Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bollocks to GamerGate, bollocks to check boxes

I've been lurkingly following GamerGate for a while - enough to know what the debate is about, if not the intricacies and specifics. I'm deliberately not linking to it, for reasons I'll hit below. I figured I wanted to blog about it.

Or not it. As ever, I'll pick a subject apart to see what makes it tick. To see what I'm *really* thinking about it. The world is pretty confusing to me these days - I'm rather a simpleton, but one out of choice than luck. So I like to break things down a bit.

On the one hand, Gamergate is a discussion we should have been having 20 years ago. It's a discussion we should be having all the time. 20th century western culture (yes, it is very much a post-WW2 phenomenon I think) is not one that any person can be particularly proud of - and here I mean mainstream culture. Games yes. And TV. Magazines. Advertising. Cooking. Everything you enter into by venturing out into the street. Let's have this discussion. Let's at least start now.

On the other hand (or perhaps it's the SAME HAND) let's not call it GamerGate. Let's not turn it into a meme, another internet fad that is sealed off, another hyperlink. It deserves better than that. "GamerGate" as a term stinks of everything it is trying to blow apart - trademarked brand phrases to lodge short-lived ideas in the wandering minds of people raised on headlines. It's not even sexism. Or it is, but it's bigger than that. I'm with Foucault on this.

Let's switch perspective briefly. I feel lucky to have had a son born recently. He's my second son, I have two boys. I'll skip the gushing parental adjectives. This isn't about me or them. It's about that bit at the back of your mind that sees two sons and thinks "wow, you two kids are damn lucky." It's about the "luck" they have because of who they are, not my luck for having them.

Except it's bollocks all to do with luck, isn't it?

Son 1 is big into superheroes these days like all the kids. Spiderman, Superman, Hulk, Batman (a bit) - even Iceman. That's a lot of men. They like to fight other men.

Iceman is on the list because I'm cheap and just watch the old 60s cartoons on YouTube with him. I'm aware American comics generally are pretty rubbish models for targeting both genders. But 'Spiderman and his amazing Friends' does at least try - alongside Iceman there's Firestar, in fetching yellow and red. She does fire stuff and fights ... men.

Fast forward 2 hours to the Lego Store up the road, packed with superheroes. Spidey is there, plus all the current favourites - Hulk, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America Man. Ice Man is sadly gone. But so is Firestar.

IT'S ALL MEN.

FIGHTING MEN.

But wait, don't get distracted. It's not about the fighting. I'm not saying kids shouldn't fight, that's a different discussion altogether.

What I *am* saying is This: Our culture, our stories, our lens onto the world, is one in which "males are inherently powerful" and "females are lucky/special/token if they're powerful". It's a story which turns into an expectation of privilege - or anti-privilege, if you're looking down on someone on the other side. In our mind, the story becomes a *right*. Go into the Lego store, and you know what girls' rights are? Big yachts and pets. The fighting gets replaced by throwing a party. LIKE BOYS CAN'T THROW PARTIES.

It's not just American comic superheros, which we know are a bad model business. It's what we buy - as boys. Robots (male ones), dragon slayers (male ones), turtles (male ones). Female ones are thrown in, as a gesture to post-modernity, but you're damn lucky if your ratio is more than 1:4. And they always just ... stand out from the others.

On the flip side, girls get to do cool stuff like be doctors, vets, and cleaners.

(Personally I love a lot of Eastern stories because the women kick arse. The Heroic Trio (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Heroic_Trio) is a truly amazing film.)

This is about *received power* and the *expectations* of what you are *entitled* to do because of who you are. It is a list of check boxes for your own attributes that gets turned into a cultural image, which in turn gets converted into the sleaziest thing of all - a *product*.

So far I'm not saying anything new. That's for a good - no, a *vital* reason: THIS IS NOT NEW. Not by a long shot. The only thing needed is for anyone that thinks it stinks to say so. That's what would be new.

It's not about gaming, or coding, or banking, or cooking, or driving, or fighting, or saving money. It's about one thing: an individual being able to feel they can do whatever they've decided to do without pre-vetting themselves just because they think someone else won't like it. Re-read that until you get it.

On my own parental behalf, I'll do my best to get gender balance into stories - others and mine - where I can. And to not dissuade anyone, kids included, from doing something because they have different check boxes. I'm proud that Son 1 wants the dinosaur-catching guy toy he just got to be a girl. I'll happily leave the Heroic Trio lying about for when they're the right age to watch it. I'll make sure we have plenty of cooking and cleaning stuff around the house - including the simple act of me doing it.

Cooking is awesome.

Bollocks to check boxes.

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