Charges of intellectual dishonesty and academic dishonesty are hefty when discussing discourse in academia. Steven Salaita was fired from his job at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Phyllis Wise of the same college is now facing accusations including plagiarism that could ruin any future career.
Senator John Walsh, who plagiarized a paper in 2007, had his master’s degree rescinded from the Army War College and could see an impact in his senate race. Blogger Lina Ikeji had her blogged pulled after accusations of dishonesty. The 2014 election was rocked by multiple accusations including ones lodged against Rand Paul.
The effects of dishonesty are far-reaching and they are mighty. In this Medium, I intend to lodge and substantiate claims of intellectual dishonesty and academic dishonesty by Jonathan McIntosh and Anita Sarkeesian in their Feminist Frequency: Tropes vs. Women series.
This is not meant to attack McIntosh or Sarkeesian as people. It is meant to criticize them as researchers and academics.
I personally believe that McIntosh and Sarkeesian are intelligent people who have much to provide video gaming through critical analyses. However, the current shape of their work leaves much to be desired. This piece is meant to detail instances of omission, intellectual dishonesty, conflation, and completely incorrect assertions. It is meant to detail the lack of research, methods, and citations.
It is meant to serve as a point of improvement and an examination of claims by Feminist Frequency regarding sexism in gaming, tropes in gaming, and the nature of culture, society, narrative, and traditions. After all, we need criticism in gaming and we need criticism of the critics.
The pair will be written about in alphabetical order for this article. M comes before S.
NOTE: This is not a light read. It is intentionally not light. I am not appealing to emotions. I am not appealing to mobs. I am systematically pulling apart, combing through, and breaking down complex parts through this entire series. Each portion will be over 5,000 words easily. If you want a short piece, you’re in the wrong place. I also have to dismiss comments now due to clutter. I am reading each one, though.
Willful Intellectual Dishonesty
Willful intellectual dishonesty is a difficult, often nebulous concept when discussing academia. The ambiguous, construct nature of honesty is pervasive in this area. For this point, we will have to define and operationalize our terms:
The definition of willful intellectual dishonesty for this article is:
A deliberate, purposeful, or voluntary action undertaken in spite of consequences related to thought and critical analysis that is lacking in integrity or honesty that occurs when intentionally committing fallacies, errors, or omission.
Unlike willful intellectual dishonesty, academic plagiarism is incredibly well-defined. There are two kinds of plagiarism: intentional and accidental. According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), plagiarism is defined as the, “uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.”
California State University — Northridge, where Anita Sarkeesian went to school, states that plagiarism is:
Intentionally or knowingly representing the words, ideas, or work of another as one’s own in any academic exercise. Comments:
Direct Quotation: Every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks, by appropriate indentation or by other means of identification and must be promptly cited in a footnote. […]
Paraphrase: Prompt acknowledgment is required when material from another source is paraphrased or summarized in whole or in part in your own words. To acknowledge a paraphrase properly, one might state: “to paraphrase Locke’s comment . . .’’ and conclude with a footnote identifying the exact reference. […]
Borrowed Facts or Information: Information obtained in one’s reading or research that is not common knowledge among students in the course must be acknowledged. Examples of common knowledge might include the names of leaders of prominent nations, basic scientific laws, etc.
Princeton University even goes further and notes that there are other forms of academic dishonesty including false citation, fabricating data, and duplicity are all forms of academic dishonesty:
Students commit false citation when they cite sources they didn’t directly consult; such a violation is subject to the same penalties as plagiarism. Fabricating or falsifying data of any kind is also a serious academic violation. […] But in no case should you fabricate data.
Without proper permission, submitting the identical or similar work in more than one course is also a violation of University regulations. Unauthorized multiple submission of academic work is subject to the same penalties as plagiarism.
Finally, York University, another of Sarkeesian’s academic credentials, states that academic dishonesty can include falsification:
It is also a violation of academic honesty to falsify information. This includes:
“Massaging” or dishonest reporting of research, lab results or data
Starting from expected results and working backwards
Misrepresenting the research and ideas of others[…]
Misrepresenting the amount of work one has contributed to group assignments and activities[…]
Feminist Frequency as Educational
One of the potential problems with this discussion is that the Feminist Frequency: Tropes vs. Women series is not a work grounded in academic settings such as universities. However, McIntosh and Sarkeesian have made it very clear that they intend their videos to be educational and academic in quality:
“Feminist Frequency is a video webseries that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives. The video series was created by Anita Sarkeesian in 2009 and largely serves as an educational resource to encourage critical media literacy and provide resources for media makers to improve their works of fiction.”
“Content Warning: This educational episode contains graphic sexual and violent game footage.”
On each video, McIntosh and Sarkeesian both state the following:
“The multimedia clips included in this video constitute a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright law which allows for criticism, comment and scholarship.”
In the update video, the pair state:
“Obviously each video in this series requires a tremendous amount of research, writing and production time so we are planning to release one video per month.”
This follows the original video which states:
“Each video in this new series will be between ten and twenty minutes long with well researched, indepth analysis.”
Sarkeesian, the face of Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs Women series, has in her bio:
“Anita earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies at California State University Northridge and her Master’s degree in Social and Political Thought at York University.
Anita lectures and presents at universities, conferences and game development studios internationally.”
In her recent Rolling Stone piece, Sarkeesian states:
“No, they weren’t. Feminist Frequency started in 2009 when I was in grad school. It was my way of pulling feminist theory out of academia into a more public space for a wider audience.”
In her IGN interview, Sarkeesian states:
“Yes on both counts. I started my webseries in early 2009 while still in grad school at York University in Toronto partly because I was frustrated with how academia tended to present feminist theory in disconnected or inaccessible ways. I wanted to try and bring a sociological feminist lens to the limited and limiting representations of women in the media and then share that with other young women of my generation. YouTube was the perfect medium for that. […]
As a result the project has been expanded enormously to now include over a dozen videos as well as a free classroom curriculum. We are broadening the scope and scale of the research and upgrading the quality of the videos with new production equipment and improved graphics. Since the beginning Feminist Frequency had really been a part time side project but now because of the extra funding its become a full time endeavor.”
It is clear from their comments that McIntosh and Sarkeesian wish to market the Tropes vs Women series as academic and educational in nature. It is to be used as an authority piece. It is worthy of being an educational aid to be used in educational settings, using academic terms, and not as a representation of creativity such as literature. As this is the case, Feminist Frequency must be judged by academic standards to be worthy of academic, educational use as a piece of research.
Some note that academic and educational do not mean the same thing. This is an attempt to parse semantics. It is clear that McIntosh and Sarkeesian intend their work to be used at all levels of education. If a work is to be used academically, it must meet the rigorous standards of an academic setting. They have stated that their work is also research-oriented. Accordingly, the work must meet the bare minimum standards of academic and intellectual honesty as defined above.
McIntosh and Sarkeesian launched the Tropes vs. Women series and immediately came under due and undue scrutiny. Some of the attacks were personal, but on March 6, 2014, one artist noted that McIntosh and Sarkeesian used their artwork without consent.
It is worth noting that McIntosh responded to this alleging of theft by stating it was transformation in nature and filed under fair use. This was later followed by McIntosh and Sarkeesian replacing the image.
However, fair use is not declared by the person using the image. Fair use is a defense. The success of a defense is defined by a court. Transformative use in commentary and criticism must critique the work. It cannot be used to criticize a secondary work. Additionally, parody and satire must make fun of or ridicule the original work. Satire typically does not afford the same protections as parody. There are four factors to deciding fair use:
The purpose and character of the use.
The nature of the copyrighted work.
The amount of substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
The effect the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.
Could the use of work affect the sales of the work itself?
If a work is used for profit, in negative association with a social message, and taken in whole or near whole, and could lower the value of the original work then you are possibly unlikely to win a fair use defense in court.
The main point of contention is the usage of the artwork was that Feminist Frequency was a for-profit entity. This complaint was not entirely in keeping as for-profits can use derived works. However, it’s easier for non-profit 501s.
For tax exemption, non-profits must register with the IRS. This is something that Feminist Frequency eventually did 2 months following the above issue as the pair filed as a 501c3.
McIntosh and Sarkeesian are required, by law, to file financial forms yearly as a condition of keeping the 501c3 status. The pair do so with a 990-N or e-postcard. This means, in short, that the pair make less than $50,000 a year for the non-profit.
This is not the first time that McIntosh and Sarkeesian were accused of using the works of others under fair use without proper attribution. In Damsel in Distress Parts 1 to 3 and others, McIntosh and Sarkeesian were accused of using Let’s Play footage from sources without attribution with citing of U.S. copyright law as justification.
In all cases, neither McIntosh nor Sarkeesian provided proper attribution. Upon the lapse being noticed, the pair claimed copyright law as an absolute protection. When artists were contacted for feedback, they often said they were not asked.
While all said they would have given permission, none were contacted for permission. None were attributed properly until the attribution lapse was identified after publication. While one can make the case that Let’s Play footage is questionable, it is not questionable that McIntosh and Sarkeesian clearly borrowed facts, information, or digital media without proper attribution or any attribution at all until after it was caught.
In any academic circle or institution, this would would be a clear case of academic dishonesty.
Preamble to Publishing
Prior to the publication of the Tropes vs. Women series, McIntosh and Sarkeesian set the tone and subject matter for their series as any good academic will do:
In addition to being loads of fun to play, research has found that gaming can improve problem solving skills, teamwork, creative thought and multi tasking; and improve hand eye coordination and enhance perceptual and cognitive abilities.
Unfortunately in addition to all of these benefits, many games tend to reinforce and amplify sexist and downright misogynist ideas about women.
McIntosh and Sarkeesian are correct that playing video games have many different benefits of health. However, they cite no sources for any of their statements. These statements are not common knowledge.
The American Psychological Association published an article derived from research by Granic, Lobel, and Engels (2013). In it, they state, “Playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children’s learning, health and social skills, according to a review of research on the positive effects of video game play to be published by the American Psychological Association.”
Lager and Bremberg state that video games have positive effects on spacial abilities and reaction times. They also state that there is limited evidence that aggressive games lead to choices of “aggressive toys.” However, the pair note that this does not link behavior to games. The following parts are all portions of the above linked piece.
Bavelier et al state that video game research shows positive and negative effects on behavior according to neurocognitive scientists. Bavelier states, “One can no more say what the effects of video games are, than one can say what the effects of food are.” The concept here is that one cannot lump games into a monolithic category.
Han and Renshaw state, in the same article, “The extent to which playing video games and online games affects the brain and behavior is uncertain. It is likely that the specific beneficial or harmful effects are both determined by the characteristics of both the individual and of the game.”
Bavelier and Green again state, “Violent video games alone are unlikely to turn a child with no other risk factors into a maniacal killer.”
Gentile et al show that there is a short-term causal link between playing certain video games and the increase of prosocial and antisocial behavior. In fact, the group find that there is a much more conclusive positive behavioral result from prosocial games (4 of 4 factors) than of antisocial games (2 of 4 factors) leading to the possibility that prosocial games affect behavior more than antisocial games.
The same was found to be the case by Greitemeyer and Osswald.
However, the research on violent behaviors and video games is less conclusive as I detailed in a more in-depth post here. Research has shown conflicting results to the point that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected research that states violent behaviors are caused by video games and is a unique social concern. Behavior and media consumption simply cannot be correlated when it comes to video games.
So let’s now turn to the overarching accusation that McIntosh and Sarkeesian launch here: video games reinforce or amplify sexist ideas about women and, as a result, are a cause of sexist behavior or belief systems.
Research on this point is scant to non-existent. Stermer and Burkley find that men who rate video game play as sexist scored higher on measurements of benevolent sexism which included behaviors of opening a door, feeling the need to protect women, or defending women because of their gender. Hostile sexism was not significant. Any long-term attitudinal shift was correlative in nature.
This measure used was intended to differentiate benevolent sexism (sexism that is positive in tonality) and hostile (dominate and harmful sexism) in a system of sexism known as ambivalent sexism.
Dill, Brown, & Collins found that men who played a “stereotypical” image of a video game character tolerated sexism in larger amounts than women. However, it is worth noting that the measure of sexism was a harassment vignette between a professor and a student in college. The score judgment, however, was just 7 points less than the “professional” woman (48 vs 41) with the measurement being “more progressive” as one scores higher. Women actually had fewer sexism judgments if the woman was stereotypical (50) versus the professional woman (49) which would seem to suggest that women view professional women as slightly more, but not statistically significantly, deserving of sexual harassment. Other research found that “objectivist” games caused “primed sexual aggression” and could lead to behavior in the real world.
Dill and Thill outright state in their abstract, “Video game characters are icons in youth popular culture, but research on their role in gender socialization is rare.” They declare that men are generally more aggressive but less sexualized, scantily clad, or mixing sex and aggression. Sexualization is termed as “curvaciously thin,” but men were sexualized because “the curvaceously thin ideal does not apply to men.” However, they were hypermasculine if they were muscular. This is not discussed as a feminine ideal which I covered in a previous Medium as muscular men ARE the feminine ideal. Dill appears to buy into the idea that muscles are only for men.
Dill also published a statement to the APA in 2007 in which she stated that media messages matter because of the third person effect. She repeated that the research shows that violence has a direct tie to violent video games. This is a claim that is still challenged in research 7 years later. She cites in her statement that media messages matter the APA taskforce on sexualization of girls (2007) which states that sexualization occurs when ANY of the following are met:
- A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics
- A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy
- A person is sexually objectified — that is made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making
- Sexuality is inappropriately imposed on a person
It should be noted that none of the criteria apply to fictional characters. They apply to people. Additionally, none of this is supposed to apply to adult women. Other criticisms were lodged by Veraa including that the definition is constructed for deceit, by feminist psychologists who base definitions upon perceptions, the report relies heavily on conflating various age groups, and others.
There is no analog for the sexualization of boys despite research indicating that men experience body dissatisfaction from media representations just like women and girls including work by Gregor, Schooler and Ward, Russello, Green and Pritchard, and Calando et al.
By looking at the resources out there, we find that body dissatisfaction related to media happens to men and women. Women appear to internalize media more readily than men, but both can be affected by media perceptions of ideal body shapes, BMI, and ideals of beauty. Both men and women can be affected by media images. This is not unique to women and as a result is not sexist as it does not discriminate based upon sex or gender.
Research that video game media transmits equally with other forms of media is still very young by the admission of the researchers in the field. For McIntosh and Sarkeesian to claim that the research indicates this is true is completely without merit. No research currently out there states that video game or media in general CAUSE particular behaviors. All of the research is correlational and concerns attitudes.
Even the most generous of statements and most stories of researchers in media violence stress that violent media consumption is one of multiple risk factors for predicting violent behavior in the culture. Others can include bias toward hostility, low parental involvement, participant sex, physical victimization, and prior physical fights.
47% of predictors for aggression are unaccounted for. 29% can be predicted by physical aggression. 8.1% can be predicted by media exposure. 7.5% can be accounted for by being a victim of aggression. 5.6% can be accounted for by sexual history in adolescence.
In short, according to the best research on factors, almost half of the predicting reasons for violence are unknown. 76% are accounted for by unknown factors and past aggressive behavior.
Violent media accounts just for 8%.
If violent media, a well-researched topic with over 50 years of research, comes up with less than 10% predictor, the question must be asked: How can McIntosh and Sarkeesian declare, without sources and research backing, that media reinforces, engenders, correlates with, or causes sexist attitudes or behaviors?
Examination into the factors causing sexism, due to the dearth of research on factorial analysis of video game sexism did not return many articles. Begany and Milburn found that hostile sexism is correlated with higher instances of authoritarianism and acceptance of rape myths. Hostile and benevolent sexism were correlated, but benevolent sexism was only correlated with higher instances of authoritarianism. It was not correlated with acceptance of rape myths. Benevolent sexism does not correlate with sexual harassment.
Kilianski and Rudman state that research indicates that women are more likely to rate benevolent sexism “mildly favorable” while rating hostile sexism “highly unfavorable.” However, the pair find that it is likely that women do not identify these two forms of sexism in men. Finally, the pair state that by encouraging benevolent sexism, women may be reinforcing hostile sexism alternatives.
Men who feel that they must protect women are sometimes viewed positively by women. Women occasionally identify they appreciate men who will engage in benevolent sexism. Women and men have a harder time identifying benevolent sexism, but they largely object when they perceive sexism as hostile.
Of note in this discussion of the preamble is the campaign of harassment identified by McIntosh and Sarkeesian. After publicizing information viewed as harassment against Sarkeesian (McIntosh has not stepped up as a public face), the Feminist Frequency campaign soared in donations and earned over $100,000.
One narrative that arose at the time was that Sarkeesian, sans McIntosh, defeated internet trolls and made the statement that “women across the internet are attacked for speaking out on a variety of topics but there seems to be a particular entitlement-based rage directed at any woman who dares to say anything critical about video games.”
McIntosh and Sarkeesian both make sure to keep the spotlight on Sarkeesian, a woman who is the public face, with McIntosh, a man, often being non-existent outside of a handful of credits and a picture on the Feminist Frequency website despite insults, threats, and degradation being targeted at both of them as co-writers of Feminist Frequency.
Sarkeesian makes it very clear that Feminist Frequency is the brainchild of a woman (“I’m Anita Sarkeesian and I run the video web series Feminist Frequency”) who is being attacked by a sexist, entitled, rage-filled group of people (typically men) who are affronted by her mere criticism of gaming. This stereotype has been echoed in the press and become part of the cultural message of gamers. While searching “angry gamer” on Google image search, 97 images were of men. 11 were of women. 89.8% of images of angry gamers are male.
Some of these images crossed over into searching “gamer” in Google. Most images of female gamers were sexualized with controllers in their mouths, perched on furniture sexily, or pouting into the camera. Men were almost always represented as angry in the initial images. The cultural image of a gamer is likely an angry male on the attack or a sexy female who needs protection.
Note: This is not a scientific scan of images. I do not intend it to be so.
So let’s now turn to a more systemic view of feminism, its history, and social effects on American culture, policy, and family.
Feminism: An Overview
As a core component of Feminist Frequency, we cannot discuss the videos without defining our terms. This, in academic research, is often called conceptualization. Conceptualization is a process by which an author identifies and clarifies the usage of terms for the reader so that all involved are acclimated to the jargon, usage, and intent.
McIntosh and Sarkeesian never conceptualize their terms for readers. They never define patriarchy. They never define sexism. They never define, with clear good faith, any term to allow the reader to fully understand the information presented. They will occasionally define the trope in question, but any evidence tying the trope to assertions of “pernicious” are never made. They are left to the reader who is also left to draw upon internalized conceptualizations of terms and jargon.
The pair also never engage in operationalization or the method by which they will measure or establish protocol of measurement of games against concepts that are left undefined. Instead, McIntosh and Sarkeesian leave the viewer to assume protocol and method to the analysis.
In short, this is akin to leaving out your literature review, methods, and research limitations and leaving on the introduction, results, analysis, and conclusion. Without clear conceptualization and operationalization, you no longer have an academic research work which often requires problem statements, literature reviews, frameworks, structures, hypotheses, procedures and methods, analyses, discussion, limitations, and conclusion (Hernan, 2001). You no longer have a work worthy of being called educational.
You have an editorial blog.
Feminism as a movement has a storied history. This history is filled with mainstream and fringe components. To understand the terms utilized without definition by McIntosh and Sarkeesian, we must examine them in context. Please note that this history is not intended to be all-encompassing. It is a crash course.
Feminism as a school of thought has roots in the late 18th century in America and in Europe, but it was relatively quiet. It was the Age of Enlightenment that brought feminism into being. States, however, were making some movement on women’s rights including allowing married women to execute wills, manage property in case of incapacity, and manage their own money.
The first U.S. women’s rights convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls. This constituted as one of the first major moments in feminist history. There, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the Declaration of Sentiments wherein Stanton and other women present put forth the argument that men have actively deprived and denied women a place in American society.
In 1884, Friedrich Engels also writes The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. In it, Engels appears to examine the nature of man-centered society in the oppression of women. In it, Engels uses the works of Lewis Morgan who states that cultures can be split into savage cultures and barbaric cultures in a progressive, linear fashion moving from savage to barbaric, and eventually civilized. Engels states that property, agriculture, and ownership changed a pattern of benevolent matriarchy. Men, to correct this and take power, created a male-centered patriarchy of rule reinforced by patrilineal lines.
Stanton’s sentiments included that women were not able to vote, join in the legislative process, made a woman dead as a result of marriage, taken the right of property, made women irresponsible, gave power in divorce to men, monopolized employment denied her education, excluded her from ministry, and taken God for man’s own. It is likely that Stanton’s work influenced Engels.
By 1895, women were able in most states to handle their own money and property.
However, it is worth noting that women had property rights but they were limited. Women at the time did not have the right to vote which they would go on to gain in 1920. This feminist movement becomes known as the first wave of feminism which continues until its end around 1950 after little is accomplished after the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Then in the 1950s and 1960s, the second wave of feminism begins with Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex. In her 1949 book, de Beauvoir argues that women are an “other” meaning that they are not human. In fact, she states,
“Thus humanity is male and man defines
woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is
not regarded as an autonomous being.”
de Beauvoir also argues that women have taken hold of their destinies through participating in manufacture and industry and liberation from “reproductive slavery.” For de Beauvoir, motherhood makes a woman’s body animal-like. Men were allowed to transcend. Women were not. Women were tainted by pregnancy, motherhood, and fertility and it serves as the method by which men “other” women. She goes on to write:
“The truth is that just as — biologically — males and females are never victims of one another but both victims of the species, so man and wife together undergo the oppression of an institution they did not create. If it is asserted that men oppress women, the husband is indignant; he feels that he is the one who is oppressed — and he is; but the fact is that it is the masculine code, it is the society developed by the males and in their interest, that has established woman’s situation in a form that is at present a source of torment for both sexes.”
Biologically, men and women are not victims, but socially men have established a social order by which women are naturally oppressed to men’s interest and betterment. In short, de Beauvoir gives a woman-informed proto-patriarchy. Additionally, de Beauvoir is one of the first radical feminists to assert that women are “othered” as a result of men’s oppressive behaviors.
While academics argue that patriarchy as a force of inequality between men and women has been extant since the dawn of human civilization, nailing down women’s origins of the word prior to de Beauvoir’s above paragraph is difficult. Along with Engels work, patriarchy was born with a concerted male and female definition.
Moving into the 60s and 70s, feminism focuses heavily on the nature of male oppression of women chiefly through sex. Helen Gurley Brown, In Cosmo, suggests that women should have independent sexual relationships regardless of marriage. Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique retold a story and examined structures of dissatisfaction, though she also champions choosing to become a mother while also decrying it as the pinnacle of female achievement:
“Over and over again, stories in women’s magazines insist that women can know fulfillment only at the moment of giving birth to a child. They deny the years when she can no longer look forward to giving birth, even if she repeats the act over and over again. In the feminine mystique, there is no other way for a woman to dream of creation or of the future. There is no other way she can even dream about herself, except as her children’s mother, her husband’s wife.”
Friedan also utilizes Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs while criticizing Freud’s psychoanalytic approach as sexist. She states that women are stuck only in biological needs and reduced simply to their sexual abilities and becoming mother. As an editorial note, Friedan is incorrect. Sexual intimacy, of which women were allowed at the time of her book’s writing, fits into the long/belonging stage. Additionally, esteem includes respecting others. However, women were possibly not allowed the full range of access of Maslow’s hierarchy.
In Daring to be Bad, Alice Echols writes that 1967 was one of the first organizational moments where radical feminists met to establish a voice that, by 1969, had become one of “the most vital and imaginative forces within the women’s liberation movements.” She cites Friedan as one of the driving women of radical feminism. This movement, writes Freeman arose from the 60s and became transformative but feminists at the time expressed that men were the enemy and women should be organized to defeat the patriarchy. Those who did not share the system were called politicos. Non-politicos, or feminists, who share this thought are now called radical feminists.
Valarie Solanas, in 1967, publishes the SCUM Manifesto which argues that men have ruled the world through patriarchy and women must fix it through the overthrowing of society and elimination of the male sex. SCUM stands for “society cutting up men.” While the text is considered satirical, Solanas went on to attempt to kill Andy Warhol by shooting him. In 1968, women target the Miss America pageant as sexist for the first time with the No More Miss America protest that was said to be anti-sexist and anti-racist, but the demonstration included only throwing bras, pots, and other objects into a trashcan.
Also in 1968, the term “sexism” appears for the first time in print in Caroline Bird’s “On Being Born Female” speech: “There is recognition abroad that we are in many ways a sexist country. Sexism is judging people by their sex when sex doesn’t matter. Sexism is intended to rhyme with racism. Both have used to keep the powers that be in power.”
Also during the move from 1968 to 1971, NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) forms, Coretta Scott King expands the Civil Rights movement to include women’s rights after the death of Martin Luther King, Title X is passed, and women’s liberation participant Gloria Steinem delivers the Address to the Women of America in which she states:
“This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race, because they are easy, visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups, and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen, or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.”
It is worth noting that what Steinem is talking about is not humanism. It is communism as a socioeconomic system whereby production occurs in absence of stratification, money, or statehood. Production is enjoined by those with no roles who join in particular roles freely and for the good of all people. Humanism merely sees humanity as central to life through critical thought, empiricism, rationalism, and inquiry often free of religion.
Simply put, the time period from 1960 to 1980 was hopping for feminist progress on abortion, educational access, and the elimination of gender roles requiring women as homemakers. Joan Little murders a guard who raped her and is acquitted in 1975, Roe v Wade is decided in 1973, the Equal Rights act continues forward to ultimately fail in the 1980s, and women gain more of a presence in Congress.
However, at the start of the 1980s, a new schism occurs in feminism. The sex wars erupt. Starting in 1976, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin starts to attack pornography after the release of the film Snuff that was not pornographic. Protests around the country start up against violence against women and eventually shift to include pornography as violence. In response, pro-sex or sex-positive feminists start to speak against the anti-pornography stance they see as puritan and authoritarian while also identifying positives of pornography for women.
Sex-negative feminists, according to sex-positive feminists, see sex, sexuality, and pornography as an exercise of the patriarchy in an attempt to censor expression. Dworkin and others write books which espouse this very view as seeing sex both in action and in culture as oppressive of women.
As the 1980s close with the sex wars, the second wave of feminism also comes to a close with a focus on gender, sex, sexuality, and politics of sex as oppression. Whereas the first wave won rights in voting, education, and property, the second wave won rights in abortion, divorce, rape law.
In 1991, in response to the treatment of Anita Hill, Rebecca Walker calls for a new wave of feminism to focus on the treatment of minority women. As a result of this, minority feminists start to demand a voice after feeling excluded from discussions of predominately white feminists of the first two waves. Authors such as bell hooks and Shannon Liss join Walker in calling for a new wave as the Family Medical Leave Act is passed, the Violence Against Women Act becomes law, and women begin to pay a stronger attention to media representations and linguistic labels such as “bitch.”
As a result of many of the above policies, women became more engaged in society and work. They started to enter the workplace in larger numbers along with men who traditionally worked. This resulted in a generation being called “latchkey kids” as both parents were busy providing in shrinking economies and widening inequalities. Women and men are branching out in occupations in ways they had not before resulting in less gendering of work and even behaviors. Women now earn most degrees at every level except doctorate, have access to universal property and economic rights, and have access to most forms of healthcare.
While some problems persist, women have made amazing progress in the short time feminism has existed.
Tropes, Narratives, and Traditions
One of the umbrella arguments presented in the Feminist Frequency series is that tropes are harmful, injurious, and a problem for women because they force women in video games into a narrative box that transmits cultural values and social norms through media that is interactive and, in a way, it’s own tradition.
However, McIntosh and Sarkeesian have made a leap that is not supported by extant information. They have assumed that tropes are negative. Tropes have many definitions including figures of speech in literature that causes an unexpected twist in meaning which, one author writes, includes metaphors, similes, metonmy, synecdoche, puns, zeugma, personification, apostrophe, erotema, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, meiosis, anthiemeria, catachresis, synasthesia, aporia, aposiopesis, and oxymorons. Another author further splits these and adds other concepts.
Williams states that tropes are figures of speech which change the meanings of words. College course information on language and composition again back up this view of tropes. Finally, Wikipedia itself notes that tropes are the use of figurative language for effect. It also notes that there’s been a conflation of tropes with motifs and cliches. One author shows this in his writing when he combines the three terms of trope, themes, and motifs into one word.
Tropes are not negative but they can evoke negative responses.
The crux of the conflation of tropes, themes, and motifs is the idea that characters are devices. Of course, the question arises: which came first? The device or the character? Are the two the same? However, even TV Tropes, which has utilized the word trope as a cliche, notes that tropes and cliches are different. Tropes are devices that can be relied upon, good or bad. Cliches are “stereotyped and trite” and ultimately harm the story. The discussion of the difference among the three is not new, and writers and literary thinkers are constantly discussing the difference. In fact, quite humorously, some are noting that the use of trope as cliche has become a cliche and meme.
Motifs are simply recurring plot elements with narrative significance typically within the story. For example, classic Greek tragedy often used the chorus, masked in human emotions, as narrators, towns people, and even audience proxies within the narrative. Shakespeare used blood. More modern in example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon used red throughout Seeing Red to reference the title and the death of a character. Motifs are not negative.
Themes, typically used interchangeably with motifs, are abstract motifs. Whereas motifs are often rooted in a concrete item or device, themes are abstract. Greek tragedies often used the nature of human suffering in tandem with heroic traits to show the folly of man. Shakespeare used love and death to create tension. Joss Whedon often used monsters to signify the struggles of burgeoning adulthood. Themes are not negative.
When themes and motifs become so common that they transition into being overly used, this is called a cliche. These are, by their nature, restrictive and harmful to the narrative, irritating to the reader, and trite to read. While cliches may be true, they are also annoying: Sweet dreams, rosy red cheeks, time will tell, fit as a fiddle, a woman who must be rescued by a man. All are cliches. Cliches are negative.
Pulling back a bit further, now let’s look at narratives and their devices. Christopher Booker researched the nature of narratives and archetypal narration for over 30 years. In that time, he constructed the seven basic plots. He identified the following plots as basic to all stories:
- Overcoming the monster — Defeating an antagonistic force.
- Rags to Riches — Gaining power, wealth, and love then leaving it all to grow as a person.
- The Quest — Setting out to acquire an important object, person, or location
- Voyage and Return — Overcoming strange threats for experience
- Comedy — Stories that are humorous.
- Tragedy — Overcoming a villain and then falling from grace due to hubris and earning a merciful death.
- Rebirth — The villain redeems him/herself.
Georges Polti also published 36 different dramatic situations that he identified as central to storytelling. These include supplication, deliverance, pursuing vengeance, vengeance against kin, pursuit, disaster, falling prey, revolt, enterprise, abduction, enigma, obtaining, enmity of kin, rivalry of kin, murderous adultery, madness, fatal imprudence, crimes of love, kin slaying unrecognized, self-sacrifice for ideal, self-sacrifice for kin, sacrifice for passion, necessity of sacrificing, superior vs inferiority, adultery, crimes of love, discovery of dishonor, obstacles of love, an enemy loved, ambition, conflict with god, mistaken jealousy, erroneous judgment, remorse, recovery of the lost one, and loss of loved ones.
There are even more identified numbers of stories and devices. Kipling says 69, Gozzi and Polti say 36, Tobias says 20, the Public Library says 7. Foster-Harris says 3.
In short, the cataloging of narrative plots is impossible as stories cannot be pigeon-holed, reduced, or otherwise shoved into neat categories. Stories are diverse. Their elements are mercurial. Reduction of narrative elements to “good or bad” is as wrong-headed as attempting to shove all people into “white or black,” “Republican or Democrat,” or “for or against.”
Let’s now back out the furthest we can go to the nature of traditions and transmission of values. Writing, relatively speaking, is a young tradition spanning to around 7,000 years ago. Modern media, relatively, is in its infancy with early interventions occurring with the advent of hieroglyphs, papyrus, and paintings 5,000 years ago to transmit through non-spoken media. Mythology as passed through the oral tradition, however, has much more history that is very difficult to pin down to a specific date. For the best that we can tell, the oral tradition has existed as long as humans have had language.
The Code of Hammurabi, one of the best-preserved codes of law dates back to 2000 BC (4,000 years ago). The Code of Ur-Nammu was created around 2100 BC. However, these are just written laws. Artifacts left behind by ancestors include the Enkapune Ya Moto creating ostrich eggshell beads which have a construction that would have required transmission through oral retelling. That was 40,000 years ago.
Anthropologists, who study culture and humanity, define culture as including the need of communication through verbal language consisting of sounds. Another definition is, “The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.” The Smithsonian identifies that Clovis point tools tracing back 13,500 years ago constitute culture due to complexity and the need for community.
Civilization can be traced back to Mesopotamia and 3100 BC, 5,000 years ago. DNA analysis shows that the Aboriginal peoples in Australia may have been the oldest culture due to group migration 75,000 years ago. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories to survive to date, surviving since around 2,100 BC.
Simply put, storytelling, the oral tradition, culture, and transmission of cultures predate any form of current mass media. The Codes of Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu show us that crime, violence, murder, and theft existed well before the advent of mass media or the written tradition. The Epic of Gilgamesh confirms that notion further as it was one of the first literary works in evidence.
The oral tradition is more storied with a longer history. Blaming media for these effects is, as one might say, problematic. Research detailed above also shows us that exposure to violent media can only account for approximately 8% of the predictive effects.
Simply put, we cannot state that media causes negative behaviors because negative behaviors existed well before media or even the oral tradition. Stories retold events that existed in nature and life often in condensed, narrative, easy-to-remember ways.
Terms of Engagement
With the history behind us, now let us define a few terms as best as possible:
Sexism has multiple definitions. One is the discrimination against women. Pharr states that it is an enforced belief in male dominance and control. Frye defines sexism as whatever creates, constitutes, promotes, or exploits distinction between the sexes. Benofy identifies multiple definitions as well including unjust discrimination based on sex, the belief that persons are superior or inferior based on sex. Berkley identifies sexism as possibly including the belief that one sex is superior, belief that one belongs to binary sexes, that sexes define ability, hatred of women or men because of gender, and demands of gender roles. bell hooks never defines it in one piece. Dictionary meanings typically make sure to point out the male has the belief that harms women. Other definitions now state that it’s based on gender an attitudes, typically an issue of male privilege, and that sexism = prejudice + power.
Patriarchy also has multiple definitions. Johnson states that patriarchy is a system external to men or women reinforced by society and patterns. Walby identifies that theoretical orientations change patriarchy as radical feminists view it as gender inequality through male dominance, Marxist feminists view gender inequality as deriving from capitalism, liberal feminists see it as small-scale deprivations scaling upward based on discrimination and sexist beliefs sustaining the problem, and dual-systems feminists seeing it as a mix of male dominance and capitalistic structures. One Sage publication states that patriarchy is an authoritative male system that is oppressive and discriminatory with the European male being a universal reference point in all things.
Feminism also has many meanings. Estelle Freedman says feminism is a belief that women and men are of equal worth with men being privileged socially. Rebecca West remarked that it’s any thought that differentiates her from a doormat or a prostitute. Barbara Smith says that feminism is a theory and practice to free all women. Millicent Fawcett says feminism is the goal of giving women the opportunity of reaching her potential. Cherrie Moraga said feminism is about feeding people in all their hungers. MacKinnon suggests that sexism is feminism is Marxism as all deal with organizations and power on different variables. One writer details even more definitions including rejection of definitions by early feminists, statements that definition is a male prejudice, and that definition is a sign of the patriarchy and orthodoxy. bell hooks says feminism is a movement to end sexism, exploitation, and oppression for everyone including men.
Tropes are literary devices and plays on words meant to deliver an unsuspected twist or result for consumers of media.
Cliches are over-used literary devices that have become annoying, trite, and restrictive for the author and frustrating for the reader.
During this first portion of our multi-part series, we looked at multiple events and historical underpinnings. We looked at a very brief history of Feminist Frequency, feminism, and the nature of tropes and cliches. We also defined our approach. This approach is not one that is oppositional to feminism. It is one that will aggregate multiple sources to examine the foundation of the Feminist Frequency series based on the information it presents and points it makes.
Here is a recap of the points of this piece:
- Willful intellectual dishonesty is a deliberate, purposeful, or voluntary action undertaken in spite of consequences related to thought and critical analysis that is lacking in integrity or honesty that occurs when intentionally committing fallacies, errors, or omission.
- Academic dishonesty occurs when an author misrepresents the work of another as their own. Forms of this can include a lack of attribution, reprinting works without permission, massaging data for a conclusion, starting from results and working backwards from conclusion.
- McIntosh and Sarkeesian broadcast their work as academic and educational in nature.
- McIntosh and Sarkeesian have a history of using the works of others without proper attribution including using fan art, concepts, and information not common knowledge.
- McIntosh and Sarkeesian conclude a causal relationship between video games and reinforcing of behaviors without presenting any research. Research actually is absent re: sexism/video games and is inconclusive violence/video games.
- Feminism has a long history across multiple waves, but McIntosh and Sarkeesian leave the reader to divine feminism as they present it.
- McIntosh and Sarkeesian incorrectly conflate tropes, narratives, cliches, and traditions.
I intend to show, throughout this series, that McIntosh and Sarkeesian broadcast their work as academic and educational in nature while utilizing benevolent sexism to wave off any criticism. Through using the bad behavior of some, the pair make sure to keep Sarkeesian at the forefront of their work. They do so deliberately.
Part of that deliberative behavior is intellectual dishonesty. The concepts they present throughout their video are flawed. They are often flatly incorrect as will be detailed later. However, criticism is escorted out of the building. Any criticism of the pair is de facto criticism of Sarkeesian as a woman and, as a result, criticism of all women.
I intend to put forth the argument, through ample examination of concepts, that neither McIntosh nor Sarkeesian should be considered in an academic light. The work they do is not academic as it violates every requirement of academic work: it lacks sources, it borrows material, and it falsely represents concepts.
None of these claims, however, are attacks on them as people. None of what is included here should be construed as an attack on either of the persons. None of the words here should be construed as condoning personal attacks against either of them.
If we expect video games to be considered art, we must welcome criticism. However, we must also welcome criticism of the critics.
This series is a criticism, and we will look at the claims in Damsels in Distress next time.