The latest bit of boy-man rubbish is that some extra, once caught, will be fined $5 million (affect a Dr Evil tone for that bit) for leaking the top-secret hush-hush news that the new Batman movie will have a FEMALE Robin.
I just think it's embarrassing that in this day and age, it's considered a major transgressive, progressive move to make a familiar and relatively unimportant character female. It suggests that the studio chiefs, directors, producers and scriptwriters still think of women as The Other, and assume that their audience does the same. Of course it's possible that the female Robin has been cast so that homophobes behind the camera and in the stalls can't giggle about the homosocial bond between these two men. Far better that Batman has a female junior: 'normal' gender roles return!
She-Robin will become a symbol rather than a character: every time we point out that female superheroes are always sexualised in ways the men aren't, their defenders will whine that they 'let' us have a female Robin (and hope that we don't notice the inevitable marginalisation and gendered nature of said representation). Commissioning 'erotic artist' Milo Minara for Spider-woman is just the latest example of a tawdry, sleazy tradition:
The obvious rejoinder to this is to say that it's better than nothing. As a Doctor Who fan, I was disappointed by the latest selection of yet another white male Doctor, however excellent I think Capaldi is. It's about time such roles were taken by women without any fuss being made about it whatsoever. I'd like the next director to say 'we auditioned x number of people and she was the best fit', rather than – as the Batman people evidently have in mind – using the moment as a big shock.
A friend tells me that Robin's been female in the comics for some time – I wonder whether the same arguments popped up when that happened. Films are different, of course: the history of comic book adaptations is of massively widened audiences consuming watered-down versions of characters held dear by 'real' fans: The Kick-Ass films, for instance, skipped the gang-rape of KA's girlfriend, thankfully.
We seem to be at a particularly low point in gender representation. The whole Gamergate thing reminded me of a particularly good undergraduate dissertation one of my former students wrote. A keen gamer, she simply recorded and analysed the comments, conversations and behaviours of fellow players when she played as a supposed male and as a female. So the vile poison of Gamergate was no surprise: I've read all the rape threats and torture propositions before – my student was a tough cookie but I still worried about the cumulative effect of this stuff. Gamergate, in case you have a life, started off as a nasty personal spat between games developer Zoe Quinn and her ex-partner, who posted some petty and apparently untrue accusations on his blog relating to her professionalism and morality. Before long, certain corners of the internet spawned regiments of male gamers pouring out misogynistic bile and claiming that the real problem is journalists' failure to 'understand' the ethos of online gaming, which they feel should be a space removed from 'real life' politics and social movements. To them, games are goal-oriented quests with pretty basic requirements: killing, and scantily-clad women to provide sexual services or be killed. And perhaps some magic rings thrown in. This, they feel is 'normal'. Anything else is 'political' or (perhaps even worse) 'art'. Ugh. To recap: games which privilege white males slaughtering Vietnamese/Native Americans/Orcs/aliens etc., and reducing women to sidekicks, prostitutes or slaves isn't political, while mentioning this is political, and engaged in by SJWs, or 'social justice warriors'. No wonder Charlie Brooker is driven to despair:
Never, ever choose “woman” on your first playthrough of The Internet, because you’ll face an immediate difficulty spike. Suddenly it’s a stealth game with nowhere to hide, one with hundreds of respawning enemies waiting to attack you the moment you make a noise or stand out in any way whatsoever.
I SAID DIE U FUCKN WHORE says the game, accompanied by an animated gif of your head on a porn star’s body.
You decide to see what you’re carrying, by typing INVENTORY.
YOU HAVE: A LAMP, A ROPE, A FAT ASS AND SAGGY TITS, chuckles the game.
You try something else. You type GO NORTH.
The game thinks for a while, then distributes your home address and phone number and threatens to murder you and your entire family.
They particularly hate independent games authors who don't provide said slaughter'n'slags action. Some of them are even WOMEN. Which just proves to them that women aren't gamers and have no sense of humour. Apparently.
Take this well-spoken chap who has recorded a 20 minute walk-through of Dragon Age in which he matter-of-factly goes looking through the brothel, in which he meets a woman who describes her time as a prostitute as 'fun times' (around 3.45).
This is also the game Anita Sarkeesian points out contains the injunction to
Having made that point, Sarkeesian has had to cancel several lectures because she's received death threats, and left her home. Quinn wrote a game about suffering from depression: this is apparently 'too dark' for gaming (despite the multiple games in which you can play an SS officer for instance), and like Sarkeesian these critics have made their points through the medium – again – of death threats. As she explains,
"the Internet spent the last month spreading my personal information around, sending me threats, hacking anyone suspected of being friends with me, calling my dad and telling him I'm a whore, sending nude photos of me to colleagues, and basically giving me the 'burn the witch' treatment"Amusingly, said threats come from people who say that online content and other media activity have 'no effect on real life'. I don't like this false distinction, and it seems that someone who'll simultaneously say 'it's just a game' while sending assassination threats doesn't really believe it either.
Does it matter, given that these keyboard warriors are a small band of men? It does, because they're vocal, they drown out debate far beyond their numbers. They've hijacked the terms of the discussion and they've moved from issues to identity. To them, it's not enough to disagree with other people's opinions - they issue personal threats or stay silent when others do the same. They've achieved the silencing of women and their male allies, and even ended careers. Depressingly, there's the inevitable hashtag for these anti-political warriors: #NotYourShield, which claims that accusation of misogyny are used as a weapon to evade the 'real' core of the argument: journalistic ethics when writing about games. The bigots even funded a supposedly feminist group to design a fantasy character called Vivian James – the result is an embarrassing tamed girl-woman whom the loons are now depicting as an innocent victim of these ball-breaking commie man-haters:
It reminds me of break time at school, when the girls mooched around the edges of the playground while the boys took up the space to play football, and this was accepted as natural.
BY this point, you're probably as bored and depressed as I am. The difference is, I'm going to have to teach this stuff, in media ethics classes, to male and female gamers. I'll say one thing for cultural studies: there's never any shortage of new material for discussion. I think I'll stop now – I'm pretty certain the #NotYourShield people will have enough death threats lying around to spare one for little ol' me.
PS. I'm such a politically-correct pinko liberal that I stopped playing games when I realised Civilisation II was rigged so that you couldn't win by running a peaceful, socialist economy.