It’s not for girls, because you see, it is a robot.

Prime example of marketing based on exclusion.  Girly stuff is inferior.  Let this robot manhandle your life.

I wrote about the new Droid phone just before it came out, and about how excited I was about it. I’m never the biggest fan of picking a company and pitting yourself against them (though it’s hard to avoid with the mega-popularity the iPhone has), but picking something that “represents” half the world’s population and saying that if it represents women, then it’s pretty much useless, then my friends, that is so infuriating to people like me.

I nearly wrote a review on the Droid. Backstory: My boyfriend purchased one and I had to show him how to set it up, how to customize it, and how to download and use applications. He was very reluctant at first, because he’s never owned a smartphone and thought it was too complicated.  But guess what?  Now that he’s had time to get to learn it (with a bit of help to get started) he loves it! And he knows I love it, too. The only reason I decided against writing a review was because I felt I only got started on it, and I don’t want to do a half-assed job.

Now I feel compelled to write a review, and record myself putting unicorn backgrounds on the phone, customizing it with Rainbow Brite ringtones, shopping online for shoes, purses, and a new haircut, and of course talking on it hands free about my latest girls’ night out.

Oh, Droid does, indeed.

On the Usage of “Rape” in Video Game Culture

I can’t specifically recall the first time I saw it, but it was probably during battlegrounds in World of Warcraft, back when I was grinding honor for my season 2 pvp set (I was never that great at arenas, being a spriest in early Burning Crusade, partnered with an arcane mage and ret paladin).  I think it was when my team (that is, the Horde! Yes!) were arguing in Alterac Valley over if we should even bother killing Balinda for extra honor points, and I was amused by these comments because it was so easy to kill her quickly and get our honor, then move on.  When I said something like, “It’s a quick and easy fight, it’s easy honor, why not?” Someone responded with, “Yeah, let’s rape her!”

Whoah, whoah, whoah.  Where did I miss the connection between defeating an enemy put there for the sole purpose of being defeated, and raping an enemy?  Oh, I see.  I guess rape means kill.  And apparently it’s completely normal and accepted.  And so it began: I started noticing people using this terminology everywhere.  At first, I thought that perhaps it was a rather twisted victory cry that was only vocalized (or typed?) after defeating female enemies, but I was wrong — it became just as common for people to say “We raped them” when we won a battle as a team (sometimes up to 40 players versus 40 other players, and not one person said something like, “hey, don’t say that”), or sometimes even “we raped him” when a raid of anywhere between 5 and 25 players downed a boss (again, no objections).  This struck me as so odd.  How could I even begin to come up with a reason as to why they’d misuse rape so grossly?  Well, I thought, it’s a group of people.  Perhaps this is something people just say when there’s a bunch of other people around to “shock” them.  Maybe if they’re with friends, or guildmates (a group of people who you regularly team up with to accomplish certain tasks, like dungeons, raids, or player-versus-player combat), whom they probably respect, then they wouldn’t say such things.

But I was wrong again.  People can duel other people in World of Warcraft; that is, do a one-on-one fight with no real consequences (such as dying or losing armor durability) other than having anyone in the area see who won the duel, and then the losing avatar grovels and begs in front of the winning avatar, in a sort of, “Oh, you are superior!” fashion.  Haha, funny.  “I raped you” became just as common as “owned” or “pwned”, which, if you play games, you know these terms have been around for a long time, and are very common in nerdy circles (there are issues, of course, with these words as well; however, that is not the focus of this entry).  It actually succeeded in making me entirely uncomfortable, and, in fact, less willing to participate in player-versus-player combat, because, as a woman, it really unnerved me seeing people use the term “rape” so flippantly; to these people, a very loaded term became nothing more than a joke.  I began to leave all chat channels because the woman-bashing (i.e., “get back in the kitchen”, “I’m gonna rape you”, or “girls suck at video games”) and growing rape culture got to a point of ludicrousness.  One might say, “Oh, just ignore them.  They’re teenage boys trying to piss people off.”  I know.  But the “boys will be boys” excuse just wasn’t flying with me.  Nor should it ever, with anyone.  It’s a get-out-of-jail free card.  That saying allows boys to get away with things that they probably should normally be opposed to, only because they are boys — and I’m pretty confident that they can learn to interact with other human beings in a fairly decent way, right?   Unless that saying dares to imply boys aren’t intelligent enough to learn otherwise?  Yeah, I doubt it.  /snark.

Finally, I wrote a piece for feministing.com on a few things that bothered me when it came to the portrayal of women in video games, and my experiences as a woman who played video games.  Feministing has always intimidated me, because I’m not a woman’s studies major who is incredibly well-versed in everything I write; nor am I someone who can qualify every post as an academic essay, complete with a bibliography.  (Not that I take issue with this, but I felt my post would be too vague and unfocused for a site of that caliber.)  Someone commented regarding my complaint about rape-as-an-analogy-for-defeat, saying, “Well, it’s fantasy. You kill things, but you wouldn’t kill monsters or people in real life.  But that doesn’t mean people get all whiny about you killing people.  Lighten up, it’s just a term… no one would really rape anyone.”

You know what?  I can’t believe people still believe this bullshit.  1 out of 6 women will be sexually assaulted at some point in her life.  Is that funny? Well, I guess the rape-joke train didn’t stop in Hellytown, because it really isn’t funny to me. Oh, that’s bullshit, people say. Women make up those numbers, no one I know would rape anyone… they just want to take you to court and brand you a rapist for life. No. Most sane people wouldn’t do that sort of thing.  Did you know that most women know their assailants?  Yeah, not all rapists are hiding in bushes and smelling of piss.

This summer I was nearly raped by a stranger.  Yes, even though I just said most women know their assailants, I just so happened to fall into that category of woman-who-was-attacked-by-a-guy she-didn’t-know.  I was drinking with a friend of mine, and we were chilling at a hotel, when we ran into a couple of other guys staying there, too.  They were friendly and wanted to drink with us, so we stuck around for awhile.  We were all goofing around and having fun — or so I thought, it seemed.  Suddenly the two guys weren’t into drinking anymore and told us to get out, so we did.  I realized after walking out that I’d forgotten my purse, so I walked back to ask for it.  As I stood outside the door, I was thinking of how silly it was, and I hoped they weren’t irritated with me.  But the door opened, I was grabbed, jerked inside, and on the bed before I could even know what was going on.

“You look like that kind of girl that likes it rough,” one of the guys said.  I looked over at the other guy, who was standing there, grinning like a douchebag.  Mainly, being drunkenly entertained by this display before him, and doing nothing to stop it.  I don’t know what happened, but I got a ton of adrenaline, kicked the guy and pushed him off me, grabbed my purse, and ran outside just in time to see my friend looking in the hallway for me.

That happened in less than a minute.  That quickly, and that unexpectedly.  And this isn’t all that uncommon. I was one of the lucky ones.  The guys disappeared, and no one could find records of them staying at that hotel.  How creepy is that?

A fifteen-year-old girl was gang raped after her school dance this week by several guys.  And lots of others stood around and watched this happen.  For 2 hours.  She was beaten and robbed, and completely dehumanized.

I could go on.  I know women who were raped, I know women who are beaten and brainwashed into submission.  I know what people do to these women, what they say about them: “Oh, if she wasn’t drunk”, or, “Well she was dressed like a slut, so…”, or even “She deserved it, she turned him on, then she changed her mind.”  This is, pure and simple, victim blaming. The victim did nothing wrong; the rapist is the one committing a fucking crime.  Now, I know victim-blaming is rampant outside of feminist circles.  I’ve heard it all before, and yet, I still get incensed every time I hear it or even see it appear on my screen in World of Warcraft, probably spewed out by some completely naive child.  But it still makes me abhorrent of our society’s excuses.

So, tell me, is this still funny?  I mean, really, if this happened to your girlfriend, your sister, your mother, even a friend of yours… is this really funny? Does it deserve to be trivialized?  I feel re-assaulted every time I have to read people dehumanizing women and making jokes about rape, and I’m sure others do, too.  Especially those who didn’t get away before it was too late.

I play games to have fun.  There is enough sexual violence in the real world to go around (there should be none, of course), and there is enough pain and degradation directed at women outside of the internet sphere.  And, hey, let’s not ignore it: there’s more than enough in the internet sphere as well — just read the comments to pretty much any article pertaining to/written by a woman.

Does this have to bleed into my entertainment as well?

Marketing for Women and Girls: Just make it pink!

Justify it however you want.  The studies show, the numbers prove, it just sells.  Marketing people seem to think that women and girls respond en masse to pink displays.   While I know of quite a few little girls who enjoy princesses and sparkly, singing popstars, I also know of quite a few who enjoy doing puzzles, solving mysteries, wielding a fearsome weapon, and beating the crap out of their on-screen opponent. I am just so damn sick of seeing these sad attempts at including the wimminz in what was considered just a few short years ago to be a sort of “boys’ club.”  Take it from just one of the many, many female gamers out there: You’re embarrassing and annoying us.  Allow me to elaborate.

I’ve played games since I figured out what Frogger was, and that I could play it on my family’s Commodore 64.  My sister and I worked feverishly to raise that daunting $70 to put toward our very own Super Nintendo (we weren’t allowed to have a Nintendo system when they were cool; don’t you know you burn out your retinas and turn into a degenerate who can’t read when you play such filth as DuckHunt??), and we played the hell out of that system.  We scoured pawn shops for discontinued games, for new systems (or old, crappy ones, as it were) to add to our gaming console collection, or for quirky posters or other paraphernalia that was distributed with games back in the 80s. (Full dungeon map for Final Fantasy? Oh yes, I think so.)  You get it?  Do I need to go on?  Back when this was considered to be for guys only, my sister and I, without the help of anything pink, sparkly, or itsy-bitsy in size, were drawn to games.  Gender segmentation of video games wasn’t even an idea that had formed in my head.

So, when I was made aware that there was such a thing as a  “Gameboy”, I became perplexed.  Why is it a GameBOY?  What is it about this thing that implies it’s for boys?  For the first time, I actually thought about the fact that nearly all my friends had brothers who owned a gaming console, and most treated it like a prized possession that noooooo one else could touch, particularly their sisters.  So, after more than a few sleepovers, I finally got the guts to ask why no one ever wanted to play games, like I did.  My answer was a little less than satisfying.  I was told simply, “Girls don’t play games.”  I guess this sentiment started early and continued, because for years after that, I was viewed as sort-of “odd” for liking boys’ toys.  Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a poor me pity-party, but it’s necessary to reflect on my experiences to understand that this has been going on a long time.  Marketing used to exclude women and girls from the gaming community all together; as a result, people assumed women weren’t interested video games or technology, and consequently, they also began to assume we knew nothing about it.  But with the rise of the internet and the growing importance of understanding at least the basics of technology, marketers found themselves up to bat for a new challenge: Getting women and girls to “pay attention” to mens’ and boys’ toys, and getting them to use these gadgets independently.

Cue the shitstorm.  I don’t know what was going through marketers’ heads, but I assure you it was more than likely a team of 40-something white guys tossing out ideas: “How do we make them look at this? Oh I know, let’s make it pink!  And CUUUUTE! Women like pink and cute, right?”  I KNOW there are women out there who  like pink things; this is not something I’ve ever denied.  But to assume that women function as one unit and respond simply because something is pink is beyond insulting.  It’s just plain stupid.  Because along with something that’s decked-out in pink, you can be sure to find that the quality probably isn’t as good (more than likely because they threw it out there as an afterthought), and that the suggested uses for it are ridiculous.  Take, for example, Dell’s pathetic attempt at marketing laptops to the laydeez: Della. Within two sad weeks of its launch, Della was gone. Why? An asinine pastel website design, paired with helpful “tips” on how to use a Della (Use it to count calories! How about looking up some healthy recipes?), just plain turned women off to it.  And you know, I’d be willing to let it slide if it were a one-time slip-up that Dell learned an important lesson from, but unfortunately, it happened again.

Oh, look, the women have pink and magenta laptops.  And the one that isn’t pink?  She’s using her webcam to put on her lipstick.  So cute!  The lipstick and computer like, totally match!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I know they weren’t trying to imply that women ONLY use computers for arts and crafts and on-the-go/bus-lipstick-applying (if they learned anything from the Della debacle), but come on.  The guys were all actively taking pictures, organizing their record collections, looking businessy and important, and proudly posing with Google Maps by their (admittedly) awesome cars, you know, doing the things they usually advertise about in order to sell personal computers or laptops — organize your music collection, plan a roadtrip or vacation, edit your photos, take it with you for business trips.  The women were standing there, doing… I’m not sure what, maybe arts and crafts?  Or putting on lipstick.  Do you see computers advertised for that?  Get your own personal laptop so you can replace that tiny, antiquated mirror in your purse!  Get a laptop so you can print out stencils!  Doesn’t quite mesh, does it?  There is the exception of the first girl on her Vespa, but of course… it’s all pink, and I don’t see what that has to do with selling a computer.  With the way she glances up at her helmet, perhaps she used her pink laptop to buy a pink helmet on Ebay to match her pink ride.

But before you get all up-in-arms, saying I’m focusing on stupid things when I could be donating my time to more important things, what I’m writing about here isn’t simply just knocking the pretty pictures and color schemes that they use to appeal to women and girls.  It’s also about the language of marketing directed towards women and girls, namely, in simplistic terms.  And this has a more widespread effect than most people think.

I may be a tad biased as a linguist, but language really is the basis for our formative ideas about a product.  We listen to advertisements describe what a product can do, how it will improve our lives, and how easy it is to use.  Colors, imagery, and music are all integrated with the words to make a 30-second impression that we’re supposed to remember, so we can rush out and buy the merchandise.  The problem arises not only when women and girls don’t see representations of themselves in commercials, but when the language clearly isn’t directed towards them (yes, I know, it’s a gratuitous, ridiculous example, but the idea is still the same), or it’s just plain ridiculous. (Bonus: This site has a whole list of commercials that exemplify what I was discussing earlier about pink, and it’s a hilarious article to boot!) “Play now, my lord”?  Well, I guess that kinda leaves ladies out of it, doesn’t it?  “Imagine Babyz”?  You’ve gotta be kidding me, as if all women just want to play with babies all the time.  At least the DS commercials feature women of varying ages playing different kinds games, and you know what?  That’s pretty accurate.  Women self-identify as gamers these days, and apparently they make up 40% of the gaming market.  There’s a lot of money to be made by appealing to women and girls who play video games, and the point that these marketers seem to be missing is that there are different kinds of games that interest different people.  That is, men and women alike.  Using language that creates an atmosphere of exclusion, or that infantizes women’s gaming interests creates a social stigma that says, “Women don’t play games, and when they do, it’s not the same games that men like.”  These separate, but “equal” gaming strategies aren’t working, and they’re just plain annoying.  Take a hint from the many, many women out there who are fed up with this: We’re people, with a whole spectrum of interests when it comes to games.  Stop assuming we’re going to respond to only pink, or only things specially labeled for us as ladies.  Oh, and please: get on hiring some more women already.