‘Calling The Derision Of Anita Sarkeesian Rational Debate Is An Insult…’

‘Calling The Derision Of Anita Sarkeesian Rational Debate Is An Insult…’

“Calling the derision of Anita Sarkeesian rational debate is an insult to both her and the idea of debating ideas.” Writing for The New Statesman, Ian Steadman gives a thorough and well-reasoned rebuttal of many of the most popular arguments raised against feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian ever since she started her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series.

The essay is admirable for how handily it counters the extreme rhetoric and violent behaviour that Sarkeesian’s detractors use to decry her work. But, perhaps more importantly, this is a touching, heartfelt cry for a more reasoned and mutually respectful debate about gender and sexism in the modern video game industry. We could all stand to learn a thing or two about that, I think. Please give the piece a close read.


  • You know, if people were open to discussions of this nature then we wouldn’t have Anita doing this series.

    • Yeah, there could be discussions, but she blocks comments on here videos because of some trolls. But anyone saying something that’s currently a disputed topic will always get trolls. I think its better to just open up comments (and ratings) and see what people think. All her detractors open comments and ratings regardless of trolls, makes them seem more open to discussion and dialogue.

    • Okay. Then we shall discuss.
      Tell me 5 examples of games with strong female characters in them and why they were significant.

        • To be a discussion you have to be able to see both sides. By not being able to see the other side you are showing that you are closed minded on the topic and there is no point rationalizing with you.

          • I don’t think people are saying there’s not strong female characters, that there is very little.

            Or you get crap that happend in Metroid.

          • She gave 5 (or less?) examples of poor representation. I can smash out 5 examples of good representation and I can think of a few more (even more valid) forms of misrepresentation of women. I am just finding out if you can do the same. Or it isn’t a discussion it’s a lecture.

          • So you aren’t actually open to a discussion but you will preach about people not being able to have one? Officially done with this topic lol… Pointless.

          • @bmem1993 That, wasn’t the point of my comment. My point was that if people weren’t attacking women in the past then Anita wouldn’t exist now.

          • @bmem1993: I read your response as “neener neener neener I said something smarter and off center so much and you can’t respond! SO MUCH SMARTAR NAOW!”

            So we’re you after *real* debate? Or just felt the need to show some sort of moral/intellectual superiority on a rather general (albeit apropriate) response?

          • @rock_m I was after a real debate. Just because Neo didn’t partake doesn’t mean you need to respond with aggression. Which is funny because that is what this whole article is against, and the beginning of this thread seemed to imply a civilised discussion. Which was all I was asking for. Sorry that it confused you buddy (Y)

          • @bmem1993: I tend to disagree… your initial response was a fairly standard “passive-agressive” attack response. Completely miss the point of Neo’s response and follow it up with an “aggressive” question… and then continue off the beaten track followed by a “passive” victory spiel of your “victory” because “no one takes it seriously”.

          • Here’s a better comparison: name five examples of good male characters in video games.

            Use the exact same criteria you’d use for female characters, too – guys who aren’t merely passive objects, and who aren’t super scantily clad. Be consistent: if you count Chell as a good female character, you can’t fail to include guys simply because they have no defined personality or backstory.

            Now, do five more. Now five more. Chances are, when I gave the challenge to begin with, you didn’t have to think about it at all – you just thought ‘oh, that’s most characters.’

            Now think about how hard you have to think to come up with good female characters. If you really wanna do it right, keep naming characters on both sides of the gender divide until you run out. And not just that – also name characters that fail my test above, and whether they were male or female.

            I guarantee – GUARANTEE – that you’ll find it much, MUCH harder to name good female characters than male characters. And passive characters, who the players are not supposed to empathise with and who are treated as objects, will make up a MUCH larger proportion of the female characters. And that’s a pretty freaking big sign that something fishy’s going on here.

          • That’s not really a fair way to do it. I would argue you really need to look at trends rather than individual games. It could probably be proved, I would think that the number of strong female characters in games is increasing rather than decreasing as social acceptabilities chance. Does that mean there aren’t problems and there shouldn’t be discussion? Of course not. It does mean though that we are probably heading in the right direction in general and as long as we continue to have productive discussion instead of reactionary knee-jerk responses the situation will continue to improve.

          • Nobody should be counting Chell as a “good” female character.

            Nothing fishy going on, just a result of marketing and demographics.

            Much like a Cosmopolitan magazine uses men as passive objects (We asked 20 guys to say less than 20 words about what they really want in the bedroom!) to engage with their target audience, video games do the same.

            And just like video games, cosmopolitan aims for close to the lowest common denominator to reach the widest audience. Which results in some pretty shocking and two-dimensional portrayals of the opposite sex. The target demo’s opposite gender will always be the passive role, because these products are aimed at a specific gender.

            Unfortunately until women start buy more copies of triple A titles than men, you’re going to have to get used to women being underrepresented in games.

            I personally think The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) was one of the best female characters in games of recent years. Hell, not just female characters, all characters. She was in no way passive, she was in a leadership role, had complex motivations, had deeply a feminine identity that explored ideas like motherhood in its many forms, and consistently outperformed her male co-stars physically and mentally. Even EVA, another character in the game, utilised her sexuality to manipulate and control male characters, subverting the idea of male gaze in video games. She also completely out-smarts every other character in the story.

            And The Last Of Us could fill the 5 good female characters list alone.

  • My wife is doing her PHD in video game studies and feminism at university, and i found this piece incredibly interesting. I believe that even Joss Whedon has come out in support of Anita.
    I wholeheartedly suggest that people watch the whole piece and take the time to reflect on the representations of sexualised objects that we see far too often.

  • Every time I see a Sarkeesian article/video I see three types of responses:
    1. Agreement, with various reasons why.
    2. Disagreement, with various reasons why.
    3. Derision.
    I never ever ever see #2 addressed. All I ever hear about is #3. I read Kotaku comments on the AU and US site that raise points of reasonable contention and based on my own experience (I won’t say that this is the case across the board) these far outweigh the name calling etc., But I never see anyone bringing a spotlight to these notions. Instead, all I ever see from Kotaku is perfect agreement or highlighting the extreme responses.

    • Agree completely, You will always get trolls on a topic that viewed as “in contention” but if you silence them you silence the genuine detractors also, i.e blocking comments and ratings

    • Unfortunately the mindset when her videos appear is either “You support Anita and her ideals” or “You are the problem because you’re against her ideals”. To quote myself just 24 hours ago:

      Funny, because if I discussed the video like you are saying, I’d still be considered narrow minded because I’m not blindly praising the video. People like myself are in a no-win situation.

      Personally, as I stated yesterday a few times, I support some of the things that Anita brings up as they need to be addressed; however, what I do not agree with is the manner is which she presents the information and the attitude she takes in term of discussion or detractors that present themselves in a respectful, researched, and well written manner. (Aka your #2)

      Anita tends to present herself as “My opinion is the only one that matters and you are wrong and are the problem if you disagree with it”. This isn’t something that promotes people to discuss rationally, force is met with force. Hence the angry trolls.

      • Just wanted to second you, I’ve actually meant to watch more of her videos but the few I’ve seen bug me a bit, because it’s an important issue that needs to be addressed and her research and breadth is usually great.

        But then there’s a leap where her opinion and attitude starts colouring it to an unfair degree and the videos start feeling much more biased than they actually are.

        Of course that could just have been with the few videos I watched.

        • It’s not just you, that’s exactly how I feel about it. Any good discussion is washed away with “Anita’s so brave, how dare you disagree” and “You’re just another entitled male”. It becomes this big emotional issue, and once it’s at that point people get emotional and beyond reason.

          We all want the same thing, I’m willing the bet even the nastiest of trolls would agree, they just hate how it’s presented, since she does it in a way that polarizes people and genders.

          • I’d disagree on the all wanting the same thing part.

            Honestly the vast majority of trolls and definitely the worst of them are really awful and deserve to be called out for all the shit they do. They probably would be making as big a stink even if every issue more moderate people have with her videos was addressed.

            The problem is, that utter vitriol means anyone who would like to have a reasoned nuanced discussion gets drowned out or lumped into one of two absolutes.

            I should also point out this is hardly limited to the gaming sphere, look at any major online look into feminism at the moment. It’s a hot button topic being dragged down by broad caricatures on both sides.

            It’s just a bit easier to single out gamers, because as a group we have certainly had our share of awful misogynistic events. But unfortunately so have many other groups, sexism is a massive issue in our society… We need things like the Tropes vs Women videos, but if they’re going to mean a damn thing we also need to be able to go further.

      • I don’t usually debate this on Kotaku because of #3, but I’ll give it a go.

        I think she presents that way because it is the normal method of critical analysis, to place yourself as the expert. The part I think she could do better at is the most important part, fairly representing the opposing arguments. She occasionally does this, but mostly she doesn’t bother to try. I don’t know if she does this because of the limitations of the format, if she doesn’t want to highlight the arguments because she believes them to be harmful or if she just wants to make her arguments more convincing but it’s obviously not helpful.

        That said, the trolls are definitely not justified and debate should be performed without so much personal bias.

      • I’ve got nothing against Kotaku having a particular editorial agenda, certainly I have nothing against condemning people who are sending death threats or similar, but I wish they would highlight this piece.

        Maybe it’s not perfect, maybe it has elements which could be corrected, maybe it is a bit of a mess, but it’s the start of a discussion. I’ve stayed away from making any comment in any of these discussions for precisely the same reasons Total Biscuit goes into here. It would be valuable to have a place where people are reasonable and empathetic, rather than just shouting at the latest target.

        I recognise Kotaku is fundamentally about journalism and so is mostly reports on whatever extreme action has most recently happened. It doesn’t have to be (as I think Mr. Serrels has shown on numerous occasions).

    • Yeah, I’m not denying #3 exists but #2 and even #1 seem to be completely pushed to the side for the sake of fanning the flames of #3. I’ll give the authors the benefit of the doubt there and say they do it accidentally, but more often than not they bait trouble by insisting anyone who doesn’t totally agree with their simplified, two paragraph stance is an asshole blight upon the Earth.
      As though you have to be a misogynistic freak to point out that Nintendo actually have a really good track record when it comes to not just character genders but accessibility of their games to one of the widest audiences in the industry and their refusal to pander to certain big money low brow audiences (it’s hard to name even one Nintendo game that blocks out anyone other than the 8-15 year old ‘refuses to play anything without sex, blood and violence’ teen male demographic). I mean it doesn’t give them a get out of jail free card for everything they do but it’s definitely something that should be explored. Even if you think Nintendo are causing problems with their portrayal of female characters in their games it’s something that adds an extra level of depth to the conversation.

    • I will happily debate with you as a person who, generally speaking, fits in #1 – provided you’re not using arguments debunked in the attached article. In other words, if you’re willing to play the ball and not the man.

  • I think the better solution is to write a script that blocks anything Sarkeesian related.

    Anything involving her instantly degenerates into bile. (To be clear, I don’t mean that she writes bile, or that she is bile. Only that if her name is involved at all, it becomes a raging sh!tstorm)

    That being said, I believe she’s the most successful troll of all time!

  • My problem is that she sees issues where there sometimes aren’t and also she grabs at any straws that she can to prove a point, even going so far as to kill some strippers in Hit Man and saying that men are ‘encouraged’ and get ‘aroused’ over doing that. EVEN WHEN THE GAME FUCKING PENALIZES YOU FOR KILLING INNOCENT BYSTANDERS. And that the whole male population will do this and will get aroused by this is quite frankly insulting and is SEXIST.

    She never makes mention of sexualised male characters or overly macho steriotypes of male characters, because to her, that doesn’t exist. only women are sexualised and steriotyped.

    And she acts as if ALL women are insulted by portayals of females, and sure there are plenty of games that have questionable female roles, and I agree with those aspects.

    If she actually presented equal sides of the story EVEN if she is proving a femenist point
    I believe people more people would take her more seriously.

    Also, she is not a gamer at heart.


    • When making an argument, the point is not to present all sides but to present your side.

      Also, who cares if she is or is not a gamer at heart? Film critics are not movie makers yet people accept their opinions.

    • … you literally did not read the article, did you? Because it calmly and logically dissects every one of the arguments you just put forth (except male representation) including the hitman stripers thing.

      As for the issue of portrayal of men, I for one, would welcome an in-depth critique and exploration of the limitations placed on the portrayals of men in video games – but a series dedicated to the portrayal of women is not the place for it.

    • Why is mentioning the troubling portrayal of men in video games relevant to the troubling portrayal of women in video games? The points she brings forth are not dependant on men being portrayed properly (which they clearly aren’t) so why does the burden fall to her to cover men’s issues in games?

      I wish people would start highlighting the problematic portrayal of men in video games, it’s really overlooked. But honestly, it’s not Anita’s job.

    • Can I just point out – as I’m sure you already know – that this video is from 2011. There’s a very good chance that she likes gaming now, thus she is a ‘gamer’ (if you can be bothered with labels). Tastes change – seven years ago I never set foot in the kitchen, now I consider myself a cook.

    • Just coz she’s not a gamer at heart doesn’t mean her points on female tropes less relevant from a feminist point of view. The subject could be broadened to female tropes in sitcoms, action movies, etc if she wasn’t a complete movie buff and still be just as relevant.

      Reacting by saying “oh but you’re not a gamer, therefore your point is irrelevant” only increases the divide between gamers & non-gamers.

      Despite agreeing with most of her points & finding her videos to be quite thought provoking, I found from the videos I’ve seen of her a while ago enough evidence to make me suspicious of her true motives to create that kickstarter. Interestingly enough – when I mentioned this elsewhere I was accused of being a misogynist. It’s interesting to see that the guys like me who are trying to learn and overcome our naivety are belittled and are being poorly-judged by the very people who are trying to fix the problems that exist.

  • That is true. However let’s not forget that it’s still okay to dislike her or not agree with her about everything.

    • Yes.

      But do you hate her because she’s either a. A woman or b. Because she’s asking for equal rights, or c. You have actual disagreements that can be backed up with rational thought?

      • Oh it’s definitely okay to just dislike them because they really rub you the wrong way. I think it’s good if you can understand why you feel the way you do but you don’t necessarily have to explain yourself to anyone. You do have to justify criticism though, just ragging on someone is not okay.

  • I highly recommend people give this article a read.

    Freddie deBoer: “It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing.

    ….I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks….If you are a young person who is still malleable and subject to having your mind changed, and you decide to engage with socially liberal politics online, what are you going to learn immediately? Everything that you like is problematic. Every musician you like is misogynist. Every movie you like is secretly racist. Every cherished public figure has some deeply disqualifying characteristics. All of your victories are the product of privilege. Everyone you know and love who does not yet speak with the specialized vocabulary of today’s social justice movement is a bad, bad person. That is no way to build a broader coalition, which we desperately need if we’re going to win.”


  • I don’t mind her videos, they may bring up useful thoughts, but I just don’t/have never bothered thinking about it when playing any games, I play mainly for a story or mechanic. (and hopefully to distress/have fun)

  • I’ve watched two of her videos. Whist I can see the demeaning way that some females are portrayed in some games and happily welcome debate on that. I don’t really like it when the character you play is the aggressor. I also don’t like being preached to like its some kind of massive issue that some females are portrayed in this light and that the depiction of violence instills similar negative behavior in males. In fact I think its doing the opposite. It actually reinforces to me that the behavior is not appropriate and teaches consequence in the justice virtual characters are dealt.

  • I’m not a fan of her viewpoint but if I go into why I’m not a fan I get downvoted into oblivion by white knights who believe if you make eye contact with a woman you should be thrown in jail for rape.

    • Exactly this, people have no idea of Anita Sarkeesians history. She is a bigot, no two ways about it. It’s her opinion or the highway. A real feminist would be ashamed to be in the same category as her.

      People are just bandwagoning…”ohhh I believe in social justice! Yeah, what she said!” without actually reading enough to determine her ideology. I’m all for social justice and equality but that woman is not a rational human.

      PS I loved Oni, No-one Lives Forever, Mirrors Edge etc… Also find most of my friends and I play female characters in MMO’s. I think strong female protagonists are awesome, I just think that woman in particular is insane.

  • I like the part where everyone thinks that the detractors are actually hate filled assholes and not just people that have better things to do with their time than write well thought out rebuttals to crap that doesn’t actually matter.

    “boohoo women in video games”…. as if there aren’t unrealistic images of women everywhere? Not to mention that all of the male characters are generally crazy heroes and what not.

  • I feel this is played out in the wrong arena. Twitter, youtube and Kotaku (Really sorry to lump Kotaku with the other two) are not forums for a proper debate on this. They are however forums for consumers and fans to have a discussion on the topic. What we need is a proper discussion on a major forum like E3 or Gamescom or (since its coming up) PAX. Not a keynote, but a proper panel debate with the major studios and developers. This way, at least the industry can stand as one, one way or the other (or I suspect somewhere near the middle where it should be)

    Anita, though she highlights great points regarding females in gaming, does seem to present message which invites confrontation. She has always done so. In fact, I would argue most internet personalities that wade into these debates do so as well. Though it seems everything else on the news is about confrontations of some sort, it seems there is a bigger social issue at play.

    In regards to topic at hand, females in gaming. There is indeed a misrepresentation of women in gaming. There is a misrepresentation of women in movies, books and probably every medium dating back to hieroglyphics an cave drawings. This does not mean we should accept the current state as norm, but we must take into account where gaming comes from (i.e. the other storytelling media).

    Many would argue that they can name several examples of strong women in gaming (indeed reading through the comments, there was a thread where people were arguing that they can name more than 5 titles featuring strong female characters which somehow diminishes Anita, and other peoples arguments). Everyone must accept that as a whole women in gaming is often as the weaker half, the damsel in distress, the sexual object. Even in games where women are strong, they are misrepresented. If I recall, Metroid first showed Samus as female in a bikini…Most MMO’s portray females wearing metal bras as some form of heavy armor. No one lives forever couples the character’s strength with her sexuality. On the other hand, despite the use of rape as a progression element in the new Tomb Raider, Lara was also clearly shown as a strong character, one which does not ever use the term female as an excuse for weakness (in truth, I still have no idea what the issue was in the first place). Mirror’s Edge, Countless RPGs (esp ones which lets you choose your character’s sex thus removing the issue altogether), Mass Effect, Portal etc all show strong female characters. Though as a whole, we are still in the mindset where females are “weaker”, whether this is true or not is one issue, the fact is, this merely stems from centuries of storytelling and changing this will take time, conviction and calmer heads from everyone…

    (This probably wanders all over the place….so I apologise for that)

  • @bmem1993

    You asked for 5 female characters that were both strong and significant in gaming. That’s easy.

    1. Jade (Beyond Good and Evil)

    She is the everywoman. She is a photojournalist, cares for orphaned children, and can kick butt. She is also attractive but in no way designed to be sexually provocative or suggestive. Her game is so well regarded and she is so well-defined a character that the game was brought back in HD, and a sequel is in the works.

    2. Samus (Metroid)

    The original bad-ass. She is a powerful warrior who kicks butt every way imaginable. Clearly an easy choice.

    3. Chun Li (Street Fighter)

    She’s been in just about every game, and is so popular that she is the only character from the series to get her own Hollywood film. She was the “go-to” female character in fighting games for almost a decade.

    4. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)

    Tomb Raider introduced us to an English explorer and archaeologist named Lara Croft. Almost a dozen games, two Hollywood films and hundreds of magazine covers – she’s a powerful name in the game and mainstream industry and is a strong character.

    5. Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII)

    She’s probably the most abrasive, toughest character in any RPG I’ve played, and she’s also powerful with a sword. She’s popular enough that she is considered the main character in Final Fantasy XIII, and was even brought back for a second sequel that had her name as part of the subtitle. Clearly a strong character.

    These are just a few off the top of my head. All of them are playable characters, or the sole playable character in their titles, and all of them have appeared in multiple titles.

    Here’s a few more…

    Sarah Kerrigan (Starcraft)
    Chloe Frasier (Uncharted)
    Elena Fisher (Uncharted)
    Cortana (Halo)
    Jill Valentine (Resident Evil)
    Alyx Vance (Half-Life)
    Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect)
    Ashley Williams (Mass Effect)
    Samara (Mass Effect)
    Morinth (Mass Effect)
    Jack (Mass Effect)
    Aria T’Loak (Mass Effect)
    Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite)
    April Ryan (The Longest Journey)
    Bayonetta (Bayonetta)

    Heres 50 more…


    • I dont see why it should matter anyway. You dont ask an author to write 2 books with a lead of a different sex in each. Books and movies usually have main characters that reflect their main targeted demographic, which in the (core) gaming case is certainly guys. I don’t think it’s sexist to therefore have a lot more male leads in most video games, it’s financially sensible. If you put a female character in, that doesnt mean you’re nessecarily going to get less guy players or girl players anyway.

      The argument that “we should have more female leads so more girls will play!” is silly and lacks foresight. There are games made specifically for girls and there are games that target a much broader demographic in terms of gender, that doesnt mean all games should suddenly have female leads to try to incubate a demographic which isn’t there, and for the sake of some white knights thinking it’s sexist not having more female leads. That just makes no sense logically or financially.

    • Cool that is exactly what I was looking for 🙂 these are the points the woman in the video does not cover. Which is why she gets negativity. I agree that there is a lot of misrepresentation of women in video games, never said I didn’t. She just goes about showing it the wrong way. Her attitude and narrow scope is what puts people off. Also that some of her examples are questionable and not backed with context. Another thing a lot of people found infuriating.

    • A great list and exactly why I hate how Anita is not willing to show examples of women in gaming done right. Each of these characters are great, with a fair few even being better than most lead male characters in games.
      The only negative that I actually agree with Anita about that applies to this list is over-sexualization. A fair few of the characters on this list have suffered from it. Most have gotten better (the Tomb Raider reboot really helped Lara’s image), but others seem to have gotten worse (Lightning Returns was just full of Lightning being over-sexualized).
      I will add that one specific character that I see people say has been increasingly over-sexualized but actually isn’t, is Samus. While the Zero Suit does show off her body, it’s the equivalent of a divers suit. Remember her original Zero Suit? It was a bikini!

  • Can’t you just post shit about games? I’m tired of this feminist shit that is on EVERY SINGLE game website these days…

  • Allow me to sum up gentlemen, so you can get back to your euphoric tipping.

    1) Things aren’t that bad for women in gaming.
    2) Sure, MAYBE there are a FEW things that need fixing but it doesn’t need all that DRAMA the Sarkeesian woman CREATES, if only she were REASONABLE like us gentlemen.
    3) Tsk, tsk, people shouldn’t be rude to her but you know, she kind of ASKS FOR IT.
    4) If these women just QUIETENED DOWN and listened to our LOGICAL rebuttals, rather than responding with HYSTERICAL EMOTION then all of this would blow over and we could get back to what is important, shooting aliens as a dudebro with a jive talking negro sidekick and a sassy kick ass love interest who is sassy and kick ass up until the point you have to go rescue her and then she totally falls in love with you. The end.

    Ta da, saved a few pages of internet ink there.

  • Is it possible to completely agree with a message but not be able to stand the messenger? Because, honestly, that is the thought that comes into my head every time I read or hear the name “Anita Sarkeesian”.

    Her overall message is something I agree with. Gaming has been since it’s conception effectively been an “old boy’s club”. Anecdotally, female participation in the medium in any significant number has been rather low until comparatively recently. Unfortunately, this is seems to be the cause of many of the issues that Anita airs. And these do need to be corrected.

    However, personally I find Anita herself comes across as very sanctimonious, conceited and has an attitude that, has been previously pointed out by many, many of her critics, of “You are either with me 100% or you are the problem”.

    Sadly, this attitude is, to my mind, possessed by many vocal feminist writers and activists. These people are a great minority in what has been a wonderful movement that has moved society forward in vital ways that have needed fixing since time immemorial. Unfortunately, we only remember the most vocal and outrageous voices.

    It’s absolutely disgusting and unforgivable what has been lauded at Anita, and as downright insufferable as she can come across as, let us not forget the message, nor let it be buried in the drama.

  • I guess the real question is: How did we get here and how can we move on, without culling the popluation?

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