Comments disabled? Check.
Dozens of misogynist tropes? Check.
Instant Internet maelstrom? You got it.
Donning her now-familiar hoop earrings and pink-and-blue plaid shirt, accidental Internet feminist cause célèbre Anita Sarkeesian sallied valiantly forth into YouTube again yesterday for the third and final of her “Damsels in Distress” videos. We can only hope she also donned waders for the storm of hostility she unleashed.
This trio of Damsels videos marks the beginning of her legendarily controversial Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, the well-funded Kickstarter project that was met with scorn as soon as it began, from all over the gamer manosphere.
This edition looks at “one of the most pervasive representations of women in gaming,” the portrayal of women as helpless weaklings who must be rescued by men.
In her previous two Damsels videos, Sarkeesian pointed out the long and jam-packed history of women being used to fulfill this role in gaming. She went on to point out the ways in which many “strong female characters” of more recent games still fell into the ultimate trope of the damsel, as well as the way that the tried-and-true “fridged women” (yes, literally fridged) trope often combines with the damsel to produce a double whammy of manpain for gaming’s usually male protagonist.
In video No. 3, she looks at subversions of the damsel trope, and the ways in which many of them only pay lip service to the idea of women as equals in the testosterone-dominated landscape of video game narratives. For example, Princess Peach (nee Toadstool) in the Mario Bros. franchise finally gets to be the hero in a 2006 outing—but she’s still lazily stereotyped and gendered.
“That’s right,” Sarkeesian notes. “Peach’s powers are her out-of-control, frantic female emotions… essentially, Nintendo has turned a PMS joke into a game-play mechanic.”
Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is itself part of an ongoing Tropes vs. Women vlog series that Sarkeesian has been doing for more than two years on YouTube. Why are people only just now getting upset? Mainly because in this round, Sarkeesian decided to take on one of the most notoriously misogynist media industries of all: gaming and gaming culture.
While the backlash to previous episodes has been severe, this time the army of Sarkeesian haters on the Internet seemed to shrug. Having exhausted their resources on the first two videos—first they fuelled a rage spiral over her choice to disable comments, then had the second video briefly taken down after flagging it repeatedly for abuse—the haters seemed to confine themselves to grumbling a lot. But don’t think that means men’s rights activists and irate gamers aren’t still sending her tons of hate.
Since discussion at YouTube was turned off, many confined themselves to grumbling on Twitter, or discussing the actual merits of her videos at places like Kotaku. One of the most common criticisms of Sarkeesian’s work on the videos is that her critiques are too broad or biased. In this video, many fans honed in on her comments on games that attempt to ironically comment on actual gaming misogyny. Sarkeesian pointed out that this kind of attempt to utilize tropes like the damsel by mocking them is, for games like Spelunky, actually part of the culture of misogyny itself.
Meanwhile, Sarkeesian was inadvertently starring in another Internet controversy—the contentious fight of British feminists to add a “report abuse” function to Twitter. As one of the most notable recipients of constant Internet backlash, Sarkeesian has been the hot topic for many who oppose the idea of allowing people to “report” the voices of anyone they don’t like.
And Sarkeesian herself noted that she’d been unable to get Twitter to respond to what abuse reports she had filed:
Photo via YouTube