Bigotry Doesn’t Care About Your Intentions

Racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and other forms of discrimination that limit opportunities to people based on some unchangeable fact about themselves don’t care about intentions.

Forms of discrimination have become a very different sort of beast in the current day.  It’s no longer the obvious racism such as the Jim Crow laws.  Racism, sexism, ageism, and much discrimination is now a subtle subconscious mindset that, if one is not paying attention, can be perpetuated unwillingly and unknowingly.  Because of this it is increasingly easy to contribute to these subconscious paradigms unwillingly and accidentally.

There are very obvious sorts of discrimination, but it’s the unconscious reflexive sort of actions that truly contribute to discrimination in our current world.  Actions such as checking one’s wallet when they pass a black person or holding on extra tight to their purse can be the subtle sort of unconscious racism that permeates our culture and constitutes our subconscious racist paradigms.  They are socially constituted and culturally ingrained through stereotypes. Continue reading

On Zerlina Maxwell, Rape, and Homo Neanderthalensis

Zerlina Maxwell was recently on Hannity to talk about rape and “gun control.” [LINK: Zerlina Maxwell on Hannity – YouTube] to Maxwell’s point was that men should be taught “not to rape.”  In typical Hannity fashion he refused to allow her to speak, constantly interrupting her and refusing to recognize the point she was trying to make.  Hannity refused to allow Maxwell to make her point.  Maxwell’s point? Women shouldn’t be charged with the responsibility of stopping rape once it starts – men should be charged with the responsibility of not raping women in the first place.

My point is Maxwell’s point – men should be taught not to rape.  Rape cases far too often focus on the woman in the case, the victim.  It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the woman to defend herself from being raped.  It should be the responsibility of the rapist to not rape.

Hannity, during his constant interruptions of Maxwell, tried to make a point which is commonly used in political discourse saying that “You think you can tell a rapist to stop doing what he is doing?… And he is going to listen to an ad campaign to stop?”*  Hannity implies that a rapist is a rapist and at no point was he anything other than a rapist.  At no point does one become a rapist, he merely is a rapist.

The problem is in regarding a rapist as though they were always a rapist, and more generally a criminal as always a criminal.  Rapists are not born rapists – they are not forged from stone and steel like a sword made for raping. Continue reading

Response to Criticisms of “Misandry in Video Games”

Rumirumirumirumi made some very poignant critiques about my recent article, Analysis of “Misandry in Video Games”.  I would like to take the time to address his critiques and acknowledge some of the problems that were in my article.  I’m going to be responding slightly out of the order that Rumi presents his arguments, but only for the sake of flow and clarity.

The use of the word “misogyny” is using the same sort of eye-catching you decried, so that we’ve extended the word misogyny to include “sexism against women”. This isn’t problematic in itself, but when you try to oppose the same understanding of how sexism is the result of hostility against a sex when applied to men, it raises questions that the idea of false equivalency doesn’t satisfy. I don’t see a problem extending misandry the same way we have extended misogyny, such that Sarkeesian’s project is looking strictly at sexism but has been extended by her and others to classify as a look at misogyny.

I agree with this statement.  The use of misogyny can definitely get out of hand.  However, I do not believe that I misused misogyny when I did use it, and I attempt to keep myself from using the word in an inappropriate way.  People who say misogyny when they mean sexism should be called out on their misappropriation of terms.  We have the word misogyny for a reason and the word sexism for a reason, and they mean two very different things.  They need to be kept separate.  As for my personal usage of the term, I only use the term to refer to the misogynistic behavior and the misogynistic mentality that some men in the gaming culture hold.  I never claim that video games in themselves are misogynistic or that the gaming industry is misogynistic (because I don’t believe they are), but that the games that they produce can lend themselves to promoting the misogynistic behavior and mentality that is uncomfortably pervasive in gaming culture and the gaming community.

The project operators don’t claim that the representation of men are not problematic, or that nothing should be done about it. I have seen some people make this claim, but they don’t represent the project directors and producers, and they are obviously an absurd contingent. How would it make sense to catalog the ways in which men are poorly and unfair portrayed in video games and subsequently declare that there is nothing problematic about it? Just because the videos might be misappropriated doesn’t discount their argument. There is just as much potential misunderstanding in Sarkeesian, whose videos are used as apologies for draconian policies that have little to do with her thesis. That does not discredit the videos in and of themselves.

I would agree (although I fail to see how her videos are apologies for draconian policies), but I never associate such claims with the project’s creators.  I give ground early in the article about their intentions saying that – “If it is truly an attempt to be academic and intellectual about the tropes of men in video games then it should be seen and heard, if only for the sake of continuing the conversation to more fully understand the issues at hand.”  My argument about men who decry the misrepresentation of men in video games does not apply to the creators, and I never meant it to be applied to them.  I was generally describing the men who would most likely attempt to misapply the findings of this video series.

The lack of credentials you point out might be important to someone considering supporting the project, but taking it beyond that is strictly ad hominem. Whether or not we can trust them based on their experience or scholarly accreditation should influence how much money we’d personally give them, but not whether their ideas are valid.

Agreed.  I never state that the ideas of the project’s creators are invalidated by their lack of credentials.  I can see how this section (No Credential, No Website, No Reason to Trust) could be misread as me saying that the ideas are not worth anything.  However I was merely pointing out that there was no reason to trust that what they produce will be an academic or scholarly video series.  If they prove me wrong then more power to them, they have created a powerful video series that can be used to more fully understand the complex representation and misrepresentation of gender in a very new form of media.  However, you are right – the only thing this should affect is whether you want to back this project or not.

The director made a statement that their project is not a critique of Sarkeesian. If you want to accuse them of lying, that’s one thing. But it’s just as likely they’re riding the support and interest in Sarkeesian’s project as much as the hatred and harassment pointed at her.

I never claimed that they were producing a critique of Sarkeesian, nor do I accuse them of lying, at any point.  You make a good point that they may be riding on the support and interest of Sarkeesian’s project just as much as the hatred and harassment.  However, my point was that they were abusing a certain circumstance to put forth a point of view that could easily be misconstrued and misapplied to further the misogynistic mentality of men in the gaming community.  They were using the abuse lobbed at Sarkeesian (and possibly the support) to generate more website hits.  For me this raises red flags.

As well, I never claim intention on the part of the creators.  I should probably have made that clearer (and it may have seem implied that I claimed intention on the part of the creators).  An analogy – You have a surfer who is looking for the new, next big wave to surf on.  When surfing he never knows when a large wave will hit, but when a large wave comes he rides it.   However, if his friends text him and tell him that the waves are huge during that day he knows that there are big waves to be surfed upon.  He can choose to ride that day, or he can choose not to.  But if he rides that day, and his friends have told him that the waves are huge, he cannot be surprised when he rides a huge wave.

The creators brought this project to the table at a specific time, and if they were watching the internet at all, they knew that this was out there.  They may not have directly intended to ride the hatred (and possibly the support) of Sarkeesian, but they can’t act surprised when that wave comes towards them (because they should have known the climate of the video game community at the time).  By creating the project during the climate that was existent at that time they should have recognized the possibility, and high probability, that they would ride said wave.  Thus I believe that they can be held accountable for their actions in riding the wave of hatred towards Sarkeesian.  (I’m really hoping the surfer example makes things clearer, not muddier)

It’s possible for certain varieties of men and male behaviour to be mistreated within the patriarchy because the dominance of men over women is predicated on a particular kind of male and particular behaviours. This is a powerful argument in favour of examining and dismantling patriarch. An examination of hypermasculine representations is in support of, rather than detriment of, a program to investigate tropes more generally, especially alongside a gender critique of female representations. To characterize this look at misandry as a counterargument to examinations of misogyny is to misrepresent the project, and the project page at several different places tries to make this clear.

This Friday (hopefully, as this week has been super busy) I’m going to be addressing this issue.  I’m going to talk about why tackling the problem of misrepresentation of men in video games is an endeavor that, while not detrimental to women, does not actually help women overall in the attempt to achieve equality.  (If it is not up Friday you can expect it sometime next week after the Monday update on my article – The Panoptic Power of Men in Gaming).

All of this does not address my more general criticism of this variety of media studies work when applied to games. It seem neither Sarkeesian or this misandry project will closely attend to the fact that representations in video games constitute a radically different dynamic between creator and audience than representations in film studies, from which this variety of critique is derived. I would be happy to talk to you more widely about this objection, but put simply I object to both of these projects because, as they have been explained (since the series have not been made and distributed), because they look to treat representation in games as if they appeared in film, which will at best provide a superficial understanding of gender in video games.

You bring up a very valid point here.  There is an interesting dynamic that exists between creator and player, vs creator and watcher.  The interactivity aspect of video games cannot be replicated through film (which is why video games are such a unique and amazing form of entertainment and media).  However, I’m curious as to what parts of the video game critique this applies to.  It would seem to me that this worry would only apply to playable characters, not to NPC’s.  There may be reasons that NPC’s could be explained away more easily (such as hardware limitations, software limitations, etc.) but I feel that a critique of NPC’s using the standard critique model might still be quite apt and relevant to the conversation.

Analysis of “Misandry in Video Games” – Why This is a Misguided Project

My initial reaction to “Misandry in Video Games” in my Female Gamers article, found here, was somewhat visceral and angry.  I’m revisiting the project to do a more appropriate analysis and criticism of it.

The project itself is rather misguided and represents the lack of understanding of the misogyny that is ever-present in the world, especially in the gaming community.  If the project had been started under different circumstances or within another context I might be more willing to accept the project, but the project does some things (not necessarily intentionally) that remove any value that this project could have had for me.

While I believe this I do not think that this project should be shut down.  If it is truly an attempt to be academic and intellectual about the tropes of men in video games then it should be seen and heard, if only for the sake of continuing the conversation to more fully understand the issues at hand.

Shall we get started?

The Use of the Word “Misandry”

The first thing I want to tackle is possibly the most glaring problem to people who are in opposition to this project.  The use of the word misandry is strong and attempts to evoke emotion about the treatment of men by the gaming industry.  The project creators recognize this fact but seem to misunderstand the meaning of the word in its entirety.  They even offer a rebuttal to the opposition that has been presented to them saying:

“However, the word does a fantastic job of getting straight to the point and grabbing attention, which after all is the point of a title. Rest assured, misandry is a very limited term compared to the breadth that we intend to pursue!”

While I argue that semantics is extremely important I usually avoid conversation about semantics because often time people (including myself) become upset and flustered when the topic of semantics comes up.  (I once had an hour and a half long debate with a friend about the usage of the word hopefully.)  But I think it’s particularly apt here and that it’s extremely important to understand and recognize the meaning of the term.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines misandry as: “The hatred of males; hatred of men as a sex.” 

In their explanation of the video series they clearly outline what they are trying to do:

“This video project will attempt to shed some light on the tremendous lack of variety in the mainstream character design, and how detrimental this becomes to a blossoming society that is growing accustomed to video games as a very real part of the lives.”

The use of misandry seems to be an attempt to be an eye catcher, to spark emotion and controversy, and to draw in a particular audience.  They claim that misandry is a “very limited term compared to the breadth that we intend to review.” while also claiming that they want to “…shed some light on the tremendous lack of variety in mainstream character design…” They seem less focused on the actual misandry part of male tropes and more on the “lack of variety” in character design.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the implications of the use of the word misandry.  In using the word they are riding the wave of men whoe believe that there is hatred against men in the industry while simultaneously defining the project as something else.  In all my years as an undergraduate a title was supposed to be an eye catcher that helped people understand the project or paper as a whole, not something that attempts to bring a topic to the table them ignore it.  If they want to talk about misandry than they should actively explain its role in the project, not just throw it out as a term that could get them more hits and more funding.

This bring me to my second point:

Promotion of Misogyny in Gaming Culture

The video series, in attempting to be academic and intellectual, is providing male gamers who hold misogynistic views of women with more argumentation for why women don’t have the right to be feminist about the industry or, in more extreme cases, have a say at all.  It provides argument, flawed argument but arguments nonetheless, for men who are staunchly against video series like Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.

The argument being made attempts to show that men are subject to the same sort of social pressure that women are in the gaming industry.  It is a validation of the mentality that men who are try to silence women in the gaming culture hold.  The argument made by many of these men, as I understand it, is “Men are subject to the same sort of social pressure through tropes and unrealistic standards set by video games.  Since men are subject to the same things as women and men are not decrying the social pressure, women shouldn’t be talking about it and they should just accept the industry as it is.”  However, I would argue that many of these men don’t actually believe that the male tropes used in video games should be changed, they are just looking for a way to argue against the points made by women looking to effect change in the industry.

By providing argumentation that misandry exists in video games it is showing men that they are not wrong in their views, thus reaffirming their misogynist mentalities.  It promotes the idea that there is discrimination against men by the industry and that men have just as much of a right to be outraged as women do.

No Credentials, No Website, No Reason to Trust

There are no credentials associated with this project, there is only a single name associated with the project, and there is no website set up.  Unfortunately, while they may be intelligent and well-meaning people, there is nothing to assure us that there will be anything actually academic or intellectual about the video.

A search for the sole name associated with the project, the claimed Executive Produce and Project Lead, yields accounts on websites like twitter, formsrping, bandcamp, and a few other websites.  In all these websites the only thing the author claims about himself is that “I am an internet person on the internet.”  The only other information that can be found is that he lives in Argentina.  There is no reference to college*, a website, or anything that demonstrates an ability to be academic.  You can sort through his twitter account, which remarks on some of the political events going on world wide, but his tweets demonstrate no ability to actually synthesize and analyze information from an academic stand point.

For all we know the Executive Produce and Project Lead is just a 16 year old kid who dropped out of high school.  Nothing shows us that we should trust him or his ability to be academic.

[I have chosen not to include the actual name of the person associated with the project because I do not want to create more hate towards him, as hate only begets more hate.  If you are truly interested you can find it on the project’s indiegogo page or in the article’s tags]

Riding the Hatred Aimed at Sarkeesian

This project, in using the word misandry and starting right after the terrible hate that was lobbed towards Anita Sarkeesian, is riding a wave of hatred in order to become successful.  They are using the viral nature of the attacks on Sarkeesian to improve the hits to their project and attempting to get funding from those who lobbed said attacks.  By releasing the project when they did they guaranteed that they would get extra hits to the website based on searches related to Sarkeesian, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, and other searches for the debacle that is in the gaming community’s recent collective memory.


For Charity: Promoting False Ideas of Academic Work

The project is attempting to raise $3,300 for the project.  The goal is about 2/3rd of the way funded as of writing this article and looks like it may move forward, but the project claims this:

 “‘Well’, you may ask, ‘How much money will go to production costs?’ – A well-calculated, yet non-official estimate yields that we’re going to use a whopping total of $0.00 for production/administrative costs.  ‘But!’, you say now, ‘That means you’re not spending money at all on the project?’ You’re absolutely right!  This is because it doesn’t cost us (and anyone, really) money to produce bona-fide web video episodes.” (emphasis removed)

The project is putting forth an idea that a video series doesn’t cost anything – one of the reasons that Sarkeesian was attacked (she asked for $6,000 to fund her Kickstarter).  But in reality they do require funding.  Look at Geek and Sundry, YOMYOMF Channel on Youtube, and the quality of videos produced by Feminist Frequency.  Sarkeesian asked for the money so that she could afford the resources that were necessary to produce an actual analysis of video games as well to ensure that she had the time to dedicate to the project.

She wanted to give her project the time truly necessary to produce an intellectual series, which is a lot of time.  The time spent doing research is time spent not getting a paycheck.  While I do admire the idea of producing something academic for free and using it to raise funds for charities (it’s truly a great idea), it promotes the idea that academia doesn’t need money and that there isn’t a cost to produce knowledge: there is.

So there you have it, a further look into the “Misandry in Video Games” project.  I still do not support the project myself, but I do not believe that the project should be shut down.  If this is truly an attempt to produce an intellectual and academic video series about the tropes of men in video games, then I say they have every right to produce such a series.

If this project does get funding you can count on me to look at the videos as they are released and to bring what I have to the table through genuine critique.

Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist

*Note: I do not believe that college is required for someone to be academic in their endeavors, but am merely listing an example of what could give credence to what they have to say.




Female Gamers: Doing More for our Community than Any Misogynist Could Ever Hope

[TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these links contain extreme material including references to rape and death threats]

My first post, Cultural Relativity vs. Feminism, made mention of Anita Sarkeesian (known for her blog and YouTube channel Feminist Frequency) and the brutal internet attack that was launched against her in reaction to the series she wants to make (note didn’t actually make yet) called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  The attack was brutal.  She was the victim of threats such as rape and death in addition to people wishing death upon her friends and family.  (I’d like to note that a very good thing happened: she raised over $150,000 for her Kickstarter.  I’m glad that the unyielding support for Sarkeesian showed all the misogynists that they are weak in their attempts to bring down Sarkeesian and her intellectual endeavor)

I, in my first post, noted some of my reaction and was reticent about putting down the full force of my thoughts on the subject not only because I wasn’t sure about what I truly thought anymore, but more that I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the conversation (and I should note that not taking sides, being in the middle, can be wrong).  However, over the past several days I have come to a full fledged opinion on the topic and it’s this: as a white male I am privileged, and those like me who try to describe the privilege as non-existent or describe not white males as having the same number of privileges are a product of tradition, ritual, and hold an inability to critically reflect upon their own views.  Or, in short, those who targeted Sarkeesian, and other women like her, are wrong.

This opinion wasn’t informed purely by the Sarkeesian incident, but also by some links and articles that I read from various friends and people I follow on Tumblr.  The first thing that really and truly opened my eyes to how pervasive the problem is was Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.  This website made my stomach churn.  More importantly, the power that men clearly wield in such instances is overwhelming and panoptic.*  Fat, Ugly, or Slutty truly embodies this panoptic power.  Men attempt to reinforce the power they wield by devaluing women based on their gender.  The build and maintain their own power by silencing women and making them feel like their gender is their identity, not the contents of their character or the skills they have.  The website demonstrates how women are subject to it every day and risk being subject to it by merely participating in the community, even more so if they are good at what they are playing.  Not only that, but the problem is now coming into the mainstream media with BBC doing an article about it which linked Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.  [LINK]

Then I read the article I linked the other day called Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, by John Scalzi.  This article was such a great metaphor for what the men who attacked Sarkeesian clearly can’t understand.  The fact that one is male puts them in a position over females.  Even better if you’re a white male.

After this I started going through the comments of Felicia Day’s recent music video Gamer Girl, Country Boy.  I’m quite aware that many people dislike country music (I’m not one of them as my mother listened to nothing but it while I was growing up) and some even despise the genre.  Some people dislike the idea of gaming being joined with something other than gaming, or even just geek culture in general being joined with something like the culture associated with “country boys”.  But rather than judge the music video based on these things many went straight for the jugular and debased Day purely based on the fact that she was a women, many of the comments being similar to those that Sarkeesian faced.  Many also claimed that Day wasn’t a true “gamer” because she was a woman and women can’t be gamers.  It was not an attack on the video or the contents of the video, it was purely an attack on the fact that Day is a woman.

But what has motivated me to write this is not the fact that I now have a fully fledge opinion on the subject, because I think opinions in themselves can be boring.  What really motivates me to write this article is the reaction on Kickstarter to Sarkeesian.  The Kickstarter was called Misandry in Video Games.

I read a bit of the contents when I found the Kickstarter, but couldn’t get through them because the whole idea made me to angry and upset to continue reading.  I have since tried to find the Kickstarter again, but haven’t been able to find it (was it taken down?  If you know the link or know if it was taken down please comment or e-mail me. [The link has been sent to me via comment and can be found either in the comment section or at the bottom of the article.]).

This Kickstarter was set up in an attempt to reinforce the mindset of the men who attacked people like Sarkeesian, Day, and the men who send messages like those on Fat, Ugly, or Slutty.  But even more importantly it reinforces the idea that women can continue to be treated by men in this terrible way because men are supposedly subject to the same tropes as women via misandry with all the same ill-effects.

This behavior has to stop and many people are going to oppose to video game community if this behavior continues.  This behavior is going to kill the gaming community and more importantly it perpetuates a culture where women are fearful of even logging into the online community because of the messages they get, and the verbal abuse they receive over chat.  Moms and dads out there who are seeing this side of the video game community are going to start working even harder against the video game community.  This behavior only reinforces the stereotype of video game players as violent and morally unsound.  Video games will be seen as a morally and ethically detrimental to children and teenagers.  If BBC is picking up on it now who knows how long it is until the front page of large newspapers; headline reports of investigative journalism about harassment in the online gaming community.

So guys out there who are cognizant of their privilege, who are aware that women are subject to this kind of thing, who are playing video games when women are verbally abused online, and who recognize that women are people and not just the toys of men need to fight back with women.  We need to make sure that we are reporting the terrible behavior that is present in the online community.  We need to make sure that we are helping women in this struggle against the misogynistic mindset that is so pervasive in the gaming community.

And if you disagree with me and are a part of the gaming community then remember; Felicia Day, Anita Sarkeesian, and the women who you debase in the community have done more for the gaming community than you ever will.  By telling women to make you sandwiches, get back in the kitchen, and threatening them because they threaten the panoptic power that you wield in the community, you only hurt the community and more importantly you are hurting women everywhere by creating another place where women feel unsafe and are afraid to go because of the harassing and threatening messages that you send out.

Your Resident (not really) Anthropologist


*Panoptic power is defined by Foucault in Discipline and Punish as power which is inescapable, pervasive everywhere in everyday life, and actively works to change the mindset and view that people hold of themselves, others, and the society that they live within.

EDIT: I had someone on Tumblr ask a question (although there were a few implied) so I’m going to add my response to further clarify the article.

To clarify the power is panoptic within the gaming community (probably should have made that clearer).  If someone wants to actively participate within the community they have to participate in the public space of the community (for gaming that could be commenting on gaming related media, creating gaming related media, or just playing online games).

As for the messages from strangers being panoptic, the messages are a way of reinforcing the role that women are supposed to play in the gaming community (aka, no role at all).  When enough people participate by sending messages to women which are disparaging and devaluing women based on their gender they are attempting to silence women and pushing women to believe that there is no place in the gaming world for them (whether it is successful or not).  There are ways to avoid these messages such as playing only with friends (on or offline), only playing single player games, using a gamertag/PSN ID/username which does not hint at the gender of the person, or playing without a headset (the last two of which would have to be used on conjunction with each other).  But I would argue that when women do these things it merely reinforces the misogynistic view of women in the gaming world and allows men to continue their behavior because women are actively silenced.  Women shouldn’t have participate in gaming covertly.

The re-appropriation of messages can be used as a way to try and shift or remove the power of men in the gaming community, but overwhelmingly they are not.  There is a very pervasive mentality that reporting does nothing (and often times when men are reported for their behavior and find that they have been reported they message the woman who they suspect of reporting them with that very message – that reporting abusive behavior does nothing).

I am actively working on an article that talks about the effect one of these women (Felicia Day) has had on the gaming community and what she is doing for the gaming community.  But in short, without giving too much about my next article away, these women are not only actively participating but helping to shape, create, and change the culture of the gaming community.  By doing what they have, such as Felicia Day making 3 dimensional female characters rather than relying on stereotypes and tropes of women that are pervasive in the gaming community/culture, they are helping to create a more realistic and friendly view of women in the gaming community.

EDIT 2: I have been sent the link to the misandry and video games kickstarter.  It’s here: Thanks to NUReviews for the link to the page.  (

Straight White Male Privilege: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is by John Scalzi

Straight White Male Privilege: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

This is an excellent article about white privilege and putting it in a way which metaphorically enables straight white men to better understand exactly what people mean by privilege.  I’m a really big fan of the metaphor that he uses, comparing being a straight white male in life to playing a video game on the lowest difficulty setting.  It’s not perfect, nor is anything perfect, but I think it’s one of the best metaphors out there.

As well, as Scalzi points out in his follow up posts, it’s not meant to be perfect.  It’s meant to be a way to better understand a concept that seems to be extremely difficult for men to wrap their minds around.

Please read the whole article for if you don’t you can easily miss the message that he is trying to put forth.  As well there are two follow up posts that he links at the end of the article.  They are super informative and are excellent rebuttals to some of the typically straight white male arguments against the privilege that just about all of them have.


Cultural Relativism vs. Feminism

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past couple days, and it’s quite the doozy.

Does cultural relativism undermine the rights and freedoms of people in the world?

Cultural relativism has always been heralded by me as a student of anthropology.  When I find people who claim that the Middle East is backwards or evil I tell myself that they are misguided and misinformed.  When racist remarks are made in my hometown (Milwaukee), talking about how the poor in my city are poor because they don’t have a work ethic I engage in a unique understanding that I got from one of my professors.  (They didn’t say this exactly, but meditating on their words I came to this conclusion)

Those in the inner city grow up with a different mentality and live in a completely different world than myself or those who live in the suburbs.  I don’t see what their lives are like on a daily basis and I don’t know what it takes to live in the conditions that they live in.  As well just because they sag their pants, or they speak in African American English doesn’t mean they don’t have work ethic (which seems to be the understanding of those who spout the racist remarks that I come upon).  The inner city has it’s own culture and they survive through that culture.  I tell myself that those living in the impoverished, and highly segregated, parts of Milwaukee are just part of a different culture.  More importantly (and this is the heart of how my professor’s words affected me), if the African Americans that live in the impoverished parts of Milwaukee want to live a good life then what they have to do is conform to the white suburban culture. (This is obvious in some of the remarks made by politicians like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum).

I have always heralded cultural relativism above, almost, all things in studying anthropology and even philosophy.  But recently my thoughts were turned upside down.

[TRIGGER WARNING: The links below contain hate speech and direct threats of violence against women]

This link goes to an article I read about Anita Sarkeesian.  She is the creative and intellectual mind behind Feminist Frequency.  After reading through the article I went to her page, then I watched some of her videos, and I read some more on her page.  (I don’t plan to recount the entire story to you, for it isn’t necessary to my overall point, but here is a link to her page)

The most important part is that I watched through her videos on tropes of women in movies, comic books, and other popular media that are detrimental to women.  The series is called Tropes vs. Women.  I watched through all of them in a single sitting and fell straight into the trap of male thinking which is “I understand what you’re saying, but in telling stories characters are meant to further story lines, and if tropes are used it is because they are useful.”  So after meditating on this four a couple of days I realized that I was just contributing to the problem.  In understanding the writing community as a culture the tropes that they use are used to convey overall messages in their story, and if the tropes work than they work.   But I found myself in a dilemma which lead me to my question above:

Does cultural relativism undermine the rights and freedoms of people in the world?

If I used cultural relativism to try and justify the the tropes used by writers of comics, books, T.V. shows, and movies then couldn’t it be used by others to justify the abuse that runs rampant in certain cultures?  And the answer is indeed yes and it often is.  In the video game community, where the uproar against Sarkeesian came from, many people used the cultural relativism argument (although I doubt they were thinking of it as a culturally relative argument) saying things akin to “That’s just how it is and if you want to be a part of that community than you have to deal with how things are.”  Or in culturally relative terms: We are a culture that has been built up over time and this is how things have always been.  If you want to be a part of this community than you must be a part of everything within that community, even if you disagree with it.

My answer to the above question is thus, obviously: yes, yes it can.  (Those of your familiar with cultural relativism probably think it’s an obvious answer, but for me I heralded this ideal.  It was the sacred law for me in studying anthropology).  But this leads me to a more crucial question: At what point does cultural relativism cross the line from protecting culture, to accepting, and possibly protecting, those who spread hate and fear throughout communities.  Where do we draw the line between being culturally accepting and protecting those who abuse and instill fear?

I read an article called The Primacy of the Ethical by Nancy Scheper-Hughes in my anthropological theory class.  The article heralded, in the same way I herald cultural relativism, the ideas of Western Enlightenment Political Philosophy (my major area of study in Philosophy as an undergraduate).  I read the article and then wrote a paper on it.  The paper lambasted Nancy Scheper-Hughes for throwing away the idea of cultural relativism for the idea of fighting an “ethical” battle under the guise of anthropology.  She made the point that we must fight for the rights of people in all countries that anthropologists study in, and that to not work for the protection of rights of the populations that anthropologists study they are having a moral and ethical shortcoming.  But to me this is an imposition of Western Enlightenment ideals upon nations that aren’t necessarily built upon the same ideals of rights and liberties that we have taken as objectively true in the Western world.  It is not our job to tell them how to build their country, how to police it, or what ideals (if ideals at all) it should be founded on.

But now Anita Sarkeesian has turned my thinking on its head.  Sarkeesian’s videos series Women vs. Tropes, the fact that she has been the target of rape and death threats, and the fact that I fell straight into the thinking of men who’s ideas of the world are challenged have shown me that if I try and bring cultural relativism to everything, the only thing I am doing is protecting those who are threatening her and reinforcing the behavior which forces women to live in fear their entire lives.

At what point do we protect the rights of people to have their own culture?  There is definitely a culture that surrounds video games, and it might as well have a big, muscly lumberjack for its mascot because video games are for men, not women (just like Dr. Pepper Ten).

If I continue to herald cultural relativism all I do is reinforce the tyrannical behavior of men who are threatened by Sarkeesian.  But do I throw the baby out with the bath water then?  No, I do not.  But separating out these ideas is much harder than determining the difference between a baby and water.

A preliminary idea that I have come to is this: it all depends on where the change is coming from.  A group which works to create change within its own community/culture should be (usually) helped.  But when the change is imposed upon the community by external forces (such as the government forcing the Catholic Church to provide birth control to their employees*) then we see that there are issues that arise.  When an imposition of ideals happens we have to understand both sides, because the side that we are on CAN be wrong.

So I guess one could say that all that I have determined is that context is necessary for understanding a situation.  But isn’t science, even social science, about creating results that either reaffirm or help to prove wrong theories we have about the world?  Even with this possibly “Duh!” result, I think it’s extremely important to reflect and understand the things going on around us and how they fit into the ideas that we have and break them down.

Your Resident (not really) Anthropologist

*Note: I am not saying that the government is right or wrong in this case and am not taking a stance on this issue in this post, but am merely exemplifying my point.

**Cultural Relativism: The belief that culture should be understood in its own rights and in its own terms.  It is the opposite of ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s culture is superior or the best of all possible cultures.  Cultural relativism was in part an aim to understand cultures as products of the people who live within the culture.  The relationship between culture and people is dialogical, with people creating changes in the culture while simultaneously understanding their world through cultural definitions and symbols.