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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fandom studies, video games, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature ( Fall 2012) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also teach English (composition, British literature, and women's literature) at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rape Culture, Video Games, and Extreme Gendering

Recently a debate occurred on The Young Turks (and no doubt elsewhere around the web) as to the causes of today’s teen rape culture. “Rape culture,” for the uninformed, refers to the callous disregard some people (male and female alike) have for the act of rape. Lately, the news media has been inundated with stories of teen girls being raped and later “slut-shamed” as a consequence. (If words and names like “Steubenville Rape,” “Audrie Pott,” and “Rehtaeh Parsons” mean nothing to you, then I suggest you do a bit of Googling.)

The journalists in the video argue whether video game culture is the source—or one of the sources—of rape culture. Two correspondents who are also gamers argue that teenage use of words like “rape” and “gay” on Xbox Live are not as meaningful as the non-gamers are wanting to believe. The non-gamers disagree, and the assumption continues that video games, which increase aggression and contain violence, are prompting, if not actively promoting, teen rape culture.

I believe the crew at TYT—and all of those who agree with them, which likely encompasses the majority of those talking about rape culture in the media right now—are going about this all wrong. Video games are not a source of rape culture. They are merely a symptom.

You're going to make me save the entire galaxy ... in boob armor?

Video games have a problem with gender. The majority of video game companies are consistently urged to create and market their product to a demographic that does not include female gamers, gamers of color, older gamers, or LGBT gamers—all of whom exist and exist in tremendous numbers. (Combined, I would even suggest that they outnumber the stereotypical teenaged, white, straight, male gamer.) In RPGs (“role-playing games”) that allow the player to create a character of either gender, the male version of that character is almost always used in advertising campaigns. Female characters in video games are often underdressed or inappropriately dressed when compared to their fully-armored male companions. Female characters may serve as token members of a team (“the lone female soldier”), may be excluded from combat (“the female pilot/technician”), or may serve as mere objects/prizes to be rescued (“the princess”). All of this is true, and projects like Anita Sarkeesian’s cover the topic well.

 But what tends to receive far more coverage (understandably so) is how real-life female gamers—not characters—are treated by their male counterparts. It would likely come as no surprise to non-gamers that female players take some ribbing from male gamers when they attempt to enter the traditionally masculine sphere of video gaming. But most are probably unaware that this “ribbing” often goes far beyond insecure teasing. See “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” for more specific examples, and understand that this is not unusual—it is common. It is the norm.

Because that's why girls play games.

When male gamers joke about raping their opponents, or when they send lewd and violent messages to female gamers, they are evidencing symptoms of a sickness currently engulfing our culture. It is the sickness of extreme gendering.

Extreme gendering starts at an early age. Companies like Disney market toys and other products exclusively for one gender or another. They tap into childhood insecurities about identity and give children something to cling to and identify with: gender. A child who may have never thought of him or herself as “different” may be overwhelmed around the age of 3, 4, or 5, upon first entering pre-school or school and being thrust among so many other children. Children are told early on by corporations that they are either GIRLS or BOYS; this influences their behavior, their speech, their clothing, their method of playing, even the way they are supposed to think. Parents who perpetuate this myth of extreme gendering do their children a disservice, but they can hardly be blamed, or at least fully blamed. A child would have to be raised in a vacuum to escape what I will point blank refer to as indoctrination. Companies are making billions off of convincing parents and children that boys and girls not only want but NEED certain (and wildly different) products.

Children thus grow up believing that they are incredibly different from fully half of the rest of the population. I think this has gone far beyond the “boys have cooties” or “no girls allowed!” form of play that my generation (and countless generations before mine) engaged in. When you believe you are so different from another person that the two of you have nothing in common, indeed, that her brain even works differently than your own, then how can you respect her in the same way as you would respect another of your “kind”? Thus harming a girl is different from harming a boy. A girl’s body is different from a boy’s body. And doing a “girl” thing (boy-on-girl rape) to a boy is hence deeply humiliating for the receiving boy. Hence why “rape” is both an ultimate insult in a multiplayer environment and yet equally so a casual one.

I think we as a culture need to take a step back and think about how we both present and understand gender. Gender is a social construct; sex is biological. Biological differences between sexes should be studied and presented to young people in the form of comprehensive sex education. Girls’ bodies should not be a mystery to boys, nor should boys’ bodies be a mystery to girls. But our similarities should be emphasized as often as our subtle differences; we are all thinking, feeling human beings, and our inherent sameness as a species makes us all equally worthy of love and respect.

Anya has no bra. Anya needs no bra.

Rape is about power.

Rape is not about sex. Teen boys do not rape unconscious teen girls and then send pictures of the act to all of their friends because they are horny. They do so to express power. Power can only be exerted over another individual when the powerful feels he is inherently better, inherently different, from the one he has overpowered. A boy does not rape someone he respects.

There’s quite a bit more to say about this topic, but I think I’ll end it here for today.

Let’s think about how what we say and what we do demonstrates to our kids about gender. Let’s examine how WE see gender. Let’s not allow corporations to convince our children that they are so different from one another that they need not respect one another—that one body is so radically different from another.


  1. In regards to the whole "girl-gamer/girls don't really play video games so they must be faking" thing, until fairly recently I was completely unaware that it was even an issue. I'd always played video games openly since I was a kid and never had any problems or insults or crude comments made towards me. However, once I started following gaming culture (beyond just playing the games) I realised how much of an issue it really is, and a ridiculous one at that. It shouldn't even matter who is or isn't a gamer, let alone whether they're "faking" or not.

    I guess I've been pretty fortunate so far, in fact, the only person who has ever accused me of being a "fake gamer" or "doing it to get boys attention" was my paranoid ex-boyfriend of all people, lol.

    1. It might have come down to the type of games you played. Were you playing RPGs? I think the gamer girl-hate generally rears its ugly head during FPSs.

  2. This argument about videogames creating "rape culture" reminds me of scapegoating that often happens with videogames and violence. Virtual environments certainly have their own rules of engagement, but I think they're more likely to be a canvas upon which such behavior is expressed, and possibly heightened, not necessarily the root cause. Blaming videogames also serves to take the onus off the individual, looking for easy finger pointing. I agree with you that the gender hostility within the gaming community is more a symptom of a larger problem. It's just an environment within which it can flourish.

    1. Yes, to me blaming video games (or any form of media) is just such a very simplistic and naive way to handle the problem. Then there is the fact that the games themselves are often not particularly violent (Halo, for instance); the players just seem to bring and express these negative behaviors during the multiplayer experience.