Dear boys: Don’t put us “damsels” in distress

When I was young, my sister and I would pull out our GameCube (sorry we’re not up-to-date with the whole gaming systems) and play “Super Mario Sunshine” for hours. With one click of the power button, the TV would task us with the same mission one time after another: Mario must save Princess Peach from Bowser.

Back then, when I was eight or nine years old, I didn’t think much of gender roles or stereotypes. I just went along with anything on the screen—and it just happened that the lady princess was always caught in some mess and needed rescuing.

Last night I happened to come across a video interview of feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian on “The Colbert Report.” In the interview, Sarkeesian notes that the portrayal of women—often minimally clothed—in video games repeatedly demeans and sexualizes women by and equating them, in essence, to “play things.”

“I think it’s a bigger issue to talk about the industry as a whole and how it perpetuates these ideas of sexism and misogyny as opposed to just [focusing on one game like] ‘Grand Theft Auto,’” she said. “We’re [women] challenging the status-quo of gaming as a male-dominated space.”

Feminist Frequency, created by Sarkeesian in 2009, is a video webseries that aims to illuminate and eradicate the stereotypes often affiliated with women in pop culture. Though Sarkeesian places heavy emphasis on spreading her ideas through online media, she also globally educates students through university presentations and other gaming conferences.

Unfortunately, Sarkeesian’s work has been met on several occasions with backlash. After launching her 2012 Tropes vs. Women in Video Games project, which aimed to create a video series that would expose objectifications of women in computer gaming, she received widespread harassment in response to the campaign.

Even last month, Sarkeesian cancelled her lecture at Utah State University after the college received an email from a someone threatening to commit a deadly school shooting if she spoke. Still, despite some public resistance, the media critic continues to voice her feminist perspectives on the gaming industry.

Sure, Sarkeesian speaks particularly to the gaming industry, but her message extends further into the inherent sexist nature of our society. Most of us don’t view gaming as a demanding threat, but when so many children turn to video games as a pastime, do we really want to breed these stereotypes into our future generations? We can’t, after all, fight gender discrimination and bigotry without confronting the seemingly negligible (as some of us may consider the gaming world) aspects of our community.

After researching deeper into gaming prejudices, I spoke with my sister Sona Sulakian, Executive Board member of the Stanford Women’s Coalition. During our discussion of women’s societal roles and the gaming industry, she noted the prevalence of sexism in other societal facets, especially those related to jobs in technology and finance.

While a difference in pay, as Sona mentioned, may stem from prejudice towards women, it is merely one example of sexist attitudes in the workplace. This past September, USA Today reported on sexism charges that hit the technology industry—including companies like Snapchat and Tinder—and noted that women account for less than a third of the total staff in most technological companies.

“Women say they are subjected to sexist attitudes starting in computer science classes,” Jessica Guynn reported in the article. “Those attitudes persist throughout their careers as they are passed over for jobs and promotions.”

Similar circumstances of gender discrimination are evident in business and finance. According to Forbes, only five in 10 bankers on Wall Street believe that current employers equally represent men and women at senior levels.

Though perhaps not directly associated with video games, these attitudes in employment attest to the same sort of bigotry towards women. Just as women are objectified in video games, they are treated inferiorly to men in the workplace.

I don’t know about you, but once in a blue moon when I sit down to play a game, I don’t want my end goal to be saving some pretty princess. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing putting that damsel in distress is the man who locked her up in the first place.

Originally published in Harker Aquila.

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