“Feminist Whore”. Two words that shouldn’t have seen the light, and yet they did.Look, it’s not that I have anything against feminism, neither do I find the term “whore” very endearing. In fact I’m about to ramble quite a bit about something that I’m not even sure I agree with, but the amount of attention given to those two words popping up in Dead Island is bordering on ridiculous. It’s impossible to know why they were left in the game, and while they probably weren’t supposed to be seen by the public, they indeed were, and now Techland is left to clean up a mess, they never asked for.
The thing is, though, the real issue isn’t exactly those two now infamous words, right? Women in games have been portrayed as sex objects as far as we can remember without anyone profoundly objecting to it. Sure, there may have been objections scattered here and there, but they’ve never been taking as seriously as now resulting in feminist whore becoming the last straw in a debate that has suddenly flared up this year. Remember FemShep? Apparently that was just the tip of the iceberg.
While I as a woman have respect for those standing up against misogyny and sexism, it also makes me sad that we tend to call to arms whenever it seems there’s a chance. It’s clear that feminist whore is nothing but a symptom of an underlying issue that we need to deal with, but in a proper way. And by proper, I’m obviously not referring to the way we’re beating around the bush right now.
It’s no good to just declare that sexism exists in video games, because we’ve all been a part of making it so. Deny it all you want, but female protagonists haven’t doubled in numbers the last decade, and while especially female gamers want equality in games, it’s a fact that the problem has been around for far too long without anyone to care until now. We’ve been supporting it with our money, with our (sometimes) glowing reviews and with our innocent love for video games.
But now we’ve had enough, and I respect that. What I have a problem with is how the recent criticism only seems to make matters far worse by pointing fingers and not letting the debate be given free reins. It seems that we’re confined to discuss the subject within certain limits. Limits that will in no way let sexism go away for good. Bear with me, if it appears as if I’m playing the devil’s advocate, but I guess I feel forced to do so. I’ve reached a point, where talking is no longer going to be enough, since it hasn’t really gotten us anywhere. Sure, we talk about it and agree that we’re not going to tolerate it anymore, but somehow we’ve only ended in deadlock.
It seems that we’re stuck with a certain way to look upon this problem. There’s a certain discourse running through the debate, which especially those arguing against sexism seem to overlook. This is embarrassingly obvious when men get involved. Instantly they’re looked upon as misogynists despite the fact that some of them are actually standing up against sexism and demand more equally portrayed females in games. While arguments coming from women are often and almost immediately seen as valid, even though they might be completely farfetched and without reason, men fight an unfair battle to be heard. It’s almost as though most women see this entire issue as something completely beyond men’s grasp. They’re not allowed into the discussion, and if they dare to get involved, then they should prepare to be attacked from all sides, even if they have a point that are in favour of the female audience and their demand of equality.
Another thing is how we choose to deal with words in general. The rhetorical background, in this case how the wording “feminist whore” has actually been perceived and understood. Had it been used under other circumstances, for instance in a grindhouse movie, then the term would most likely have described a badass woman who nobody would mess around with. It wouldn’t have caused quite the stir. Of course there are other factors to be aware of, like the fact that grindhouse is a genre known of its less delicate way of describing and portraying women (and men), but again it all comes back to the way we’re used to get things served in front of us. For years we’ve grown accustomed to watching extremely muscular men as protagonists in video games, because that’s what the audience wanted (or maybe had the easiest way of relating to because of the settings). Now the audience has changed, which brings around new demands to the experience of games, and how they portray the society in which they’re conceived. It’s a multicultural and multi-sexual world we live in – people want to recognise that on the screen.
What I’m really trying to say is that feminist whore or similar combinations of letters are only words, but it’s up to us to give them meaning. If the majority regards them as provocative, misogynist and sexist, then it’s probably because they are, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question our approach to this morally confused jumble of values.