This is in response to Tobold’s article.
In my efforts to limit the title of this article, I short-handed it. It’s meaning is to include all those who agree with Tobold’s stance. It is *not* my intention to lump all into one group, but merely to respond to a collective idea about sexism, women, and fantasy to those who stand with Tobold on the points I will discuss below. There’s no need for anyone to feel unduly offended if your stance is different, changing, or changed; it will only mean that this isn’t directed at you and you can safely look over your shoulder at those to whom this does apply to.
But to be sure, look at the mirror as well after you look over your shoulder and confirm that this indeed does not apply to you.
A Critical Look at Males
What I find somewhat curious about that is that it is always nearly exclusively the depiction of women which is criticized. Judging from the photos one sees from game conventions, I am pretty certain that male players don’t exactly look like the muscular hunks they are depicted as in the game either. Isn’t that sexualized fantasy too?
In a word, no.
Tobold, you would have done better to cite your own examples of what you consider sexualized males and then explain to us, your readers, what makes those images sexualized. You would then need to compare those explanations to the sexualized images of women along with explanations for those. Had you done this, I believe you would not have asked this question. I believe you would have arrived at entirely different conclusions or else affirmed your ignorance on the subject by ignoring the testimony of those who point these things out as offensive to their humanity. I’m not suggesting you’re ignorant–quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that you’ve been blogging long enough to know better, long enough to find answers to this. This isn’t a difficult or profound question. The answer is, in fact, in the question you ask because in the act of asking is an admission that you’ve never heard of anyone criticize male fantasy depictions as sexualized as much as you’ve heard the opposite. And there it is.
Guys, myself included, defend our sexism and this fantasy aspect especially. It’s a reaction to accusations that would tarnish our self-image as stand-up guys who believe in equality, in respecting women. It’s a reaction to accusations that condemn our modes of operation in our day to day lives and this reaction is especially designed to defend in such a way as to overwhelm reason, contemplation, and deep reflection of the real picture …the inner picture. That picture is threatening. I won’t speak for every man, I can’t. But this is my personal experience with these challenges and I have found that in my circle of brothers this experience is very common. We have long defended our fantasies and our attitude was “how dare anyone object to this”. I say to all men: if you haven’t asked these questions of yourself, haven’t truly examined your own behavior, on what ground do you stand questioning the motives of those who warn us (*) that these sexualized female images are offensive and damaging to them?
On to the first question.
What does it mean to sexualize imagery?
A quick search of the dictionary yielded the following:
Sexualization is the pernicious application of sexuality or sexual perceptions to an individual or class.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexualization as occurring under one or more of these fourconditions:
- “a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
- “a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
- “sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”
Fantasy art, including that in video games, is no different and in fact employs this notoriously against women. It is to objectify, to make an object of sexual pleasure and obscure any qualities of the object/person which give it character. It is to value a person or a thing for it’s sexual promise. It’s important to recognize that (in the western civilizations), our beliefs, actions, and values are derived from a culture that values male dominance and female subservience. The dangers of sexualization should be obvious if one starts from this fact. We are talking about what is the case, not what we want to be the case.
One of the dangers is that men are taught to perceive women in certain ways and women are taught to accept the ways of men. This is no different in fantasy settings. Many, though not all, guys seem to believe that the fantasy of a sexualized female benefits everyone and, moreover, to tell those who object to suck it up because that’s The Way It Is, and us men are entitled to our fantasies. In defending the status quo, some even take the stance that no one wants to play a “fat” or “ugly” or “flat chested” toon, that even women want sexy avatars. They assume in these beliefs that they get to define what is sexy; that it’s impossible to be round and sexy, sexy without make-up; that “pretty” is a singular thing (bit pretentious isn’t it?), or that sexy is valuable at all (we never question this). This assumption, in other words, is women *want* be sexualized, that they would not likely have it any other way because Lara Croft looks good to everyone. Therefore, more Lara Crofts and no female dwarfs. It’s arrogant to believe this sort of thing to say the least.
The second question: what does a sexualized female/male look like?
This is culturally informed, but in the west this can best be described as enlargement of the breasts and hips, exposed skin, lots of make up on the face, clothing that accentuates said body parts (heels which emphasize the buttocks, shirts which expose the cleavage and midriff, and pants which emphasize tension in the crotch, if there are pants at all), and so forth.
I’m not sure I’ve seen sexualized images of males (*), because males in fantasy are typically characterized by their power, not their sexual promise. If anyone knows of any such images, I’m more than willing to examine them critically with the community. I don’t have any experience with them.
I don’t believe there exists sexualized males in video games for the most part, though I’ve seen at least one image where I felt sure the guy was being sold as a sex object. However, I couldn’t get past the allusions to power and conquest to see the sexualization in terms other than power.
The final question: why are the depictions of women exclusively criticized?
Why, indeed. WHY? What is it about the men’s depictions that escapes criticism? Afterall, most of those complaints come from women – why don’t men complain about their depictions? Could it be that men believe that there’s nothing wrong with them (male and female imagery)? That there’s something more wrong with female depictions? That the depictions confer different qualities on each sex, where the male depiction embodies character value and the female doesn’t?
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE THE REASON.
Here’s a place we can begin to look for answers. Who is the target audience of sexualized female fantasy? And of males? One of the commenters pointed out the answer very plainly and simply: Men.
Though I’ll grant you that we ought to criticize the power motifs of male fantasy art. That does deserve much more scrutiny and criticism, because it is precisely this imagery which makes us feel entitled to sexualized female art.
On the Link Between Fantasy and Real World
“If there is no link between the player and the avatar, then how can the look of the avatar be construed as being discrimination?
Of course hunting demons in stiletto heels isn’t realistic, and a chainmal bikini has obvious flaws as a piece of armor. But while I am hurling fireballs at a dragon, should I really be worried about how realistic anything in these games is?”
If the first question were predicated on any indication that this was not the case. I’ll say it more plainly: there’s a link between the player and the avatar. You’ve written about it on countless occassions, Tobold: Here (end of second paragraph), here (all of it is grotesquely neutral on sexism and supportive of racism; it’s clear where you stand despite your efforts to keep the issues at bay) are just two places. You acknowledge in each of these pieces that there *is* a relationship there. What’s the reason you’re not so sure now? Granted I’ve seen you waffle on this in almost every article where you’re even remotely challenged to relate to an important issue. You avoid disclosing your personal experience with these issues and choose instead to intellectualize every single topic. It’s convenient and I know what that’s like. I’ve been guilty of it. That intellectualization is a way to insulate ourselves from criticism, to remain neutral, to avoid getting involved in the real details, and a way to blanketly dismiss the experiences of others. It’s hurtful to those we offend and harmful to ourselves.
Here’s a very good quote from another male on how these fantasies have very real consequences in the real world:
“Skin flicks and porn reading matter market women as comodities, denying physical uniqueness; women are presented as ‘tits and ass’ with bulging breasts and painted on smiles. This caricature of the female body and it’s reduction to a few sexual essentials is presented undisguised in the ‘hard-core’ material and covered up with sophisticated packaging in Playboy, Penthouse, and ‘soft-core’ porn films like Emmanuel. Whether explicit or implied the underlying message is the same: women are to be treated by the consumer (the male reader) as pieces of ass.”
The author is Michael Beztold from an article titled ” How Pornography Shackles Men and Oppresses Women”. I believe this message is equally applicable to games, art, and any other form of media. Yes, fantasy art can be harmful and it has already done terrible damage to many. The truth is that art needs a context, that it’s not some concept sprung whole from an artists mind uninformed by culture. Some artists use their talent to critique sexualization in productive ways. Other artists see their right to creative freedom as supreme to another persons right to feel human and to not have their humanity caricatured and presented in ways that decrease their value in society. Fantasy art of women is notorious for reducing them down to “a few sexual essentials” in order to mold them into a male ideal of the female body.
Now show me where this is done routinely, systematically, and popularly towards men.
On the Projection of Cultural Values
“Projecting those real-world issues onto the virtual world isn’t exactly helpful there. It ends up criticizing people for the fantasies they have, and that is an extreme form of attempted mind control. You can’t punish people for their dreams and fantasies not being politically correct.”
You’re citing something which doesn’t mean what you want it to believe. What you’re supposing is that artists who indulge in the sexualization of females in their art *aren’t* projecting their real world values into that work. By your words, it’s the artists who are exercising mind control, because they’re projecting this imagery on to the poor fellas and assaulting them with fantasies of sexy women.
No? That’s not what you meant to convey?
How about this: are you saying that consumers of that art shouldn’t use their own values to interpret meaning, shouldn’t use their own eyes and feelings to criticize the piece both on it’s merits and it’s faults?
What are you saying?
If I, as a man, have fantasies of women in which I objectify them, reduce them to a few convenient body parts for my own pleasure THEN I SHOULD BE RIGHTLY CRITICIZED FOR MY SEXISM AND SEXUALIZATION OF HUMAN BEINGS. Because that’s what it is and it’s not ok to see anyone as subhuman, less valuable, and to reduce human beings to mere pieces of sexual pleasure. And men don’t want to be challenged on that, I get it. I’ve been there. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t pardon any man of his responsibility in combating this ugly, damaging aspect of our culture. That includes gamer culture, where the front lines are currently being drawn. Because you see, it’s *not* just a game. It’s a simulation. And know how powerful simulations are? Let me illustrate it for you.
We use them in our military to train pilots, in NASA to train astronauts, in auto factories to create safety standards, in Physics to understand our place in the world …it would be easier to name the places in which a simulation have no direct impact on human thinking, interaction, and understanding. This is the power of video games. And if we fail here by denying that these fantasies produce real phenomena in our lives, change our understanding of people, and alter our view of humanity, then we will have gained nothing and lost everything in the name “fun”.
EDITS: On the suggestion of my best friend, I added links for emphasis and cited an author, Spinks, as her comments are what inspired Tobold’s post. Also, corrections. Because I’m human. Editorial additions can be found wherever there’s a (*). I also changed the colors to make the text more readable.