There’s sexism in games, Paul Verhoeven told me so

23 Jan

Here are my thoughts on Paul Verhoeven’s talk at TEDxWomen Southbank last weekend.

His talk was on sexism in gaming and, overall, he did a pretty good job. He started off with sensitivity to the fact that he is, in fact, a bearded man and that puts him in a strange place to talk about sexism. His qualification came not from gender but from his work as game critic. He had a pretty solid understanding of feminism. You know, the type that should be part of the basic criteria for being a functioning adult, not the type that lets you level up.

I watched it on YouTube this morning and it gave me feelings: warm, fuzzy, angry feelings such as:

  • How the sweet merciful fuck does a man get invited to speak at TEDxWomen?
  • Why can’t he talk about gender equality at a regular TEDx event?
  • Could they not find a chick wanting to talk about this?

What pisses me off most though is that at no point in Verhoeven’s 16 minutes and 11 seconds did he mention the work of Anita Sarkeesian (@femfreq) – a personal hero of mine who dedicates her life to exposing sexism in games and other popular culture.

Her TEDxWomen talk from 2012 is a tour de force in which she catalogues her experiences of being a feminist gamer online, a story which “comes with a very large trigger warning”. This is maybe the most significant text in the discussion of sexism in gaming culture, and yet Verhoeven chose not to acknowledge its existence.

Verhoeven’s talk is one of what feels like 470 pieces of ‘feminist’ writing from men I’ve seen so far in 2014 which excludes women’s voices. While I don’t believe Verhoeven did this deliberately, he fell into the trap of acting as though he’s the first person to think these ideas. He then made use of his male privilege by occupying space on stage that a woman would have been more qualified for.

If you’re a dude and you want to incorporate a study of gender bias into your work, then I commend you. (That’s not sarcastic, I really do.) Just be sure that when you express your frustration at the lack of gender equality in your world you acknowledge that women have been in this game a lot longer than you.

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