Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Sexism" in fiction

The current feminist narrative is that the media, especially video games, is rife with sexism against women. And many people believe it without question. But let's think about it for a bit.

Consider all of the movies, TV series, books and video games you have ever read, seen or played, where violence is depicted, and consider these aspects:
  • How many of the victims of the violence have been female, and how many of them have been male?
  • In the cases where the genders of the victim and the perpetrator are not the same, in how many cases has it been a man who is the perpetrator and a woman who has been the victim?
  • When the perpetrator has been a man and the victim has been a woman, in how many cases has the story depicted the violence as something justified or positive? In how many cases has it been depicted as the perpetrator being a monster of a person, a disgusting criminal, or otherwise a completely despicable person?
  • When the perpetrator has been a woman and the victim a man, in how many cases has it been depicted as a justified or positive act? In how many cases has it been depicted as the perpetrator being a vile, despicable person?
There are, of course, examples of all possible combinations in existence. However, I think you'd agree that on average the vast majority of works of fiction depict violence against men as much more prevalent, and often more acceptable, than violence against women. You'd also agree that when it's a man committing an act of aggression towards a woman, it's almost universally depicted as a despicable, horrible thing, while in the other direction is more often than not depicted as something justified, positive, or both. It's hard to find any work of fiction where a man being violent to a woman is depicted as justified or positive (with the exception, perhaps, of for example a male law enforcement officer apprehending a woman who is, for instance, a serial or spree killer who is extremely violent. Even this is quite rare.)

The same is true for video games: I think you'd agree that at least 99% of enemies that you can kill are always male. Very, very rarely you get to kill female characters. Even in the few games where you can, their gender tends to be basically indistinguishable from men in terms of game mechanics (in other words, the game has simply been programmed so that you can kill anybody, completely regardless of gender; the game makes no distinction.) You'd be hard pressed to find a video game where you kill more female enemies than male ones.

If there is any "sexism" in fiction, it's in the other direction: Males are predominantly the victims of violence, and violence against women is almost universally depicted as despicable, while violence against men is not, especially if the perpetrator is a woman (in which case it's almost always depicted as justified or a positive thing.)

However, I wouldn't call that sexism. It simply reflects the real world. In real life we, as a society, also consider violence against women more despicable and condemnable than violence against men. Moreover, we tend to almost universally dismiss a woman being violent against a man as having any kind of importance. ("He probably deserved it" is a thought that's universally held by most people in such a situation. That thought is extremely, extremely sexist, but it's natural.)

So where does this notion come from, that fiction, especially video games, is sexist against women? My hypothesis is that it's precisely because we as a society consider violence against women more despicable, and thus we tend to pay more attention to it, which inflates our notion of its prevalence. I wrote about this in more detail in a previous blog post.

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