Tropes vs Women in Video Games – 2nd Installment!

Vagina News SQEEEEE! The second installment of Anita Sarkeesian’s ‘Tropes vs. Women in Video Games’ series is available – Damsels in Distress: Part 2 – and it is EXCELLENT.

Don’t let ‘video games’ fool you, these tropes are pervasive in every corner of modern media. (I’ve been talking about the same patterns in television and film for years.)

These videos are so rational, reasonable, and effective, they belong in every feminist’s argumentative arsenal, and should be viewed and shared among gamers and non-gamers alike.

If you haven’t yet seen Part 1, watch it first. 

If you haven’t seen Anita’s TEDTalk, in which she discusses the targeted online hate campaign she faced in response to her Kickstarter effort to fund these videos, watch it too. 

Finally, check out her site  and Tumblr. She’s just friggin’ fantastic.

Home of the Brave

On this Memorial Day, I bring you a bit of patriotic Vagina News – an organization paying tribute to rape survivors on the national mall.

On this holiday when we remember those who have given their lives for their country, let’s also remember those who volunteered to do so, only to be attacked not by a foreign enemy, but by their own countrymen. It is because of their heroism that we have the opportunity to right these ongoing wrongs. It makes today more complicated, and rightly so. 

Thank you, servicewomen and men, for your bravery and sacrifice, in every kind of battle.

Audio Vagina News-apallooza

Happy holiday weekend, Vagina News readers!

Today’s Vagina News is actually a collection of excellent pieces, courtesy of National Public Radio’s series called ‘The Changing Lives of Women.’ 

The focus is on women at work, and all kinds of angles are explored – stay-at-home dads and women as breadwinners, how working women are portrayed in media, addressing the gender gap in the sciences, the rise in single working female homeowners, and more.

I’ve listened to several, and look forward to the rest. Bookmark the page, add the pieces to your music robot, listen, learn, and enjoy.

(There’s also a fun Tumblr of digital cross-stitch advice related to the project. I especially like the NSFW ones. Almost makes we want to learn to cros-stitch.)

Amanda Berry is Not to Blame

It’s eerie that we talked just yesterday about Elizabeth Smart (and that I said she’d been held for 9 years vs. 9 months,) because one of today’s biggest stories is the rescue of three women in Ohio who were kidnapped and held for 9, 10, and 11 years in a house just blocks from their homes.

There are few details, and these women are more than entitled to their privacy, so there’s only one thing I want to dig into. 

This is a moment to be especially attuned to victim-blaming. Already there are people in the public and the media asking why it took these women so long to escape, how they could have ‘let themselves’ be held for so long. 

As an actor, part of my job is to imagine myself in other people’s circumstances. (I think it’s kind of the job of every human being – empathy – but I actually kinda get paid for it.) It took me about a second to think of a pile of reasons someone might stay in such a situation. In addition to the lack of self-worth Elizabeth Smart just talked about, and Stockholm Syndrome and other familiar phenomena, here’s what jumped to mind right away… Threats to the other prisoners (including Amanda Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, presumably fathered by one of her captors,) threats to one’s outside family, knowing the outside world had declared you dead long ago (imagine the impact of that on one’s self-worth,) and plain old physical confinement of a kind most of us won’t let ourselves imagine. I’m speculating, imagining, guessing. But what I know for sure is that none of these women is to blame for a single day of their captivity.

(Also, note that we don’t ask the same questions of other kinds of prisoners and hostages. Prisoners of war, kidnapped journalists, executives abducted for ransom… We don’t blame them for not trying to escape.)

So keep an ear out for victim-blaming as these stories are talked about around you, consider taking the opportunity to educate people about what it is and how to stop doing it, and let’s punch a few more holes through rape culture in honor of these three incredibly courageous women.

The Human Cost of “Abstinence Only”

Today’s Vagina News is really interesting. Remember Elizabeth Smart, the young woman who was kidnapped from her bedroom at 14 and held as a sexual slave until being rescued 9 months later? She recently spoke at Johns Hopkins University about human trafficking, and specifically about her personal insight into why victims like her often don’t run when they have the opportunity.

Smart received an ‘abstinence only’ sex education. Often, in order to convince students of the merits of abstinence (given the powerful hormonal arguments against it,) students are taught that their virginity is directly tied to their value as human beings, and once they’ve had sex, that value is diminished. She recalls being taught that sex is like chewing gum – as in, no one wants a piece of already-chewed gum. Because she was repeatedly raped by her captor, she believed her human value was depleted, and no one in the outside world would want her anymore. In her words:

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

We talk a lot about the quantifiable benefits of comprehensive sex education – reduced rates of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, and abortion. But let’s take a moment to absorb this… The greatest benefit of comprehensive sex education may be the decoupling of virginity from human value, the lesson of unconditional self worth.