All posts by Mildred Alicia

Gamergate Campaign: The Fight For Change In Video Games

The gaming community has long had a reputation as a violent arena fueled by a reluctance to adapt to the rapidly-evolving gaming industry.  The ever-growing population of women working in the gaming industry is a positive leap in the direction of gender equality – particularly in such a male-dominated industry — but many gamers do not welcome the new female presence in the gaming world.

Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist cultural critic and creator of the Gamergate campaign, was forced to cancel her speech at Utah State University after receiving an email warning that a shooting massacre would take place at the event. Yet, this was by no means the first time; the Gamergate campaign has long been a target, and receives a constant stream of threats.

So, what exactly is Gamergate?

According to Recode, Gamergate is a “sizeable online community of videogame fans who are upset about growing criticisms of their favorite hobby, especially claims that today’s games often depict women in demeaning ways.”

This backlash against female gamers isn’t anything out of ordinary. Working as editor for Girl Gamer Vogue (GGVogue) — a website that aims to build a new gaming community free from gender bias — I have experienced first-hand what these women go through. Journalist and founder of GGVogue, Jennifer “Narz” Vargas is passionate about targeting this issue that plagues today’s gaming industry.

Centered on this policy to promote equality amongst all gamers, it was mind-boggling to learn that Jennifer would be against covering Gamergate. This was her chance to display a crisis affecting all female gamers and a tangible manifestation of what she fights against each day. It was difficult to understand her reservations with it all. She wasn’t receiving any threats yet and I strongly believe that the moment you piss people off, is the time for you to act and make way for change. Vargas was reluctant to agree, and felt apprehensive of getting the wrong kind of attention adding that,

Anita [Sarkeesian], is strong for moving forward with this but I only want to create a holistic community where we all support each other no matter our gender, background or affiliations. The self-proclaimed politics of the gaming community don’t interest me. I will continue to create, promote, and sponsor workshops for both men and women in gaming for those that need it. I don’t need to justify my point of view of the matter because my actions do. – Vargas

This is what it comes down to. How hard are we willing to push for change?

I understood her reservations completely and people (myself included) don’t realize how difficult it is to take a stand for change in any particular matter. Is Vargas a coward for wanting to steer clear of this whole mess? Sarkeesian decided to cancel her workshop at Utah State University because of fears that the aforementioned threats were all too real:

This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history, and I’m giving you a chance to stop it. – NYTimes.

Some believe she made the right decision, while extremists have expressed concerns that she knuckled under the demands of the ‘gamer interrupted.’ This sequence of events, however, has had a ripple effect leading avid girl gamers, like Vargas, to pull back and focus on why they became involved in the video game world in the first place.  The fact that a movement that’s making waves across the country is placing people’s lives in danger is, quite frankly, eye-opening and deeply troubling.

This wouldn’t be the first time the gaming community has gone all Call of Duty on us, however. Veteran and game developer, Ralph Koster received a number of hate messages after making changes to a specific online game. He discusses his experiences faced with the level of hate stating that there’s almost an expectation for gamers, adding that “gamers have had that for quite a while”. This happened in the early 1990s, rendering his creation part of the first wave of multiplayer web-based games, and was consequently a significant development in the gaming world at the time. This begs the question if this culture of hate is only an issue with women in games.

Are gamers being dangerously sexist or are they just pulling anything from their sockets to oppose to any changes within the gaming industry and community?

Koster endured his threats with grace even after his house was set on fire and someone wrote a note on his personal website saying he “wished the game designer had died in the blaze.” So, naturally gamers are prone to going ballistic about matters that make them… uncomfortable? Or something like that.

In any case, we cannot deny the impact the Gamergate Campaign has on gaming, and Sarkeesian is doing something right if so many are speaking (and that’s putting it lightly) against this. While I do believe that she, her campaigners and the gamers in support of this movement should continue the fight in spite of these threats, I can’t help but concede on Jennifer Vargas’ point. Working on the grander scheme of things to encourage gamers to play video games in harmony rather than fighting violently is the goal here. However, focusing on the latter can only go so far and where does one draw the line? I suppose gamers can define that for themselves much like Vargas did when this all broke out. Gamers however, may never be satisfied and like life, games and the industry will continue to change.

‘Hollaback!’ The Video That Made Cat-Calling A Racial Issue

The catcall video that went viral of a young woman walking the streets of New York City for ten hours in a pair of black jeans and black crew neck T-shirt has had its fair share of debates. Hollaback! — a group with the focus to end street harassment — wanted to produce an impact after offering a glimpse of what it’s like for a woman to walk the streets alone. They certainly achieved their goal and received a great deal of praise not only for their bravery in shedding light on this controversial topic, but for dealing with the backlash that comes with it .

I watched this video over and over and over again. As a New Yorker, street harassment is something I’ve learned to deal with over the years. However, this video drew attention to the concept of the “catcall”, and, as a result, highlighted the simple fact that we — the women — should not be forced to put up with this. Many of my male counterparts felt differently; some agree that it is an issue; that we need to learn to respect women and treat them as equals; while others are offended by the nerve of Hollaback! for posting such uninformative material.

I figured that the latter were men who catcall on women, themselves, and can’t help but be offended because they feel aren’t doing anything wrong. And how would they know if they are? Society has suggested they have every right to do so because most women are too afraid to respond or would rather not deal with taking a stand against this behaviour. Secondly, most people (not just men) believe that it isn’t harassment until it’s physical.

“But … but it’s a compliment!” one male friend said.“ A beautiful woman should always expect to be catcalled in the streets. That’s just the way it is.”

He’s right: that is just the way it is. My rebuttal, of course, highlighted how disrespectful and unnecessary it is because of this thing called self-control and if you want to approach a beautiful woman there are places called bars and/or online dating sites.

One argument against the video’s validity is the apparent lack of white men engaging in catcalling; that it demonises black and Latino men. Charles C.W. Cooke’s feature for the National Review gives an overview of almost every aspect of criticism following the video’s debut. He discusses how many writers pulled the race card, among them Aura Bogado, a writer on racial justice for The Nation. Cooke cites her saying that this ”makes it appear as if men of color are the perpetrators of all that is bad on this planet, which can only be balanced with the exigent need to therefore save white women above all else.” Others, like well-known feminist writer and professor, Roxane Gay tweeted “the racial politics to this video are f*****d up”, adding,“Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?” The real offense here is that Aura Bogado, among others, are suggesting that minority men don’t know any better and Cooke goes on to say that,

“To contend that the minorities depicted in the video are mere victims of circumstance and that they have been forced by their conditions into badgering innocent women on the street is to contend that those minorities lack agency, intelligence, sensitivity, and the capacity to reason — that they are child-like figures who act on their base instincts and who need excusing and explaining by their betters” [The National Review].

Furthermore, these statements imply that if the woman in the video only walked through affluent neighborhoods where white men are likely to be found, she may have not encountered such harassment. Coming from a low-income neighborhood dominated by blacks and Latinos, these situations when a woman walks alone in the streets are an everyday occurance. However, focusing solely on the issue of race detracts from the real issue at hand. Does this mean that she wasn’t actually harassed because most of the attention came from minorities and not white men? Does harassment begin at a racial level now? I suppose Hollaback! will have to redo this video and have a black transgender walking the streets of the Upper East Side alone and only then will we have actual credibility to raise our voice and seek to end street harassment.

These arguments across the political platform only enforce ignorance and one shouldn’t see color when a person is being harassed. The woman who volunteered to do the video, Shoshana B. Roberts shouldn’t be less credible because she is a white woman. Michael Luciano from the Daily Banter quotes that many critics and Left politicos “simply couldn’t let the video stand as a testament to the bullshit that women go through.”

Now is the time to get past the notion that catcalling is a norm and doesn’t offend and make others uncomfortable. Perhaps we need a new definition of harassment to remind others that it happens the moment a person feels uncomfortable in a situation involving another’s aggressive and/or disturbing behavior.

US reproductive rights: employers can now deny you birth control benefit

In early July of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can deny birth control to their employees. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby set off a new level to this issue that’s been debated on since the recession of 2008. The Scholars Strategy Network highlight the struggles regarding women and birth control where the Guttmacher Institute tallied about “36 million women in need of contraceptive care in 2008” and that number has increased as more and more women discontinue contraceptive use simply because they cannot afford this. However, according to Planned Parenthood, these two companies were granted a religious exemption to The Affordable Care Act [ACA] that covers birth control without co-pay after a 5-4 ruling. For those of you who are not aware, The Affordable Care Act is a federal healthcare reform bill passed by Congress and President Obama in 2010, where private health insurance plans will offer birth control [among other preventative services] without co-pays or deductibles. Now, it seems as if many others are following suit and at least “82 for–profit employers are challenging the ACA’s birth control mandate so that they, too, can deny the benefit to their employees.”

Birth control in the U.S. has become a controversial issue that somehow has given employers the opportunity to take a standpoint on whether it’s morally right or wrong to provide such coverage. This ruling is rather laughable to me as I’ve witnessed and read of women being laid off or not getting hired due to pregnancy or maternity leave. I wonder if these employers are considering the alternative side to this issue. I currently work for a non-profit organization but it’s only a matter of time before this matter hits home. Americans are treating birth control as if it’s a revolutionary idea when in fact it’s part of basic health care, and these mind numbing debates only set off more ignorance amongst the population.

Pulling the morality card on this issue only makes me think of the women in my culture who become pregnant and choose to keep the baby more often than women from other backgrounds. “Spanish girls get pregnant just by one looking at them,” said one male colleague of mine in the midst of a heated debate regarding women and birth control. His chuckle was followed by another slurp of Lo Mein and a satisfied sigh to his arrogant rhetoric. While scarfing down my General Tso chicken, I filtered out the many things I could’ve said when the idea dawned on me. Gulping my frustration down with water, I cleared my throat and said, “It’s not that Spanish women become pregnant more easily than others. Spanish women are less likely to have an abortion given our religious background, i.e. the Catholic Church.” His eyes almost sparkled to this perspective. “That makes total sense! I never thought of it that way!” Nodding his head in agreement he pulled at his Smartphone. Perhaps he was eager to share his newfound knowledge.

I often get into these topics with the opposite sex and I cannot always recall why exactly. I suppose it’s because I can ultimately acknowledge how men and women don’t (and probably won’t ever) see eye to eye in areas that are primarily grey in the midst of countless divergent views. Yet it seems as if the lack of coverage and education about birth control in America leads people, like my co-worker, to make and believe such insensitive and foolish statements. Though, reflecting on his whole rendition of women and birth control, however short sighted, he brought up a good point. Statistically speaking, minorities in the US are most likely to bear children before the age of 20.

I’ve considered the many single mothers in my family and countless young women I’ve come across who have struggled through abortions, broken condoms, failing contraceptives and the most popular, withdrawal method (that almost never works.) These inconsistencies in birth control mainly happened throughout my college years and, unlike my many female counterparts, thankfully I didn’t deal with any consequences. I suppose being an innocent bystander was lesson enough for me to become extremely careful. But coming from a Dominican-American family, I’ve learned that a large number of Hispanic women, more often than not, do become pregnant and keep the baby before graduating college. I’ve gathered that this is perhaps due to religion, moral beliefs and overall cultural background.

It seems like most employers are dealing with the same moral issue and I feel for them. Granting coverage for a basic need that affects us all is unimaginable to some and shame on the women who dare to ask for it. How could they sleep at night?

I am being deliberately facetious but you get the gist.

Limiting the resources for vital reproductive health care is what’s inconceivable and this sort of negligence only feeds into further ignorance. Learning that the United Kingdom grants free birth control for all astonished me and even with the ACA [thank God for small favors] we must wait “until [our] coverage has been verified, co-pays will continue to be collected, so [we] will not have to be billed later.” However, this is only if your employer will grant you such coverage and if they don’t, the number of working to middle class women putting off visits with health care providers for birth control will only increase and the misinformation about this will continue to float.

Ladies, let’s break the statistics and remind them that this reform benefits us all as Americans and ensure “birth control be available at no cost to every woman, no matter where she works.”

[Plannedparenthood]