Archive for the ‘Anything you can do I can do meta’ Category

So, hey, I am Dr. Bakka now. Sorry the posts have been slow lately and I still owe a number on the series on OWS that I began over 1.5 months ago, but I was working on getting credentials


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An image of Chell from Portal 2: A woman of slender to medium build with somewhat messy dark hair. She wears an orange jumpsuit, the same jumpsuit as she was in Portal 1, but now it is tied around her waist to reveal a white tank top. Chell has braces on the back of her calves, and carries a handeheld portal device, which looks like a futuristic ray gun. She is modelled on a woman of Brazilian American and Japanese descent. The image also has a portal to Chell's right and we can see GLaDOS in an environment over-grown with weeds. (Thanks to rho and bluestar for elements of this description; photo from The National Post).

In June, after the release of the Portal 2 trailer at E3 I wrote about some concerns I had reading interviews with the developers of Portal 2. Now it has been released and I have finished the main story and co-op, gone through again for the trophies and to listen to the developer commentary, so I thought I should return and assess whether the worries I had were warranted. [Note: The following discussion contains spoilers]

1. Portal 2 and Gender

This version of portal is certainly more gendered than the first version was. But just because something is gendered, that does not necessarily make it sexist. Gender can be used in subversive ways as well as being used in sexist ways. Arguably, the first Portal game used gender in subversive ways (for an analysis see Joe McNeilly’s discussion here).

Portal 1 is not very explicitly gendered. When I first played I did not notice Chell’s gender much at all. Some elements of the environment were gendered (GLaDOS was clearly a female computer, if such a thing makes sense).  McNeilly argues (pg. 4) that many of the elements of the environment are gendered (the turrets are ‘boys’ and the companion cube is male–from the GLaDOS line (about 3:30; the link is a spoiler for Portal 1): “A big party that all your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend the Companion Cube. Of course, HE couldn’t come because you murdered HIM,” which I took as the generic “he” but perhaps McNeilly is right).

In the first game you really did not get a sense of Chell’s gender unless you happened to catch a glimpse of yourself through one of the portals. That lead to some magical moments for many gamers, as Jenn Frank wrote about and I discussed in a previous post. It was really great to play a woman in a game without that making a huge difference to the story or the heroism of the protagonist. As Frank writes,

But here is the next surprise: your being a girl doesn’t mean anything. It means nothing. You play on, and nothing has changed, and the game is still the game, and you are still you. But something has substantially changed, and fundamentally changed, because now you know. You have seen yourself.

But the surprise at playing a woman was never really an option for Portal 2, once they made the decision to keep Chell as the main character (and thank goodness they ditched the jumpsuit revision they were considering at the time. This Chell is somewhat more sexed-up, but not overly so. I don’t find her to be any more sexed-up than Faith from Mirror’s Edge. Also, they seem to have kept the racial ambiguity that allows players to project their own race onto Chell. Chell is still modelled on Alesia Glidwell, a Japanese-Brazilian actor.). So now that the player knows they are a woman, there is a choice about how that will be treated.

Chell is definitely more gendered than she was the first time around. As a few people have already written, some of the jabs that GLaDOS levies at Chell involve calling Chell fat as a particularly gendered insult (see below). For example, loodmoney writes,

Secondly, it seems a poor way to write female characters. In Portal 1, the player might very well have completed the game without knowing the protagonist was a woman. Her sex was irrelevant to the circumstances, thus it was not worth commenting on. Chell is a stronger character as a result.
But here I get the impression that the writers got lazy: ‘Chell is a girl, right? And GLaDOS is also a girl, right? And they’re enemies? Well then, obviously the latter is going to say stuff about the former’s weight! I mean, that’s something that girls do, right?’

I agree with loodmoney that Chell is more gendered in this game. I also agree that ‘fat’ is a gendered insult in this particular instantiation. Why is it a gendered insult? Because Chell is not fat, and despite the obvious truth that (fat) men are sometimes called fat with the intent to insult them, and men can also be hurt by being called fat, it remains a gendered insult because non-fat men are not usually called ‘fat’ whereas non-fat women often are. Further, it is generally considered more important for women to maintain their appearance than it is for men, and men get greater leeway before the label ‘fat’ is applied to them. But this is the text, and there is (I think) a different subtext.

I disagree that this is lazy writing or that it fails characterization and feminism 101. The reason is because of the relationship to power that Valve has included in the game.


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Vodpod videos no longer available.
Here is Hillary Clinton’s Speech in response to the news that Osama Bin Laden was found and killed yesterday.

At about minute 3:30 Clinton Says:

“You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us, but you can make the choice to abandon Al Quaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.”

This seems like an odd construction to me. Is it possible to have a “choice” when there is only one option? It seems to me that a “choice” involves at least two options. If there is only one option then it is no choice at all. Why is the rhetoric of ‘choice’ being invoked when the speech also makes clear that only one so-called “choice” will be supported?

It is not that I think other options (e.g. continuing to support Al Quaeda, or engaging in violent political processes or something else) should be supported. But nevertheless it still seems odd to couch this in the language of choice. It would be more honest, I think, to simply say something like:

“You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us, but we will offer you support if you decide to abandon Al Quaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.”

Why is volunteerism being invoked in a place where it so clearly does not belong? To support a “choice” is to support both (or many) possible options. But that is not what Clinton is suggesting. The USA will not support any option other than the abandonment of Al Quaeda. They are not therefore supporting “choice,” but instead supporting an outcome they desire. With force, if necessary. That is not choice, but coercion. It might be a justified form of coercion, but it is coercion nonetheless.

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[Trigger Warning: I am writing about rape again, and I will be snarky, sarcastic and otherwise more emotive in my writing than average]

If there is one thing that could be said for Penny Arcade’s handling of the criticisms of “The 6th Slave” comic, it is that they did begin a serious discussion of rape culture that is probably reaching a wider part of gaming culture than “ever before” (*hyperbole*). More non-feminist gamers are hearing this discussion than would ever hear of similar discussions of rape culture that occur in feminist gaming forums, on feminist gaming blogs, and non-gaming feminist blogs.

When I read the Debacle Timeline, I am struck by how many genuinely thoughtful posts have been created discussing the whole affair. Many of them don’t really seem to understand what feminists are trying to express by the concept of “rape culture,” but many of them do make an honest attempt. Some posts show serious reflection, and a change of mind. They also inspired the creation of Team Respect, who are pretty willing to patiently describe the aspects of rape culture to those asking about it at xkcd forums. It might be true that the debacle also started a flame-war in the blog comments, over e-mail and on twitter. But many of the actual blog posts linked through the Debacle Timeline are pretty thoughtful, for the most part.

Perhaps that is something good to come out of the whole affair. It is true many did not listen. But some did. Many have been saying they never considered such things before, and now they see differently. So congratulations to Kirby Bits for speaking her mind. And congratulations to Penny Arcade for bringing discussions of rape culture to a wider gaming audience. Too bad it had to happen in such an ugly way that probably hurt many rape victims and threatened many others along the way.


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I began my series of posts on meta-issues associate with discussions of rape culture here. I assume that discussion in what I write here.

As a quick summary: in that post I suggested that there are two ways to understand rape: either as an individual crime committed by “rotten apples,” or as a systemic crime that is akin to terrorism or hate crimes where rape has effects on both the direct target (victim) and an indirect target (other members of the group) beyond the direct targets of the crime. ETA: On the systemic view, rape is akin to terrorism, but it is not the same as terrorism. One important difference between rape and terrorism is that terrorists usually have an explicit message, demand, or political point. In the case of rape, there need not be an explicit message, and though there is a demand made of the direct target (the victim) there might not be an explicit demand made of the primary target (women as a group). In that post I argued that rape culture cannot be perceived if rape is viewed as an individual crime. It is only when rape is considered a systemic crime that rape culture can be perceived.

In order to perceive rape culture, one has to first believe that rape is facilitated or made more effective by a number of our cultural institutions. If one accepts that view, then rape culture involves any aspect of a culture that a) makes it easier to get away with raping women, b) makes women more vulnerable to rape or denies the effects rape has on all women not only those who are actually raped, c) makes rape more effective at curtailing the freedom of rape victims, or d) makes rape more effective by curtailing the freedom of all women.


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There are many excellent introductory descriptions of rape culture available on the internet. For example: Wikipedia, Shakesville, Yes Means Yes, and Finally, a Feminism 101 blog all have good descriptions (note: the Shakesville post begins with a quote that addresses what I intend to explain in this post, but does not go into detail). They provide an introductory level understanding of rape culture. This post is not introductory; instead of rehashing the basics, I engage some of the different kinds of assumptions that lie behind descriptions of rape culture.

In each of the descriptions of rape culture that I link above, there are rich examples of “rape culture in action.” But each example also contains an implicit shared assumption that is not made explicit, and understanding this assumption is essential to understanding what feminists mean by rape culture.

The assumption that is shared among these descriptions is that rape is systemic, or in other words, rape is akin to terrorism or hate crimes. This understanding contrasts with the understanding of rape as a crime that one individual commits against another.

Note: If this entry is to long, you can just read the summary in part 3.


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On Monday, I wrote about the Bill C-389 that was voted on in the House of Commons yesterday. I am happy to report that the Bill passed the house (Yeas: 143; Nays 135). The transcript of Monday’s debate can be read in full here.

As it was with the last debate, the MPs focused on the definition of the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression,” questions about whether this discrimination is already covered, and some MPs dispelled myths about the proposed changes. The Bill is not yet Canadian law, it still has to pass the Senate. Dented Blue Mercedes has an excellent summary of this reading and passing of Bill C-389.

Of course, there are still opponents of the Bill. The Toronto Sun has an article by Brian Lilly, in which he claims that the Bill opposes equality. I want to offer some brief comments on what I believe are some mischaracterizations in Lilly’s argument. Lilly writes:

The idea is to give greater protection to transgendered and transsexual citizens.

Whatever happened to the idea that all are equal before the law?

A true equality, one in the best Canadian tradition, would simply state that all people are created equal and should be treated equally before the law.

It would do away with all those special privileges and would re-establish a unique standard for all Canadians.

Somehow, this is a radical idea these days.

Lilly worries that the bill gives “special rights” to certain groups on the basis of their group identity. According to Lilly, it would be more equal to simply say that all are equal before the law, and leave it at that. Identifying certain groups as ones that cannot be discriminated against is problematic, according to Lilly, because this creates “special” groups who have “special” rights that others do not have.

I think Lilly’s analysis is mistaken for at least two reasons. First, he confuses distinctions between kinds of discrimination and distinctions between kinds of persons. Second, he fails to note that the relevant distinction is between legitimate and illegitimate forms of discrimination, and that once this distinction is made it applies equally to all Canadians.


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There has been a lot of buzz about “Male Studies” this week, since the announcement of The Foundation for Male Studies, which won’t get a link from me. Now I am all for studying men and masculinities, but I don’t think it sounds like there is much value to this particular approach. I don’t want to write about that, though, because I think it has been adequately covered by the articles linked above. The salient issue for what I will discuss is that “Male Studies” positions itself as a rejection of “feminist ideology” and will draw nothing from the work of feminist theorists. In contrast, Men’s Studies, looks at masculinities in particular and draws from (while still sometimes criticizing) feminist theory. “Male studies” positions itself in opposition to women’s studies, whereas Men’s studies does not. What I would like to look at is this question:

Comrade Kevin makes this comment:

Honestly, I fail to understand why men’s studies [sic] have to be run in opposition to women’s studies, since the two are so completely intertwined and, moreover, cover the same ground. As a man, I understand where attitudes like this are coming from, but know also that it usually takes a personal process of challenging established norms and with it a kind of maturation to see beyond the anxiety that is just as virulent in men as is advancing unrealistic and unhealthy notions of body image for women.

I am not trying to single Comrade Kevin out; in fact, the question about “why run male studies in opposition to women’s studies?” comes up several times in the comment thread. I chose to highlight this comment because it is put clearly and succinctly.

Image from: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/luntz-meet-focault

"This is not a pipe" Magritte


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