Gender, Sexuality, and…Games?

I’ve been reading 1UP’s new Cover Story articles. Honestly, I think I had enough of “academic feminism” throughout my college and graduate degree years. When I saw this, though…

I think my brain just broke.

I apologize in advance, but there’s not much discussion of video games below. It’s a deeper problem than just a media format, so that is the direction of the post.

My God, this is not a discussion I am looking forward to having. Just like the incessant nanny states that government has become, now we are really, REALLY worried about the portrayal of people with certain sexual orientations in my game. Don’t hurt them! Male gender stereotypes are bad! Let’s replace them with…new ones? That’s not the obvious conclusion you might have. Perhaps you’re thinking “well, there’s obviously a right way to achieve equality in society through media”. Not so!

Firstly, any time you remove a stereotype, you will always deposit a new one in its place. Take the male stereotype of “testorone fueled maniac” that has become a recent fixture of video games. Obviously, we’ve got “effeminate, perfect haired male” to go along with it from the Japanese side, but usually you get one or the other. I’m not sure there’s a reason to remove either, quite honesty; every game developer, surely, will prey upon one stereotype or another to appeal to its audience. Video games are an industry, like it or not, and what sells is what makes it into video games.

Secondly, stereotypes change over time. It hasn’t always been the case that women wore pink and men wore blue, or even that men crying was a showing of their “feminine side”. These are, in fact, stereotypes that arise out of particular contexts. They don’t really have any bearing on reality, but we unconsciously accept them most of the time as “normal”. That’s fine; I’ve got no problem, honestly, with these kinds of things. However, once these arbitrary things are perceived as “defining” and then “seperating” human beings, we get into quite a mess.

How do you make a “realistic” male, for example? Apparently, making him dependant on a strong female lead equals “equality”, but that’s the exact opposite! Anytime you take something away, something else must fill the hole that the removed presence left behind. In other words, it’s a no-win situation. Bayonetta’s probably the best example of this that I can think of; even if Bayonetta’s the “strong” woman character, Luca’s profile exhibits the same “damsel in distress” feeling you’d get from a traditional female lead. There’s no perfect way to balance this that isn’t going to garner its own set of criticisms. But men aren’t allowed to make those, are they? No, they’re not; most feminists would agree that men don’t have any say in this issue.

Stereotypes of feminism, for example, are still prevalent – but they happen to be true to some extent. Extreme feminism strikes this observer as less a social movement and more a religion; the “matriarchal prehistory” myth says this better than I ever could. In my particular field, feminist theology emphasizes the experiential element. As women’s experience is the measure, all problems stem from oppression of women. Thus, for example, the gendered nature of language is a patriarchal structuring mechanism to reinforce the subservient role of women in modern society. Religious stories that represent females as passive, weak, or merely caretakers serve as a method of oppression that utilizes religious authority to put women into their place, fearful that they might displace male dominance. As such, the methodology of the feminist theologian starts with critiques of the past and its gendered assumptions, followed by the search for alternative Biblical and extra-biblical traditions that support Feminist ideas. It is in this search that they can revise Christian categories to support and emphasize the role of women.

Mary Daly, for example, sees androcentrism (andro = male) permeating modern Western society. Women’s low caste status has been masked by sex role segregation, derivative segregation, and ideologies. For the fi rst, it is the delusion of men who imply that women are “equal, but di fferent”. For the second, women have a divided status because they are related with men, a subservient and dependant relationship. As Daly says, the identi cation of women as daughters and wives, derived from males, “divides us [women] against each other…” For the last, ideology bestows false, illusionary identities upon both men and women – Christianity, specifically has given these gender roles a “natural” character, being fi tted according to the divine plan.

Daly accuses the Church itself of anti-feminism from its very roots, infecting a variety of theologians and thinkers throughout the years. A masculine God, a male saving women in the form of Jesus, and the human relationship to God the Father reinforces these stereo- types. Christianity is not a religion; patriarchy is, in fact, its father and predecessor.

As such, Daly sees no reconciliation with Christianity, seeing it as corrupted from its very ground. What is needed is a death of God the Father in the rising woman-consciousness and the consequent breakthrough to conscious, communal participation in God the Verb. Her theology is an entirely new creation, completely divided from Christianity in any way; what Christian would, for example, believe that women should rule over men, or argue against gender equality? Again, we see that feminism inevitably leads to male displacement. Is it better or worse? I’m going to say neither; they’re both in the wrong, and quite frankly we need to transcend the discussion of these minutiae.

“Back up a second”, you might say. “Of course this is a problem; are you just going to wave your hand and say it’s not!? We know women have been oppressed throughout time, as well as LGBTQ people! You incorrigible, handsome monster!” Well, probably not that last part, but you get the picture. There’s an underlying component to many of these discussions that lead to “talking past” each other, rather than making any significant contribution. If you’ve already started with the pretense of “I am correct”, what debate is there to have about this? Look at the 1UP articles; most of them (JP Kellams excluded) already have a solution in mind, and the debate is settled: women and LGBTQ need more representation because it’s “wrong” to portray them in way X. This is the symptom, not the problem. Our modern culture’s assumptions are the issue.

The problem is never the specifics of a particular race, gender, or creed; it is the culture of self-fulfillment they all represent. At one time in human history, life revolved around the community. This community acted in deference to each other, knew their boundaries, and knew about persons other than themselves. Certainly, they weren’t perfect (Slaves! Oppression! Etc!) and didn’t always agree (Killings, Etc.), but they knew that if they did not understand each other and protect, they would never, ever survive. If they didn’t respect each other, would they end up endangering everyone else? This was true for most societies of the past and allowed them to thrive, That sense of community, for example, was essential to the Israelites, to the destitute people of the Middle Ages (the Dark Ages), and for basically every pre-modern society. Humanity as a whole was important (other than those defined as “not human” – take that, Portuguese and Spanish explorers!), not the individual. (As a side note, religion had much to do with this in many cases, allowing people to rally and find solidarity with each other under a common banner. Again, not perfect, but something. As if our culture in America doesn’t have problems.)

Over time, that cultural understanding has shifted. Individuals are the most important, not everyone else. What the individual thinks, at all times, determine what is both right and good, and what is wrong and bad. Whatever I decide becomes the standard. This is partly from post-modernism, but also partly from modern culture’s insistence that science becomes both standard and establish normative standard. If I am just an animal, what difference does it make? I’m going back to the ground anyway to decompose – thus, what matters is how much I enjoy life in the here and now, even if that lifestyle might become destructive to society as a whole.

The focus on “me, myself, and I” has led to further isolation of people from each other. You may never even know the neighbor down the street, or the person living in your apartment complex. Why bother, in fact? It’s not your problem, after all. Unless it’s to impose my “science” upon your personal beliefs. You can’t argue with empirical facts.Even if that didn’t work, the idea would be to impose an unknown moral quality onto the argument, anyway. So does the conflation between science and morality begin. Neither should ever be related, quite simply, but our current debate is filled with this stuff. Men are different than women, and vice versa. If we accept that genetically, why not morally, too? We are never willing to take such ideas to their logical conclusion; once humans are just a bundle of instinctual responses to external stimuli, everything is permitted, and the seperations continue to divide rather than unite. Our “uniqueness” becomes a mask to bend others to our own desires, rather than pure, unadulterated acceptance.

In sum, though, it ends with God (as per the focus on this website). God is the most important, not you. God’s creation is most important, not you. The problem with most people on this note is that their strident stance on “civil rights” (or environmentalism) merely exists as a way to impose their will upon people who think entirely different then themselves. The attempt, rather than for diversity, is homogenization of culture, a culture of their own desire and their own needs rather than that of the community at large.

We need to rethink this debate, not in terms of “self-desire” or fulfillment, but about everyone. What does it say that we don’t know of any “gay” gene, or even whether gay parents produce gay children? Is there a transgender gene as well that I don’t know of? What if there isn’t one at all? If you’ve already associated science and morality, you can’t escape that one. I think, rather than seeking for universal agreement on every issue ever, we need to debate these ideas with mutual respect and accord. We need to understand that other people think differently, and not everyone is a bigot. It’s high time we stopped asserting our personal flavors and desires as good public policy.

We’re all human beings, and we’re all one, and children of God. Let’s start acting like it. As for me, I can’t think of anything other than Galatians 3:

23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.