Dishonesty: Feminist Frequency, Part 1

Nov 12, 2014 · 33 min read

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:

Academic Dishonesty

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.”

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:

Fair Use

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.

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:

  • 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

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?

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.

“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:

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.

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.

  • 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.

Terms of Engagement

With the history behind us, now let us define a few terms as best as possible:


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.

  • 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.


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