they enjoy violence.

This is a big part of why she likes Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. Jade does fight, but combat isn’t the central aspect of the game, and Jade herself is never the aggressor. She just fights back when aliens or fascist soldiers working for said aliens attack her and her band of Dickensian-furry orphans. Though she does still think her midriff is silly and impractical.

She also has a disdain for monarchies, as seen in her game pitch wherein the protagonist ends the story by abolishing one. This is probably because of their historical role in perpetuating patriarchal and male dominated society.

There’s certainly more examples, but these are the ones that I see pop up the most in her work. In fact, two of these came up in her tweets about E3 this year, wherein she bemoaned the prevalence of violence focused mechanics in Fallout 4 and the new Doom reboot, and the fact that Ciri, the playable heroine of the Witcher 3, is designed wearing heeled shoes and a shirt opened just enough that you can see her bra, though no skin.

Sarkeesian’s detractors have been quick to dogpile these statements, there’s at least a dozen videos about how she “attacked” the games, but I think these responses have been a little over the top, and tend to overlook any valid talking points she may bring up.

Before anyone in the comments starts an angry rant in the comments, yes, I acknowledge that a sizeable chunk of her commentary lacks any sort of nuanced understanding of the specific games she uses as examples. But that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t brought up points I think are worth discussing.

That, and much of the valid criticism to be made of her gets buried under an avalanche of angry rants and threats.

Here’s an example. This E3, Bethesda announced Dishonored 2, which will give the player the option of playing through the campaign as one of two protagonists. Corvo, the first game’s protagonist, or Emily, the ten year old princess Corvo once protected who has grown into a fully capable, magic enhanced assassin.

In response, Sarkeesian tweeted her disappointment that Bethesda’s decision to include Corvo instead of making Emily the sole protagonist. This has garnered cries of “hypocrisy!” from detractors, but, while I disagree with her in this case, I can actually kind see her point after reading her arguments laid in subsequent tweets.

She argues that a distinction must be maid between games with gender optional protagonists, and games with a definitive female lead, because the majority of games force a female audience to identify with a male character, and the same is not asked of a male audience.

And…yeah, that’s kinda true, and not just in games. The vast majority of fiction, especially in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, comics, games, etc. all feature male main characters.

Part of the reason for that, at least in today’s era of media controlled by corporate conglomerates, is marketing teams assuming a male audience will dismiss anything starring a woman as a “chick thing” and refuse to see it.

This isn’t entirely true, of course, but marketing departments have an enormous amount of influence, and in their eyes straight guys are the only profitable demographic.

It’s the reason why Black Widow doesn’t have her own movie, and the only female led movie marvel has coming is going to be the 15th or 16th in a series.

So, while I’m glad for Corvo’s including in Dishonored 2, I can sort of get where Sarkeesian is coming from in that regard.

To me, Anita Sarkeesian is, at worst, a poor cultural commentator who occasionally makes some valid points. She’s not, however, the she-devil, coming to take away our games in a wave of cultural Marxism, no matter what certain corners of YouTube might tell you.

She is not Jack Thompson. Not even close, and people really need to start realizing that.