Critical Fandom

One of the astonishing things that has come out in reaction to the Tropes Vs Women Youtube series lately is how strong a reaction some people have to fair criticism. Video games, for example, are a product of our society, and therefore in one way or another are a reflection of the state of our society and the influences of the people who make them. The fact that there is sexism in gaming is obvious, but you would think from the recent outcry that video games were part of some sort of discrimination-free utopia. Considering the torrents of abuse you can get from a simple xbox live exchange, for example, this is incredibly naive. However, this doesn’t mean that video games are bad.

What if I told you you could enjoy a medium while still recognising its inherent flaws?

What if I told you that being critical of something doesn’t mean you’re bashing it?

Unless you’ve been living in a bubble for the last few years you’ve probably noticed how sexism within the geek subculture is becoming more widely-known. Whether in fighting game tournaments, the pages of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s magazine, or at Amazing Meetings for that matter.

This is a problem. It’s not enough to be a reflection of society’s problems, it is our responsibility to be aware of the problems, and, knowing what they are, to not contribute to those problems.

That is to say, knowing the sexist undertones (or sometimes overtones) in videogames, we can recognise the problems without rejecting the field itself. Anita Sarkeesian makes a point of this in her ‘Tropes Vs Women’ series on this very topic, and yet the message doesn’t seem to have broken through. Yes, there will always be the Thunderf00ts, the people who have defensive reactions to criticism that utterly dismiss the problems at hand, but there will also be those who can look at things they enjoy critically.

In fact, the fact that we enjoy these fields could serve as a real driving force to bring change. If you, for example, have a problem with how women are portrayed as helpless, or reduced to rewards rather than characters, whether in games, in fiction, in film, or anywhere, it does not follow that you should stop playing games or stop reading books. If anything, a negative reaction in the fandom should draw attention to both the good and bad aspects of, say, fantasy literature. In this way we can let creators know how their works are coming across and how to improve them.

Using the above example:

– chainmail bikinis – stupid stupid stupid stupid idea

– well-rounded women who have at least one conversation that isn’t about a man – a start

– strong, female characters who make active decisions rather than letting other (read: male/love interest) characters make their decisions for them or force them into situations where they are reduced to a passive role – a start.

This is, of course simplified. Gender issues go far deeper than unrealistic armour and reducing characters to dry stereotypes. We live in a patriarchy, we live in a word where a shamefully short time ago women could not vote. We have a long way to go, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

In the next few weeks, I want to go over a few nerd-dominated fields where women are portrayed poorly, and explain how fandom and criticism can coexist.

[image credit: www.quertee.com]

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Cat Strickson

Cat Strickson

Cat, or Elly, or Eddy, or whatever name they're going by these days, is a British palaeontologist and fantasy author. It's a pretty awesome skill set, but it doesn't pay much right now. They enjoy science, history, vidyagames and all things SFF.

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