There’s this thing called sexism, a vulgar part of society since the very dawn of humanity. There are plethora definitions of what this thing is, and though it is simple on paper, there are so many nuances to this thing that the most simple of circumstances can spark a complex debate on what is right and not. This post and many more following it will be making an attempt at defining sexism in its horrifying complexity, for the simple purpose of making the world a little brighter. The first step of solving any problem, is understanding what the problem is. In order to rid the world of sexism, we first need to understand what it is. We need to have a clear picture of what is and isn’t sexism, or we risk undoing the hard work of another.
What is sexism? In an attempt to keep it as simple as possible, this is how I personally would define sexism at its core: The reduction of an individual to its gender. Treating two people differently not because of who they are, but because of which gender they belong to. It can also be the application of expectations on you based on your gender, even though sexism is popularly described as doing wrong by a person because of their gender, or giving certain privileges to a person because of their gender. Sexism is a gender-neutral term, and can be applied to both women and men, any time you’ve been treated differently because of your gender no matter who you are.
You’ve now seen me trying to tackle it as simply as possible, and it’s quite likely that you’ve made up your mind on if you want to join me on this journey of understanding or not. Naturally I want to urge you to stay with me, as sexism can not be defined this simply. Sexism is complicated, nuanced, and to some extent comes down to the individuals in question and the circumstance in which you suffer what coud be perceived as sexism. So now that we’ve gotten the simple part out of the way, it’s time to turn our gaze towards the complexity of the issue.
What is sexism? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus has two primary definitions for the word sexism; “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women” and “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex”, two definitions that can be torn in many directions depending on who reads them. Having been part of discussing this topic as well as suffered from it for many years now, something I often see is the base thought that sexism is something men does towards women, rather than something gender-neutral. This is often due to the fact that we live in the world of the patriarchs. Men rule this world, with very few exceptions to this fact, and to deny this is to ignore a large part of the problem. Most of the world leaders are men, and most societies grant certain priviliges to men, or has women suffer certain penalties for simply being women. This said, you must never forget that all can suffer from the cruel abuse of sexism, no matter your gender. My blog here will focus a great deal on women, but I won’t be shying away from discussing all elements of it. In fact, I strive towards it.
This blog will focus a great deal on understanding sexis as a whole. My intention is to start off with environments I’m familiar with, such as video-games, movies, comics, and TV. Upon growing within the topic, I’m going to branch out and look at politics, the world and the industries in it.
So what’s left for me to write today? Just above here, you see a picture of a girl in the nude, covered up only by video-game images. That’s part of an ad campaign by Sega Saturn, a video-game console from the 90s with the words “Nothing else matters”. I’m using this picture here now because it’s a common example people bring up when talking about sexism in gaming, and I’m now here asking the question: What’s sexist about it? Different things, actually, depending on who you ask. And that’s the whole purpose of my blog, the fact that there’s more than one answer.
Sega Saturn did the ad as an attempt at humor, and to many, it certainly was that. What the joke is based on however, is that gamers are too focused on the gaming content to take notice of anything else. That they are without sexuality in the face of these games, further enhanced as the ad goes on describing the woman on the picture as though we are having a hard time seeing her. The purpose is to claim how good the games look, what awesome games Sega Saturn will provide, and that we can’t take our eyes away from the content long enough to notice anything else. It’s a fun attempt, but hazardous, as it could have been delivered as easily with a picture of a beautiful sunset or a cute puppy, instead of a sexualized woman. Unfortunately, the gaming industry is neck-deep into the idea that sex sells, which it of course has proven to do. Sadly, it comes at the cost of half the world. In doing this, many women would feel a sort of exclusion, that they are a tool for commercial and that this game is directed towards the men. Granted, this was the 90s, and gaming was typically considered a male activity. We’ve come a long way since then, but many of these archaic gender ideas still exist both within game marketing and production.
To not wander too far away from the topic, let’s circle back towards the image. I mentioned that there were several layers of perceived sexism in it, and we’ve so far only discussed the most shallow part, that a naked woman was used in an attempt at increasing sales, blending humor and sex in an attempt at appealing to the men. While naturally there would be women out there that would’ve enjoyed a naked woman as well, those most certanly weren’t the target audience, and intention plays a large role in sexism.
Now onto the next point: Expectations. Specifically towards women. For all to see, the woman is described as beautiful. What isn’t seen in that cropped picture, is the description in which she’s described as having “the best body her money can buy.” (See the second half of the ad at the bottom of the page). What’s so hazardous about this, is that it sets a base beauty ideal, an expectation of what a woman is expected to look like at her best. How this is harmful, I don’t think I even have to explain, but I’ll get into it a bit anyway. To set an ideal for a body, is to make others feel inadequate about theirs, it makes people feel as though what they look like isn’t right, that they don’t qualify as beautiful. Out of all the things this ad does, that’s absolutely the most dangerous form of sexism. Setting a bar on how someone should look is a dangerous thing, and can lead to anything from a sense of exclusion, to self-hate. We need to be aware of the words we weave, or what’s being said might result in horrible things. The image above is an old one, but its message exists even today, 23 years later, in the industry today. We’re getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go, and to get there, we need to talk about it, understand it, impact it.
Something that’s often forgotten in these discussions, is a type of sexism that sneaks up on you here: Why is she being censored? A rising wave of rebels are manifesting around the fact that the female body is considered naughty, something vulgar. You can find bare-breasted men almost everywhere in gaming, but next to never women. This is because it’s considered vulgar, explicit to show the bare upper body of a woman, and so it gets censored, even though breasts and nipples are such a natural thing. Had they skipped the censoring, it would’ve been qualified as pornographic, and it wouldn’t have been allowed. To give an example, the game cover below wouldn’t have been allowed in the exact same outfit, had Kratos (God of War franchise) been a woman instead of a man. Completely ignoring the gore, intestines and blood in the games, it would’ve been a woman instead of a man as Kratos that would push the game into an AO rating (Adults only 18+). In short, the exact same picture that you see below would’ve made the game suffer a different rating if Kratos was a woman, and it’s even unlikely most mainstream game retailers would even sell the game.
Stop by again in the future, and you’ll find me exploring the depths of this topic. We’re going to talk about the damage of sexism, what sexism is, but also what isn’t sexist. Where is the line between sexist and sexy? Is sexualization sexism? Is sexuality in games, movies and comics something problematic? Where is our world heading? I’ll see you in the future, and we’ll find out more.
Do you have any thoughts about the topic that you’d like to see me explore? Let me know in a comment here, or get in touch with me via e-mail. If you feel like I wasn’t talking enough about something, don’t worry. I’m coming back many more times to discuss every element in greater detail. This was simply a warm-up lap. Take care for now, and I hope for us to meet again in the future.