The new Ender’s Game trailer was released this week, which led to a flurry of hand-wringing articles over the ‘ethics’ of seeing a movie related to Orson Scott Card — known homophobe. I can only assume that people will continue to churn out these articles until the movie comes out, so get ready for a lot of nerd waffling. Would that I could walk up to every person who is debating if they should see this movie and simply tell them: DON’T.
Because that’s the easiest answer; if Card’s real-life, very gross politics offend you and you feel guilty for seeing this movie, then don’t. But if you’re still trying to come up with excuses for why you can see this movie, here are some counterpoints to help you not go:
1. But I loved the books as a kid!
So? Are you a kid now? Have you read those books since your childhood? Speaking as someone who absolutely loved Ender’s Game and the more ‘mature’ Speaker for the Dead, I can safely say that what you liked as a kid probably will not stand up to your adult-level scrutiny. Anyway, who cares if you liked it as a kid? Why does that automatically mean you have to see this movie? Michael Bay is making a TMNT movie, which I’m sure you also loved as a kid, does that mean you’ll see that movie too? Movie studios are going to keep monetizing our nostalgia because we stupidly keep letting them. Here’s your chance to stop this cycle and prevent the inevitable Animorphs movie from getting made.
2. But plenty of other authors are racist/sexist/homophobic
True. Do you read their books too? If they’re a modern author, I seriously doubt it, which is probably why I have seen a few articles that try to use older authors as a defense for why it’s ok to read books written by people with less than progressive views. “TS Elliot said a lot of terrible things about women, so it’s ok if I see the Orson Scott Card movie.”
What bothers me about this argument is, of course authors from two hundred/one hundred/50 years ago were terrible misogynist/anti-Semites/homophobes. Attitudes like that were culturally normal! For us today, however, saying something that is blatantly homophobic is not cultural sanctioned, and should rightly be criticized. Orson Scott Card is not writing over 50 years ago, he’s writing today, and today we know a little better about how minority groups should be treated in literature. (Also, please don’t use TS Elliot as a defense for Orson Scott Card, it invites unfortunate comparisons that only diminish your argument for why it’s OK to read Card.)
3. But I’ll see the movie and just donate to a gay rights group later
I saw this defense get used a lot when the whole Chick-fil-a fiasco was going down. It seems like the perfect ‘have your cake and eat it to’ but what it really shows is how you’re willing to put your selfish needs before the rights of an entire group of people. Is eating a shitty chicken sandwich really more important than standing up for gay rights? Are you so incapable of looking outside of your own desires, that you can’t possible conceive of not eating shitty chicken sandwiches or not going to see a mediocre sci-fi movie based a series of books written for children? How about you donate to a gay rights group and not see the movie at all?
Now, do I think that not going to see Ender’s Game will end bigotry towards gay people? No, I don’t. In the grand scheme of the fight for gay rights, Ender’s Game is just a little blip. But the attitude that surrounds stuff like Ender’s Game is what’s the problem. It shows that the second people are forced to even consider choosing between not supporting homophobes or giving into their own desires, they often will go with their desires. And that’s sad. It’s sad that we are so incapable of empathizing with other people that we can’t even stop ourselves from watching a shitty sci-fi blockbuster.
Look, I know it’s hard to police everything you consume and make sure it wasn’t created by a terrible person. I’m sure that there are lots of authors or movies that I like that were made by someone with less than great opinions on gay people or women or other groups. But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying. It’s a constant struggle, but the fact that we even have the option to ignore that struggle shows what a privileged position we’re coming from. As a straight white woman, I could just ignore all of this and go see Ender’s Game and my life would be exactly the same, because I’m privileged. But I support gay rights and I know that if I make this concession and see this movie, I will implicitly be supporting a system that allows men like Orson Scott Card to exist and have a very public platform and I just can’t do that with a good conscious.
Also, seriously guys, the movies looks really bad.
“I don’t like that woman.” Arya Stark, in reference to a creepy woman who has randomly shown up at her group’s hidden camp in the middle of the woods.
“That’s because you’re a girl.” Smirking dude.
Do you get the HILARIOUS joke here? Smirking dude is telling Arya that she doesn’t like this suspicious woman not because she’s obviously suspicious, but because Arya’s a lady and all women are threatened by other women. It’s why women have no female friends and attack each other on sight.
I was ready to excuse this rather dumb (and sexist!) joke because it was being made by a character who clearly doesn’t matter (but who knows, given the way GRR Martin stories are written, this seemingly throwaway character could end up being the new king next season), but the most recent Game of Thrones episode had so many tone-deaf moments about women and gay men that I couldn’t ignore it.
Shortly after this great little scene about how women hate each other because we are all jealous/threatened by another female presence, there are several scenes where different characters make ‘subtle’ allusions to the fact that Loras Tryell is gay. By ‘subtle’ I mean that everyone keeps mentioning how much Loras just loooooves fashion. He just loves a gold, green brocade. Also, he is concerned about the correct usage of brooch vs. pin, because he’s gay, duh.
To top of the gay jokes and the women are all jealous monsters joke, there is a scene at the end of the episode where a character—who we’ve been led to believe will be important in some way—is unceremoniously killed off-screen. We only get to see her post-death, where it is clear that she was killed in a extremely sexualized manner. SHOCKING.
Now, Game of Thrones has a reputation for killing of characters at random (note: this does not mean that Game of Thrones has good writing), but the death of this character wasn’t random, so much as it was clearly a desperate attempt by the writers to quickly get rid of a side character as they struggle to contain a story that is already bursting with characters and plot. So this lady had to go, but it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if the writers didn’t use one last opportunity to demean a female character by having her sexually brutalized for ‘dramatic’ purposes.
Seriously, this show is gross. I’m still watching it because I enjoy the majority of the actors and the plot is soapy enough that it keeps my attention, but after tonight’s episode, I doubt I’ll be able to watch more.
”If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble.”
That quotes comes from an interview Claire Messud gave in The Atlantic about her most recent novel. The interviewer admitted to having a hard time ‘liking’ the novel’s main character, and this was Messud’s response. Disregarding the sexist undertones in this question (read any writeup on this interview for a discussion of its possible sexism), I think Messud’s statement brings up an interesting point about adult reading habits.
There’s a definite trend of adults who read books that are geared toward young adult readers. Ever since the Harry Potter series became a huge success, it’s not uncommon to see adults reading books like The Hunger Games or Twilight or any of the other series that are aimed at the teenage set. I have to wonder if the reason so many people my age and older are content with reading YA fiction is because they haven’t grown out of the idea that we’re supposed towant to be friends with the characters in books.
When you’re younger, the reason you read is primarily for escapism. The characters in YA books are meant to act as friends for the reader. All the popular books I loved as a kid either had characters who I wanted to be like or at least wanted to be friends with. But as I grew up, my literary needs changed, and I stopped seeing books as a substitute for friendship and more as a way to learn about the world around me. Suddenly the interiority and complexity of a character was more important than whether or not they’d make a good friend.
Maybe the adults who read YA fiction haven’t been able to make this shift. And can you blame them? Reading is hard enough as it is, and then you expect adults to devote hours of their time to the inner problems of some not so nice characters; it makes sense that people would want to avoid that. It’s easier to watch a character like Walter White on TV, where there’s a barrier of protection between his inner-self and the audience, than it is to read a book with a Walter White-type figure, where the complexities of the character are focused directly at the reader with a laser-like intensity. Visual media never affords its audience the chance to truly explore a character’s mind, whereas that’s all books offer, and I can understand why that might be something to avoid.
But I also think it’s a shame that adults might avoid books because they don’t like any of its characters. It seems too easy of an excuse to avoid any critical thinking. Having characters that you want to be friends with certainly makes reading easier, but personally I don’t believe reading should be easy. If reading is easy, then nothing is being challenged, the reader isn’t being forced to examine themselves or their world, and the whole purpose of reading is lost.
There’s a blister on the back of my foot. Every day it scabs over and every night I reopen it when I go running. My shoe has a permanent red spot in it’s heel — a small sign of my evening ritual.
I love running. I love how it allows you to be completely aware of your entire body while at the same time it forces you to ignore any pain or weakness your body may feel. I’m far from a great runner, but I’m at the point where I no longer feel the need to run because of any obligation to exercise; I run because I enjoy it.
I also hate running. When I run, it’s one of the few times I’m completely alone in public and therefore, it’s one of the few times I’m aware at how much people look at me. It’s a disorienting contrast: being so in touch with the physical actions of your own body, while also being so painfully aware of how others are so blatantly scrutinizing that same body. Most nights I can block it all out and just pay attention to what my legs are doing, but not tonight.
The second I saw the car, I knew it was bad. It was stopped in a small side street, engine on. There was no other traffic preventing the car from moving, and I instantly knew the car was waiting for me. As soon I as I ran by, the lights turned on and the car pulled out alongside me. For a brief second, I thought it would continue on at a normal speed and leave me behind. But it quickly became clear that the car was slowing down, slowing down so it could pull up alongside me. The car was so close that I could now see its passengers: two young men, maybe my age, maybe younger. They both were looking at me. I tried not to look back — looking usually encourages them. I tried to just pay attention to running, to breathing, to not panicking. Then the car sped away. I saw one of the men in the car laugh. I kept running and tried not to cry.
The blister on the back of my foot is bleeding again. I wish that was the only mark my nightly runs leave on me, because at least this mark is something I have control over. At least this mark is something that I can stop.
Rock Paper Shotgun has a great interview with the lead writer from Dragon Age III on accepted sexism in the gaming industry. The whole interview is worth a read, but the crux of the argument is that the gaming industry makes excuses for not pursuing boarder gender representation, because it ‘doesn’t sell.’ I see this tautological excuse come up a lot in the games industry—games with equal gender representation don’t sell well because there aren’t many games with equal gender representation—and it absolutely infuriates me. Even people I really admire in the industry, like Ken Levine, seem willing to accept this idea as fact. I attended Levine’s Bioshock panel at this year’s PAX East, where one of the female audience members directly questioned Irrational’s decision to put Elizabeth—a female character that members of Irrational had just spent an hour praising—on the back of the game’s cover. Levine’s response basically boiled down to: ‘we make decisions because that’s what marketers tell us will sell, don’t worry about the cover and just play the fucking game.’ His call to stop harping over the cover was met with raucous cheers from the crowd (mostly men) sitting around me, as they happily applauded a woman being shot down for expressing her discomfort over how her gender is marginalized in a community she loves.
In Levine’s defense, he quickly apologized on Twitter after the panel. I know that he’d been fielding variations on this same question for months at this point, and a PAX panel was probably not the best forum to restart this discussion. Levine and Irrational are not solely responsible for changing the tide of women in games, and it does seem unfair to lob complaint after complaint at him for a cover design that everyone has mostly forgotten. On the other hand, his defense props up the bullshit accepted wisdom that so many other game devs tout when they explain why they can’t put more women in games. It’s an incredibly insulting idea that women in games mean the game won’t sell; not only to women, but to men as well. Because seriously, what kind of mouth-breathing troglodyte is incapable of enjoying something because it has a female protagonist? Who are these assholes and why does the gaming industry continue to defer to them? If the success of your game depends on appealing to this group of people, then maybe you shouldn’t make that game.
I’m glad that people like the Dragon Age team are standing up to this bullshit and refusing to submit to marketing wisdom that may have been true 15 years ago, but has absolutely no place today, when half of the games community is made up of women. I really believe that the industry is heading in a better, more egalitarian direction and that in ten years this dust up over female characters will be laughable. But for now, it’s important that men and women in the industry and the community continue to openly and publicly support the idea that a female presence is not going to completely tank your sells. That’s the only way we’ll ever be able to prove how utterly wrong this ‘accepted wisdom’ really is.
A little background: I recently read this story on sexual harassment in the video game industry and was moved to write something. Just based on the many, many comments attached to that story, it’s very clear to me that a lot of guys are confused about how to speak to women in public. So, please, confused men, allow me to educate you:
If you see a woman in public, please do not feel the need to yell something out to her about how nice her legs/boobs/etc look. This is not a compliment, it is harassment. As someone who has been ‘complimented’ in this way, I can tell you that it does not feel good; it actually feels incredibly embarrassing. Every time someone has made a comment to me in public, I felt ashamed. Why do I feel ashamed? I feel ashamed because it’s a reminder that as a woman, my body is constantly on display and that certain people feel entitled to examine and comment on it; because it’s an emotional violation that makes me want to lock myself away and never show myself in a public space, for fear of the unwanted attention I might attract; because it shows that no matter what I do or say or accomplish, by the mere fact that I’m a woman, I will constantly face objectification based on my appearance; because it fucking sucks.
Now maybe if you’re a decent sort of person, you can see the problem with street harassment. What you might be having a harder time understanding, however, is the appropriate way to speak to a woman in a bar or other social setting—places where people usually go to meet someone. Well let me clear that up for: the same rules apply.
It’s just as gross and demeaning to tell a woman she has ‘nice boobs’ whether she’s in a bar or on the street. Sure, you can try to defend it by saying the woman was ‘dressed in a certain way’ and clearly ‘intended for someone to notice and compliment on her boobs/legs/butt/whatever’—but you’d be horribly, stupidly wrong. Yes, when women go out to a bar they tend to dress nice, (men do this too, it’s a thing). And yes, sometimes dressing nice or looking attractive is part of an attempt to meet someone and maybe, possibly have sex. But that does not mean that a woman is specifically dressing for your pleasure nor does mean she’s giving you consent to objectify her. If you want to flirt with someone, then flirt! There are less gross, more successful ways to get a woman to be interested in you, and they don’t have to involve reducing her down to a specific body part you happen to like.
Really, the best way to sum this all up is by saying that if you want to compliment a woman in public, treat her like a fucking human being and not a blank slate with appealing anatomy attached.