Barbie F*cks It Up and Feminist Hackers Save the Day

…So, I wasn’t going to click the link. Sexist books and toys are ubiquitous, and one grows weary of reading about them. But it turns out that even though the Barbie I can be… A Computer Engineer book is even more awful than you might expect (Barbie herself doesn’t write the code: she needs Steven and Brian for that.), Pamela Ribon’s righteous rant in response to Barbie’s ersatz engineering is worth the price of admission:

THE FUCKING END, PEOPLE. Despite having ruined her own laptop, her sister’s laptop, and the library’s computers, not to mention Steven and Brian’s afternoon, she takes full credit for her game design— only to get extra credit and decide she’s an awesome computer engineer! “I did it all by myself!”

Flip the book and you can read “Barbie: I can be an Actress,” where Barbie saves the day by filling in for the princess in Skipper’s school production of “Princess and the Pea.” […]

When you hold the book in your hands to read a story, the opposite book is upside down, facing out. So the final insult to this entire literary disaster is that when you read “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” it appears that you are so fucking dumb, you’re reading “Barbie: I Can Be an Actress” upside down.

Even better, if it weren’t for Barbie I can be… A Computer Engineer, we would never have gotten to enjoy the Feminist Hacker Barbie site, at which readers are invited to improve the original book. Here’s one user’s suggested improvement:

Barbie, wearing glasses and flowing blonde hair, sits at a computer; the screen is showing multiple lines of computer code. Two young men stand beside her smiling.

Update: Great news! A female PhD student in computing has re-written the book to make it what it ought to have been in the first place. Here’s her version. Yay, intertubz!

Learn How to Philosophize via Video Game

My sister just showed me this very, um, interesting video game, which actually teaches you how to engage in philosophical argument.

Play Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher here!

It’s pretty weird at times, but also pretty cool.  You play as Socrates, a middle-age an accountant living in contemporary times, and are taught philosophy by your daughter, Ari.

I haven’t gotten far, but it’s actually pretty solid at explaining the sorts of questions and statements you can make in an argument.  For instance, Ari explains that you can question a statement for clarification, for support, or for relevance.  She also reminds you, “If you say really stupid things, you’ll lose credibility with your audience.”  And if your credibility rating goes to zero, you lose the game. 

What do people think?


Feminism and Cookies

Two recent stories about sexism have made me think about cookies. So I’m posting about them together.

1) When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory was running for the office, he was asked, “If you’re elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?”  He responded, “none.” 

He recently signed a bill that put further restrictions on abortion.

His response to protesters who were upset with him signing a bill he promised not to sign?

He gave them cookies.  According to WaPo, “The cookies were returned, and it wasn’t because he forgot the milk. The note on the untouched plate read: “We want women’s health care, not cookies.””

2) Anita Sarkeesian just released the 3rd and final video on the videogame trope of Damsels in Distress. (Future videos will discuss other tropes in video games.) The video game development blog Gamasutra posted about it, to which many peopled commented.

Some of the comments stuck out to me because they were some of the clearest, most charitable articulations of why people see basic feminist arguments as untenable.

For instance,

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the ‘damsel in distress’ type of game. Sexism comes in from how you depict the damsel. I just don’t think that every example she gave of sexist games are necessarily as malicious as she makes them out to be.”

When another commenter points out that Sarkeesian does not accuse these games of being “malicious,” the original commenter replies,

“Maybe malicious is too strong of a word to use, but her tone is definitely condemning. Spelunky developers made it so the player could rescue a male or dog instead of a female and instead of even saying thanks for trying but its not good enough, smacks them back down and further criticized them for making the female replaceable. If you don’t want to say malicious choose a different word for publicly talking down to them because she did not approve of their attempted fix.”

If I understand this argument correctly and charitably, it is something like this:

Yes sexism exists, but if someone wasn’t explicitly trying to be sexist, they deserve a cookie and not condemnation. [suppressed premise: Because not f***ing up is hard. And public disapproval makes us feel negative. And sexism makes us feel negative. And aren’t we trying to get rid of things that make us feel negative?] (Okay maybe that wasn’t so charitable. But accurate, I think.)

Takeaway ‘lesson’ from both of these stories:  Cookies and niceness–as opposed to actually doing the hard work of swallowing one’s pride and working to fix the problem–are the better ways to approach sexism.

Other takeaway lesson:  Some people think that equality for women is about making them feel warm and fuzzy; not about anything like giving them access to full agency and control over their image, their lives, and their destiny?
(Also they think women not being mad at them is more important than improving the lives of those women?)

Men Writing About Sexism (Well) and the Phenomenology of Doing Feminism

This recent article from the video game site Rock, Paper, Shotgun (RPS)  is a well-written article about sexism in the gaming industry.  (All quotes below are from the article.)

Game Developers Conference 2013

Even if you are not particularly interested in the intersection of feminism and video games, the article touches on an emotionally charged sub-topic: the phenomenology of social justice, a.k.a., the weird psychological and epistemological stuff that happens when we partake in these discussions.

“In having written about the subject of women and games over the years, I’ve received a significant amount of abuse. (I’m not going to fret about saying, “But of course not as bad as…”, because of course it’s not as bad as…) Most of the abuse I receive is lazy insults, and until recently I tended to assume them fairly innocuous. Some has been extreme, such as forum threads dedicated to associating my name with acts of child molestation to skew Google results, personal threats, and deeply personal insults. All of it has one purpose: to intimidate.”


It is reassuring and interesting when other people talk about the psychological effects of the backlash for talking about the -isms.  Also, it’s impressive when a guy writes about the backlash he receives and I find myself genuinely sympathetic because he ‘gets it’.


“Generally the motivation for my writing any sort of polemic on RPS is because I’m angry about something – constructively angry about something a person should be angry about – and I want to see positive change. That’s what causes me to start typing, including this piece. But as I go along, those words creep in. “You’re just saying this to win the approval of others.” “You’re just trying to make girls like you.” “You think women need you to stand up for them.” And so on. They get to me. They’re getting to me right now. They’re evil spells, cast to insidiously infect.”


So I want to ask people about their own experiences with studying the -isms.  I find the phenomenal and psychological aspects of engaging in social justice projects fascinating because I am going through a (for lack of a better term) paradigm shift in how I understand the norms of human action.  In short, I’m shedding the worldview of pull-your-self-up-by-your-bootstraps atomized individualism that I grew up with and adopting a more…sociological?…understanding of human interaction.  Things I used to hold as mantras I now see as false:  It does matter what other people think of you; words can do more than break bones–they can rend souls; and there is no such thing as a self sufficient person–only a really privileged person who gets to enjoy the illusion of self sufficiency.


Have other people experienced things like this?  Do you look back five or ten or twenty years in the past and realize you had a completely different understanding of how the world works?  Do you struggle with managing the psychological aspects of using feminism in your work? (e.g. intimidation, isolation, social disapproval, wondering if you are insane or totally misled, etc.)  I find these things creeping in whenever I write or say anything about the -isms. They get to me.  It helps to know they get to other people, too.

Is it just me, or is Int’l Women’s Day getting more popular every year?

Four years ago, I had never heard of International Women’s Day.  Last year, I remember actually seeing people around the blogosphere mention it.  This year, more than a few of my Facebook friends have posted about it.

I can’t remember if Google had done a google doodle for the holiday in past years, but I like the one they have up this year:



Read More »

Speaking of Using Your Powers to Make the World More Better

The Border House is a great blog about video games and social identity.

They have a recent post up entitled, “TransMovement: Freedom and Constraint in Queer and Open World Games”
(All the blockquotes here are from the Border House article by Samantha Allen)

When Bethesda Games’ Todd Howard previewed the open world role-playing gameSkyrim, he famously promised that the player would be able to traverse any visible geography. His breathless assurance of the player’s ultimate freedom has already come and gone as an internet meme: “You see that mountain? You can climb it.”

In it, the author mentions a video game (that you can play right in your browser without downloading anything) called dys4ia.

I want to contrast this ultimate freedom of movement with the mechanics of movement in Anna Anthropy’s much-discussed game dys4ia, which she describes as “an autobiographical game about my experiences with hormone replacement therapy.”

It’s articles like this that make me think there is lots of potential for philosophy and video games to get together and make sweet, sweet knowledge.  Especially in regards to social justice and oppression.

I’ll confess that I seem to enjoy the rampant freedom of open world games just as much as anybody. But, for cisgender gamers, the supreme motility of open world games often functions as an exaggeration of a freedom of movement that they may already enjoy in the physical spaces of non-game worlds.

In her 1980 essay, “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality,” feminist philosopher Iris Marion Young thinks through the style of movement typical of women in the United States. Women, in her view, do not “make full use of the body’s spatial and lateral possibilities” unlike men who are able to move freely, with long strides and swinging arms (Young 1980, 142).

I’m not arguing that all games should constrain player motion so that the much-stereotyped white, male, cisgender game-playing teenager can understand my experience as a transwoman. I do want to resist, however, game critics’ tendency to think of the open world, “ultimate freedom” genre as the evolutionary endpoint of video games as a medium. Different styles of movement produce different emotional effects and both should be available to us as players and as game-makers. To regard “fun” as the ultimate litmus test for the success of a video game is to sell short the emotive capacity of the medium itself.

I also want to call attention to the implicit masculinity of the open world genre, not to dismiss it entirely, but rather to point out the ways in which freedom of movement can be experienced differently by people outside the largely white, male cisgender realm of video game preview and review culture. […] Because I don’t equate fiction with reality, I can’t hold Far Cry 3 accountable for neocolonialism. I can point out, however, that it’s a reflection of an implicit masculinism, the seductiveness of which is facilitated by the mechanics of movement in the open world genre of games. Let’s enjoy our fictional worlds and our innocent-because-virtual power fantasies. But let’s also try to be a little more nuanced and reflexive in our approach to going anywhere and doing anything.

Badassery Incarnate, pt2: Feeling Excluded When You’re Not a Straight White Dude (aka my time as a gamer)

When I watched “The Men Who Built America” trailer, I saw red partly because this is just one in a long line of trailers I’ve had to sit through where (often rich and/or straight) white men are running around doing badass things and after about the twentieth trailer it starts to feel like you are getting the message, “This is what badassery looks like. And if you don’t look like this–if you don’t see yourself in these people on the screen–then you are not capable of being a badass like they are.” And while it’s possible to identify with someone who doesn’t share your class, gender, race, sexuality, etc., it can be extra hard to when these trailers play up “This is a MASCULINE guy and this is a HIGH CLASS rich person and this is a EUROPEAN American.”

I had a pretty similar experience last year when I watched a trailer for the video game Dragon Age II. I’m an avid gamer who identifies strongly as a gamer and who is invested in gamer culture, so it felt like a slap in the face to see this series play into the same “by white men for white men” crap that currently permeates the majority of gamer culture–specifically the RPGs that I play. It’s fine for any one game to be by white men about white men. But when it’s game after game after game it’s hard to shake the feeling that, “hey, maybe you don’t belong here.” I got this same feeling when I ran around my high school spouting about how much I loved Fight Club until several different people told me, “Oh, I thought that movie was about masculinity.” Suddenly, I felt cut off from this thing that I love, that I identified with. It’s the feeling of This Is Not For You; this thing and you are mutually exclusive.

Here’s the DA II trailer I got all in a huff about:

For some context, Dragon Age: Origins (the first game in the series) was amazing in that you could play as a woman or a man, straight, bi, or gay, and occupy a whole host of different socio-economic positions (commoner, noble, royal, outcast, ward of the state (sorta), etc). On my first play through, my character was from an inner-city ghetto (albeit a white, elfish one) and I had to basically get recruited into a special ops military group (to save me from execution) after I killed a noble who raped my friend and killed my fiancee because he (the noble) felt entitled to a prima nocta. As far as video games go, the gender/class/sexuality consciousness of DAO was astounding. (Not perfect–but definitely above the norm.)

That’s why it was an extra kick in the gut for the trailer of DA II to represent itself–and all the different kinds of heroes you can play as–with the same old trope of, “Here’s you–the beefy nordic-looking male fighter.”

(I’m also pissed that they used the voice of Flemeth–one of the most bad ass characters of the series who is supposed to be this witch of mythic status who may literally eat men’s souls–and she’s sitting there narrating about how there are a few “men” who manage to grab destiny by the balls. WTF.  It’s such a weird dissonance to realize, this is not what this character would say.  This is a bunch of men putting words into this woman’s mouth.  Flemeth, the actual character, would instead say something like this: ‘Some men change the world forever.  Then I change into a dragon and eat them.  Because that’s how I roll.’)