Last week, the Technique ran an op-ed titled “Several perspectives needed on sexism in video games,” focusing on Anita Sarkeesian’s work combating sexism in video games, and the reaction to that work. Let me be clear, as last week’s op-ed was not: Sarkeesian received death threats for her work.
I would to address two major issues from Kitamura’s op-ed: First, why the video game industry is indeed sexist (he says there is no “clear evidence of deliberate sexism”), and second, why his take on Sarkeesian’s work is misguided at best and dangerous at worst.
Sexism in video games takes on two forms: objectification of women and violence against women. I will focus on the first. Kitamura mentioned Sarkeesian’s objection to women forever being objects of rescue; that is one facet. If women make up nearly half of the gaming population, why is it so difficult for us to find storylines that do not assume we are helpless? Furthermore, women in video games are almost always drawn and dressed to highlight their sexuality, whereas men are dressed practically in armor or other mission-related gear. While I would like to believe that all readers would immediately understand why this is sexist, I will explain in case it is not already clear.
First of all, it is a clear inequality between male and female characters. Second, it highlights female characters’ sexuality, not their skills. Third, it is entirely for the benefit of male gamers. As I already mentioned, women are not a minority but make up almost half of the gaming population, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Scantily dressed female characters are therefore clearly not designed for the vast majority of gamers.
A woman’s work to combat sexism should never be met with violence.
According to Kitamura, Sarkeesian is “known for the wrong reasons” and that all she has achieved is a “devious clash” in the gaming community. Most perniciously, Kitamura equates the “hurt” gamers feel at having their games called sexist with the “hurt” women feel when they are the targets of sexism.
Kitamura goes back and forth about how much he agrees with Sarkeesian, but he does acknowledge the most important aspect of the debate: Her work is widely accepted as academically sound.
Clearly, her work is not designed to be offensive or inflammatory, but academic. Further, Kitamura argues that she fails to take other issues into account—things such as finance constraints. I really cannot think of how giving a female character more clothes or more realistic proportions would cost money.
As to Kitamura’s argument that Sarkeesian failed to take other perspectives into account, I would like to know whose he has in mind. If Kitamura is referring to male gamers—as he does later—he ought to realize that not all perspectives are as valuable as others. A woman’s perspective on sexism is more valuable than a man’s, because in the vast majority of cases, sexism is directed at women. Sexism marginalizes and dehumanizes women, and that carries far more weight than a man’s desire to see more skin while he plays video games.
Women are not a minority but make up almost half of the gaming population…
Finally, Kitamura says “it’s possible that they [the gamers] felt just as hurt from the way Sarkeesian criticized their favorite games as Sarkeesian did from the sexism in those video games. So we shouldn’t be shocked….”
This is dangerous reasoning. If Sarkeesian did indeed feel personally hurt by sexism, that hurt would be far more justified and important than any hurt a gamer might feel at his favorite game being insulted. Furthermore, it is extremely disappointing that “we shouldn’t be shocked” at the reaction (death threats) to Sarkeesian’s work.
We should be very shocked, and we should be outraged. A woman’s work to combat sexism should never be met with violence.