What I learned as Feminist Critic Sandy Beaches
My name is Sandy Beaches. I don’t look like the other girls:
But like all good feminists I believe that body hair is a natural thing and should be encouraged to grow on your chest and face.
However, my alter ego Mark Ankucic believes that shoulder and back hair is an abomination that should be waxed off regularly as painfully as possible.
Who the hell am I and what is a Sandy Beaches?
I’m Mark Ankucic, former Aussie games writer and that guy that got fired over Gamergate. Sandy Beaches is an alter ego I set up to submit feminist critiques to publishers, managing to land myself two articles with The Mary Sue (one concerning combatting sexism in the Final Fantasy Remake, the other about the inherent sexism in the tabletop game Warmachine) and interest from editors on submissions I might like to make.
For those of you outside the writing game, getting a response from an editor is a pretty big deal. There are millions of keyboard jockeys out there dying to get a sentence onto the front page of a publication.
Why Sandy Beaches though?
Quite simply, I wanted to see how ridiculous and flagrantly wrong/untruthful I could be and get away with it. I’d had the FFVII/sexism article written well over a year ago, yet I didn’t pull the trigger. I thought, at the time, that it would be far too stupid and misinformed for any publication to run. However, as the articles regarding feminist complaints on…well everything…began to pile up, each one getting progressively less logical and more poorly argued, I decided it was time.
It is the most successful article I’ve ever written. More comments, more views, more shares, more threads, more responses, than anything I’ve ever done before. As of now, the FFVII/sexism article sits at around 1000 FB shares and 700+ comments, not including the multiple threads and video and article responses I’ve seen.
When you take into consideration I wrote this piece in about 30 minutes (35–40 including some editing I’ll get into later), the energy to reward ratio is unbelievable. I have put more effort into some of the shits I’ve taken than I have to either of the articles submitted.
I’d like to take you through some the things I learned as Sandy Beaches.
It’s beyond surreal
I’ve subscribed to the comments on both of the articles published. They are hilarious as they are depressing. Despite the fact I’ve gone out of my way to make every point as ludicrous as possible, there are people who agree with Sandy. To the commenters credit, a lot of them had the suspicion that there may have been witnessing a troll in action, and a lot of them disagreed with some of the arguments made — but there were still those who agreed with some of it. I dropped in flagrant half-truths and lies, interpreted events in the broadest, most negative light imaginable, and tried my very best to make every objection I raised to include as much racism, sexism, and in the case of Tifa, body-shaming as possible.
But because it was from a feminist perspective, that was a-ok.
I can’t help but imagine that I’m a butcher, and I’ve placed roadkill in the front window, and a crowd of people has gathered and argue that, while they don’t like the look of the crushed skull with serrated eyeballs, they don’t mind the tire track running across the broken and protruding spine.
Phenomenal Cosmic Power
During my time as a writer, I’ve had two occasions where someone has approached me to say ‘hey are you Mark?’
Both times it blew me away, because I’m a nobody. Even at my most ‘influential’, the extent of my abilities was pissing some people in the Oz gaming scene off and having the rest of them privately congratulate me on speaking out. Despite the fact I was at every gaming launch, had my own fairly successful site (dustycartridge.com), had a team of writers under me, wrote (what I thought, at least) was interesting and unique content, I was constantly met with that tired tune of ‘oh we don’t have a budget for freelancers’.
As Sandy, editors were getting back to me very, very quickly. One site was prepared to pay 300 bucks for an article on misogyny in the BDSM community. Why?
Misogyny. That was the only hook I had for the story.
I was also granted complete anonymity from the outset. I told my editors I was afraid of being doxxed and harassed, and so I was Sandy Beaches. No verification. No further questions on who I was or what my previous experience was like. I could have been anyone, and it turns out, I was.
And the social power…
Considering the amount of engagement I got as Sandy on twitter, on an account made on the same say the first article was published, it would have taken me little effort to expand on it. Any amount of work I put into it would have led to more followers. All I had to do was retweet the right people, say the right things, write some more batshit crazy articles, and I would have had some momentum.
I could have become more well-known and popular as Sandy in a month than I, Mark, could ever be.
And no, I’m not looking at this from a ‘oh woe is me’ perspective — it’s just the zeitgeist at the moment. There are a million people like me out there, a lot of them are better writers with more concise ideas and stronger argumentation, but the Got Talent affect is stronger than skill. See, on Got Talent it doesn’t really matter if you can sing, because it turns out that a lot of people can carry a tune. What matters is that you can carry a tune and you’ve also got a dark and terrible past, or some kind of hope for the future. Zoe Quinn is the apex of this. Zero talent, all backstory.
I have watched Kitetales ‘What’s up with the Tifa Hate?’ video at least ten times. Firstly, because I am a huge fan of Kitetales. She is f-ing adorable and huge fun. Go subscribe. Secondly, I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience when she reads what I wrote as Sandy in a mocking tone. I’m sure there’s a word in German for it. Thirdly, I pushed out a rhetorical device into the world and people answered it, and I’m sure others will repeat it.
If it’s published, it enters discourse, and it changes how people view and react to things.
I had a co-worker once ask me, after she learned that I had been in the gaming scene, just how sexist games were.
“Well, what about Tomb Raider?”
“What about Tomb Raider?”
“It’s sexist isn’t it?”
“Why is it sexist?”
“That’s just what I’ve seen written about.”
And that’s where the rub is. You write a hundred headlines claiming something, and people who don’t know anything about the actual topic will believe it. There’s a good chance they won’t even have read the article, just seen the headlines, and from then on it was just assumed.
Now, I’ve added to that. If someone is compiling articles that show how gaming or tabletop is sexist, they can pull either of those articles.
Even in the case of the Warmachine piece, a tabletop game that, while being popular in the tabletop scene, isn’t known about at all outside of it, you have people empathising with Sandy’s experiences and thoughts on the game. Why would Sandy lie? I bet she’s right in saying that the Menoth faction is Islamaphobic and that the Elves in the game are representative of ‘genocidal Asians’.
The Lowest Common Denominator
Before I mentioned there was five to ten minutes of editing I had to do. That’s because the editor of the Mary Sue asked me to change the copy under ‘Tifa should not be a fighting fuck toy’. First, go and read that. Then read the original:
Have you ever seen Rhonda Rousey?
And I mean really seen her? How powerful her shoulders and biceps are? How she has a real sized gut and waist? Ronda is one of the greatest fighters in the world, and has the body type of such a person. Tifa is one of the best fighters in the FFVII universe, possibly the best fighter in the FFVII universe, and her character design should reflect this. In place of her enormous and disproportionate chest and reality-defying waist, why not give her a figure like Ronda? A figure which shows off the empowerment of women, rather than their objectification?
Out of that entire article, this is probably the only thing I could even slightly stand behind in that if the creators wanted to go with a more realistic fighting figure for Tifa, Rhonda would be a perfect model.
Yet the editor asked me to change it, and was delighted at the body-shaming, sexist, flat-out despicable copy I provided in its place. My reaction on first being asked to change it was ‘mildly amused’, and after vomiting out the new work, felt sick, actually sick, at what was to be accepted in its place.
There stands the published article though, in all its insipid glory.
Where is my abuse?
While many of the comments I’ve gotten on the article and elsewhere would classify as ‘harassment’ in the eyes of the current media (people said I was stupid, a liar, wrong), I have had worse on a satirical article I did on ‘5 reasons why video games suck’.
Not a single rape threat. Not a single death threat.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that those occur. But I think the reason I didn’t get them is because I didn’t condemn men as a group, or accuse an entire swathe of people as being hate-filled or of unknowingly hating themselves. I didn’t pass out broad judgements and demand the world change for me.
Because that pisses people off. It’s arrogant. It’s absurd. And unfortunately, people say what they think is the most hurtful thing they can say to get even. That’s the cycle. Someone says something outrageous and grotesque, someone responds aggressively, it’s used as an example and justification for the things said, it’s responded to in the same way and so on and so forth till everyone is frothing at the mouth and no-one really gives a flying fuck anymore about whatever the issue was in the first place.
If you’ve been following American politics at all, you’ll have seen this same smearing tactic being used both by Trump and Hillary.
That’s why you should vote for The Bernmeister.
I’m going to retire Sandy Beaches. And then I’m going to do it again under a different name. This time, I will have a JSTOR account and I’ll have access to the pseudoscience necessary to make it look like I really know what I’m talking about. The facts will be hidden behind a paywall that most won’t have access to, and those that do won’t have the reach, speed or power to undo what I’ve put out there. I’ll spice the crazy with enough nuance for it to taste legitimate.
And if I can make a thousand bucks, you’ll hear from me again.