Category Archives: female geekdom

The constant attacks on female gamers need to stop

Over the past few days, the horrible comments on Anita Sarkeesian’s video asking for support for her Kickstarter Project Tropes v. Women in Video Games (warning: the comments are high offensive) have caused various appalled reactions with women and men around the Web. Sarkeesian’s goal is to research hundreds of female game characters and discuss the issues that appear in a video series. She previously discussed the issues in her video series TV Tropes v. Women, looking at the various boxes female characters find themselves in (damsel in distress, straw feminist, ect.).

She posted the video on June 4. As of 6:46 p.m. today, viewers lefts 11,742 comments. The majority of the comments feature horrible, offensive and disrespectful slams at Sarkeesian, women, Jews, homosexuals and others. Sadly, not a single degrading comment on the video is a surprise.

Trash talking is a common part of video games. It doesn’t matter what game it is, if people can talk to one another, insults fly. Listen to some gamers talk about a fight. The term “rape” is often used in addition to racists, sexist or other derogative terms. The use of the word “rape” is never okay to use. Defeating another character is not raping her. Rape is a horrible, forced act that in no way should be used as a term to describe an accomplishment or feat. Many who use these terms would never say such remarks in person. The virtual world creates the idea that a player can be someone else. Unfortunately, the worse side of people appears often.

I’ve been insulted in games. I’ve refused to log onto Vent and TeamSpeak channels because I couldn’t stand the horrible insults throw between not only the various players but at the ones they played against. The types of insults thrown out are so hateful that it’s impossible to ignore them. It doesn’t just bother the group being insulted. I’m not Jewish and it makes me sick to hear a player use a slur.

While some gaming companies do respond when in-game harassment occurs, they aren’t helping the problem enough. A Blizzard employee helped me out when another male character sent constant harassing messages during an instance run in World of Warcraft. I don’t know if the player was punished or what came of it, but the employee seemed to take the issue seriously. The way that these companies feed the problem is with the portrayal of female characters and a lack of screening of in-game chat.

Log into World of Warcraft. One of the loading screens shows a Night Elf with her breasts almost completely exposed. The Night Elf dance looks like something in a person would see in a strip club. Make a character in Star Wars The Old Republic. All the female characters have large breasts and can’t be overweight like the male characters. I remember when I first found out about Tomb Raider. The boys in my class couldn’t get over the fact that Lara Croft ran around with huge breasts. The majority of their conversations about the game discussed her body. There’s not enough action taken against hateful insults. While it’s impossible to catch every incident, more effort can be put into enforcing the cessation of harassment. Some type of system that flags certain terms would make a difference.

It’s not a secret that many women love video games. The negative atmosphere makes it difficult to enjoy the game fully, though. How many great gamers don’t raid with groups or stay out of battleground because of harmful words? How many gamers avoid games that involve conversing with others because of this problem?

The insults on Anita Sarkeesian’s video prove her point repeatedly. The comments are hate speech. If a politician or other public figure said some of the comments written on the page, he would be ostracized. It is not okay to insult women or anyone else. It is not okay to belittle or disregard a female gamer. Players can cheer when they defeat another player in a player versus player setting without saying that they “raped that bitch.” Many of the comments tell Sarkeesian to “go back to the kitchen” or reference that it’s a travesty when “ovaries try to think.” These types of comments reduce women to objects.

The comments also show that the word feminist is grossly misunderstood. A feminist wants equality, not superiority. Feminists are not trying to squash men into subservient beings or take away their jobs. I want to be able to play a video game without reading sexist insults or be able to find a good book series featuring a good female character without searching for hours online only to find that the woman becomes a stereotype. The sad fact is that the people who do make such horrific statements and have these beliefs hold far too much power over the market.

Check out Anita Sarkeesian Tropes videos and her Kickstarter project Tropes v. Women in Video Games to find out more information about the ways the media stereotypes women, the project’s status and other information.

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Filed under female geekdom, feminism, Gaming, MMORPG, Star Wars The Old Republic, World of Warcraft

Turning women into sex objects removes their humanity

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Black Widow in her catsuit.

Women are not sex objects. Their role in a quality story is not to fulfill a male fantasy or act as eye candy.

Sex sells. This is no secret. When creating a marketing scheme for a product or outline for a commercial, advertisers must look at their demographic and combine it with what research shows will capture that demographics’ attention. Axe product commercials show women fawning over a man because he is wearing their products. It doesn’t matter how they feel or if they even want the man, the aroma he gives off automatically makes him desirable—if you believe the commercials.

Even products for women objectify their customer base. Victoria’s Secret commercials show their models prancing around looking like sex goddess. Viewing this does not make me want to buy their products nor does it empower me. Gatorade is more affective at empowering women by showing a healthy mix of female athletes along with male athletes.

Over the past several days, various blogs and websites have been discussing women in Star Wars and Black Widow in The Avengers. As with most conversations about women and gender, the issue of the over sexualization of women appears.

Just as children are told from a very young age, what matters is on the inside of a person. I believe that the majority does not want to read a Star Wars novel with a flighty, driven by carnal desires, flimsy woman who bows to every whim of the man she’s with because she is so overcome with lust over his manliness that she can’t see straight. Paragraphs and sentences speaking of how tight and low-cut her shirt is, how large her breasts are or how hot and bothered her mere appearance makes the men in the room isn’t the storytelling we want in our fandom.

In The Avengers, Black Widow fights in a slinky black dress at the beginning. Later on, she wears a catsuit, just like Agent Maria Hill. Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers wear normal clothes at some point and their costumes are not sexualized. Scarlett Johansson’s tight catsuit doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. It puts her character in a box that no matter how great she is, she can’t break free from if she’s treated this way.

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Leia captivated audiences from the start by her character.

The issue is beyond Star Wars and The Avengers. It encompasses our everyday lives. Sexual messages and behaviors are showing up younger and younger. Take a walk through the girls’ department at any clothing store. You will see shirts with cutouts in all the wrong places, low-cut necklines, short skirts and other inappropriate attire. The shoe department is just as bad. You can find heels higher than two inches made for seven-year-olds. No such problems exist in the boys’ department.

Sex finds its way into children’s shows through references and dialogue. The child may not understand it at first, but she will catch on eventually. All it takes is one child to ask another at school what it meant. The real meaning of the joke or comment will be known in minutes. Re-watching the shows we used to love as children review so much that we missed.

From a young age, women are told that we must be desirable to men. “Don’t get dirty. The boys won’t like you.” We are constantly assaulted with images of the ideal woman, of the way we should act to gain the approval of a man. We’re told to “man up” or “grow a pair” when something seems tough. These types of comments teach young girls and boys that men are, by default, tougher, stronger and superior to women and that the only way a women can compete is to act as a man.

The Hunger Games books and the movie smashed through the bestseller lists and box office. It is concrete, undisputable proof that a good quality female lead can sell. Katniss wasn’t a sex symbol. In close ups, viewers can see her facial imperfections. Capitol’s ways of transforming the tributes is seen as bizarre and unnatural. People didn’t feel for Katniss because of her appearance. It was her characterization and her story that drove her into our hearts.

Sex is a fact of life. It’s not offensive if one character considers another attractive. It’s becomes offensive when the woman’s only purpose to the story is to be a sex object. An object is not a person; it is an item. Calling someone a sex object removes her humanity.

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Katniss isn’t loved because she’s a sex symbol.

The constant claims that women are only sex objects hurt everyone. The issue is in the hands of consumers. Stop responding favorably to sexualization. Companies respond to losses of profit. The reason so many gossip magazine exist is that they sell well. The more issues that sell, the more appealing the publication is to advertisers, thus more money the publishing company makes. If the market for gossip magazines fell, less would hit newsstands. It’s the same with sexualization. By not protesting it, it will never stop.

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Filed under Expanded Universe, female characters, female geekdom, feminism, Katniss Everdeen, Princess Leia, The Hunger Games

Asking for equality in Star Wars isn’t sexist

Star Wars is no longer centered on Luke Skywalker. In addition to his relatives, there’s Jedi, Sith, smugglers, clones, droids and more in multiple eras. Unfortunately, that rich cast of characters is mostly male.

Every few months, Twitter and the blogosphere erupt in criticism regarding the demand for more female characters of quality. One popular argument, as mention in a recent EU Cantina column that argued writer Nanci’s own piece regarding women in Star Wars, is that it’s sexist to make such demands.

Sexism (Merriam-Webster)

1. prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women
2. behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

We are asking for equality not dominance. We aren’t not stating that the women should crush the men in numbers and presence. That request does not match the definition of a sexist person. There’s no excuse why more women characters can’t appear.

It takes less than a minute to rattle off 10 great, developed male characters in Star Wars. Naming 10 developed female characters take longer. Winter, Iella and Mirax are all great characters but lack the page time to be as fleshed out as most of the men. The potential is there. Grab it, Del Rey.

Another argument seen around cyberspace is why male fans should have to read female dominated stories. If a female fan wants to enjoy the Star Wars universe, she has no choice but to pick from dozens of novels lead by men. Tatooine Ghost and Dark Journey come to mind in regards to female leads, but after those, it takes some digging. If someone wants to read a great male lead, well, he can close his eyes, point at a stack of books and probably find a good one.

When we ask for more female leads, we aren’t stating that the male leads go away. That type of misconception is common in almost every women’s rights issue. Add more women in the workplace? Men will lose their jobs! Allow women to vote? Oh they can’t do that. They’re not educated enough and make rash, emotional decisions. Title IX discriminates against men because their sports lose funding, some say. No, Title IX does not state that schools must cut men’s teams to make room for women’s; it calls for equal funding. The institutions make the decision to cut the male teams. Remember, the woman’s rights fight isn’t even 200 years old in most countries. In the United States, we haven’t even been able to vote for 100 years.

The women’s rights movement was and is not about surpassing men in society. It’s about equality. Equality in everything, from jobs, politics, sports, pay and schooling to movies, television and books.

Most Star Wars books contain two or more main plotlines, each with its own lead or pair of lead characters. Multiple books use all male leads. And while some of these stories would work for specific characters (like Corran and Wedge in Rogue Squadron), there’s no reason why new stories couldn’t contain plotlines lead by all females or one led by a female.

The argument that a female-led book wouldn’t sell is weak. It’s no grand secret that women are a huge part of the buying market. We buy male-led books. To assume that men wouldn’t buy a book featuring Jaina, Leia, Winter, Padme or another woman character is insulting to many male fans and shows a lack of consideration for both genders.

Star Wars isn’t a “man’s world.” I can’t recall hearing about George Lucas stating that no women were allowed to view his movies. He created one of the best female heroines. Princess Leia is a cultural icon and not because of her metal bikini or hair buns (though those are icons of their own). Her take-charge attitude turns the typical princess role upside down. She’s not underneath any of the men in her life, no matter what they do or say. Telling Princess Leia what she has to do doesn’t work out well. While she’s had plenty of screen/page time, she hasn’t led many novels, usually falling second to Luke.

Just as there is a place for male heroes, there is a place for female in all eras. Satele Shan is the Grand Master of the Jedi during the period that Star Wars The Old Republic takes place. She’s one of the several great female characters the game developers and writers created.

The answer isn’t to throw in random female characters with no development. Just because a character is a woman does not make her a good character. We want female characters that are worth it, not cardboard placeholders. To assume that all we want is a female’s presence is offensive. A character that lacks any real substance isn’t useful.

The desire for equal treatment and character dispersion isn’t an out-of-this-world idea. It’s logical. If the situation was reversed, odds are that men would feel slighted. By continuing to put off or ignore the call for worthy female leads, the Star Wars universe narrows itself instead of grows. It can only last with new ideas and seizing opportunities. Using female leads will only help the fandom, not hinder it.

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Filed under Expanded Universe, female characters, female geekdom, Jaina Solo, Luke Skywalker, Star Wars, Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR

The Hunger Games: Where do we go from here?

ImageThe massive success of The Hunger Games film created a unique situation for the movie, book, comic and video game industries. A good female lead can bring in the average consumer. The question now is what to do with that information.

It’d be far too easy to consider Katniss as a fluke, one time heroine. Unfortunately, should a string of movies hit theaters boasting a good female lead fail, the achievements of The Hunger Games could be cast aside by some critics. The reality is that not every female lead will connect with audiences. Just as their male counterparts, some will miss the target. A woman character is judged differently than a male. How many times is a grand romantic gesture seen as touching for a man to do, yet if a woman does it, it’s weak? The man searching for the woman he loves seems noble where as a woman appears pathetic.

The other, more desirable, alternative is that we will see more female leads worthy of being grouped with Katniss. These heroines don’t need to be purely action-oriented. Think about the great male characters that aren’t fighting to save their family, friends, home or self during the entire piece. Forest Gump fought for his country and saved his friends, yet those actions are only part of what made him a hero. His non-combative actions are worthy of the label heroic. The ability to shoot straight or fight to the death does not mean a person is a hero.

Is a woman staying at home to tend to the family and work in the factory while her husband fights overseas any less of a hero? Would a movie featuring this role be received well? I’d like to say yes, but realistically the answer is no. That said, if the roles were reversed, the man would seem a hero.

ImageThe appeal of The Hunger Games is not based on Katniss being a woman; it’s her personal journey, story and self. The thousands who saw this movie didn’t do it only because the main character was a woman. Throwing a person into a situation with a flimsy personality and no real self-worth doesn’t work. When writing a character, gender is important. It’s impossible to erase gender from a person. With various groups working to eliminate gender roles from children by forbidding the use of certain pronouns and limitations on play, it feels as if gender has become something to be ashamed. How many children aren’t allowed to play with a particular toy just because it can be construed as belonging to a particular stereotype?

Gender plays a major role in the development of a person, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more complex psychological. Insinuating that only men have “the balls” to act bravely or that a woman must “think like a man” to succeed sends the entire fight back 150 years. Turning everyone into one androgynous gender isn’t a solution.

That is not what needs done to create a good female lead. While some roles can fit either a man or woman, drafting a male character but changing it to female just for the sake of using a woman is a cheap ploy.

Creators need to take the time to look at why Katniss connects with so many people. Katniss is a different type of heroine that can’t be limited by the current categories. She’s not the same as heroes before. If she was, she wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

The literary and film success of The Hunger Games provides the ideal springboard to launch more female-driven entertainment. The pressure is on for the creation and publicizing of viable female leads.  Ignoring the opportunity will only limit what we see in the future.

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Filed under female characters, female geekdom, Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, movies, The Hunger Games

Her Universe talks about Mara Jade shirt

Monday Twitter was abuzz with the news that Her Universe plans to release a Mara Jade shirt for CVI. (check it out via ClubJade) Odds are that this shirt will go fast at the convention. I hope that it will also become available online for those who cannot attend the convention or are unable to purchase it at that time.

I hope that the introduction of a Mara Jade t-shirt is a sign for the integration of more Expanded Universe characters. While I don’t expect to see every single female character features, it would be nice for Jaina, Iella or Tenel Ka to join the group. EU merchandise is severely lacking. The future inclusion of SWTOR figurines is a little frustrating given how long we’ve been waiting for a solid EU line.

About a year or two ago, I sat on the couch in my living room bidding on Jacen and Jaina action figures on Ebay. It took a couple of tries to win the auction. That’s how in-demand those figures were. There’s a market, no question about it.

How many Dagobah Lukes or Mustafar Anakins need released each year? Swamping out one wave of “movie figures” for EU-based ones would not be detrimental to sales.

Her Universe released Naboo gold earrings and a Queen shirt for the 3D release of The Phantom Menace. I admit, I was rather surprised that these products weren’t released two weeks or further from the movie date. I have no idea if more people would have ordered the items if they knew they could wear them to the movie showings or not, but it does cause some thought.

The earrings are gold with the royal Naboo emblem in the middle. They match the shirt, which is red with the word “Queen” scrawled across the font.” Both items are rather subtle when it comes to identifying them as Star Wars. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. On one hand, more subtle clothing and jewelry makes the items more adaptable to everyday wear. On the other hand, it almost feels like hiding. It’s a mixed bag with no real answer.

Celebration VI is still quite a ways off. I wonder if we will see any new products until them. I certainly hope so. In addition to more EU-based merchandise, I keep hoping we’ll see some handbags, necklaces or headbands.

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Filed under Expanded Universe, fashion, female geekdom, Her Universe, Jaina Solo, Mara Jade

How to make a strong female character: Breaking past the stereotypes

The career-driven lawyer, the teacher with commitment issues, the rogue bounty hunter who’s trying to avenge a loss without getting close to anyone. All of these roles and more show up in movies and books featuring strong female characters. More often than not, during the bulk of the movie or book, the strong female character won’t give into love or won’t become allies with another person (insert any scenario) because of a career (No Strings Attached) or some other single-minded goal (A Woman Called Sage).

In the typically movie set up, the strong female character in question falls in love with the man, saves the day, escapes capture, ect. and at the end is suddenly a “female.” Now it’s okay for her to want kids. She can’t have any desire to be a mom before the end because that’s just not part of the stereotypical strong female definition. She’s allowed to marry, wear a nice dress and heels and have a massage. The stereotypes demands that the woman acts hard, cold and even the ever insulting, ignorant phrase “PMS-y.”

Because it’s okay for men to have mood swings, but not women. If a man freaks out on someone, he’s stressed or dark. If a woman does it, PMS. No questions asked.

One book that managed to not only keep the lead female actually believable and made it so her resolution wasn’t a complete 180 of her former self is A Women Called Sage by DiAnn Mills. Sage is a bounty hunger in the post-Civil War west whose husband and unborn son were murdered. She returns to her Native American roots on a quest to find her family’s killers. She lives off the land, refuses help from anyone and won’t entertain the thought of the future. Revenge is all that matters to her. At the end, she finds life again, but still maintains what made her the capable woman she was in the beginning of the book. She’s learned lessons, grown, but her core is intact.

When reading books or watching movies that boost a “strong female character,” I compare that person to the supporting cast. What makes the rest of the cast “weak?” (If that is what they are considered or how it’s portrayed.) In the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich, Stephanie’s mother, Ellen, is a homemaker and spends her days cooking. Does this make her a weak female character? What about Ellen’s desire to see her daughter in a safer job with a husband who loves her? Ellen appears as a weaker character on the surface due to stereotypes, but if readers look beneath the surface, they will find a woman who holds down her home no matter what is going on.

Often it feels as if romance, parenting or a trip to a spa is seen as a negative character factor for woman. When a woman says, “I love you,” she’s suddenly cast aside. What is it about love, family and female habits that make someone weak?

Absolutely nothing.

In the quest to make more female appealing characters, some authors and filmmakers are taking the wrong exit. When creating a female character, make her a woman. Don’t ask, “What would a man do?” in a situation. “What would that character do?” is the better question. If she has a fear of drowning, odds are that she would try to find another way around river than swimming across.

It’s far too easy to make a male character, give him a women’s name and call it a day. That doesn’t work. It’s the old sheep in wolf’s clothing bit. Something doesn’t look or feel right. Whether writing for a book, movie, video game or TV show, it’s easy to trap yourself into a set of rules regarding what the female characters can and cannot do. Becoming trapped often hinders character development. A character grows during the writing process. Stories evolve. That’s something good writers know and embrace. Setting hard rules as to what can and cannot be done only limits the story and characters, female or male.

There’s no formula or character sheet that gives the exact recipe for a strong female character. Rather than mold them all from the same mold, let them grow and adapt into something real, not mass produced.

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Filed under female characters, female geekdom

2011 in Recap

2011 is ending. I know. I can’t believe it either. This year I started blogging more often and intend to keep that up next year. This year was also an interesting one for Star Wars and geek culture in general.

So what happened this year that was significant to geeks and women? Let’s see, in February, Volkswagon aired a commercial showing a child dressed as Darth Vader trying to use the Force. Search engines exploded with questions about the child’s gender. Various factors like the bedroom and toys seen were used as evidence to both sides. Unfortunately, all this did was hurt the debate. In addition, this year was the first Geek Girl Con and based on various blog posts from those who attended, it sounded as if it was a rousing success and the Blizzard released a female-based World of Warcraft commercial.

In book news, fans were thrown for a loop when it was believed the X-Wing series was no longer in print. Fortunately, this isn’t true and we can all stay calm. Aaron Allston’s Conviction hit shelves, providing readers with his final piece of the Fate of the Jedi series. Fans can buy Star Wars books on their eBook readers and tablets. Unfortunately, not all book happenings were well received. Christie Golden’s Ascension caused a large stir with the introduction of domestic violence by heroes into Star Wars.

Amidst the other releases was the announcement of the release date and the cover of Aaron’s Allston’s new book Mercy Kill. Based on forums and Twitter feeds, fans are anxiously awaiting this book. There’s also word of a Timothy Zahn Han Solo book.

Finally, Star Wars The Old Republic launched. The launch of this game has been interesting. Servers are full. There are queues just to log into account management. The sheer number of people playing this game is fantastic.

Other pieces of Star Wars news trickled in, like the news of 3D Star Wars movies and return of Darth Maul to The Clone Wars.

2011 was up and down for us Star Wars. Lovers of the EU are still floundering in a state of limbo. Star Wars gamers have a great game. More people are accepting that women are an important part of the geek product market. We’re still seeing glass ceilings and brick walls, but it’s a start.

So what is 2012 going to bring? Will Apocalypse deliver? Are we going to see real female characters and not male characters with a women’s face?

Bring it on, 2012. Things are changing and it’s past time.

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Filed under 2011, female geekdom, Star Wars, Star Wars The Old Republic