Issue 13.3 - 14.1 | 2016 / Guest edited by Patrick Keilty and Leslie Regan Shade

“Feminist Bitches” and “Fucking Dykes”: Forging a Feminist Alliance in Digital Gameplay and Scholarship

February 6, 2014
University of Toronto
From the colloquia series “Feminist & Queer Approaches to Technoscience”

Chris Young: Jen Jenson is professor of pedagogy and technology in the faculty of education and director of the Institute for Research on Learning Technologies at York University. She received a BA and MA at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia, respectively, before completing a PhD in education at Simon Fraser University. She became an assistant professor at York University in 2001, associate professor in 2006.

Jennifer Jenson: I’m really excited to be here in this actually completely rocking series. I should warn you right from the start that if you aren’t familiar with digital game culture, and even if you are somewhat, what I’m going to present here today, as the title suggests, is not only offensive but it’s also deeply toxic. Rehearsing just a sliver of that toxicity today, I’m extremely mindful of what Anne McClintock warns—that in this rehearsal in some way I practice the kind of violent, hateful, and aggressive speech acts and actions that I’ll take you through. While I struggle with that act of reenactment, I think also that all too often we are guilty of not making more public the acts of aggression that we experience every day as a result of patriarchy, misogyny, and homophobia. Everything that I will show you today is part of the public domain, as it were, so I’m not breaking any confidences nor outing anyone who is not already in some sense out.

So, what am I going to do? I’m going to run you through, starting with feminism, talking a little bit about precarity and why I think it’s important here, using that as a way into circulation and power in relation to games. I’ll talk to you about some of the ways that we can talk back, some of the ways I’m problematizing and have been, with Suzanne de Castell, the kinds of theories that are circulating, especially in the game studies community, around problems and issues and questions of gender and identity. And then I’ll talk you a little bit about the research that we’ve been doing for the past ten years that tries from the start to make a difference. And then I’m going to pitch to you a new direction which we’ve been calling feminist forensics.

First, that’s rather precarious. I hope to start from the other way around. It’s admittedly an odd coupling of words to put games and feminism in a sentence together. But the past two years especially have precisely reinforced the need for feminist activist work to mobilize and support women who both work in the industry and who at the same time view themselves as a part of or residing on the margins of gaming’s predominantly masculinized culture. In this talk, then, I’ll detail the conditions of precarity that women face as both marginal subjects in the video game industry and as sexualized objects in the creative and cultural products that the world’s largest entertainment industry produces. I do so through the documentation of recent examples of violent, vitriolic, and hate-filled speech that has been targeted at women who have either spoken out from these margins or have been singled out as objects of ridicule from within the industry’s ranks.

These examples demonstrate a form of extreme gender-norm enforcement that I hope to show can be challenged through feminist activist work, including some beginning in the mainstream games industry. So, why precarity? And why am I evoking that as a starting point for the analysis of policing gender and sexuality norms when it comes to video game makers and their players? Precarity, as Judith Butler points out, examines the live conditions of populations who “suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differently exposed to injury, violence and death.” In the case of video games, as a cultural industry which has been and continues to be economically supported by governments worldwide, the population who consume its products are decidedly not those at risk of dying due to poor living conditions or starvation. However, this industry has produced subjects who are not only targets of violence and aggression but who are afforded no institutional protection from those harmers, either through law or through their actual organizations. And they have only very recently received any protection through grassroots counter movements, which I’m going to describe.

I want to argue that positioning women as precarious subjects and objects in video game culture shifts the ground from the individual case of a single woman being harassed while speaking and playing in an online game, or when simply writing, blogging, or critiquing games, to a structural level that ties in with social and cultural gender norms as well as with political and legal structures that have yet to come online to offer real protection from misogynistic hate speech. Butler argues that gender norms are very much tied to precarity and that by extension the performance of gender norms, or not, is inseparable from the circulation of larger power dynamics. With reference to video game culture, the struggle over power and its maintenance can be seen to be happening, I think, on three levels simultaneously.

First, at the level of the individual game player, as women report being harassed regularly in online play and in the workforce. Second, at the level of game culture, as it is consumed and reproduced in games and through its players in online and offline spaces. And third, at the level of the state, which is both the state in terms of that which makes and enforces laws against hate speech and harassment and the state in terms of software and systems that could be used to police individuals within games and/or within public online spaces like comments sections on blogs, YouTube, websites, and a myriad of other kinds of anonymizing, unregulated virtual spaces, in which whosoever will can communicate to a potentially global audience.

In the next section I’m going to rehearse the well-trodden, for some of you, ground of gender and the masculine culture of game players, and narrow in on the second level, which is that culture, and then move on to the individual level as a more specific example. We’ve actually inherited this issue from gender and technology studies more generally. Games are very much a technology that have their specific technicities, and we know from decades of research on gender and technology that we have basically three primary issues. Access: women and girls don’t have access—unfettered, hands-on access—to technologies. Two, we simply don’t have equitable relations in relation to technology. A great example of this is just in the everyday school context—it’s always the boy who’s the computer expert in school, still, after all these years. And then, third, in terms of technological design, and we see this still: programming and computer hardware for men, and the softer skills like word-processing and design for women. This gets well translated into video games and those kinds of technologies.

Video games have been argued to be a gateway to careers in IT, but this is true primarily for men. There are far fewer girls and women playing particular kinds of games, and I’ll talk about that. And we have this problem of technological design—these “girl games,” which I’ll talk a little bit about. So, in the masculine culture of game play, the default presumption of game players in general is that you’re a male. Even the mainstream is worried about how to get your girlfriend to play. I don’t think that they mean my girlfriend. But they mean someone else’s girlfriend. Marginalization of women, fewer women producing and developing games, and we have this kind of pinkification. This is one of my favorite slides, made by Stephanie Fisher, up here. We’ve worked together for eight or nine years now, and she puts this really well.

In gaming culture, sex-based stereotypes are routinely re-invoked in the service of policing the masculine culture, and it continues to be a struggle to examine and talk about females’ participation in gaming culture as equal members and not just, say, “girl gamers.” And that’s in part because they have PMS, eh?—and this is something that actually has been in circulation for a very long time. As Judy Wajcman pointed out over thirty years ago in Feminism Confronts Technology, hegemonic forms of masculinity shape the way in which we come to access and make use of these kinds of tools.

So, in terms of pinkified, this is what it looks like. Yep. Babysitting momma. You would love to play that game. This is the Imagine series, which is all about ice-skating champions. This is a game that was made in the 1990s and redone by Silicon Sisters, it’s for girls, called School 26. It sells very, very well in Saudi Arabia. I won’t say anything about that. So, the games for girls discourse is driven by a desire to figure out what women and girls want.

Suzanne de Castell and Mary Bryson write:

In an article on Girl Games in ELECTROSPHERE, pioneer designer Brenda Laurel is reported to have confessed, “I agreed that whatever solution the research suggested, I’d go along with it. Even if it meant shipping products in pink boxes.”

We ought not to be surprised that it is in pink boxes that girls have learned to package their desire. But such desires surely have far more to do with the gender-identities developed by adult males than with that of children themselves, since it is masculinity that has always been the desired response to the question of what both women and girls want. … Our argument is for disenchantment and for the abandonment of a utopian language of desire that has never been anything but entrapment. And the question we urge simply is: Whose interests will be served in making use of these purportedly “essential” differences as a basis for creating “girl-friendly” games? Most importantly, are we producing tools for girls, or are we producing girls themselves by, as Althusser would put it, “interpellating” the desire to become the girl? By playing with girlish toys, does the girl learn to become the kind of woman she was always already destined to become?

And that would feel to some of you very much like Rousseau’s Sophie.

So, that was the pinkification. Now we’re going to marginalization, ghettoization of female players. Women, we know because of the Entertainment Software Association statistics, have been playing games in roughly equal numbers to men since 2003. And yet in 2013, they came out with almost exactly the same statistics and said, look, women are playing more games. The statistics match. What’s interesting is that usually women play more casual mobile games. And we have the kind of more traditional, hard-core male players. So we have the kind of ghettoization of women by both mastering research of this kind, but also very much in terms of the ways in which things are marketed, etc. This really is about status migration. We know in other careers, like medicine, that as soon as women entered to be general practitioners, pediatricians, gyn, anything like that, the salaries actually go down. They’ve been going down for the last twenty years. So as soon as women kind of exceed men in any area, including something like this, the status of being in that area or participating in that area decreases.

Moving from marginalization to sexualization—this is just really obvious, so I’m really not going to spend time on this. We also have exclusion. This is basically a YouTube channel that is arguing against the exclusion of women and challenging the normative presumption that girls and women do not play. And this also puts them in precarious positions, as they are often targets for misogynistic remarks or sexualized discourse. They’re even harassed on the YouTube channel, if you read the comments. So this is really very much where they talk about being ganged up on or attacked, etc. And just as a little warning, the next part I’m going to go into is where it gets a little bit ugly, and then we’ll come back out.

So this is next—to the deeply harassing bit. These are publicly available examples of online harassment, from blogs like Fat, Ugly or Slutty. It’s been around for quite a long time—you can look it up—since 2011. It’s a “shame the johns” project where female gamers submit details and screenshots of the sexualized, misogynistic hate speech that they receive when playing in online spaces. The posts mainly come from Xbox Live, but also massively multiplayer online games. Male players in these games sometimes react to female transgressors in ways and with words that are much less acceptable in real-life scenarios.

So part of what this is framed as is, can’t you take a fucking joke? And I want to turn from these more quotidian experiences of Xbox Live players to talk more specifically about two very public cases of harassment, one that is ongoing and the other that very much made an impact in the games industry. So this was on the level of culture, as Chris mentioned. The #1reasontobe why you wouldn’t want to be a woman in the games industry is a Twitter hashtag that went viral last year. And people weighed in, and actually they’re still using the hashtag, so they continue to weigh in about this. And many, many, many of the comments were because it’s unsafe, because I’m harassed, because people pass over me because I’m not listened to, etc.

In response to that, there was a really fantastic panel at GDC and another Twitter hashtag, the #1reasontobe a woman in the games industry. And it had all these great people, Leigh Alexander, Mattie Brice, Robin Hunicke, Brenda Romero, etc. Leigh Alexander gave—you can read the kind of not quite transcribed version of her talk on Gamasutra—this really impassioned talk about why the industry needs to change, about how you might go about doing that, about her experiences in the industry, etc. All these fantastic women talked. And they were talking to an audience that mostly was like this. But people were still very much impassioned. And then everyone went to the after party and it turned out that they had scantily clothed women. And people were really offended because one of the sponsoring organizations was the International Game Developers Association, and they had done the same thing the year before, and the year before, and the year before. And people were sick of it.

So Brenda Romero, who’s here, was on the board. She quit, and two people quit, actually. The other sponsoring organization was YetiZen, who publicly said they didn’t see anything wrong with it. The people that they had chosen were gamers. So that’s one at the level of industry. Going down to the level of individual: Anita Sarkeesian. She decided that she wanted to get some money on Kickstarter to do a few videos that critiqued the role of gender in video games. And her Kickstarter got picked up by 4chan and Reddit, and basically she had her Wikipedia page taken down. She was harassed on the phone; she had pizzas sent to her parents’ house. She had all kinds of terrible things happen to her, including a nice young Canadian who decided it would be very, very funny to make up a “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” game. His name is Benjamin Daniel and he was outed by feminist blogger Steph Guthrie. So this is a really kind of ongoing problem. Anita is still harassed.

I just want to show you a little bit about why she becomes precarious. And why she is precarious, in a position of precarity, is because she actually is asking for space to critique games. And to say, look, can’t we make better female characters? Why do we make such shitty games? But she can’t do that because she’s female. And I just wanted you to see a little bit about how deeply offensive this is.

Video audio: Welcome to our multipart video series exploring the roles and representations of women in video games. This project will examine the [inaudible] and patterns most commonly associated with women in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters. But remember that it’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.

So, yeah, a brilliant series, if you haven’t seen it. She has a really good episode that’s on violence and women and video games. And she is still very much the subject and object of hate-filled speech. Moving from Anita to a very recent public case, of a female game designer who was harassed over Facebook by a male journalist—in an interview where the person harassed did not use her real name, she stated, “Why would a woman want to talk about abuse and harassment in an environment where her harassers are staff on game websites and her peers are jockeying for the same job as hers?” That’s one powerful dynamic to contend with. That is sort of compounded by a response by a very prominent game developer. The student made something called God of War who basically said she is partially to blame. Okay.

This is public discourse on subjects that actually need not have that kind of discourse surrounding them. In recounting these individual cases in a talk like this (there are many, many others, too numerous to recount—the case of Jennifer Hepler of then BioWare, who was also publicly harassed and threatened because she had an opinion about video games), I think we need to understand and to demonstrate how these individual cases are epiphenomenal to a larger structural issue that enfranchises a male stream of gamers and others to denigrate and abuse women who dare to play and, worse yet, to make video games.

That’s not to say that these cases can be taken to represent all women. Far from it. They are, on the face of it, all heterosexual, and Sarkeesian is an attractive, photogenic young woman. Her characteristics hardly position her or them outside of mainstream gender norms. Indeed, it is interesting precisely that the gender typicalities of these cases both spark and feel the disciplinary apparatus of normalized misogyny and heteronormativity. What is correlatively significant about these stories, then, are the ways in which the state does little or nothing to put a stop to rape threats and hate and maligning speech. This is accomplished not so much by addressing these wayward individuals, but by publicly denouncing the ways that these otherwise worthy women have broken the unwritten laws of gender, addressing more paradigmatically women in general with what amounts, under most criminal codes, to slander.

And yet systems like YouTube that are fantastic at pulling content for copyright violations seem unable—a.k.a unwilling—to do anything to put a stop to these vile and violent speech acts. They remain online to continually re-assault their readers. Part of the discourse that has been mobilized to oppose blocking hate speech at a systems level is that such a move violates freedom of speech legislation. In the US, a constitutional amendment that is cited almost as frequently as the right to bear arms—even in the face of massive innocent lives lost to that freedom—is the right to freedom of speech. What is continually misapprehended about the right to free speech is that it is and always has been subject to limitations. It is not within one’s right to verbally harm someone, for example, through slander or libel or hate speech. John Stuart Mill argued strongly against the suppression of opinion in On Liberty, and the presumption that opinions were to be publicly aired, that they might be debated, was key to his thinking on free speech. Mill’s primary concern was about an individual’s right to speak back against government. That is, not to have their opinions suppressed because they disagreed with those in power. This is very different from someone claiming their right to salacious and vitriolic hate speech, especially when that speech is directed against those structurally subordinated in positions of lesser power than the speaker.

Like governments that both defend and restrict free speech, Mill, too, supplements against doing harm to others through speech. In his valuing of open discussion or the airing of opinions, Mill shared the presumption of his era that speaker and addressee were co-located in space and time, that the interlocutors shared a regional context, that they in effect knew one another and that in this cohabitation, they publicly stood by their opinions. That is precisely what is not the case with much of the online harassment I’ve showed you here. Typically, the most crass and sexualized comments are posted anonymously and/or through fake email and Twitter accounts.

To be very clear, nowhere in the principle of free speech is it within one’s right to slander or malign publicly and without proof another person. Nor is it within one’s right to make threatening phone calls, hack websites, threaten to kill or rape another person. None of these things are defensible by the principle of freedom of speech. Indeed, quite to the contrary, they are prohibited by it. So what I’d like to do for a moment is to suspend business as usual and to refuse the notion that everything is fine. Frigg Haug, a colleague, some time ago wrote about the fact that we actually actively support these kinds of contradictions by not seeing them. And this, in fact, makes it difficult to imagine different kinds of futures. It especially makes it difficult to imagine those futures when we can’t remember the past. This is not a new issue. We’ve been here, done that, continue to do it. Women have been actively and violently prevented from enjoying equal opportunities in every field that matters for not just decades but for millennia. And this is Kathrine Switzer, who ran in the Boston marathon, but she wasn’t allowed.

So, one of the things that I think we really need to stop doing in research and in the ways that we write on these topics is assume that we know some kind of inner truth about gender. Gender—we’ve known this for a long time and we write it—is an enactment, a performance that changes with context, with different people, with speech acts, etc. In game studies—and I’m going to just talk for a minute about what I think, which Suzanne and I have talked about, is a real problem, and that, Patrick, we talked about this morning, which you called “stenciling in theory”—we have seen altogether too much work that resurrects and redeploys traditional theories that have been critiqued and repudiated. For example, traditional gender theories that have been considered and rejected by feminist scholarly work. Their ongoing deployment within game studies is what contributes to the resilience of familiar stories about girls’ sociality, their dislike of competition and game play that smacks of violence, and their disinterest in expending time and effort improving their technical skills and abilities.

These accounts continue to invoke traditional gender roles and expectations as if these roles and expectations were constraints which girls just normally and naturally conform to. We see this reversion to traditional gender role theory in for example, Dmitri Williams’s and colleagues’ resurrection of [inaudible] early ’90s gender role theory as a framework within which to report findings on gender in massively multiplayer online games. They argue that there is a need to develop gender role theory by contributing data on contemporary digital leisure-based activities. And I quote, “gender role theory should be used to drive more generalizable methodologies.” But why? What is sacrosanct about gender roles and expectations that we should bolster them with new data and apply them more widely? We know this doesn’t work. Although they speak of “refining the theory” to better account for shifting gender player actions and beliefs, no such refinement actually happens. Instead, that theory is deployed as if it were a set of facts that their data needed to be fit into. Shortly thereafter, they refer to a talk about applying gender role theory to massively multiplayer online games, a more accurate representation of the regressive theoretical moves they are making. To be sure, we can certainly use traditional theories in which conventional gender roles are axiomatic presuppositions and a rare findings deductively around them relying on survey and service eyed data rather than engaging and observing directly as alongside our research subjects over time.

It is easy enough to overlook the possibilities, for example, in doing it that way, that girls are reluctant to play competitively because they might be actively ridiculed and bullied when they do. Girls are not born supportive. These are things they learn, often reluctantly and often by force. Gender role theory applied to survey data actually gives us no way to encounter information of this kind, nor does it support any inquiry concerning outliers—like men who prefer supportive roles, or women who love first-person shooters—but keeps inquiries safely bound within the hegemonic mainstream.

We already know very well indeed that girls’ and women’s engagement with digital games will demonstrate all the familiar patterns and characteristics that have been noted since the earliest work on this topic, so long as we do nothing to address inequalities. But why would we want to do that? For we will find out nothing new that way, nothing that can call into question the rightness of maintaining inequitable conditions for girls and women. What such a theoretical tendency does is, in fact, precisely the opposite. It entrenches hegemonic gender roles even more firmly and bolsters them with recent research, as its findings necessarily will do because of the theoretical apparatus that it uses and revives. And we all had to survive this Venus thing, and this is a brand new book on Warriors and Worriers in exactly the same vein. And I bet you can guess who the worriers are. So surprising.

So what we’ve been trying to do in our work is to pay careful attention to the lived experiences of players in order to generate new theory in a relatively new field for a new time. Some of the ways that we’re doing that are basically by redesigning what is the status quo hegemonic gender order, turning the usual accounts—that girls don’t like competition and that they eschew violent games—into something that is actually more interesting. That they, given time and energy and the resources, do want to play those games. And we’ve been doing that specifically through a feminist intervention framework because, as Raewyn Connell so neatly does it in the update to Gender: In World Perspective, the gender difference research has time and time again actually proven to be gender similarity research.

We might move on to see what kinds of things become more interesting. So what we’ve been doing is to change directions. This is work from Diane Carr, and her work and that of other colleagues makes it clear that when you study the context of play, and you see the kind of hold that context has on what people do, it’s possible to see that what people prefer changes very much with that context. For us, in our own running of the video game club over eight years in the greater Toronto area, we found that when we changed those contexts of play, with all girls playing and female mentors, we were able to show how changes to the assemblage of the research site resulted in girls playing very much like the boys. It also meant that we were able to see how and in what ways facts about gender—and this are facts like this in other research as well—were actually facts about novice players. In other words, when girls became more skilled, their preferences, attitudes, and play styles changed. And we see this in a lot of research that lines boys and girls up and says, oh, look, the girls, they just play differently. Well, they haven’t played games. Of course they play differently. We have, literature-wide, this intense conflation. We were able to actually carry this work on long enough that we reproduced it in different sites and very different contexts of play, and we were able to show that actually a lot of what people were looking at as facts about gender were facts about novice players. And we reproduced that in the boys. Once we had novice boys, they actually played much like the girls. So it’s not acceptable, we argue in this work, to keep finding out facts about girls in game play or boys in game play that repeat the same kinds of generalizations that have been produced over the last two and a half decades.

We need to find things that surprise us, so that we can be confident that the work we are doing is actually basically making a difference in some way. Work that I think is starting to make a difference is the work that we’ve been doing for the last couple of years that, as Chris said, we got Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funding for. Our idea here was to basically get together a group of people who were very much interested in thinking about feminism and what it could do for the games community. And what we wanted to do also was to document and then deconstruct what Garfinkel called degradation and oppression because this makes it possible to mobilize against it and create strategies to contest it, actively intervene and begin to change it. As Garfinkel puts it, “any communicative work between persons, whereby the public identity of an actor is transformed into something looked on as lower in the local scheme of social types, will be called a ‘status degradation ceremony.’”

Some years ago, a social sciences researcher concluded, from examining a range of cases within equitable social systems, that the best opportunities to advance gender equity are when the system breaks, when business as usual goes awry. We argue that that’s exactly what is happening now. We’re broken. Those examples show that. So we got a whole bunch of people together. We talked about what it meant to be inclusive. How we could strategize about an explicitly feminist agenda. And we did that in Toronto, where we had a group of people who were not sure that feminism could speak to the issues or the problems that they were having at that time. And we rinsed and repeated that in Vancouver. About eighteen months later, after seed-funding a number of projects that I’ll talk to you about, when we came back together we had a room full of way more people than we’d had in Toronto, including allies, people in the industry, students, etc. When one of our colleagues asked who in the room was a feminist—the year before, about half of us had put up our hands—everyone in that room put up their hand. And for us that kind of groundswell made a big difference. And how we know it made a big difference is that Anita Sarkeesian also brought some of her really lovely followers to our event online.

And there is a video produced by Dildo Faggins—it’s still in circulation and being commented on. And I just thought I’d show—it’s quite long, and by the way, Dildo Faggins wasn’t there—but I thought I’d show you his critique.

Video audio: Anita Sarkeesian recently released part two of Tropes vs. Women and this video has absolutely nothing to do with that. Instead it’s going to be more about a [inaudible] of feminist [inaudible] who apparently so-called [joking away] and the feminist in gaming [inaudible] 2013 as they call it. So what we’ve seen from this event so far, well, absolutely nothing. To be painfully and brutally honest and you see I thought the whole point of this central justice movement was to create dialogue on certain topics. And this will somehow change societal behaviors. For this theory to work, there has to be some former dialogue to begin with. And from the feminist and gaming conference, the only dialogue that’s coming out of the event is normally in the form of short quotes or like by the event hashtag.

It probably would have made more sense to have some form of mind stream up and that would have been a logical thing to do—so, we can’t have that, can we. When I suggested on Twitter that having a mind stream may have been a good idea, one of the people attending the event responded by saying, why are you so [inaudible]. Grow up. People have different opinions and it’s okay. When I come to the event feminism circle jerk 2013, Andrew [inaudible] Wilson responded by saying, women must really threaten you. Your wife must be very scary. If only you knew my deepest fears.

Jennifer Jenson: Apparently, feminist circle jerks were his deepest—I don’t even know. We still talk about—what does that actually look like? But it’s okay. I’ll just leave that to your imagination. So as part of FiG, we help support Dames Making Games, which you’ve already heard about, in the form of cash, and as some computers, ongoing technical support, and technological support. We shipped off the model that Dames Making Games was using to Montreal. And they ran their own incubator with their own particular and different folks. They are running their second one just now, actually. It’s happening right now. And we have a third incubator that was Double X Games in the UK that spun off a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

So we’ve had a whole lot, I would say even a groundswell, of interest in this work that is continuing, and that’s what’s leading us to try to get more funding, to be able to continue this kind of work and to really intervene in the status quo. And I think that the challenge that we face as feminists, activists, and community organizations is of inventing equity of this kind. And that means telling stories of women who do not fit the established gender scripts. In some sense, we haven’t yet accomplished that ourselves. The women who are at the center of the stories I’ve told you here too readily fit into kind of heteronormative gender categories. But, as Butler puts it, they’re notable precisely because they already count as noteworthy subjects. They are recognizable as female, whether as attractive young women or as university professors or students. And it is from that position, of a recognizable subject, that Butler ties performativity to precarity. And I’m just going to give you a little bit of time to read this.

So often the folks that are getting the most media attention aren’t the ones who are on the far side of the established modes of intelligibility. We know—we in some sense can recognize them. Nor do their individual subjectivities, their embodied personalities, challenge openly or otherwise established gender stereotypes. But as illegitimate speaking subjects, they are able to deploy that agency to open up the misogynist world of video games to gamers and non-gamers. And from that enfranchised position—and I think this is an enfranchised position that we have through FiG, through Dames Making Games, through Excels, etc.,—they may tactically speak to more powerfully challenge the masculinist status quo.

As far as games go, then, as I’ve said, women are told time and again we don’t belong, publicly and privately. However, there are folks here in Toronto and elsewhere that are having an impact and I’ll just shout to a couple of them really quickly here. [Unintelligible 00:48:22], trans-game designer. Look her up. Mattie Brice, same. Very different, doing fantastic work. Samantha Allen, critic on Border House and other blogs, she rocks and she just got a vagina, which is so great. So we have people who are doing all kinds of work that is making an impact. What I’ve tried to show, to round this out, is how grassroots activists, individuals, and groups have begun to push back effectively against the misogyny and violence the game culture and the industry have for too long supported.

This work has begun to shake loose the reign of ludological libertarianism that uncritically pronounces hate speech as just fun and games and has drawn attention to the need for political, social, technological, and economic responsibility in the future. The fact that even our best-intentioned practices are themselves implicated and enmeshed in the very gender orders that need overturning makes gender reform very much work against the grain, even in our most progressive organizations.

This is not easy work. It’s very difficult work to do, and it’s work where all the time you have to remind yourself why you’re doing it. Activism demands not just stellar individuals and isolated success stories, but the concerted, collective work of ordinary people, for whom a community—some kind of critical mass—remains for women an absolute necessity, if in both the industry and the academy we are to change the conditions of our work and our know-how. In Toronto, we are beginning to have that kind of public and brave work, including folks like Steph Guthrie, Dames Making Games, Cara Stone, Emyln Westcott and Hannah Epstein, Alex Lee, Steph Fisher, Kelly Burgston, Faline Parker, Rachael Marr, and Suzanne de Castell, to name just a few.

To move forward, I’m going to come back to feminism. It has a lot to teach and not just to women. Suzanne and I have written about this as a kind of feminist forensics, a public hearing on where responsibility resides for the formation and preservation of gender-based disadvantage and exclusion. This means doing more responsible research from a feminist perspective, that understanding and documenting these conditions is not enough. Not just “how did this happen?” but “how to change it?” Because the situation of persistent gender inequality is not a manifestation or reflection of God’s will or nature’s intelligent design. Or warriors and worriers. Rather, these differences are mutable. They have been made and they can be changed. They can be unmade, and they can be remade differently. That means bringing both critique and politics into our discussions. It entails discerning and disclosing responsibility, public accountability, and intervention. For me, that also means turning our focus to our own academic practices—where we suck, by the way—and revealing where and how they work to reinforce precisely what we have here been trying to dismantle. And there’s a really lovely new paper that Faline pointed out to me that I think does this feminist forensic work, Laine Nooney’s paper just published in Game Studies. It’s a beautiful piece of work. And she calls it archaeologies, but whatever.

So here we go. Conclusion. Ever since Simone de Beauvoir’s classic exposition of the entrenched secondary character of women’s gendered subjectivity, it has been apparent that the subjects of human communication have been sexed and gendered as masculine—that the generic masculine subject and grammar be understood and taken for granted. And the masculine subjects of literature, and the constitution of the human individual as male in politics, law, and ownership of property, have been critiqued and interrogated through many waves of feminist theory. Given that we have seen the predominance and taken-for-grantedness of the male subject in and through every kind of medium, it is and should be surprising to create conditions that run counter to this predominance, that indeed interrupt our expectations of gender roles and gendered interests. This means, I think, for us not to be content to amass descriptions of how dreadful things are and finding or devising explanations of existing states of affairs, but to discern the validity of the basis for such explanations and to interrogate the way things are, so as to effectively improve what have been for far too long persistent and resilient structures that position women as precarious subjects of gender-based, disadvantaged subordination and inclusion or exclusion, and to overturn them now.

Methodologically, what my colleagues and I have been working hard to do is to give surprise itself a speaking role in our research. Thus, if we are not surprised at the outcomes of our interventions and the gender order, then we can deduce with some assurance that we are working not to undermine the secondary status of women and girls but indeed to reinforce it. Surprise is the canary in our mining operation. And if it’s not singing, we are in deep gender trouble. Thank you.