I think it’s possible to have that discussion, but context is pretty all-important in my opinion. It would also need to be a pretty damn comprehensive analysis. Like, taking into account as many games (or whatever art/entertainment you’re looking at, but I’m gonna go with gaming cuz it’s easier than typing in qualifiers every seven words to include all other forms of art/entertainment, so just take it as read that ‘gaming’ here is merely a placeholder for the purposes of making this manageable); indie and AAA; as humanly possible, and tracking the evolution with an honest and objective eye over the course of gaming history while taking into account the primary demographics of gamers and the various marketing strategies used to appeal to them, as well as corporation’s reasons for using or discontinuing them (ie [Insert Game Dev Here] tries a marketing campaign to get more girls to play video games in the 80’s, sales in the female demographic don’t justify continuing the campaign, campaign is dropped due to marketing costs], and probably a lot of other variables I’m not taking into account here.
I think that looking at a singular game and saying that this is indicative of the entire industry, however, is incredibly myopic even if that game is a AAA title. So, for example, if some feminist critic wanted to talk about (and I’m just pulling this from the ether, Idk if anyone’s actually made this argument) how the death of Sniper Wolf in Metal Gear Solid promotes violence against women and this is indicative of the way women are perceived by society at large, that kind of analysis is not only unhelpful in the discussion but also counter-productive.
It only focuses on one aspect of Sniper Wolf as a character (her sex), and doesn’t take into account her past, her skill level, the difficulty of the fight, her ranks in the enemy hierarchy, etc. It’s boiling all of that away and just saying, “A woman was killed therefore misogyny,” and that is a big problem I have with feminist media critics.
Unfortunately, on the other side of the coin, this type of behavior; which has become a sort of prevailing narrative over the past few years; leads to reactionary and also ill-thought-out criticism of that criticism. For example, a feminist critic makes the argument I constructed (read: pulled out of my ass) above about Sniper Wolf. Someone who’s opposed to feminism in general will turn around and say something to the effect of, “Well you’re ignoring all the guys that die in that game, too! WAY more men are killed than women, what makes Sniper Wolf’s death more special or important than theirs?” This criticism (while, I think, is a fairly valid critique of the feminist who says that one woman’s death is a tragedy even in a video game but doesn’t speak one whit about all the male deaths) is still just as myopic as the original critique about the death of Sniper Wolf. It, just like the argument it’s attempting to counter, is ignoring context almost completely, and boiling everything down to which demographic died more often, people with dicks or people with vaginas.
And unfortunately this is the climate we find ourselves in right now.
A feminist will give a critique of women’s portrayal in video games, several other people will respond with something like the above argument (that I still pulled out of my ass but have heard before), and it seems like the point of the first argument is to address what the person doing the critique sees as a legitimate problem (whether it actually is a problem is immaterial, the point is that this person thinks it’s a legitimate problem) while the point of the reactionary argument is to mainly shut them up. And this could be because the feminist is wrong and the person doesn’t want to sit there and go through all the bullshit of proving them wrong completely so they’ll just spout some line that invalidates the feminist’s argument, or it could be rhetoric they’ve heard used and agreed with and merely repeat without thinking. Either way it does little to further the discussion and look objectively at the issue, and whether the feminist is right or wrong has little bearing on that. That’s how science works, and it’s how social science needs to start working if it wants to be taken seriously.
So ideally it would work like this: someone proposes some idea about culture (women are portrayed as X), and other people begin to compile as much data as possible and see whether or not the manifestations of this culture actually bear this out or not.
The original someone may be right, they may be wrong, but immediately jumping down their throat and yelling at them about their assumption/hypothesis/proposal/idea doesn’t actually prove them either right or wrong.
It just proves who can shout the loudest.
So do I think there’s still productive discussion to be had? Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with looking at the situation (say, women in gaming, for example) from a certain perspective (feminist, MRA, functionalist, Marxian, etc.).
The problem comes in when you let your perspective taint your perception of reality. So when a feminist (or whoever) says something like (and I’m about to set up another strawman example, here), “Women in video games who are abducted by men and then rescued by men are seen as possessions to be acquired,” they’re completely ignoring the other side of the equation (that these women are frequently the loved ones of the men doing the rescuing and all that entails) in favor of their bias, and that’s not helpful to anyone. If you want to examine media from a certain perspective, I’m all for that. Different people weighing in with different perspectives are how we eventually compile a full picture (which is why I never identified with any of the main schools in sociology, but that’s another story altogether), but a serious issue arises when you say that your perspective is the only way to look at things and everyone else’s opinions/analyses on the matter are invalid because they don’t fit your personal bias.
SO, TO HOPEFULLY RAP THIS UP, it’s perfectly possible to have a discussion about the portrayal of the sexes in art and entertainment. I won’t deny that it’s a damned interesting subject that I’d like to hear more objective discussion on, myself. But; and I personally think this is due to the tribalistic nature of human beings and is something that has to be consciously worked against, but my speculations about where this stems from aside; the narrative very frequently devolves into echo chambers on both sides. Feminists circlejerk about how X’s criticism of gaming media is so right on and women have it so utterly and completely bad in gaming; anti-feminists (be they tradcons, MRA’s, mere anti-feminists, MGTOW’s, liberals who don’t identify as feminists, whatever) circlejerk about how wrong they know X is about a certain issue, and the entire community is kind of forced to arrange itself on these party lines and pick a side whether they agree with everything that side says or not. For example (and this is just an example, I don’t pretend to know this person’s opinion on anything), when Tim Schafer tweeted Anita Sarkeesian’s video at JonTron, Tim is seen as a feminist who’s propagandizing for the party. We don’t actually know Tim’s opinions on these matters, only that he agrees with Anita on some level. He may not agree with everything she says, he may have thought only one part of the video was right on while everything else was utter garbage, he may have his head so far up her ass he can’t even see the light of day anymore. We just don’t know. But because he’s tweeted out her video as something that someone else should watch in his opinion, he’s painted as complicit in enemy propagandizing by the people who don’t like Sarkeesian (whether their dislike is valid or simply actual misogyny).
So, while it is possible to have this discussion, this tribalistic behavior needs to be routed out first, and at the scale it’s operating at (not to mention the number of people perpetuating it) I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. For the foreseeable future it’s most likely going to be feminists and white knights massing under the banner of feminist media critique being opposed by a disparate group of people massing under the banner of anti-feminism, meanwhile the more moderate voices get drowned out. And I’m guilty of this as well, I won’t deny my part in all this, so I’m effectively throwing myself under the bus and indicting my own behavior by writing this.
But people don’t like long discussions and having to weigh what a person says in context, so the sound bites get the most attention. Someone could see me supporting gun rights and assume that I’m a Republican, or someone else could see me supporting men’s issues and assume I’m an MRA, or someone else could see me supporting abortion rights and assume I’m a feminist, or any opinion on any other polarizing issue and assume I’m a member of a certain political movement, and they’ll run with this assumption rather than find out where I actually stand on issues. I understand this behavior, it’s easier to do than all the work it takes to get the full skinny, but it’s part of what feeds this tribalism. So I think that this is more of a problem with how human neurology is wired more than anything, and it’s also why I think it’s not going away anytime soon. Given that, it’s possible for moderates to have the discussion, but nobody’s going to listen to these long, drawn-out arguments. Moderates are basically the Green Party in American politics. They get passed over because people think they have to choose a side in issues rather than represent themselves, and discussing these issues at length is tiresome. It’s a lot easier to toe a party line.
But that’s basically my thoughts on it, sorry it got so damn long, but I’ve kinda been mulling this over in the back of my head for a while now and pretty much it all spilled out at once. I’ll stop rambling incoherently and pretentiously now.