Pirates of the Caribbean II and the Tradition of Racial Oppression

I was very excited to see Pirates of the Caribbean II: The Dead Man’s Chest Friday night; I loved the first film and used to work at the Magic Kingdom theme park where I frequented the Florida’s abbreviated version of the ride. Beyond watching the trailers, I’d remained spoiler free and didn’t know what to expect from Pirates. While queueing at a small town American theater, I studied the poster for the film and saw three brown-skilled men with jeering and perplexed looks on their faces in the lower left-hand corner. Uh-oh, I thought. What am I getting into?

Here ye be warned, this post contains some mild spoilers for Pirates of the Caribbean II.

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Spyforce Needs to Go

I’ll freely admit it: I’m a bad activist. I don’t write letters as much as I should, and I don’t promote things when I first hear about them. I do personal boycotts, but (as I’ve stated before) I don’t think that’s enough. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve known about StarForce for quite some time. I did the obligatory check on my computer, vowed never to let that shit onto my hard drive, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

That is, until I narrowly escaped having that piece of nasty spyware ruin my ability to experience the sequel to The Longest Journey. You see, Guilded Lilies reminded me to check the Starforce list again and, lo and behold, Dreamfall appeared on the list of infected games.

Please take a moment to imagine my reaction. I’ve been waiting for this game since 1999 and now some piece of crap company who supports a program that has been known to do irreparable harm to computers was going to ruin that! It got to the point where I was thinking, “You know, I bet there’s a cracked version out there that doesn’t include that POS virus spyware.” Crazy, I know. But you don’t understand how much I love this series.

So, anyway, I then went into denial mode. “Just because GameFaqs lists this as the only hit for ‘dreamfall’ there must be another game. The beloved creators of The Longest Journey simply would not do that to me.” The bad news is that yes, yes they did. The good news is that only the people who buy the UK or Limited edition are screwed. Aspyr, the US distributor, uses a different kind of copy-protection.

So, instead of the angry letter I intended to fire off, I wrote an encouraging one:

As an avid gamer and long-time fan of The Longest Journey, I was excited (to say the least) when I saw that the sequel had finally come out. Imagine my shock when the game appeared on the list of games that came with Starforce!

After a little bit of digging, I was relieved to find that your version of the game did *not* include the program. So, I was just writing in with my support for the decision. I don’t know if you did it because of the boycott or another reason, but I am glad that I don’t have to miss out on the sequel to one of my all-time favourite games.

Information about the Starforce boycott can be found here.

As long as Aspyr games continue to stay clean of that nasty piece of spyware, you can be sure that I will keep my eye out for your new releases.

If any of y’all are fans of The Longest Journey I encourage you to fire off a little note to the company giving them your support both for the product and for their decision not to use Starforce.

PS: I blame my love for Dreamfall for my inability to read. GL says right in her post that Aspyr Media made the decision to pull Starforce from their games.

World of Warcraft: Sexist by Design?

I’ve made the case more than once that Blizzard has made a choice (conscious, I’d say, by the rate that they ignore the opposition voices) to create a sexist environment that’s hostile to women in Word of Warcraft. In doing this, they have lost a portion of women (and continue to lose, as players pass their tolerance levels and decide that quitting is the only answer) for an imaginary gain of men and boys who wouldn’t play their games if not for the ability to masturbate to Night Elves who pole-dance in skimpy outfits. I am not the first woman who has left WoW in disgust, being fed up with having to deal with misogynistic asshats who objectify and degrade women vocally, and I will not be the last.

My mother and her partner still play, although they might be moving on to another game soon (for unrelated reasons). Knowing my stance on Blizzard and their choice, they pointed me to a 30 page thread on the matter entitled Female Armor Art Design (it seems to be part of a larger debate, but I’d rather not seek it out at this point given the size of this one). Ever since I saw a thread where a player wishing to find a GLBT friendly guild on his server was lambasted by 75% of the commenters, I’ve viewed the WoW forums as kin to Barrens chat: a dumping ground for bile, idiocy, and word vomit. A quick skimming of this thread yields much the same, but it’s always a good time to pull together threads that I’ve ranted on in the past.

I. The Debate

I would like to add my voice to those who feel that the art used for female character design contributes to sexist attitudes in Warcraft.

Clearly the general forums are a terrible place to have a discussion about this, but after an extensive search of Blizzard’s customer feedback options, this is all I’m left with.

I think it’s fair to say that the female armor art is generally designed to be ‘sexy’, while the male armor art is not. I assume this means that Blizzard is more interested in the demographic that likes their fantasy in a ‘Heavy Metal’ style, than the demographic that is offended by that representation of women.

I also don’t see any sign that Blizzard acknowledges that these design decisions alienate some of their potential player base. They are either oblivious, or don’t care. In either case, I can’t really continue to support them with my money.

Again, the general forums aren’t where I’d like to be saying this – I’m sure nobody here really cares what I do with my account – but I haven’t been able to find any other avenue to express this to Blizzard.

Thank you.

[From Female Armor Art Design by Eggbread]

I’m not going to bother to address the issues that came up in the responses, as it would require me sitting down and actually engaging with the infuriating ignorance and misogyny present on the boards. If any of y’all are brave enough to go wading through that sludge, please feel free to quote and critique the comments if you like. I’d certainly be interested in what you have to say.

II. Sexism Isn’t Fun

Eggbread could have been me a few months ago, although I decided that my blog was a better place than the forums to voice my dissent. Not that Blizzard reads my blog, mind, but I’m pretty sure if they read the forums they wouldn’t care anyway.

In my post, Goodbye WoW, hello disappointment, I described how after a while putting up with the sexist comments ruined the game for me. It wasn’t fun to log in and deal with harassment, both of myself and of the women (or female avatars) around me. I game to get away from stress, including the oppression of a misogynistic culture, and when my already too high blood pressure rises every time I log in, what’s the reason to stay? Why put myself through torture in an attempt to wring out that last bit of fun from a game? If I’m going to be angry, I’d rather do something constructive about it like blog. If I’m gaming, I want to be having fun.

And what’s fun about feeling alienated by the company that you pay 15 bucks a month to? Eggbread makes the excellent point of bringing up the Heavy Metal brand of fantasy, which seems to be touted as The One True Fantasy by many video game companies. The attitude that Blizzard seems to take — that of an imaginary force of horny teenage boys being so important that they feel the need to exclude women, and women-friendly men — is a disease that has infected the industry itself.

III. Objectifying Real People

In my introductory post for my Girls & Game Ads series, I took this attitude to task, arguing that men (being the ones who’ve been marketed towards since the dawn of video games) don’t need sex, as a gameplay is what will make or break a game for most of them. Furthermore, by utilizing a Heavy Metal model for how they present women in the games, companies lose potential female customers, thus robbing themselves of a chance to make even more money than they already are.

I furthered the argument in the second instalment of the series, Pitching Harassment, by asserting that Blizzard’s attitude toward this issue didn’t just drive women away, it condoned and encouraged harassment of those who remained. The game may be a ‘fantasy’ game, with ‘fantasy’ women, but behind the fantasy sit real people. The fantasizers begin to associate the hypersexualized avatars with reality, and furthermore find it appropriate to force their fantasy onto any woman who chooses to play a female avatar.

Playing its part, Blizzard has given women two choices: play as a man, or play as a sex object. What’s a woman to do? Quit, fight, or give in. The second often leads to the first; after fighting until we’re exhausted with the futility, we throw up our hands and say, “Okay, I’m done!” The third, unfortunately, often leads to women playing a complicit role in their oppression. The whole, “I’m a woman and I’m not offended, so why don’t you stfu?” or “My girlfriend isn’t offended, so why don’t you stfu?” excuses.

IV. Conclusion

Given this, it’s unsurprising that many companies remain deaf to the outcry of their female player base. Way back when I first posted about quitting WoW, Astarte took issue with my methods. Her argument was that I wasn’t doing anyone any favours by leaving. In some ways, she’s right. My 15 bucks a month isn’t even a drop in the bucket of WoW’s sales. The 15 bucks a month of a thousand, or even a hundred thousand, women like me is hardly noticeable against the millions of customers that keep the game alive. But, her solution — to stand up and fight — doesn’t seem to be working, either.

Blizzard has done one thing, though; it has created a game that stays in the minds of many players, even months after they quit. It has become an obvious example of the sexism that riddles the gaming industry from their consumer base all the way up to the designers in leading companies. In all likelihood, nothing will ever be done to change WoW for the better. Those who speak up will continue to be ignored by Blizzard and harassed by the WoW goons, but maybe, just maybe, some of the budding designers out there will take note and decline to repeat the same mistakes with their own games. Or maybe speaking up is a useless task, doing nothing to stop, or even mitigate, the rampant misogyny. I’d like to think it’s the former, personally, but, then, I was always a hopeless idealist.

The War Against Non-Christians

By now, I’m sure y’all have heard about the so-called War on Christmas. Because, you know, Christians in America are an oppressed group. Unlike Jews, Muslims, pagans of various stripes, or atheists. It’s not like their God is in the pledge that children have to speak every day… oh, wait, it is. Well, it’s not like the majority of their religious holidays are national holidays… oh, wait, they are. Uh. Er. They’re oppressed, really! I mean, prayer in school has been outlawed, evolution is taught in science class, the god-given commandments are not allowed to be in public buildings, and now… now they have to put up with “PC” phrases such as “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” being said alongside “Merry Christmas”. If this continues, people of other faiths (or lack of faith) might start thinking that their beliefs are equal to those of the God Warriors!

I, myself, became a casualty of this vicious war when I was dealing with a credit card issue just a few days ago.

I was on the phone with the representative and after we had resolved everything she said, “Ha… Merry Christmas.”

I replied, “And a Happy Holidays to you.” Truth be told, what I really had wanted to say was, “Where the hell do you get off assuming that I celebrate Christmas?” But, really, it might not have been the rep’s fault. From the way she started saying something else, it sounds like it’s company policy. And that, my friends, is just not cool.

In other related news, my mom was at Safeway today getting a bunch of stuff for dinner (we’re celebrating my sister’s b-day ’cause she’s in town and so mom is making the main course, I’m making soup, and my sister’s fiance is making her cake) and she wanted to pick up a nice holiday card for her friend. Safeway stocks Hallmark cards, by the way. Row after row had “Merry Christmas” but nary a “Happy Holidays”, “Season’s Greetings”, or even “Happy Hannukah” was to be seen. She searched and searched and searched and, just as she was about to give up, the person working that area (described as “a nice old lady”) asked her if she needed any help.

“Why, yes,” she said as nicely as possible. “I’m looking for a holiday card, but all I see are ones that say ‘Merry Christmas’.”

“Oh,” the employee said, “Let me help you find one.”

So, she searched and searched while my mom (in a still nice, but loud enough voice to attract attention) talked about how she was so surprised, since she’s never had trouble finding a proper holiday card before. After a little bit, the employee asked mom why a Christmas card wouldn’t just suffice.

“So you’re saying that I should give my Jewish friends a Christmas card?!” was Mom’s response.

Abashed at her suggestion when it was stated like that, the employee replied, “Oh, no. Of course not. We’ll find something suitable.”

At the point where she was venturing into the generic “Thank You” cards, my mom had to gently tell her that, no, she didn’t want a card that said “thanks”; she wanted a holiday card. When none were to be found, she told the employee that it was all right and she’d just see if she had any left over from last year. At that point, a few other customers had been looking over the shelves (as most of us will do when someone is having trouble with something) and coming up empty, as well. Thanking the employee for her help, mom checked out with her purchases and came home sans-holiday card. With any luck, the employee will tell her boss that they lost a customer because of the lack of appropriate holiday cards.

I’d just like to give a big “thumbs down” to Safeway/Hallmark for excluding me, my family, and our non-Christian friends with your Christian-only holiday cards. I’m sick of being excluded by the wingnut branch of Christians who think that inclusive language or policies are an “attack” on Christianity. No, idiots, the attack is on the groups you’re trying to exclude.

Build, Order, Whine [My Voodoo, Part 1]

So, I ordered myself a Voodoo laptop today. After a frustrating website experience, I decided to write up a series on how my Voodoo weathers the next few years. Seeing as I just ordered it, and therefore cannot write about the machine itself, I decided to make this an introduction/rant about the website.

As soon as I get it (which, given that I’m going to be in Miami for the next two months, better be a month after it arrives), I’m going to write a First Impressions post on it, and then I’ll update things whenever a new problem crops up. Because you know problems are gonna come up.

I. Why Voodoo?

Ringing in at a whopping 4186.96 USD, my Voodoo Envy 732 qualifies as the most expensive computer I’ve ever bought. It’s a few hundred dollars shy of being more expensive than my current desktop (hand built, mid-line for its time) and laptop (light weight, best bang for buck) combined. I knew there was a reason why I never told Dad what I wanted for a birthday present last July. Happy birthday to me. If I didn’t have to rely on it for my computing and gaming needs for the next 3-5 years, there’s no way I would have spent that much, so the darn thing better be worth it.

Let me give some of a back story: I had known I needed a new laptop to be my desktop replacement when I go to Japan in April for over a year, but I had decided to put it off until the last possible moment so as to get the best hardware I could. I was still annoyed about what happened with my Toshiba laptop – three months after I bought mine my sister got the same model with significantly better hardware. Although her software is even more screwy than mine, which has caused a bunch of problems for her.

I chose Voodoo not because I think that they’re the bestest laptop makers ever, but because my research didn’t turn up any major problems (except that they’re spotty with customer service, which I tend not to make use of anyway) and because I know from experience that whatever laptop I get will have problems that no one on the internet seemed to talk about. Like Toshiba with their massive overheating problems (mine is small, so it’s not terrible, but the larger model that my cousin and friend have get really hot really fast) and their odd software problems (both my and my sister have issues with our internet connections that have no discernible reason that I can find).

I also chose the company, I admit, because I liked the idea of having a decent degree of customization that they offered. My laptop style probably won’t be the only one like it in the world, but my guess is that it’ll be the only one like it at my school. And that’s cool. What’s not cool, however, is gendered designs.

Yes, you heard me, there are “boy” styles (read: tribal) and “girl” styles (read: animals). To their credit, the cost is the same for both. Some people may think it’s cool to do things this way, but I find it 1) annoying and 2) limiting. Annoying because what if a guy wanted the Phoenix design? I know some guys who would avoid it simply because it was labelled as a “girl” design, even if they liked it. Even if the phoenix had a special meaning to them. Limiting because breaking it into descriptive sections would make it easier to branch out into several other kinds of designs. I’d like to see celtic, or logos, etc. I ended up going with the Wheel of Time because I didn’t like any of the other tribals and I liked it better than the Phoenix animal.

They don’t gender their colours, which I like. I ended up with pink because it was the only colour I really liked. The red wasn’t awful, but it just didn’t look right for some reason. The green was a nasty shade. They call it “monza OLIVE” but it’s more of a forest olive. And an unattractive one at that. My ideal colour would have been a lime green, like my car. Oh well.

II. Have You People Even Heard of W3C?

Now, I had enlisted my mother’s partner as my sounding board for the purchase because something as significant as my only computer for the next 3-5 years of my life is not a purchase to make alone. He knows pretty much what I do about the hardware (which was not much about the specific devices, but a decent amount of the companies involved) and, aside from a fateful Gateway purchase back in the 90s, he has been pretty sensible about what computer he buys. My mom relies on him to do the initial footwork because she’s too lazy – I mean “busy” – to look stuff up on her own.

I went to the website and logged into my account. It was loading a lot slower on this connection than it had for me when I had been on my laptop in Vancouver, which was an annoyance but not necessarily the fault of Voodoo. I went to the laptop page and the first thing he said was that he wanted to see a comparison of the Middleweights (the style of laptop I wanted). Yeah, me too, buddy, me too.

There is no option to do a one-click comparison of all laptops in a given section. We tried clicking on a link called ‘See The Difference’ and the header picture, which was apparently Flash, went blank. Loading it in IE produced a Flash menu about their company, almost exactly the same as the navigation at the top of the page. Thanks, Voodoo. Thanks. I just love it when companies 1) don’t program for multiple browsers, and 2) abuse Flash, javascript, or any other potentially bandwith intensive goodies. Goodies should be used sparingly and with purpose, not for things that can be done better with straight up HTML.

So, then we were like, “Ok, there’s a little button named ‘Technical’ that might have it.” I clicked it. A blank javascript window appeared on the page, obscuring the description of the computer model, and Firefox went into its “Loading” animation and……………………………….did nothing for like a minute. At this point my mom’s partner was like, “Are you sure you want to buy from these people?” He was annoyed, rightly, that their website was a slow loading, Flash & JS intensive, obtuse POS. Me, too, but I just wanted my damn computer at this point and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of researching other sites and dealing with their BS, etc.

Eventually I got fed up, clicked the back button, then the forward button, then tried the Technical button again and it worked. Thankfully. So, yes, indeed there was a comparison chart that we then clicked.

A javascript window popped up. I’d just like to take the time to say just how much I hate pop up windows. I specifically have Firefox open them in new tabs because I hate them so much. Except that javascript doesn’t work that way. So much hatred. But, my annoyance aside, the window let us compare the Middleweights against the Heavyweights and I confirmed in my mind that yes, the Middleweights are for me. Most of the Heavyweights didn’t have as good of a video card as my 732, which is one of the biggest bottlenecks for gaming. My poor little Toshiba has like 32 megs at most. Maybe less. My 732 has a NVIDIA GeForce Go 7800 GTX GTX 256MB. Mm, tasty.

Fast forward through talking about pros and cons of weight, performance, battery, etc. I finally went to the build page and did a couple of upgrades: I got 2 GIGs of RAM instead of 1, a Seagate 100 gig 5400 instead of a Hitachi 60 gig 7200, an Intel M 750 instead of 740, and got MS Office Small Business Ed. I read through their TOS as specified, and got slightly annoyed that they referenced an Online Privacy Policy that was not defined anywhere, but not annoyed enough to wait until they open tomorrow to call and complain. Oh, just looked at a sheet I printed out. Apparently there was a link at the bottom of the previous page to it. Not that a Google search turned it up. Argh. Anyway, after another eternity of waiting for things to load, I finished placing my order.

III. My Journey Has Just Begun

“Your customized Voodoopc Machine has a 30 day ETA,” they say. We’ll see, Voodoo. We’ll see.

Because sexual harassment is hilarious

I’m not sure what bothers me more about 行殺! Spirits (“Line-Kill Spirits”): the game itself or the response to it.

Screenshot from Line-Kill SpiritsLet’s start with the game itself. It seems like a typical cutesy all-girl fighting game. The art style employed is one that is generally associated with pre-adolescence – it tends to be used in children’s manga and lolita porn. I’d put the girls at middle school at the latest, personally. Still, that sort of thing isn’t unusual; I’ve known plenty of fighting games that employ those marketing tactics.

What is unusual, however, is an added game element: picture taking. Not just any kind of picture taking, however, panty shot pictures. As anyone who has watched anime knows, there is a seemingly cultural fixation in Japan on women’s underwear. In particular, men and boys lifting up unwilling women’s skirts to look at their underwear. I can’t speak for how common it is in real life (not being a Japanese woman, nor living in Japan), but I do know that harassment is a part of women’s daily life there. One example of this is the women-only trains that companies began to run because of the unnervingly high instance of sexual assault (groping, mostly, but I’ve heard stories about men using women’s asses for masturbation aids).

To add fuel to the fire, it is not creepy old men taking these pictures (which would be bad enough), but the other girls themselves doing it. Showing women participating in their own objectification (ala. Levy’s “raunch culture”, girly kissing culture, etc) only serves to normalize the behaviour. After all, if the girls are willing to do it then it must be okay, right? While I wouldn’t think that anyone would confuse LKS with reality, having the girls do it to each other rather than a man doing it to a girl undoubtedly helps the players to rationalize the game as “harmless fun”.

And, indeed, that is exactly what many of the commenters did on the Inverted Castle thread. I counted six overt “that’s funny” kinds of comments – four instances of “hilarious”, one pertinent “lol”, and one “amusing” – and five comments that the gameplay was “interesting”, “innovative”, or something along those lines. The ones condemning it, even in part, were an overall minority. Two people called it “weird”, two people called it “disgusting”, four people used “disturbing” (two in direct context to the girls’ ages, rather than the mechanic itself), but only three people addressed women in particular. Out of 61 comments only 4 addressed the obvious gender issues of the panty shot mechanic, one of which was posted by the same person. For a game that is blatant objectification and sexual harassment, that is just sad.

To get an idea of some of the worse comments out there, I’d like to post a few of my… ah… “favourites”.

dj kor said:

dj kor like panties and japanese girls.

NoShit Boy said:

If that’s not innovative, then I ask, what is?

Although, I happened to like the comeback posted to that one: “The Nintendo Revolution’s remote control, of course.” (commenter’s handle was Revolutionary Remote)

MasterBaytor said:

Where can I get me one of these? Seriously, this is why Japan is one of the 3 most creative countries on Earth, according to a recent study (the other two are Sweden and Finland).

Of course, the three parties speaking up didn’t exactly give the game a ringing condemnation for its treatment of women.

Thoughtless said [emphasis mine]:

I don’t know if it’s supposed to represent little girls as sexually appealing; then it’s pretty sick, but obviously the panty shot was meant as humiliation. This is an interestingly insightful; if odd insight into real cat fighting tactics. I don’t know if my distaste for the game is my American prudishness(I didn’t watch the clip) or a genuine effort to avoid prurient material of most disgusting nature. Some perverts like little girls in panties sexually, but most of just yell at them to put closthes[sic] on or they’ll catch their death going outside. If this game gets girls playing video games then I say it’s good if it’s designed for perverts it is illeagal[sic] in the USA(and should be).

He starts out really well with the humiliation angle; one of the best tools for control is shame. Humiliating a woman (or girl) by exerting ownership to her body (in this case, the unalienable right to take pictures of her private areas) is one of the oldest tricks in the book. I think this game displays this tactic quite obviously, but in a way that reinforces its ideology. Certainly, the amount of people who didn’t think to comment on its use of women speaks volumes about how invisible this issue is, even in our so-called “equal” Western societies.

I can understand Thoughtless running with the first part of his initial sentence (the paedophilia angle), as that is what was most commonly focused on by the detractors of the game, but his insight into the humiliation tactics had really had me rooting for him to be a guy who gets it. His second sentence, however, made me weep with frustration. Real. Cat fighting. Tactics. Why, thank you, Thoughtless, for being one of the billion privileged men who is not only uncritical of the term “cat fighting”, but has no problem reinforcing the idea that women do things (like getting into fights) solely for men’s amusement.

And on what planet would a game of women taking panty shots of other women get girls playing video games??? It’s not erotic. It’s not cute. It’s not interesting. And it’s nothing new. Newsflash for you gamer guys, since so many of you seem to be blind to this small fact: a great many games have some implication of girl-on-girl action and we women (especially the ones who love other women) are not amused.

Moving onto Ms. I’m-not-a-feminist-but, Noneofyourbusniess said:

This is so childish and this game so turns to perveted[sic] males(as always). No i am no feminist but you get rather tired of seeing games that always is about less cloth, more boob bouncing etc. I mean really. I at least dont wanna buy a game cause i can see boobies or something. There is adult games for that(not that i like them either).

Not the deepest reading into it, but it doesn’t need to be. The message: objectification of women isn’t cool.

She adds:

A second thought on that game. Why would a girl take a picture of a girls pantises?[sic]

The same reason two straight girls would kiss: fulfillment of male fantasy. And there’s no doubt that LKS’ purpose is just that.

The third and final commenter, ditchwitch, took issue to NOYB’s feminist bashing:

Feminist isn’t a dirty word btw, and you shouldn’t feel the need to qualify your statements. Just say what you think. Anyway I am of 2 minds on the game, on the one hand it’s pretty amusing, at the same time I object to media which consistently links sex and violence together, and it’s hard to argue that this game doesn’t.

It does make me a bit sad that she saw any kind of amusement in this game. This kind of treatment of women, even in a video game (especially in a video game), just doesn’t strike me as funny in the least. But at least she sees the link, which is more than I can say for 98% of the other commenters.

I guess, in the end, I have to say that the overwhelming response to this game is worse than the game itself. In a way, the game is just a response to the demand. While it undoubtedly perpetuates the stereotypes it utilizes, it only exists because of the invisibility of the harm caused by this kind of “entertainment”. Until we – the gamers, the bloggers and readers, and our societies at large – educate ourselves on these kinds of issues and unabashedly speak out against it, games like these will continue to be made and distributed. And, while this kind of thing might be on the extreme end, make no mistake that the kind of attitude it holds towards women can be found in a majority of mainstream games both in Japan and the West.

Via New Game Plus.

GQ's "Men" of the Year

GQ's Men of the Year Covers
One of the guys?

In my first installment of my Girls & Game Ads series, I commented on a disturbing phenomenon in the portrayal of men versus women:

Another thing evident in this particular line-up is something I’ve noticed as another feature of video game advertising: images of women tend to have the large boobs as a focus (either by showing lots of skin or by having skin-tight costumes), while images of men tend to focus on the face, or show a heavily armoured (or clothed) man. While there are obviously exceptions to this (armoured/small breasted women, scantily-clothed men, etc), I posit that this dichotomy is one that is typical in advertisements for the gaming industry.

Enter GQ and its “Man of the Year” winners. With AOL News’ tagline Aniston Joins the Guys one would expect the cover to show a confident, strong Aniston with a focus on her head/face. But GQ, unfortunately, has chosen to take the same approach to the portrayal of men and women as I described above.

Aniston is the typical female (hero or villain) found in video game ads. Of the three covers, her face is the smallest. Her body shape is the most prominent display – showing clearly that it fits into the “normal” female shape (ie. skinny with round breasts). 50 Cent is the shot that is typical for knights, paladins, and dwarves: the primary focus is on his muscles and outfit, but his face is still large enough to convey distinct individuality. Vaughn shows the typical hero portrayal with the entire focus being on his face.

The reasoning behind these three candidates being chosen given in the AOL article furthers the “masculine” versus “feminine” dichotomy. All emphasis is mine.

Aniston first:

Aniston, 36, earned the 2005 title, Healy says, because she “exhibited a lot of poise, unbelievable amount of grace and good humor this year.”

Okay, now 50 Cent:

That the 30-year-old rapper has the year’s top-selling album, a best-selling autobiography and a new video game is just the start of his appeal. Now, he is crossing over into movies with the just-opened Get Rich or Die Tryin’. “He’s one of those public figures we’re endlessly fascinated by.”

And, finally, Vaughn:

With the summer’s movie hit, Wedding Crashers, Vaughn, 35, nailed the honor. “Once again, he was hilarious, charming and smart.” Editors do recognize that there are more well-known stars, “but there’s not one who better represents who our (readers) think is cool than Vince,” recently photographed enjoying a weekend in Chicago with Aniston.

Aniston is defined by the words “poise”, “grace”, and “good humor”. What kind of image does that call up in your mind, ’cause I know the first thing I thought was that they felt she was some sort of prim princess who takes everything with a smile. I don’t know anything about who Aniston may or may not be, but it seems like an insult for a woman who often plays strong minded, ambitious, and talented women in films to be described solely by words that belong in a decorum class rather than a discussion of the defining admirable talents/traits of a person.

The justification for 50 Cent’s inclusion seemed rather weak to me, but the selling points seemed to be what he had accomplished. He is defined by his “good” works (or what GQ deems is good, I suppose…) – the things he has done actively, and continues to do actively. To call him someone who posesses “poise” or “grace” (and perhaps even “good humor”, depending on context) would be an insult, or at least not be enough to qualfiy him for being a “man” of the year. Yet in Aniston it makes her the paragon of womanly virtue. Or something.

Finally, there’s Vaughn. He gets the highest praise of them all, with the adjectives “hilarious”, “charming”, and (most importantly) “smart”. No one calls Aniston (The Woman) smart, though her insistence to not be defined by the men in her life seem to imply that she is able to think for herself, or 50 Cent (The Black Man), which would be appropriate praise for someone who seems to have some entrepreneurial skills. No, Vaughn has “earned” the honour by playing a jerk who takes advantage of the wrong girl in Wedding Crashers. I could accept his performance being called “hilarious” and “charming” (because a character who’s a sexual predator seems to be the funniest thing ever to so many of the guys I know *sigh*), but smart? Come on. But maybe I’m being too harsh; Vaughn may have actually done something intelligent in his personal life to earn it.

Via feministing.

The Ugly Side of "Alternative" Porn

On my thread about NOW’s use of American Apparel (AA) products, I got into a long debate with reader Anika, who felt that I, and many other feminists, had unfairly singled out AA and ignored other companies:

I have yet to see any retailer or manufacturer be subjected to this level of scrutiny – to the extent that a well meaning person such as yourself demands that NOW boycott their products.

Well, just for Anika I have created a new category called “Companies Behaving Badly”. I wanted to call it “Bad Company!” in tribute of a site my mom used to run, but I decided that it sounded too much like a dichotomy that left no room for a mixture of good and bad. So, in honour of my new category, I’ve decided to plough headlong into a critique of another company, Suicide Girls (SG).

Now, I had known for a long time some of the sketchy business practices that the company engages in. I had heard the complaints from the models about poor treatment, the allegations about their journals being censored (when the company profited off of the “uncensored” nature of those same journals), and all that. It was maybe a year or two ago, and I started a personal boycott of the company. I would certainly speak out to any sex-positive organization that was taken in by SG’s “grrl power” hype.

Recent kerfluffle is that 30 models have left over what they feel is bad business practices. The problems range from financial disagreements, to unauthorized modification and censorship of journals, to termination of models who shot for other companies, and even verbal abuse by Sean Suhl, a co-founder of SG. The first two grievances are the same I remember from before, but the last one is quite shocking. I’m going to address it later, but first I want to give a little background on how SG presents itself as a company.

The message of business-side female empowerment hasn’t hurt either. “The perception that women had an important/equal role in the administration of the site probably made it more attractive to some people who might not have visited a porn site otherwise,” d’Addario said.

Two of the ex-models say they were attracted by the empowerment message, too. “I liked that you had a journal and voice, you had the chance to make your own (photo) sets,” said “Dia,” a 30-year-old former model who doesn’t wish to be identified because she now works outside the porn business in Northern California.

“I looked forward to making great art,” added Dia, who has unsuccessfully tried to get her photos off the site.

She and other models say that contrary to its image as a women-run operation, SuicideGirls is actually controlled by a man — co-founder Sean Suhl. They accuse him of treating women poorly and failing to pay them enough. (According to the site’s FAQ, SuicideGirls models get paid $300 per photo set.)

“The only reasons I’m doing this and I’m sticking my neck out is that people, especially females who are 18 years old and want to be a SuicideGirl, need to understand who they’re representing,” said 28-year-old ex-model Jennifer Caravella of San Francisco, who said she goes by the name “Sicily.” “It’s certainly not a group of women who are working together for this.”

[From SuicideGirls Gone AWOL by Randy Dotinga on Wired News]

It should be noted that Missy, the other founder of SG, disagrees with the claims about her co-founder because the majority of the office workers are women. I would like to point out that, as with AA (whose upper management, according to Anika, is 60% female), employing women is only one part of creating an egalitarian office space. I have to say that I’m less concerned with a man being a co-founder, though, and more concerned that a company that purports to have equal representation of women in the administration could shaft its models so badly on important areas like pay and free speech. I can understand not wanting models publishing journal entries that criticize the company, but I think that it’s unethical (if not illegal) to ghostwrite a journal without the original author’s permission.

I also get the feeling from various things the ex-models have said, that the “standard” contracts don’t do much in the way of protecting the models’ rights. Some of my biggest criticisms of the porn industry treats its workers (and, indeed, how society in general views and treats sex workers as a whole) is that they are often times put at risk, denied access to certain rights and benefits like a fair wage, and seen as objects for purchase rather than people selling a product (sex). The last point is illustrated by Suhl’s belief in his right to verbally abuse the women who work for him and can be seen in other areas such as stripping, ala. Robin’s Tales from the Boobiebar.

Sicily, a former SG model, speaks about her experiences with Suhl [emphasis mine]:

i have seen sean working hard on this project and know that it has been a huge frustration for him. my only grievance over the dvd is that i was lied to and told things like, ‘the dvd sucks because you guys are a bunch of vapid idiots’ and ‘an ass sex video wouldn’t have paid you as much’.
This leads me to the constant verbal abuse and threats that sean dishes out to models, or anyone who gets close enough to experience his personality. i have heard him call everyone in the office “fucking morons and idiots” on numerous occasions. i have heard him call models, “sluts”, “whores”, “junkies”, “stupid”, etc…this list is longer that i care to write. in fact the burlesque tour girls had an on-going joke about this, and actually wrote and taped a piece of paper that read “YOU SUCK! – from sean” on our costume bin. sometimes ya gotta make light of the ugly stuff. i have watched girls (my friends) cry themselves to sleep at night (on numerous occasions) due to his verbals insults and downright mean behavior. i have also heard sean laugh about it later…amused at his own demeaning antics.

[From Suicide Girls: More Sad Tales, quoted text by Sicily]

As any survivor of verbal abuse knows, insults like the ones attributed to Suhl are used to dehumanize and control those that they’re used against. They also constitute sexual harassment under US law and are inappropriate in any setting, much less a workplace that is supposedly “equal” and “empowering”. Every person deserves their right to personhood to be protected by law, but more often than not I read stories where victims in the sex industry are blamed for their abuse by police, news organizations, random people who hear about the issues, and even the government itself.

Sex workers deserve the same rights and respect we give any employees. I’m going to make the same criticism that many of the posters on this situation have made: SG isn’t “alternative porn”, it’s mainstream porn with a new face. There’s nothing subversive about that.

Read More on the Issue:

Via feministe.

Complicitly exploiting young women NOW

I was starting to feel bad about dragging my feet in support of NOW (National Organization for Women), but not anymore. Well, I’ll let my letter speak for itself [link added]:

I’m a young feminist who has been aware of NOW for quite some time, but I haven’t made the decision whether to join yet. I was browsing through your catalogue and seriously considering buying a few items until I happened upon your “We do it for Money” shirt. I noticed that it was made by American Apparel and, frankly, I would like to know why NOW, a feminist organization, supports a company that exploits young women in a softcore porn-esque advertising campaign, has more than one sexual harassment suit filed against the CEO, and is known for it’s anti-union bullying.

I also added the following links to the bottom of the e-mail:

For information on AA’s advertising practices:

Info on the sexual harassment lawsuits:

I’ll post a reply when (if) I get one, but until I have a darn good explanation and/or they pull their support of American Apparel, they aren’t getting one red cent of my money, nor an iota of my support.

Update [2005/10/22]: I received a reply from Olga Vives, Executive Vice President.

Thank you for your comments. We are discontinuing the American Apparel
shirts. Looking for a comparable shirt.

My reply[link added]:

Thank you for your prompt response.

If you haven’t already, I suggest considering No Sweat Apparel as one alternative to AA’s gear.

I look forward to seeing the AA shirts replaced with those from a better company.

I’ll keep an eye on the site. Hopefully they’ll replace the shirts soon, ’cause some of them really were cute. Now if only I could find a really nice looking “This is what a feminist looks like” shirt…