Anita Sarkeesian, book (& film) critic

So, I can’t really properly judge newly famous media critic Anita Sarkeesian’s videogame criticism because I’m not a gamer.

I can, however, judge her reviews of books and movies, and if her 2012 video about The Hunger Games is any indication, her commentary runs the gamut from the banal to the laughably wrong.

Oh, and before you go on, there be spoilers here for The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Proceed at your own risk.

Here, I should add that I think The Hunger Games is not only an excellent series, but one of the best works of fiction in recent years in its approach to gender. (Yeah, Suzanne Collins’s writing style is a bit flat, but I actually think it works well for this kind of novel.) In Katniss Everdeen, it gives us a three-dimensional, active female protagonist whose struggles don’t have anything to do with gender. I love that Katniss is trying to protect Peeta as much (or more, actually!) as he is trying to protect her. (I could have done without the love triangle and frankly I think Gale is one of the books’ least interesting characters, but hey, nothing is perfect.) I love that while Katniss is a fighter, she’s not somehow magically stronger than all the guys. I love that it’s never at any point suggested that there is something uniquely horrible about forcing girls as well as boys to fight to the death; the Hunger Games are horrible, but female victims are never treated as more worthy of sympathy or horror than male ones.  I love that there’s no bullshit about the Panem power structure being oppressive because it’s “male.” I love that the rebels are led by a woman, Anna Coin, and that she turns out to be just as bad as the people she’s fighting. (Which, gender aside, is also a commentary on many revolutions.)

And now, here’s Anita Sarkeesian.

Okay, first of all, unrelated to gender: at about 55 seconds in, Sarkeesian makes a passing comment about how the premise of the book is unrealistic because there’s no way people would give up randomly selected kids to participate in a fight-to-the-death spectacle without a fight.

Has she actually read the damn books? Because I think it makes perfect sense in the context of the Hunger Games universe. The people from the districts are too cowed to rebel. Plus, the Hunger Games system is actually a combination of carrot and stick — well, lots of stick and a little carrot. If you win, you become a celebrity and a hero, and not only your family but your town reaps major economic benefits.

Then, there’s a discussion of Katniss that consists of a lot of statements of the obvious. She’s not reduced to her gender, she’s not sexualized or objectified, she shows sympathy and compassion for her family and friends. One of Sarkeesian’s pet ideas is that a truly feminist heroine has to challenge the “patriarchal value system” not only with regard to gender roles but also by prioritizing compassion, cooperation, and non-violent conflict resolution over competition, dominance, vengeance, and so on. So, for instance, she refuses to consider Mattie Ross in True Grit a feminist heroine, because among other things she doesn’t show enough emotion and doesn’t question the idea that death is appropriate retribution for her dad’s murderer.  I have to say that I find this idea deeply offensive. If a conservative wrote that a female character was a bad model of womanhood because she’s insufficiently emotional and too vengeful, he (or she) would rightly be excoriated as a sexist. So why is it okay for Sarkeesian to declare a female character to be a bad model of feminism because she’s too much “like a man”? I have no words for how obnoxious that is. Well, I do, but they’re the kind of words that would violate my own rules about civility in public discourse.

Katniss mostly meets Sarkeesian’s True Feminist test (whew!). Except that Sarkeesian manages to give her a passing grade by seriously misrepresenting the books. For instance, she asserts (at 3:56) that Katniss remains “troubled and disturbed at the idea of personally murdering another human being, even within the context of the death match.” Reeeally? Re-read the start of Chapter 18 of The Hunger Games, where Katniss kills the boy who has just mortally wounded her friend and ally, Rue.

The boy from District 1 dies before he can pull out the spear. My arrow drives deeply into the center of his neck. He falls to his knees and halves the brief remainder of his life by yanking out the arrow and drowning in his own blood. I’m reloaded, shifting my aim from side to side, while I shout at Rue, “Are there more? Are there more?”

Earlier, at the end of Chapter 11, Katniss is rather cold-bloodedly contemplating the murder of the girl who is camping out near her hiding place at night and is stupid enough to light a fire, which is likely to be spotted by the “career” tributes:

I lie smoldering in my bag for the next couple of hours, really thinking that if I can get out of this tree, I won’t have the least problem taking out my new neighbor. My instinct has been to flee, not fight. But obviously this person’s a hazard. Stupid people are dangerous.

(The careers get there first and kill the girl without spotting Katniss.)

In fact, at 5:55, Sarkeesian contradicts herself by noting (when discussing the ways in which Katniss is shown as traumatized by violence) that near the end, she aims an arrow at Peeta’s heart when she thinks he’s about to kill her.

And then there’s this:

Sarkeesian-Hunger Games Sarkeesian-Hunger Games-2Sarkeesian-Hunger Games 3

SAY WHAT?

This is the same Katniss who counts the dead tributes at the end of each day, with no thought other than “The more of them die the more chance I have of staying alive”?  The only death (other than Rue’s) at which she feels sorrow is that of Thresh, because he cared about Rue and because he saved her (Kat’s) own life earlier, and then spared her:

Thresh dead. I should be happy, right? One less tribute to face. And a powerful one, too. But I’m not happy. All I can think about is Thresh letting me go, letting me run because of Rue, who died with that spear in her stomach…

And that’s just in the first book. By the third, Katniss actually demands, as a condition of cooperating with the rebels, the right to personally kill President Snow. And I know Sarkeesian had read all three books by the time she made her video, because one of her criticisms was that the love triangle took up too much room in the later books. (One of the few points on which I agree with her, but that’s hardly an insight of stunning originality; almost everyone I know thinks the love triangle was pointless and boring.)

Sarkeesian-Hunger Games 4

The inconsistency is, apparently, that Katniss is very distraught by Rue’s death, but “doesn’t even bat an eye” at that of “Foxface,” the girl who dies after stealing berries from Katniss and Peeta’s food supply that turn out to be poisonous:

Sarkeesian-Hunger Games 5 Sarkeesian-Hunger Games 6

Sarkeesian-Hunger Games-7Sarkeesian-Hunger Games-8

SERIOUSLY?

Are you kidding me?

First of all, while Foxface has cleverly stayed out of the action, she was hurting or trying to hurt Katniss and Peeta by stealing their food supplies.

Secondly, Katniss also remains unfazed by the deaths of several other tributes who haven’t hurt anyone. At first, I was going to say that Sarkeesian’s objection to Katniss’s lack of grief at Foxface’s death betrays her sexism, since Katniss also shows no grief at the murder of several harmless males (like the boy in Chapter 11 with whom she struggles for a backpack at the Cornucopia and who is killed right in front of her — she’s only repulsed by being splattered with his blood), but after re-reading the scene where the girl who lights the fire is killed, I had to conclude that Sarkeesian is not being sexist; she’s just being stupid.

The rest of the seven-and-a-half-minute video is taken up by a discussion of how male heroes are typically portrayed as suffering no emotional repercussions from violence and how refreshing it is that Katniss struggles with such repercussions. But ironically, in trying to squeeze Katniss into her politically correct little box of Compassionate Feminist Hero, Sarkeesian totally dilutes one of the strongest themes of the trilogy: that being forced into a world of brutal violence does have a dehumanizing effect.

Is there a place for intelligent media criticism that focuses on gender issues? Sure thing. But the fact that Sarkeesian has emerged as the leading voice in such criticism right now ensures that it’s going to be propaganda, not analysis.

(P.S. I’m leaving the comments open, but any comments containing personal abuse of any kind will not be approved.)

59 Comments

Filed under culture, feminism, movies

59 responses to “Anita Sarkeesian, book (& film) critic

  1. Kyris

    I’m glad that Cathy wrote this! I don’t think many other people could have done it…Why? specifically because of a point that Cathy herself brought up, if a male had dared to criticize Anita’s work, they would have been accused of being sexist, misogynistic, etc. The only thing Cathy has to worry about is being called a “fuax feminist” for daring to say anything negative about their lord and savior Anita.

  2. the reality that the press put all of their money on a feminist this vapid, simplistic and just stupid is just saddening

    sarkeesian once said that the lesbian subtexts in xena were never panderous to male audiences, and that it wasn’t even sub-text but cannon. its obvious how much she distorts reality to fit a preconceived perception

  3. colagirl

    Obviously the abuse that Sarkeesian gets is completely inexcusable. Let me restate that again (restating the obvious): there is *no* excuse for it and it should not be tolerated by anyone in any community (let alone engaged in, but again, that’s stating the obvious).

    That being said, I’ve never been overly impressed with Sarkeesian’s analysis. I have my issues with the Hunger Games trilogy: I agree the love triangle was pointless; I felt the second and third books weren’t as strong and it seemed like Collins didn’t quite have a good idea of where to go after the first one; but I found its approach to gender very refreshing in creating a world where gender simply wasn’t an issue. (And don’t get me started in her take on Mattie in [i]True Grit.[/i] 😛 )

  4. I haven’t personally read the Hunger Games books, but it sounds like her “analysis” of books is on par with her pitiful “analysis” of video games. She cherry picks and misrepresents material constantly in order to feed her SJW fanbois/gurls.
    I don’t believe she’s a feminist at all, well she could be. I believe she’s just a con artist. Her grabs for money after getting 20x the requested funds while being so ridiculously far behind says almost all one should need to know.

  5. Frosty

    I believe that’s one of the main issues with Sarkeesian’s analysis. I believe she comes at them with a conclusion in mind and then cherry picks things that fit into that conclusion while dismissing anything that directly contradicts them. She does the exact same with her video game critiques, and that is why a lot of people see her as disingenuous. Thanks for a thoughtful analysis. Something gaming websites have yet to want to tackle.

  6. dt

    I think you’re being too harsh on Anita. She’s got her ideas. She nitpicks to make them more visible — I wouldn’t call that quality, but I wouldn’t call Anita “stupid” over it, either.

    Speaking of nitpicking, I agree with Anita’s notion that the children-mortal-combat premise of hunger games is unrealistic. Apparently it makes “perfect sense” to you, but it’s unrealistic to me, Anita, and I suppose others as well. Criticizing Anita over this seems odd, especially in comparison to far more substantial problems wrt her commentary on Katnisse/motions you address later.

    Your final paragraph is right on.

  7. Sam

    I haven’t seen or read The Hunger Games, so my comment is about film criticism and film theory in general. My opinion is that it’s bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s interesting bullshit, but usually it’s not. I can’t tell you how many Criterion audio commentaries I’ve had to turn off because of the utter nonsense being spoken, such as the individual trying to find meaning in Fellini’s tendency to film ladies’ behinds, or the guy talking about Kurosawa’s “triangulation” and what it means for the film — it means nothing! Kurosawa is just trying to get everyone in the shot in a visually pleasing way!

    Almost no filmmaker I’ve met (and I’ve worked at studios before) or heard speak approaches his or her work in this way. Rather, they are just trying to tell an interesting story that people will feel is worth they money they paid.

    Here’s 95% of movies in a nutshell: someone wants something and has difficulty getting it. That’s what we’re paying to see. That struggle. Or as a professor told me, if you want to send a message, write an essay.

    My go-to example is David Cronenberg’s The Fly. It is almost a given to people that the subtext of the film is a parallel to AIDS. Ask Cronenberg and he will tell you it is not. But he’s more generous than I am. He’ll say people who say it’s a metaphor for AIDS are not wrong, just that it’s not his intent.

    The problem with this is that it makes any kind of interpretation acceptable. So you get queer theory, feminist theory, dualist, Marxist, etc. Yes, look for evidence for any pet theory, and you will find it, and ignore the elements that don’t fit your interpretation.

    Most “meaning” in movies is plain — the author/creator has done his or her job in creating the necessary elements so that anybody paying attention will come to the same conclusion, even if that conclusion is uncertainty — like the end of Do the Right Thing.

    And the thought of this Anita person offering views on True Grit, one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors, is an unpleasant thought to say the least.

  8. That doesn’t even begin to describe the problems with her as a critic. She has been caught taking important details out of context. She has outright lied about other things, and she isn’t even a gamer.

    In her Twilight review, her criticisms are right, but she is horribly condescending all the way to the music she used in that video.

    She complains about straw feminists while calling anyone who opposes them false feminists. Her criticism of “Equal Fights” has her defending the villain because of that character’s beliefs while forgetting that that character was doing illegal things.

  9. My Hobby is Video Games

    And now you know how hobbyists of video games feel when she tries to talk about video games (to which you should look at her deleted video of Bayonetta). But that’s the kind of content that has been handed over and praised when people who have actually sat down and played the games or at the very least have an appreciation for fiction being fiction was outraged the way the games were being portrayed when the narrative or objectives was anything but what she proclaimed the games to be.

    The other reason is to examine her hypothesis for her tropes vs women project which and I quote is “…unfortunately in addition to all of these benefits, many games tend to reinforce and amplify sexist and downright misogynistic ideas about women.” In other words, the act of playing games will make someone develop a prejudice towards women. To which, hobbyists, video game developers, and publishes in less than a YEAR just finished fighting the argument of a DECADE long strife of the hypothesis led by Jack Thompson and other politicians(both democrat and republican) that playing video games result in violence. Which culminated into a Supreme Court case known as Brown(or schwarzenegger) v Entertainment Merchants Association(EMA) that ruled that video games are considered to have free speech. Which a loss would of meant banning violent video games to children(which is already heavily enforced thanks to the ESRB to educate parents with a ratings system). Hobbyists/consumers of video games already knew the worst case scenario and while Anita isn’t pursuing any sort of legislation, her hypothesis is the same flawed logic to which she has yet to scientifically prove that the main reason a person would develop a prejudice towards women is because of playing video games.

    It’s not hard to understand why people would highly object to her project because the project is a complete mess. I won’t even go into the fact that her hypothesis is flawed because it starts with a conclusion while she tries to make facts fit. Or the fact that her project is overdue(even by kickstarter standards). Or the fact that her source material is just the video games and not talking to game developers, writers, and marketers of specific games to understand purpose of the narrative or how game design works.

    She has literally turned video games from being the most apolitical, and most welcoming environment where the actions of the individual and their performance is what counts most(accountability is a wonderful thing) into a complete “Us vs them”, and “feminist”(which I don’t see how the fictional content of video games and the representation of fictional characters equates to real life men and women having equal rights under the law) mess that only resulted in the same generation that are or just became adults finally able to say in public that the skills they obtained from their hobby as a selling point to get a job, or just having a hobby be equal to that of baseball or automobiles to be thrown back into the closet of shame because we enjoyed playing video games.

    The only sad part is that at the end of this she makes her career by making everything a gendered issue. She isn’t and can’t sell any solutions to make video games better despite wanting to have video games(fiction) be more representative of our societies current laws, morals and values. When an artist creates art, we want them to have the creative freedom to create new worlds and places and have them either share a single experience, or tell a grand adventure. But you can’t have that if artists are going to be forced by law or pressured by society or their peers on what content is or is not acceptable. While people trotting out the games franchise Dead or Alive as being nothing but “boobs”, there is a reason why that franchise exists while games such as The Guy Game and BMX XXX have faded away into obscurity. The former may have a weird narrative, but the characters and their motivations and stories we can relate to. From Tina Armstrong’s desire to be an independent woman and pursuing new career paths outside her career as a wrestler, to Jann Lee to simply prove he is the best. It only does a disservice to video games when the games are so poorly looked at.

  10. Nate T

    Great job Cathy, you echoed my feelings exactly regarding Sarkeesian’s rather self serving and often nonsensical critiques. Too bad that while Suzanne Collins and the films’ producers likely have no idea who she is and wouldn’t care to the games industry is treating her fanaticism like the birth of a glorious female revolution. I suppose on the bright side at least she’s inadvertently introducing people to some alternative, more enlightened points of view.

  11. Her comments towards video games also shows the same intellectually dishonestly and cherry picking attitude to fit her narrative. Let alone her comments on media platforms like twitter that try to capitalize on tragic events like school shootings while advertising for donations. I hope your not attacked for this like she has done so for other female and male critics of her work.

  12. Marc

    Another young feminist doing more long-term harm not only to equitable relations but gender relations to. I can’t bear to listen to her going on about how badly done to she is (yawn) when egalitarians of both genders fought and won this war before she was born.

    She’s creating a atmosphere of hate and ignorance and I really wish there wee more decent journalists and FEMALE authors brave enough to expose her pernicious bullsh*t because that’s all it is.

    When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!

    I don’t want my daughters to grow up hated by men because of the damage this agendized amateur is creating.

    Thank you Cathy and thank heavens for Christina Hoff-Sommers for a voice of reason in this sea of misandry.

    I have no truck with misogyny but Sarkeesian has reversed the gender and is just a massive bigot.

  13. Jacques Cuze

    An interesting analysis that gives me new respect on my daughter’s reading choices, but I have to admit I listened half a dozen times to her True Grit review at 3:05 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MbiP3wxImAY#t=185 to determine if she really says “for all intensive purposes”

    In 1880, not many humans were able to impose their will on events. So here is not a man, not a woman, but a child, who is able to impose her will and create justice for her family. And that’s not a feminist message because somehow her values in 1880 are not proper feminist values of 2010.

    It actually makes me appreciate True Grit even more.

  14. Vee

    I hope you continue to tackle the general problems with the current climate of feminist media criticism more often, Cathy, and this won’t be a one time thing. I know you’ve focused on Gamergate recently, but I mean also in the way you have in this article. Because while there are ways to take a look at how different genders, races, etc. are portrayed in media, I think the majority of it is deeply flawed and disingenuous. I also think it’s interesting she says “[Foxface’s] death should be portrayed as tragic and upsetting” which is where so much of this goes wrong these days. Rather than simply making an observation on how something is presented, it’s demanding that something must be the way one wants it to be, which I believe is not how literary/media criticism is meant to work, even though the word “criticism” is present.

  15. I’d only saw a couple of Sarkeesian’s reviews before the whole gamer gate debacle and I’ve watched a little more since, while I don’t always agree with all her I was blown away by violent response she and other women in the gaming community have been in recite of lately.

    To be honest, there is sexism in gaming but then again there is sexism everywhere. I see nothing wrong in having a discussion about it – I mean if someone could explain to me how dehumanizing women by killing video game prostitutes enhances game play I’m all ears. I think the bigger issue with gaming is the sexist attitude of male gamers who think women have no place in the gaming community.

    I don’t think Sarkeesian and other likes her, myself included as a gamer who happens to be a feminist, are out to ruin gaming. I don’t want rainbows and unicorns – I just want to see more strong female leads and maybe some more realistic body types – oh and no more killing hookers for sport would be great.

    As for her hunger games review, well i haven’t read he book in ages but from what I recall I’d have to say on the whole I had a different experience with the book then Sarkeesian did. Personally I wasn’t a fan of Katniss, she was an okay female lead but I thought she could have been stronger. I don’t know if that makes me stupid or not but I just didn’t connect with her.

  16. Maybe we can set up a Kickstart to get AS to go away? She is giving me a headache, maybe someone who actually likes her like Mr. Sarkeesian, to take her aside and give her the heads up, her 15 is way over. Now a lit critique? Does she actual know anything well enough to actually have an opinion?

  17. Pingback: Cathy Young, Anita Sarkeesian, and The Hunger Games - blog by Gurdur - Blogs on the Heathen Hub

  18. Jonathan Colwell

    I’m all for a critique of video games from a feminist perspective. I just wish more intelligent feminists would come on board. Perhaps you yourself could do a series on it from the perspective of someone coming in to gaming and also properly review the gaming community. Hell, I’d donate cash on kick-starter 😛

  19. Pingback: GamerGate and You: A Discussion of Gaming Journalism - Page 82 - GameFront Forums

  20. 0xrenx0

    “(P.S. I’m leaving the comments open, but any comments containing personal abuse of any kind will not be approved.)”

    I understand that this public figure has had harassment directed her way, but shouldn’t this be the default, since a lot of public figures receive death threats? I am not criticising you in particular, but it is becoming tiring how everyone who wants to talk about her needs to preface their abhorrence of harassment.

  21. Megafire

    Excellent analysis, Cathy.

    One of my favourite female protagonists in recent fiction has been Taylor Hebert, from Wildbow’s Worm.

    She’s intelligent, compassionate and caring towards her friends, and scarily brutal to her enemies. An absolutely fascinating character in how being bullied has affected her.

  22. Jen Struthers

    Anita Sarkeesian is a white supremacist pretending to be a feminist. She appeals to women of white privilege and white privilege only. She is the worst kind of “faux feminist”.

  23. Marc Draco

    You’d probably find a few on Jezebel (etc.) where her sort of cherry picked misandry and selective quoting are rife; but be careful what you wish for. Sarkeesian isn’t interested in balance. It’s not that she’s bad at what she does, it’s that what she does is bad.

  24. “I mean if someone could explain to me how dehumanizing women by killing video game prostitutes enhances game play I’m all ears.”

    “And no more killing hookers for sport would be great.”

    I’m no expert on “Grand Theft Auto”, but even with my general knowledge, this is an outright lie and I’m calling you out on it.

    There’s no entry in the series that I’m aware of where you “kill hookers for sport”. If you have sex with a prostitute in the game, she is paid for her services and you’re given a choice of either letting her walk away or killing her to get your money back. The player is presented with a moral dilemma and they’re given complete freedom on how to behave. They’re not being forced into making the morally reprehensible choice for the sake of gameplay. The same thing occurs in “Bioshock” when it comes to saving or killing Little Sisters: the player’s personal moral compass is brought into play and it makes no sense to judge people for a decision they COULD make as opposed to the one they actually DO end up making.

    But I’m assuming that you’re talking about “Grand Theft Auto” here. If you’re referring to the Feminist Frequency video where someone is seen killing strippers in “Hitman Absolution”, though, then you’re still wrong, but in an even more profound way. In that game, the gameplay and scoring system not only discourages you from killing innocent people – which, in this case, includes the strippers – but actually penalizes for you for it. You lose points for making that morally questionable decision, but the video in question makes it looks like you’re forced to do it. That’s not just misrepresenting the situation, it’s outight lying about it.

    You don’t even have to go that deep to discredit her, though. As I said in an interview with GamesNosh (http://gamesnosh.com/princesses-people/):

    “It makes no sense for Anita Sarkeesian to express her disdain for the ‘Damsel in Distress’ trope by stating that ‘a large percentage of the world’s population still clings to the deeply sexist belief that women as a group need to be sheltered, protected, and taken care of by men’ and that ‘damseled female characters tend to reinforce pre-existing regressive notions about women as a group being weak and in need of protection because of their gender’, but then proceed to damsel herself by publicly broadcasting all the abuse she receives while claiming that ‘male allies are essential in the fight for gender justice’ and ‘‘White Knight’ is a slur used to discourage men from taking a stand’. You can’t have it both damn ways.”

    If you really want to see the kind of damage the “sexism moral panic” is doing, Susan Sons wrote a very interesting article about it here:

    http://www.linuxjournal.com/content/girls-and-software

  25. Patches

    Another good set of her videos to analyze, and clearly show how she cherry picks and overly manipulates her data points, totally ignores context, culture and relative position in time and history, and throws out absurd unsupported and often downright insane hypothesis as fact, are her shows about Lego. They are much more approachable for the non video gamer, but have the same analytical sloppiness as her Tropes vs Videogames ones. She goes on about Lego as boy dominated toys without ever acknowledging the passage of time. That the product from the 70’s was different from the 80’s, 90’s and today. At one point she literally declares Lego as misogynistic because some of the boxes are blue. She flits across broad time periods and international borders and cultures with no discussion of societal norms in context, applying the same extreme modern standards and analysis to all.

    She routinely does the same with Videogames, never acknowledging that Western games and Japanese games come from different cultural backgrounds. Or that a game from 1988 will differ from 2012.

  26. Ted H.

    @dt it’s pretty stupid if you simply assert claims without proving them. at least offer some criticism that isn’t solely grounded in something outside your own personal experience.

    re: child death matches, Anita says that such a trope is only believable where the characters are othered by society. Well one big hole in her analysis is that the outlying provinces are othered by the capital; in fact there’s an entire black province made up of likely former slaves, which could go in the running for most othered. Katniss comes from a type of Appalachia, another place where, in reality, the actual residents are othered by the cultural elite of the coastal cities. Further, Cathy provides her reasoning that she finds the trope believable: that the capital is extremely repressive and holds all the economic strings, so rebellion is highly unlikely due to a fully repressed population.

    You offer only a subjective analysis, and Anita’s analysis doesn’t comport with her window dressing philosophies or the actual text and subtext of the novel/movie she’s analyzing.

    Cathy, thanks for taking this two-bit critic wanna-be down a peg.

  27. oxenro: Re the personal abuse disclaimer, I agree, but it does seem that AS draws an unusually high share of abusive comments and threats. I’m not saying it’s because she’s a woman, by the way, just that it’s a fact.

    (That said, I think that drawing attention to abusive comments directed at someone tends to create a vicious cycle and make that person more of a troll magnet.)

    To everyone else, thanks very much for the comments — I’ll try to reply ASAP.

  28. David

    I just can’t stand the fact that the only way Anita (who is no academic by any standard) replies to criticism is ad hominem attacks. This type of criticism is nothing new, they’ve just been taken offline. Cathy be safe I think you touched theses peoples poop. They may come after you like they did David Pakman.

  29. Dagret Saidan

    I love this article, I find you to be spot on about Katniss. I think one of the short comings of Anita’s criticism of various pop culture is that it’s very shallow, and she has a preconceived notions going into her criticism and cherry picks information to fit that narrative.

    Take the damsel in distress trope. She paints it as objectification and stripping women of their power, but often the world is tossed out of balance by the removal of the “Damsel” indicating that she has power over the world, and rescuing her returns the world to it’s normal state. Additionally, it’s meant to invoke feeling between the player and the princess, she’s not merely an object, but rather she is an important loved one of the hero and you’re meant to feel empathy that they have been torn apart.

    All of these things are true, there are many aspects to the damsel in distress trope. But I don’t believe it’s inherently sexiest, or misogynistic. Even in the original St’ George story, the Princess is a heroic figure, as she offers herself to the dragon despite her father having the power to force one of the peasants to take her place.

    I agree that it’s over used, and it would be interesting to see a different take on it, and more activity from the Princess, and maybe a reversal where the Princess must save the Hero. But I would argue that it’s not as malicious and misogynistic as Sarkeesian would make it out to be.

  30. Ted H.

    Cathy, why did my comment get stuck in limbo? Do you think it was abusive?

  31. Oops! sorry, Ted! Somehow your comment showed up late in the moderation queue. Approved now!

  32. Ted H.

    Ah ok, I got a bit worried. Admittedly I was a bit on the chin with my tone. Thanks for the approval 🙂

  33. No worries. Btw, great point about the “othering” of the outlying districts by the Capital. The children of the ruling class are not subject to the Hunger Games after all. Moreover, even the more privileged people in the districts are able to minimize their children’s chances of being in the lottery, since young people can buy food by entering their name multiple times. And actually, knowing how corrupt oppressive regimes tend to be, it’s a good bet that the more privileged people in the districts would be able to keep their kids from being in the lottery at all.

    By the way, gladiators in ancient Rome weren’t necessarily “othered.” Some were slaves or criminals, but many were poor men (and sometimes women — female gladiators were definitely around) who became gladiators voluntarily because the money was good and if you didn’t get killed in the arena, you actually had a good shot at becoming a celebrity of sorts. There was definitely a certain amount of glamor attached to gladiator games. (In that sense, Collins’s premise that the Hunger Games victors are treated as celebrities is actually quite similar to the reality of Roman culture.)

  34. Stella

    I think this shows that Sarkeesian knows how she wants to view a piece of fiction before she reviews it and warps her review to fit. She’s decided Hunger Games is FeministGood (Why? Possibly because everyone else thought so?) so she distorts it into what she thinks it should be. And she’s decided that various games are FeministBad and so she distorts them in the other direction.

  35. Stella

    Also, after reading your praise for the Hunger Games I might reevaluate the series. I enjoyed the books, but there were a few things I found really annoying It has one of the most nonsense economic systems I’ve ever encountered in fiction or reality. It never made sense to me that President Snow would think Katniss and Peeta pretending to be in love would calm unrest. (I can’t imagine a downtrodden District 11-er being like “Oh, she did it out of *love* rather than as a gesture of *defiance.* Cool. Gonna go on being oppressed then.” Seems to me that beating the Capital out of young love would be at least as inspiring.)

    Also, Katniss did two things that I loved loved loved and thought were really interesting–at the very beginning she volunteers for her sister and at the very end she kills the revolutionary leader. I feel like the intervening narrative didn’t quite hold up to those high points. I would have liked Mockingjay a lot better if the Animal-Farm-esque theme of the corrupt rebellion were stronger throughout.

  36. Stella, that is an excellent point. I suspect Sarkeesian realized, consciously or not, that it would be counterproductive for her to attack a hugely popular franchise with an active, non-traditional female protagonist, so she tried to fit Katniss into her Good Feminist Hero mold.

    Incidentally, she also says (2:10 and onward) that Katniss’s reaction to the “superficial values imposed on her by the Capitol government as she’s being groomed for the Hunger Games media spectacle” suggests a critique of the beauty industry. But she totally disregards the fact that Katniss is stunned, in a good way, to see how beautiful she is in the gown Cinna has designed for her.

  37. Actually, on first reading I had a lot of issues with the logic of the Capitol’s (and Snow’s) behavior in Book 2, especially the decision to send all the victors back into the arena rather than arrange a quiet accident for Katniss. It actually made somewhat more sense in the movie where we saw Snow explains his reasoning to Plutarch (i.e. that he now believes the victors as a class to be a threat).

    The government’s behavior still doesn’t come across as particularly rational, but then again, dictatorships don’t always act rationally when confronted with sudden popular unrest.

  38. Stella

    I always thought of Cinna and his dresses as a nod to the “girly” reading bloc (one that worked much better than the love triangle) but linking them to the beauty industry makes me find them more interesting. Maybe it adds balance by showing that the Capital’s consumerism produces much that is disgusting and tacky but also much that is genuinely beautiful.

  39. bkh

    I want to thank you for this. Sarkeesian has snookered the press into completely buying her brand of insanity, and whenever we point out the massive fallacies in her videos, we’re labeled as “basement dwelling misogynerds” and told that any criticism of her is the equivalent of supporting death threats.

    While others have pointed out some of the flaws, I just wanted to chime in with my favorite: Labeling a piece of media as misogynistic based on the actions of the VILLAIN. I tried to watch one of her more recent ones, but couldn’t get beyond a few minutes, as it was completely lacking in any acknowledgment of the mythical precedents that were being drawn upon, and were, in fact, entirely describing actions taken by the villain that you spend the entire game fighting against!

    Probably the simplest example of this: In the game Watch_Dogs, the protagonist has a mission to break a sex trafficking ring. Sane people would say this is the exact opposite of misogyny, but Sarkessian manages to twist even this around on it’s head. You see, in order to break a sex trafficking ring, the game has to show a sex trafficking ring. Otherwise, it wouldn’t really make any sense. So now she comes along as can say that watch_dogs shows women in bondage being bought and sold and how terribly misogynist it all is.

  40. “I agree with Anita’s notion that the children-mortal-combat premise of hunger games is unrealistic. Apparently it makes “perfect sense” to you, but it’s unrealistic to me, Anita, ”

    It’s unrealistic to someone who does not live in a world where parents have to decide which child to sell to feed the others; in other words, this world. It happens every day.

    Her comment and your agreement show the level of privilege you and she take for absolute granted.

  41. That’s a really good (if depressing) point, Ginkgo. In the real world, today, there are parents who sell their children (male and female) into prostitution, not because they are bad people but because it’s the only means of survival. There are also parents who acquiesce in their children being taken away to fight and probably die as child soldiers. It doesn’t just happen in fiction.

  42. armenia4ever

    A very astute breakdown of her review in my opinion. I do believe she is fully serious.

    I understand trying to fit media through a certain worldview filter, but she seems to be unable to see past hers.

    What bothers me about her game reviews is that she admits that she didn’t even play most of the games. That’s the equivalent of taking issues with a book without actually reading through it. I know taking things out of context to prove a point is standard these days – even in journalism – but it dampens the idea of any objectivity to what she puts out.

    I personally despise feminism, but I’m willing to take the valid points and ignore the invalid ones regardless of who is espousing/making them. It’s unfortunate that its so hard to keep that mentality when Sarkeesian is making said points.

    Personal abuse is unfortunate on the internet, but its standard in almost any online, “discourse.” (Yes rape and death threats included.) If I go on the Huffington Post, Slate, Jezebel, ect and espouse a contrary viewpoint, not only will I be fiercely ridiculed with all kinds of personal insults, I will most likely be told to kill myself.

    Just look at youtube comments on popular music videos. People tell each other to kill themselves, threaten to kill each other, ect because someone disproves of the song. The fact that Sarkeesian is a woman is just a convenient card to play to deflect criticism as sexist, mysognistic ect. Hell, even disagreeing with people these days means you are automatically a troll.

    (Note, I saw someone say she is white. That’s incorrect. She’s middle eastern. I actually share the same ethnicity as her.)

  43. Usually we don’t think of Armenia as being “Middle Eastern”, you know. Neither Turkey nor Georgia nor Azerbaijan are described as “Middle East”; ditto with Armenia.
    Apart from that, if I may be so bold as to leave a link here to my own blog post on the subject matter at top:
    “Cathy Young, Anita Sarkeesian, and The Hunger Games”
    http://heathen-hub.com/blog.php?b=1783

  44. Armemia4ever’
    “(Note, I saw someone say she is white. That’s incorrect. She’s middle eastern. I actually share the same ethnicity as her.)”

    Armenia? It don’t no more Caucasian n’at!

    Cathy,
    A good percentage of the world’s chocolate is grown on farms and plantations where most of the labor is kids from neighboring countries sold into this arrangement because at least this way they’ll get fed. In Afghanistan fathers make their boys fight what amount to dogfights because that’s the level of hostility they are going to have to contend with all their lives anyway and they had better get used to it. (What a revolution in gender relations there would be in that country if they did the same with their daughters!)

    There is absolutely nothing odd or difficult to believe about the Hunger Games scenario, and the proof of that is the way it resonates so readily with rather young readers. The proof is the popularity of the books. I saw one commentary on the books that said the scenario reflects the level of competition kids feel they are experiencing socially and academically.

  45. Fruitbat44

    Hmmm . . . I get the impression the Ms Sarkeesian is doing what a lot of reviewers do and reviewing her prejudices/belief systems/values rather than the actual book. Also, again which a lot of reviewers do at least appear to do, she seems to place her opinions as being absolutes.

    Though (sorry Hopeless Wanderer) she was bang-on about the subtext in ‘Xena: Warrior Princess.’ JIMHO of course. 

    And a plus point for Ms Sarkeesian does highlight that her reviews contain spoilers.

    And I think we do need to point that abuse is unacceptable. Not criticism, or even harsh criticism, but actual abuse including death threats and rape threats have been thrown against her. And some people do seem to think that it’s her fault for being upset by it, and that it’s just what happens when you voice a controversial opinion. And I’ve even come across people suggesting that any abuse is all faked to boost Ms Sarkeesian’s credibility. –sigh-

    Which doesn’t mean that she doesn’t talk twaddle of course. Anyway my random observations:

    Foxface, we never get to learn her real name. I think that Ms Sarkeesian has been influenced by the film more than the book here. In the film Foxface comes across as oddly sympathetic; there is a very effective moment were Foxface and Katniss collide while running from the cornucopia. They scramble away from each other, both terrified and yet seemingly recognising themselves in each other. In the book Katniss briefly considers allying with Foxface, but decides that there is something about her “sly grin” that suggests she’d end up with a knife in her ribs if she did.

    Giving children up for the games? As it’s pointed out these have been going on for seventy-five years, any rebellion has been – apparently – beaten out of the populace and there is always the terrible idea that “This is the way we do things, and this has always been the way we do things.”

    Cathy makes the comment about the possibility of the Higher-ups in each district finding a way to get their children out of it. I’m not so sure. I can see the Capital relishing the idea that no one, absolutely no-one, in the Districts is safe. However it is stated in both book and film, that if you put yourself forward for extra tickets in the draw, your family gets extra rations of food and fuel. And of course if your family is a Higher-up and well off you don’t need to do this . . .

    Actually I do wonder if there would actually be more “career” tributes. If there is a system, then people will work it.

    I don’t think that Katniss really ever becomes a killer in the sense that she relishes it or takes pride in it, and she gives the impression of being haunted by it. In the film she reacts to her first kill with the classic act of trying to cleanse her hands. But, she does accept that if it’s kill or be killed then she will do what’s needed. Well, that’s how I interpret it.

    Btw, is this the most comments any one of Cathy’s blog post have accrued?

  46. Pingback: Linkage | Uncouth Reflections

  47. Yvette

    I love this post. I am a Sarkeesian skeptic. Like you, I feel like I can’t really comment on her video game videos as I really don’t play video games. But once you bring up her Hunger Games and her film/TV reviews, then I have so much to say. Right on about Mattie Ross! When I saw her video on that I was like ‘Is she serious?’ Then she goes on to imply that Kill Bill isn’t feminist because The Bride is violent and I guess shows no remorse when she kills people. Did she even watch the movie? Same goes for the Sucker Punch review she did (read the description to that) even though I don’t like Sucker Punch but moreso for story and plot reasons. I never thought of it as sexist perse, but I do think it’s a weak movie.

  48. I’d like to use this topic to comment a little on Sarkeesian’s True Grit analisys. The original True Grit movie is one of my favorites. Now, I must admit I haven’t watched the remake yet, and I’m still a bit skeptical since, although I’ve heard it’s really good, it has a different take on the main character, the reason why I love the original.

    What I take issue in Sarkeesian’s reading though is her habit of strictly separating predominantly “male” or “female” character traits and and claming how the male characteristics are perceived as positive and the supposedly female opposite tratis are taken as negative. This view neglects a lot of variables in fiction (a common habit for Sarkeesian) in a shallow attempt to challenge society’s supposed double standarts.

    Let’s take a look at some exceptions to her view of what society claims to be “positive male traits” and “negative female traits”:

    Positive male traits:

    Emotionally inexpressive- Samus Aran, the female lead of the Metroid series. In the (good) games, she is perceived as stoic (yes, stoic, because emotionally inexpressive is a trait of a bad character), displaying some emotions, but never letting these emotions interfere in her job.
    Aggresive – Black Manba, from Kill Bill. Her agressiveness is the result of her daughter, fiance and 4 years of her life taken from her in an act of petty revenge from her boss. However, she still retains her motherly instincts.
    Dominating – The Young Women, from L’amant. while much youger than her lover, she clearly dominates him emotionally, since he’s strongly attached to her

    “Negative” female traits:

    Emotionally expressive – Marty, from the movie of same name (another one of my favorites). Shy. sensitive and visibly hurt by past heartbreaks, Marty is a fairly empathetic, which leads to him meeting his love interest in the movie.
    Cooperative – (I’m probably going to get some weird looks for this) Barney, from The Expendables series. While being a experienced mercenary, Barney relies a lot in his team, having a genuine comradery with them and being sympathetic to their feelings.
    Affectionate – David, from Pleasantville. His tenderness and willingness to listen to other people’s feelings make him one of the driving forces of change in the enviroment of Pleasantville, a town that goes from Black&White to colored.

    None of those traits, as presented in these characters, is portrayed in a negative light by the story, instead they make such characters more relatable, even when in flawed manners. By no means I believe those traits should be perceived as positive or negative traits in relation to gender. It’s a case by case cenario, with each character being different. Anita’s insistence in classify such tropes in that manner seems to be much more reactionary and driven by acceptance of stereotypes, ironically.

  49. Marc Draco

    I have to admit, I thought the remake was far better than the original – even though I’ll freely admit as a small-time filmmaker, the cast and crew are among some of my favourite people in the business. The screenplay is a cracking good read if you can nail it down.

    Anita does not demonstrate particularly good critical thinking skills – that much is obvious – it’s all about them (men) and us (women); men are the evil patriarchy and women are the repressed victims.

    I expect she knows what a nuanced view is – she doesn’t isn’t able to hold or express one.

    Her hate-filled diatribes are only serving to create a larger disparity between men and women and making those of us (men) who fought for equality start to wonder if it was worth it if, in doing so, we created these faux intellectuals who seem hell bent on destroying it all.

    I don’t, of course, but Sarkesian makes me bitter: sitting in her ivory tower of the privilege West and decrying inequality and yet remaining silent on things that actually matter – when women in poorer parts of the world are still being oppressed.

  50. wganness

    testing to see if this goes to moderation

  51. Whatever happened to Sarkesian and others like her just doing their own thing (i.e. DIY [do-it-yourself]?)-that is, if she and others like her find video games to be so objectionable due to said ‘sexism’ why not use the monies she’s raised from these bullcaca videos of hers to set up her own video game company just like this record company that was started by a group of ten women who wanted to see music that they thought wasn’t sexist?

  52. @scrapsoflaceandlove: if you want to see this, you and others can always get together, raise a tone of money, and set up your own video game company to make the games with the kind of female characters that you want to see. It’s all up to you.

  53. Very interesting discussion

  54. Basty

    You’re absolutely right.
    Anita is misrepresenting and talking out of her arse just as much as she did in the case of this book. Now she plays the role of professional victim.

  55. And that’s just in the first book. By the third, Katniss actually demands, as a condition of cooperating with the rebels, the right to personally kill President Snow. And I know Sarkeesian had read all three books by the time she made her video, because one of her criticisms was that the love triangle took up too much room in the later books. (One of the few points on which I agree with her, but that’s hardly an insight of stunning originality; almost everyone I know thinks the love triangle was pointless and boring.)

    I’m sorry, but I don’t find a love triangle between characters to be pointless and boring. This complaint sounds a lot like that of the boy in the movie The Princess Bride who’s always complaining to his grandfather about any kissing in the story, and it sounds quite childish and dumb. Falling in love is a part of the human experience, and as such should be part of most fiction (heck, it is a part of most fiction.) If people can’t take such triangles, maybe they shouldn’t be reading most (or any) novels in which love appears.

  56. WhichDoctah

    Take your irritation with her commentary which mirrors her commentary on video games both equally biased and wrong *Not to mention she stole clips from other youtubers* and you have peoples reaction to her in games.

    Or they would be…If they weren’t shouted down because gaming is predominantly a male hobby. Always has been but was never noninclusive. It just wasn’t something most girls were interested in. Now the stigma was being lifted only to have her close that inviting door again and hang a “Men only” sign on it then yell that it’s a sexist hobby.

    However any critic who meets her *Who is generally male because again..men make up the majority of gamers* will be shouted down as sexist or misogynist. And when a lovely female shows up to join in the “You are wrong” chant they say they are “Internalizing patriarchal stereotypes” or “Internalizing misogyny”. It is their pseudo-intellectual way to tell other women that they can’t have an opinion of their own if they believe hers or those like Anita’s to be wrong.

    I truly want to stress how much of a dark cloud she is hanging over video games as you can see the stormclouds she is trying to bring the literature community. She has been doing this for almost 2 years now. She has done unimaginable damage to women in gaming as a whole and created a space where men and women are not allowed to speak on their opinion of games because their opinion is “Wrong” so sayeth Anita.

  57. ” So why is it okay for Sarkeesian to declare a female character to be a bad model of feminism because she’s too much “like a man”?”

    In context, something that Sarkeesian does a poor job of showing sometimes, is that the female gender needs as much screen time as a hero as the male gender. Giving a main character stereotypes that instead seem “manly” to replace the “girly” bits when the main character is a girl was a terrible “feminist” protagonist because it’s still not showcasing the gender. But since we as people are used to assuming that sex and gender is the same thing, this point gets lost on some because they think just showing off a female is fine. I can’t say if I agree in this instance but IF it were true that true grit’s female protagonist was being depicted as more masculine than feminine, then it’d be a problem because it’s missing the point of equal gender representation in the media, which is still lacking.

    Theres a lot of nuance in that argument, because what’s masculine and feminine is constantly changing and depending on who you ask, they mean different things. Gender as a social construct is constantly changing and based on perception anyways. So as a result, tackling the mainstream constructs of what gender is will have a lot of nuance

  58. gstally

    I am not certain Anita is stupid, or even sexist. I think she’s deliberatly saying incredibly offensive, stupid, sexist, and logically incoherent things about various media that have passionate fans for the purpose of of garnering stupid, offensive, sexist, and logically incoherent responses from, usually teenaged, commenters. The comments (which when several of those she displays aren’t sexist, threatening, or even vitriolic – just snarky) are then framed completely out of context to deliberatly cry victim of gender based harassment despite the fact that she’s the one harassing fans in the first place with her blatant and deliberate insults of both the media that they love as well as of themselves for loving it. I am not sure she’s and FullMac are con-artists so much as they are batshit insane. The con isn’t as much for the money (but that is how they make a living) but the visible display of harassment. The harassment, and not the videos, is FullMac’s “subvertisements” as he enjoyed calling it.

  59. Ariadne Bene

    It seems my comment hasn’t been approved on here, so I’ll post it again:

    There is a video on YouTube that critiques one of her other videos she posted onto her channel. I replied to said video, commenting about the second video she made about The Hunger Games where she compared the book to the movie. I will post the majority of the comment here and make some alterations to it.

    Overall I agree with most of the points she made about the movie within the video, but there was one point she made that had me scratching my head and wondering if she even read the books or even watched the film. The point she made was, and I quote, “We as the audience in the real world are watching a story in which, a fictional capitol audience in turn is watching and deriving pleasure from the death of children. So understandably, you and I are supposed to be horrified by the whole media spectacle of The Hunger Games.” She then said she was surprised to hear the crowd cheer when one of the tributes from district 2 (Clove) was killed. Well, her statement would be inherently true if not for the fact that if both the movie and the book (which I think did a far better job of explaining it than the movie) didn’t offer an explanation as to why it was fine to get satisfaction out of Clove’s death as opposed to being saddened and/or horrified by Rue’s death.

    In the book (and subsequently movie as well even if it felt like a rushed explanation), it is explained that BOTH District 1 AND 2 basically kissed the capitol’s *ss when the 11 other districts (yes 11 since there was a 13th one at the time) started a rebellion against said capitol and refused to help the other districts fight the capitol. Because Districts 1 and 2 refused to aid in the rebellion, they were basically rewarded for not helping in it through various different rewards afterwards. Here’s the list of the ways they were given: 1) they were treated better and given better jobs/food, 2) they were allowed to train for the hunger games all year long and basically from a young age (as heard/seen in the clip she showed of Cato holding a knife to Peeta’s throat at the end of the movie), 3) they were highly praised in the days leading up to the games, during the games, and even after the games if they won (which BTW was ~90% of the time because they were well trained), and 4) are given sponsorship’s (*AGAIN*) ~90% of the time when they performed their “skills” for the capitol members in both groups and as individuals before actually partaking in the actual games.

    If Anita Sarkeesian had ACTUALLY read the book AND/OR watched the movie, then she would know these little tidbits of information. But I highly suspect she didn’t either watch the movie OR read the book. What I also highly suspect is that a friend of hers told her of all the anti-feminist things that are in the series (which again I agree for the most part on what Anita claimed was wrong with the book(s) and film) and particularly this book. Because I believe this, I also believe Anita then went to both the book’s AND movie’s Wikipedia page, read the synopsis for both, then made her video. I want to further say that there is ABSOLUTELY NO mention of District’s 1 and 2’s lack of involvement in the other 11 district’s rebellion on either Wikipedia page.

    So this leads me to the conclusion that she didn’t read the book OR watch the movie before she made her video on her critique of the first Hunger Games movie. Because if she had, she WOULD have known that both District 1 and 2 didn’t involve themselves in the rebellion and were subsequently rewarded because of their lack of involvement. Further, because any person who read the books prior to watching the movie (or even just watched the movie w/o reading the book beforehand) would know this information and wouldn’t care that Clove was so (as she would most likely put it) brutally murdered despite watching children die for entertainment.

    Like I said (in a roundabout way) above, it’s a normal reaction for a movie/TV watcher to derive pleasure from a “bad guy’s” death when it is detrimental to the protagonist’s life. Especially if said protagonist is one of the good guys! Like someone said in an earlier comment, not all deaths are the same in TV shows or movies. And because of this, they are treated differently in regards to how we feel. While yes, it is reprehensible that children are forced to be offered up to kill each other for a rebellion their grandparents and great aunts/uncles participated in 74 years prior, Anita has to realize that within this dystopian universe people within District’s 1 AND 2 act pretty much in the same way the people in the Capitol behave for the reasons I listed above: those two districts didn’t participate in the rebellion 74 years prior and were subsequently rewarded for it. They then start acting like they are better than everyone else in the remaining 10 districts because of said rewards. You see this throughout said book AND movie, so the reader/watcher can’t help but feel hatred (or at the very least deep dislike and/or displeasure) at everyone (including the tributes) from those two districts. If she actually read the book or watched the movie, I have no doubt she would have felt the same way as me and every person who actually read the book and/or watched the movie. So this leads me to the conclusion that she didn’t do either and just was told of “anti-feminist” scenes within both the book and movie from a friend, read their respective Wikipedia pages, watched snippets of the movie via clips on YouTube to try and support her claim(s), and then made the video.

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