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How to deal with a tricky subject. (Feminst Frequency)

2012/07/14

I’ve been milling a piece about in my head where I criticize Anita Sarkeesian. If you’ve been paying attention to the Internets, you know that’s she been the target of a misogynistic backlash because of her announced intentions and fundraising for a project talking about sexism in video games. I had already been thinking about doing a piece on her, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I had also been thinking about a piece about how the Internet gamesphere is full of assholes and my general burnout on fandoms in general. Sexism was one of many factors. This is just the latest example of horse asshat behavior.

However, my piece on Anita Sarkeesian wasn’t planned to be particularly positive. While she does a lot of good work, it tends to be mixed in with a lot of sloppy work. Then, I got thinking about whether it was advisable for me as a man to criticize a fairly prominent voice of feminism for being a bad feminist. It sounds kind of mansplainy. I thought about it some more and realized that I wasn’t so much wanting to criticize her for being a bad feminist (though she is that, too) as a bad movie critic.

She has a strong tendency to come up with interpretations based on her personal views and pet theories rather than the text, then impose them on the text, then criticize the text because she finds her interpretation offensive when her interpretation was something she brought from outside and not the fault of the work she was evaluating at all. On a closely related note, she seems to have little sense of nuance, despite explicit claims to the contrary, and takes everything terribly literally and interprets most material on a shallow level. In practice, this means she can’t tell the difference between straight uses of a trope and subversions or parodies. She also seems to confuse her personal tastes with moral value.

Criticizing her for her frequent use of out-of-context examples that don’t fit her thesis and cherry-picking is going to look like criticizing her feminism, though, especially since there’s currently an anti-feminist dogpile on her based on the idea that she goes around looking for shit to be be offended by (a common stereotype of feminists). Plus, I want to make direct criticisms of her feminism since she’s anti-sex-worker and, if I’m interpreting her correctly, a gender essentialist.

My concern is that anything I write critical of Sarkeesian will come off as the dreaded “yes, but” argument. It hardly seems fair to lay off legit criticism just because a bunch of people are combining illegitimate criticism with asshattery. Is there any good way to handle this?

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7 Comments
  1. My suggestion would be to make sure you give examples of exactly what it is you are claiming she is doing. Write the article you have in mind and then let a few beta readers, women if possible, take a look at what you’ve written and ask for feedback on what you’ve written with an eye toward sexism. It is absolutely okay to criticize someone if you think they’re wrong. It’s when those criticisms are because she’s a woman and not because she’s a poor reviewer that it’s not okay. Good luck!

  2. Daniel Schealler permalink

    Firstly, I’d second everything that Timid Atheist just said. Particularly the bit about citing specific examples.

    —————

    I’d also consider opening with one-to-three paragraphs of disclaimer: Something along the lines that you sympathize with feminism, take it seriously, and think that the work Anita is doing is valuable and to be encouraged – and, hopefully, improved. That sort of thing.

    —————

    What makes good critique tricky is making it constructive.

    From the limited context you have here, it sounds like you’re focusing mainly on what she does wrong with a side-helping of some of the things she does well. But nothing to indicate that you had constructive feedback in mind as part of that critique.

    Obviously this summary here isn’t the whole thing, so you may very well have something constructive in mind. But it’s worth highlighting all the same.

    —————

    She has a strong tendency to come up with interpretations based on her personal views and pet theories rather than the text, then impose them on the text, then criticize the text because she finds her interpretation offensive when her interpretation was something she brought from outside and not the fault of the work she was evaluating at all.

    Depending on exactly what you have in mind (Timid Atheist is right when he says that citations of specific examples are important) this might not be a bad thing. Adopting a particular lens in a critique of a work – in Antia’s case the lens of feminism – can be a very interesting way to examine the work from a new angle, even if it isn’t necessarily the best or intended fit. This is particularly true if one of the goals of the criticism is to educate the audience about the perspective.

    —————

    On a personal note, I’ve always found Anita’s critiques to be very good. I don’t agree with her every opinion, but I can always see where she’s coming from.

    • “Timid Atheist is right when he says that citations of specific examples are important”

      Just to clarify, not that I blame you, because I didn’t make it clear, but I’m actually a woman. :)

      And I agree with all of your suggestions as well. I like the idea of a disclaimer and perhaps even stating in the disclaimer that he’s open to feedback would be a good addition.

      • Daniel Schealler permalink

        *wipes egg from face*

        Oops. :P

    • A lot of the issue is she has a tendency to say a trope is bad, which it is in an abstract sense, then give examples without regard to whether they really fit the reasons the trope is problematic. Using Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as an example of a manic pixie dream girl when she’s clearly a deconstruction and a criticism of the concept is one such example.

      • Daniel Schealler permalink

        Heh. I haven’t seen that movie, but that sounds like the kind of good example I had in mind.

  3. Arthur vos Savant permalink

    Before posting, my reading your work for the last 3-and-a-half hours discerned a call and response in rarified jargon aimed at communion in solidarity. Not too meta, huh? But nothing wrong with that. Certainly more worthwhile than toddlers reciting psalms in the same vein, though not as cheery as Équipe de France razzing United hooligans.

    This appeasement of popularity is borne by your reposte to your post about Thunderbunny [sp?] thanking your audience for changing your response by giving you a shock instead of a pellet and for doing so privately. Again, nothing wrong, nice people do that, too.

    And creativity does have a phase of refinement that must not intrude until its turn, a turn best taken prior to presentation but never before creation. Similarly you research the facts of your premise, but not the advisability of stating facts. Otherwise your work is demoted to advertising selling you. This distinction is clear when switching viewpoints from critic to creator, who must avoid dissimulation as inherently fatal.

    Yet you pander to us by polling in advance on whether speaking your mind about another’s critiques will expose you to charges of being politically incorrect or a bully piling on and wonder what approach is advisable for leveling impediments to an audience’s accord with your proposed ideas. Rhetoric, precision, and grace are excellent tools you have well in hand to counter the reactive contumely of anyone. Except they are ill intended against the deeper subtext you plead, fear of losing control over what others feel about you. Love me, love me, is inimical to creation.

    As any artist must sooner or later discover, out of 30 observers, the ensuing 35 declarations of what the art means will none of them be about the art, for all are about the observers. It’s a useful bit of existential crise to face down when discovering that the art occurred somewhere else and what’s on display in the gallery is the virtual, discarded tissue after an enthralling afternoon wank. Really, the only reason to display work is to be dumbfounded at the reactions. The homage of the 4 mohawks poring over it for long, silent minutes is soon to be desecrated by the whispered petition between acquaintances that you be run down by mass transit.

    Could Marc Antony have buried Brutus under his funeral oration for Caesar if he worried about being politically correct or thought a bully? No, because having the courage of his conscience required he not yearn for approval or second guess so timidly that his cranium became wedged in his rectum to such extent he inhibited himself from expressing his outrage fearlessly, artfully, and compellingly in rational public discourse.

    You are an artist posting work in the public gallery. Pour out your expression with vim. That is the art no one else can experience, and if you censor or edit to pacify any rule but your itch, you will never feel the joy! Stop camouflaging your voice in consensus, else a brief deconstruction of your work will handily yield parody. If you want to be beloved, write a column for the lonely at heart, not a blog applying post-modern critical theory as a sanitizer for what you most desperately want heard.

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