#AintNoCinderella: The Power of a Selfie and a Slogan

Earlier this week, the hastag #AintNoCinderella went viral in following an incident of a young woman being harassed and then victim shamed. Varnika Kundu went out on the town on Friday night, August 4. At the end of the night, she was harassed by two young men who then followed her when she fled in her car, attempting to make her stop and trying to enter her car several times. She wrote about the harrowing experience in a public Facebook post, thanking the police who helped save her from being kidnapped and urged women to be vigilant against attacks.  One local politician victim-blamed her by stating that she should not have been out late at night.

Public outcry against misogyny and classism was immediate, and only increased in fervor once it became clear that one of the two young men allegedly involved was the son of another local politician.

The viral hashtag #AintNoCinderella, often accompanied by selfies of young women in clubbing outfits, has become a rallying cry by young Indian women to exercise their basic human right to safety no matter what time of day. Every tweet is a micro-effort to battle violence against women, and the overall effect is bringing to light the persistent issues of classism and sexism in a country that had elected and reelected a female head of state in 1966 and 1980.

 

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A Feminist Walks into Gamergate…and Walks out on the Side of the MRAs

This past August saw a precipitous rise in the public awareness of the deep seated sexism and misogyny within videogame culture. Two events highlighted the chauvinism. First a climax in the hate campaign against videogame designer Zoe Quinn, who was the target of slanderous remarks that her games received good reviews on the site Kotaku from sleeping with the critics. When an actor, most well-known for his role in the Geek classic Firefly, echoed the virulent opinion of these malcontents, he coined the #Gamergate tag and became a spearhead and point of legitimization for the anti-women movement.

More recently, Anita Sarkeesian, an infamous videogame culture critic most well-known for her “Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames” webseries, cancelled her upcoming keynote address at Utah State University after receiving a threat of a mass-shooting at the venue, and the school not taking necessary steps to ensure her, and her audience’s, security.

The videogame community is polarized: on one hand, you have feminists (or feminist allies) who believe that much of videogame culture is misogynistic and wish for this to change by increasing the visibility of games that have more even-handed portrayals of gender. One the other hand, are a select few, but very powerful and well organized, male gamers who believe that women are taking over their artform and calling for the censorship of their favorite games. It is important to note that the goals of one side do not respond or address the goals of the other. In plainer terms, the goals of the sides are not mutually exclusive, as one would believe them to be, considering the fiery opposition and tension between them.

I consider myself in the first camp, but, in an exercise of empathy, let me try to address the calls to action of the polarized, masculine minority. They believe with absolute certainty that women are calling for the censorship of their favorite games. I have no idea from where this idea originated. No artist nor journalist would ever call for or endorse censorship. It is contrary to their self-interest to promote state mandation of art and eliminating free speech. The notion is groundless and only exists to give a fervent fire and invoke the idea of rights being infringed.

This leads us to the first call of action against women who are supposedly taking over the videogame artform, threatening men’s historical and traditional centerplace in this culture. These men are grievously upset by the idea of women-creators in their art.  

This is the crux of their argument, and the point from which all the hate starts. Why are they experiencing this emotional response?

Bear with me for a contextual tangent. I studied political science in uni, and during my sophomore year, I studied the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights. This document was created on the heels of the Second World War, and was adopted by the UN in 1948. Article 27 in this historical document details a universal right to art. At the time, learning that the UN included such a superfluous right, in the very  same document that mandated a freedom from slavery and torture, mystified me. I agree that art is important, but is it truly that important?

Yes, it is. Art is a type of expression that all individuals utilize. We communicate through our paintings, our songs, and dance. While some artists live and die for their art, no person is untouched by some form of art. It permeates our culture and our lives. On the level of the individual, certain people are inclined towards certain arts: one who has aptitude to visualize three dimensional space may become a successful architect, one who has high color distinction and love of textures may enjoy fashion design, a lover of words may write, and so on.

In the USA, while each person has a right to art and to create, we do not protect all artists equally.  While it is easy to see the community split apart on the lines of race and class, we must not forget that gender also plays its part in shaping of the art community. Men are regularly excluded from the USian art community. How? Simply put, making art, in nine cases out of ten, is seen as an anti-masculine activity. Men who are artists are not as masculine as their non-creative peers, especially in blue-collar culture. This idea is wrapped up with the common preconceived notion that artists, especially those in visual arts, are effeminate or gay. Want to be fashion designer? Painter? Composer? God forbid, dancer? It is hard to partake in any of these forms without your masculinity being called into question by both women and men.

Now, of course, not all artforms in the US are subject to this split, however, the rift does cause pressure on the forms where men are in charge, and in these forms we see a sort of hypermasculinity emerge. In literature. In rap music. And now, in videogames.

A blue-collar man cannot say he is fond of drawing, but he can say he designs characters for videogames. A boy in the projects cannot say he enjoys composing classical music, but he can say he creates music for FPS games. A teenaged young man cannot say he storytelling or thinking of different ways to tell a story, but he can be an RPG script writer.

As women start invading these roles, these men are, rightfully so, afraid of the idea that their outlet for art will not longer be seen as a masculine occupation of their time and a manly way to utilize their talents. I don’t think that these thoughts are ever expressed in such words, but the undercurrent is there.

These men have a basic human right to art. We have created a society that alienates them from that right, and so they have clung to the few artforms that we allow them to be apart of and maintain their self respect and esteem.

In conclusion, I am in complete support of men being allowed to participate in and create art without their integrity and manliness being called into question. We, as feminists, need to support men in their right to art as much as we support women, and as broadly. If we eliminate the dire need for a male haven of art, we will alleviate the reflex, gut-reaction of right infringement, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment.   

 

Challenges to Otaku Culture: Misogyny

This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes 

Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes (Note: This is now an edited version that has updated material 1/2015.) 

If one lets Japanese media speak for itself, it appears that Japan’s society leans more toward the binary, traditional idea of gender roles than America. In media designated for a general audience, female characters are relegated to being a prize or a nemesis. When they are integrated as members of a team of protagonists, their distinguishing characteristics are often purity, gentleness, and beauty. The population acts in accordance to such perceptions of women by emulating role models put forth by media. Thus, one would expect the societal and economic role of women to remain more firmly tied to domesticity than ambition. The Economist published an article in May 2014 proclaiming, “Women’s lowly status in the Japanese workplace has barely improved in decades, and the country suffers as a result.” The article went on to include explanation of the term the “bamboo ceiling” that bars women from promotion to the top of corporations, after the American “glass ceiling.” The bamboo ceiling, by comparison, is not nearly as transparent as the American equivalent, and much sturdier. While the media portrayal of gender roles is not the singular factor in the shaping society and economy, it remains a salient contributor to the molding of such norms.

Japanese media’s influence does not stop at the Pacific Ocean. We have seen many examples of the strong trade and importation of Japanese art and the ideas that come with it. For Americans, the transmission and edification of ultra-conservative gender roles influences our culture in different ways. Once again, reaction to this is split between healthy and unhealthy individuals.

Some react in healthy ways. Otakus, especially adult women Otakus, emerge from the influx of varying ideas of societal and gender norms as strong, assertive, self-assured individuals. I see similarities between women in the Otaku community and women in STEM: they are so well-acquainted with sexism and boy’s clubs mentalities that their confident personalities are forged into a no-nonsense, straight forward manner to boldly face all challenges, whether they be gender-specific or not. On the other hand, less strong women in both communities conform and defer to the normal gender roles and biases, sinking into the background with more demure temperament rather than rocking the boat.

If one follows the idea that the mixing and superimposing one culture onto another can influence the macro-psychology of a population, we end in the very alarming of concept of two distinct rape cultures merging to transmit very destructive ideas on a group of people.

Rape is an issue in both cultures, and is increasingly incorporated into narratives in both Japanese and American media. Shoujo has used rape scenes in character development so often that it has become a trope. Hana Yori Dango has at least five attempted rapes, and even the positively viewed Ouran High School Host Club features an episode revolving around the necessity for the female protagonist to not “ask for” being raped by engaging boy bullies. As for American major motion pictures, we recently saw our first on-screen rape attempt in which a girl protagonist was pinned down and straddled by a man who held a position of power over her in the film Divergent. Using such scenes is a double-edged sword: some will walk away feeling less alone in the knowledge that there are other rape survivors, and others will believe the idea of raping someone is normal.

More often we see examples of less violent aggression against women. As the roles women play in media are flattened to a binary, so is the consumer’s expectation of women in real life, consciously or subconsciously. The objectification of women has been a problem for both countries at least since post-World War II. In Japan, there is the perception that many salary men seek out paid companions to appease sexual appetites that their honorable wives do not fill. In America, we have the term “madonna-whore complex” to describe a person who sees women as either pure and wholesome or sexual and debase. This psychological complex is often cited as the reason why serial rapists commit their crimes.

As two cultures that are oppressive of women converge on a population, we may expect to see individuals with very strong, toxically unhealthy ideas of gender norms. With two different cultures presenting varied, nuanced explanations for the objectification, infantiliziation, and sexualiation of women, an unhealthy individual could be socialized to be destructive force.  

The story does not end here. In the Otaku community, we have seen women, especially female cosplayers, fight back against unwanted masculine attention and objectifying behaviour at cons. “Cosplay is not Consent” is the slogan for a campaign of young women to gain recognition and respect from their fellow community members after fighting an increasing amount of privacy invasions, micro-aggressions, and personal assaults while wearing costumes of their favorite characters.