Monday, April 18, 2011

The Third Puzzle

Another fun one! I came upon it in the context of computer games where the role of women is to be the victims, to be kidnapped and slapped on the bottom if they scream, to make them shut up, in the mildest of the versions.

One response to those who don't like these games was this: If it's OK when something happens to a man it must be OK when the same thing happens to a woman. Men are very often killed in computer games. This means that complaining about women being slapped on the butt is not only stupid but sexist.

I right away heard something more, echoes of other comments I have read on Those Sites:

If you want to act like a guy, take the consequences! Guys get punched in the balls all the time on television and nobody cares, but just try to punch a woman in the breasts and see what happens!

Fascinating stuff! As you know if you have read here, I often use reversals to point out sexism. When one reverses the genders in some story one's reaction can change, too! A learning experience, if nothing more. And what this particular MRA person said seems to be the same thing.

But is it? I agree that the reversals can teach us something and that there are clear cases where men suffer from sexism directed at them. But the examples of computer games or television violence are not terribly good ones, and here is why:

Overall frequency matters. Suppose that men indeed are the majority of victims or objects of violence in computer games (I don't know the actual statistics). But what about those who are allowed to kill and to commit violence in these games? My guess is that they are far, far more overwhelmingly male, and that the active players' roles are also far more overwhelmingly male.

The only good parables for this I can think of are pretty extreme, so my apologies for that. But suppose that in ancient Greece the owners of slaves were allowed to beat them whenever they felt like it. Does the fact that some free men in Athens, say, also got beaten up by their fathers change the wrongness of the slave beating? The slaves were not allowed to beat their owners, after all, and they got beaten much more often and perhaps for no reason.

So frequency matters, and so do the rules under which we play games. If the computer games mostly offer women as passive objects to manipulate, the fact that some men are also passive objects doesn't make the two situations equivalent.

The reversal doesn't tell us the whole story. This also applies to violence on television. If we had a show where several women kept punching a helpless man in the groin and if that man finally pulled himself up from the floor and punched one of those women in the breasts we would see the situation as justified.

We don't react like that when a show only offers us that breast punch because a) women are much more frequently the victims than the perpetrators in these shows and b) because the violence aimed at men is usually perpetrated by other men, not packs of women.

All this also links to the way men are seen as individuals and not as men, whereas women are often seen as spoonfuls from some quivering mass of generic womanhood. If a female character in a game or on television acquires individuality to a point where we see that before her gender our reactions will differ. They start approximating those we would have with male characters who have individuality.