People who read this blog know that I had an abusive childhood. Hitting, berating and neglecting children is a time-old tradition in my family. It’s how my parents were raised and it’s how my grandparents were raised. When I was a kid, my grandma used to tell me about the time my grandfather’s dad broke his leg with a fire poker and the time his mother pushed him through a glass table. These stories were meant to soothe me, since I only got a punch here and again. Technically, every generation I know of (which is only the 2 before me) have done better with their kids than their parents did with them.
Grandpa’s dad was a drunk who, in addition to breaking bones, never held a job or provided for his family in any way. Unlike hid own father, when he married my grandmother and took on the responsibility of my mom and my uncle, he provided for them, and then he provided for me when I came along. He made no secret that he hated all three of us, but he paid for everything we needed, and he never broke a bone. He was by no means a good parent, but he was better than his own father had been.
I’ve talked about this before, but my mother was raped by my grandfather when she was 13, and then he kicked her out of the house. She’s been on her own ever since. Unlike him, my mom gave me a home until I was 18, and then I left of my own accord because of her drug abuse and erratic behavior. Again, not a good parent, but a better parent to me than she’d ever had.
So do I continue this saga with my own, far in the future children? Do I try not to be as big of an asshole as my parents and call it a day? Part of me thinks that I turned out OK, surely any person with an even better childhood than mine would be fine. There is a fatalistic streak in me that thinks every parent fucks up their children in some way, that we’re all doomed to a certain degree of failure where child-rearing is concerned. But sometimes I wonder if that is too fatalistic a conclusion for even me.
I’ve had people tell me that my ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps has been nothing short of a miracle, that having the odds stacked against me in the way that they were, that climbing out of that pit in order to live a somewhat normal life where I have this great boyfriend, and amazing friends all around me is a major accomplishment. But I’m not really interested in all that. I can fool all the people I only see once a week or once a month into believing I’m great. Kids, on the other hand I’m not so sure about my ability to keep my cool around.
Granted, Ben sees me every day, but I know that it bothers him when I rage-quit things, or when I yell, or bitch at other drivers on the road. I’d say I’m currently the least angry I’ve ever been in my entire adult life. But what does that mean? Having had no barometer for what’s healthy and unhealthy anger growing up has me kind of adrift here. I understand some basic guidelines, but that’s all there is. Mostly I operate on the theory that if I feel bad about what I did while I was angry, then it’s time to work on how to not do that specific thing again. So I go through all the things an angry person could do, one by one and try to change my response based on the feedback from this piecemeal trial and error. I’ve got through the majority of the really shitty ones, but I can’t just reprogram everything for good. My grandfather trained me to be a rage ninja, sometimes I don’t even see it coming until it’s already punched a dent in my car (my old car, not the current one.)
I called my dad to ask about this, but he wasn’t answering his phone. I’m pretty sure him and my mother never sat around thinking about how they were going to continue to use drugs during my pregnancy and afterward to such a degree that an abusive rapist would be a better parenting prospect than they were. I wanted to know if they talked about me at all, or if they just got pregnant because that’s what you do next. Did they ever swear to each other that they wouldn’t make the mistakes with me that their parents made with them? To a certain extent, they did actually dodge that bullet. Mostly by fucking up in completely different ways, though. I know that after I was born, when I was already a walking and talking, free-thinking person, I had conversations with both my parents to the effect that they had meant to give me a better life than their parents gave them, but I wonder what their intentions were before the reality of a child forced them to consider their history and their skills.
My grandmother freely tells anyone who will listen that she never should have had children. As harmful that kind of talk can be to my mom and uncle, I think it holds a lot of insight into what happened in our family. It’s not just that we’re operating off of generations of bad parenting, we’re also operating off of generations of bad planning. My great grandma had her children in order to please her husband, who (According to my grandmother) she’d have rather had all to herself. My grandma had kids because it was the 50′s and you were supposed to. My mom had me, I think, because she wanted something to love her. She should have gotten a dog.
So does this concern years ahead of time on my part mean that I actually could be a good parent, and not just a less terrible one than my own parents were? I think the fact that I’m analyzing this is a good thing, but also a sign that I am far from ready for anything close to the responsibility of child rearing. And that gives me a lot of compassion for my own parents. I turn 28 in 5 months. My mom and dad at 28 and 31 were the oldest parents in my family at that time, everybody else already had kids, and many of them were younger than them. If I were to try and take on the responsibility of a baby right now, I have no idea what I’d do. I’m sure I would do better than they and my grandparents did (that’s not difficult), but I know I couldn’t do as good as I’d want to do.
A comment on my Tomb Raider article from last week has got me thinking in broader terms about “rape culture” in video games. Geared for Gamers reader Poco Puffs asked me what I thought about the Hitman trailer, which had been getting a lot of negative attention for Hitman beating the ever-living crap out of some extremely sexualized bondage nuns. Having absolutely no familiarity with Hitman whatsoever, I went and read a couple of other people’s articles on the trailer, and I responded in my own comment. However, I think that my answer wasn’t long enough to articulate what I really wanted to say, not just about Hitman and Lara Croft, but about sex, violence and video games in general. So, here is my current opinion on rape culture in video games, to the best of my ability, with the resources available to me at this time.
I want to start out with two disclaimers. First, we’re going to be acknowledging that rape exists and I’m going to use the word rape… a lot. Second, I’m a feminist, but I’m not a very good one. I basically operate off the principle that men and women should be treated as equals and that’s kind of it. Then again, I think that this is the way most people operate when they identify with a doctrine that’s as massive and varied as feminism is. Not all democrats think Bill Clinton is amazing, not all Christians think homosexuality is a sin, and not all feminists cry ‘rape culture’ whenever a female character gets injured in a piece of media.
If you want to see what a professional feminist thinks about women in videogames, watch this space. Aside from being a little bit of a hard-on (by which I mean that she can sometimes come off as self-righteous and condescending to men without acknowledging women’s roles in our own oppression), Anita Sarkeesian is basically the best voice the Internet has right now on feminism and pop culture. I am massively interested in what her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series will bring us, but until then, here’s what I have to say on the subject.
First of all, I want to talk about rape culture. Rape culture is basically any cultural practice or feature that makes it easier for people to rape other people and get away with it. Different people have different views on what specific factors create rape culture. For example, most reasonable people would agree at this point that telling a person who has just been brutally attacked that they brought it on themselves, either through their dress of their actions creates a hostile environment for victims and probably contributes to victim silence, which in turn contributes to rapist freedom. And yet, that still happens with surprising frequency.
On the other hand, some feminist scholars have made arguments that pornography reinforces rape culture. Ostensibly, the idea, as far as I can tell is this: Men are the majority of porn viewers, as well as the majority of rapists, and both porn and rape involve sex. Therefore porno leads to rape. Again, a concept most reasonable people would find ridiculous. Saying pornography leads to rape is like saying that cooking shows lead to cannibalism.
Sexually objectified characters are rarely more than two-dimensional eye candy, it’s true. The argument against misogynistic portrayals of women and the argument against tacky, sensationalist media can frequently be one in the same. As much as I love video games, female characters are largely absent, and when they are present, they tend not to be heroes, only prizes or window dressing.
One of the things I said in my comment in regard to the Hitman trailer, is that they had a perfect opportunity to sexualize him at the beginning when he’s cleaning the blood off himself. Sadly, the game developers didn’t recognize that opportunity, which makes the objectification of the nuns at the end of the trailer seem more out of place than it really needs to be. The failure isn’t that they’re sexualizing these women as they get beat to bits, it’s that they’re not sexualizing Hitman as he beats them to bits. If Hitman is going to be a no-holds barred gore and whore-fest, make it an equitable one. Let’s not pretend that we’re so socially evolved that most of us no longer enjoy a little bit of baseless debauchery.
No one, and I mean no one, turns on the private browsing feature in order to abuse themselves to eloquent descriptions of someone’s glowing personality. We all participate in some level of objectification in our daily lives. Shaming people for our interest in sexy images is like shaming people for our love of processed sugars. The reason those products are successful is because they operate on supply lines we’re evolutionarily bound to respond to. Pretending that we as a society don’t appreciate sex and violence is disavowing about 80% of both our literature and our history. And pretending that only men enjoy sex and violence is almost as misogynistic as pretending that women can’t make good heroes.
Now that I’ve told all the boys and girls at home that it’s alright to get tight-pantsy about the Hitman bondage nuns, does that mean that rape culture isn’t relevant in gaming? Hardly. The games we play are inextricably linked to the culture we created them in. We still live in a culture where rapists are protected and victims are punished. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it still kind of sucks.
“Against our Will: Men, Women and Rape” by Susan Brownmiller was published in 1975 and is considered by some to be the origin of the term rape culture, although Brownmiller’s phrase was actually “rape-supportive culture.” At the time, the majority of Americans didn’t believe that rape, sexual assault, and sexual molestation were common crimes. The extremely low level of awareness allowed sexual predators to operate largely undisturbed. It’s only because of the consciousness raising work that feminists have done in the ensuing decades that we have the kind of society where people wax academic over Lara Croft and Hitman ‘contributing to rape culture,’ or ‘objectifying women.’
But the journey from raising awareness about rape and rape culture, to debating what is and is not rape culture, or where and how rape culture develops has had some side effects that aren’t altogether helpful. For example, in emphasizing how frequently (1 in 5, according to some studies) women are the victims of rape or molestation, we now consciously live in a society where a woman is more likely to be a rape victim than almost any other thing. We’ve started to exist in a continuum of those who have already been raped and those that still might be. Which, while productive in raising awareness, also hangs a sword of Damocles over our collective heads.
Suddenly, all of our actions become suspect/dangerous. A woman riding the bus, going to the store, or jogging in her neighborhood alone is a potential victim. As is any girl who drank too much at a party, any female under the age of 12 more than 10 feet from a guardian or any woman anywhere. After all, 1 in 5 of us will be or have been. It’s starting to get to the point where we get that women are rape victims. What we don’t get is that women, in addition to whatever their personal history, are also bus riders, and consumers, and exercise freaks. We’re drunks, and little girls and we have the potential to be any damn thing we want, despite the fact that we still live in a rape culture. Just because rape exists, and just because 91% of rape victims are female doesn’t mean that women have any less agency in our day to day existence. Sometimes we lose sight of that fact.
Which is how some of us can look at the Hitman trailer, see that the nuns outnumber Hitman 8 to 1, and are clearly carrying superior weaponry, and still consider them the victims. If gender roles had been reversed, and we caught sight of a scarred and bleeding female character being charged by 8 guys armed with submachine guns, who use an RPG to reduce her hotel to flaming ashes, the feminist bloggers would be going crazy about that too. But our preconceptions of women as victims or potential victims is coloring our experience of the trailer.
Earlier I said that my feminist convictions are basically that women and men are equal, and that they should be treated as such. In a perfect world, nobody would be bothered by Hitman because he’d be just as likely to be an ass-kicking woman as he would be an ass-kicking man, as would his or her opponents and allies. We wouldn’t have to tell little girls that they can be anything little boys can be, and Legos and Barbies would be just as appropriate a present for a girl or a boy dependent, not on gender, but on the personal preferences of each child.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where little girls get books on make-up tips and BFF bracelet makers while boys get building tools and books on snake-bite safety. Where you’re so unlikely to see a female in a video game or an action movie that people actually wrote blogs thanking Marvel Studios for having women in the background of their hot-dude sausage-fest, The Avengers (not that I’m complaining, it’s more than anybody else is doing.) If striving for a future where women really are equal to men, then we have to be able to inhabit every space our brothers inhabit, regardless of propriety or morality. Which means that, not only can we be bad guys, but we should be bad guys. Women can and should have every bit as much inclination to take a pop at Hitman as men do, and Hitman should have every right to dispatch them as summarily as he dispatches his male opponents. We can not be equal to men if we are continually casting ourselves as the victims.
The problem I had with the Tomb Raider trailer isn’t that Lara Croft is chased by men, or that she is harmed by men, or that she is harmed at all. It’s that the whole time this is happening, her fear-responses are almost pornographic. The shuddering whimpers, the wide-eyed gasping, the pitiful crying are all pathetic. The heavily armed, adult women in the Hitman trailer are active participants in their own gory destruction. Lara Croft, on the other hand, is a scared child fleeing and fighting for her life. Lara truly is a victim, a role I personally am tired of seeing women cast in. Compared to yet another rabbit-scared lady, hiding in the shadows, Hitman’s nuns were a breath of fresh air.
I imported my comments from GearedforGamers.com
I admit I’m not familiar with the Hitman games. I assume you’re referring to the nun trailer, and not the one where he kills all those dudes to get to the woman in the shower who should probably have significance, but who I don’t know at all.
I see there’s been some guff about the game ‘normalizing violence against women,’ and I don’t go in for that at all. I think it’s an unfair world we’re building where bad guys have to be guys. Hitman (as the name implies) kills people. So to have a trailer where he helps little old ladies across the street and kisses kittens on the top of their furry widdle heads would be ridiculous.
The women in the Hitman trailer are 1) bad guys 2) adults 3) seriously armed 4) not the player character. I don’t have a problem with Hitman pulling a Neo on a crowd of sexy, armed, evil, bitches. Bad guys get slaughtered. That’s point of most games.
In her article Michelle Starr (http://www.cnet.com.au/how-hitman-is-insulting-us-all-339338883.htm) talks about how “we’re supposed to be turned on by their brutal murder” and that the game is attracting “the kinds of people who get off on hurting women.” I think that statements like this are an oversimplification.
As if anytime a woman gets injured we should all weep tears of blood for her brutalization. It’s not the injury, or the duress, or the blood I have a problem with in the Tomb Raider trailer, it’s something more nuanced and difficult to articulate. It’s her helpless whimpering and her doe-eyed terror, her lack of power and her pathetic crying. None of which are present in the Hitman trailer.
And can we take a break from being morally superior here and just acknowledge that violence and sex are very close together in our brains and in our lives? You find me a human who’s never had one violent sexual thought and I’ll show you a human who’s never had sexual thoughts at all. I personally loved watching Hitman slaughter those ladies. I thought it was sexy. I have a feeling a lot of other people did too, that doesn’t mean we’re bad people.
Not to say that Hitman trailer is a shining beacon of equality. I think it is a failure that the Hitman character is not as equally portrayed in the shots of him cleaning the blood off himself before the nun fight. I say, if you’re going blue, go all the way. Have sexy nuns and a sexy Hitman sexily murdering each other, if that’s what you’re going for.
In response to someone who said that focusing on the rape and ignoring the murder was counter intuitive.
I play games to straight up murder dudes. In God of War 3 when Kratos totally beats Zeus to death and you can see it through his increasingly blood filled eyes, I was overjoyed. I have absolutely no moral ground to stand on in regard to violence in games. However, there’s about a million miles of bullshit between me wanting to snipe guys heads off and watch them explode like melons, and me wanting to watch my own character get raped. And I know that she doesn’t actually get raped, but it’s still bullshit. And shoveling rape and murder into the same category doesn’t work for me. Rape is such a different, more terrible crime than just shooting someone. People I know have served in wars, where they killed people, and everybody understands that they were doing their duty to serve their country. If we suddenly found out they were raping people in addition to killing them, I have a feeling the majority of us would no longer be their friends.
I don’t mean that he will never go to jail at all, because everything that goes up must come down, and eventually studio lawyers and PR people can only do so much for a person who is completely intent in ruining their own life. But for now, in this country, Chris Brown is untouchable, and not just because he’s rich and famous.
What we have here is the classic good vs. evil battle, that we are so familiar with from comic books and action movies, but that we rarely recognize in daily life, even though it’s there. A hero can be as amazing as Superman, as brutal as Batman and as witty as Spiderman, but the truth we all know is the villain crosses a line that the hero can not cross. Would any of us repeatedly punch, choke, or bite our girlfriend? Would any of use attempt make freeway pizza out of the woman we loved? No, but Chris Brown would. Would we go on national TV and pitch a fit in the green room, smash a window and get mad when they reported it? Chris Brown would. Would any of us put the lives of others in direct and indirect danger because we didn’t get our way, despite the fact that we already have legions of devoted fans, more money than we could ever reasonably spend, and good looks on top of that? The Joker Chris Brown would.
The problem with people isn’t that most of them are bad. They’re not, and that’s a good thing. But one of the drawbacks of being mostly good in a society, is that when we do get a line crosser, we’re ill-equip to deal with it.
Everybody wants their sacrificial lamb, that’s what The Jersey Shore is for, but people really want their first impressions to be true. They want their lines to remain uncrossed. Yeah, Ronny from Jersey Shore is obviously a woman beater, but we knew he was bad all along. Chris Brown takes pictures with puppies, Chris Brown is a Nickelodeon sweetheart, Kids Choice Award darling, Chris Brown doesn’t bite women, or break windows, or steal phones when he’s already on probation for biting a woman (and punching her, and choking her, and threatening to murder her.) But he does, and instead of following the rules and being appropriately remorseful for the things he’s done and taking his licks like a good celebrity, he tweets at all of us to eat a dick because he has a Grammy and we don’t. Well, most of us don’t.
Anyway, the reason Chris Brown will not serve jail time is because there are infinite second chances for a person like him. The shit he did, and the way he did it is so completely outrageous that we’d all rather be in denial that we’re the type of society that puts a 16 year old boy on an international stage, but then gets incredulous when he has no adult life skills. People are aching for his apology, for his redemption. His prescribed next move is to keep his fat head down long enough for this all to blow over, and when he refuses to do that, society is at a loss.
If he’s bad, and we made him what he is, does that mean that we’re bad? Yeah, we’re a little bit bad. Society can make you a star, and society can tear you down again, but society can’t make you a sociopath. That’s a condition that you’re born with. It takes a special kind of man to be one of the worst human beings anybody knows and still tell the world to suck your balls. That’s a line nobody will cross to go after your ass.
And that’s why Chris Brown won’t be seeing the inside of a jail (for awhile anyway.) He’ll go to anger management, or he’ll go to rehab, in Malibu, on the beach. But if he doesn’t go to jail, we can all still walk around in denial. We deny that we made a monster, but in so doing we fail to see he was a monster already, we just made it okay for him to be as bad as he possibly could be. And we continue to do so.