I used to find it agitating to be subjected to the music or entertainment preferences of people in public, especially on public transportation. It bothered me they would never wear their headphones to make sure that they were the only person enjoying their media, that it was a special moment between their chosen piece of music and themselves. I used to hate being made to listen to someone watch some sort of drama or over-the-top action film on my way to work, hearing the screaming sobs or the excessive explosions.

I don’t mind it now, though. In fact, I find it intriguing. What do people like that I love? Do they enjoy things that I don’t? Could they introduce me to something new? I don’t know when this changed.

Perhaps it happened when I was living in Sydney at the moment that I decided I loathed the idea of quiet carriages on trains, which seem to have no logical function other than to inconvenience more people than they benefit. This is especially obvious when you live somewhere that doesn’t have the appropriate capability of obviously labelling, which leads to a lot of upset individuals who all look suspiciously like those who attempt to avoid public transportation at all costs and may only use it once or twice a year because the car is in the shop.

Or it could be the introduction to many other cultural attitudes toward noise pollution, which were not present in the rural Midwestern town I grew up in. It was always quiet there, but we could get away with things that people living in town limits couldn’t. We could actually have bonfires, and we could have more pets than allowed (and my family did, as we lived on a farm).

But we weren’t allowed to have higher-than-average levels of noise, as the neighbours within earshot could potentially call the police on you. I remember going to a friend’s party when I was in high school where that did happen. She lived in much the same area as I did, which is to say she lived in the middle of a corn field. You couldn’t see her neighbours’ homes, and you’d never have known she even had neighbours if it weren’t for the fact they called the police on us for playing music too loud on only one occasion.

That’s probably why I love the fact that here in Tainan there is a constant stream of noise, which some people would assume to be unhealthy. It’s comforting to me, even if it sometimes gets on my nerves. I like hearing the garbage trucks playing some form of classical music, usually Beethoven, to let people know that they’re out collecting; I like that the man who collects and sorts through recycling plays what sounds like some midi variant of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to signify the same message. I like hearing the popping of the firecrackers at the temple across the street. I even enjoy the traveling campaign trucks and miniature parades that go by my flat.

And I even like going to quiet places like Shoushan knowing that, at some point, an older person will be hiking past me with their radio on full-blast.

I’m dreadfully confused by something, and I would be eternally grateful if someone could explain it to me in a coherent and logical fashion. Why is it that, in 2013, we still have to address the fact that rape is wrong? Why is it that people still think it’s okay to blame the victim for what happened to them?

The sad thing is that I realise how our culture perpetuates this. I’m not oblivious to the fact that even our rhetoric against rape continues to promote the same mentality that allows for it. I haven’t somehow missed all of the talk about how our “hook-up culture” perpetuates this “rape culture,” even if though I don’t agree with it at all.

Through all of this, I fail to understand why we are grieving the loss of the rapists (only to later to be outraged that people are calling you out for your response rather than rightfully apologising for it). I don’t understand why people continue to say that the victim is responsible, the victim’s actions gave good reason for this to happen, or using speculation to shame the victim.

I’m sure there are people who will be more eloquent than me (and I’ve probably linked to them somewhere in this post), and I know that I’m not the only one outraged over the responses. I’m not the only person who is upset over the fact that this (and any other) victim can be publicly shamed for speaking out against the wrong and improper actions of another person. What makes this even worse is that these people have visual evidence, and it doesn’t seem to matter. (Not that the visual evidence should ever be a necessity.)

And people constantly chime in with nonsense like “she shouldn’t have been drunk” or “she shouldn’t have been such a slut.”

You people realise it doesn’t matter, right? She’s not responsible for what they did to her; it’s not her fault, regardless of how drunk she was or how she was dressed. There is nothing any one of you can say to explain away how wrong it is to rape someone. There is nothing that nullifies the fact that violating another human being should never be done. No one can tell me that there is ever a reason for it to happen.

It doesn’t matter what I wear. It doesn’t matter if I’m being friendly. It doesn’t matter if I’ve had too much to drink. It doesn’t matter whether or not my lifestyle includes casual sex. It doesn’t matter who I’ve had sex with in the past. None of that matters at all. Those are not reasons to rape someone; those are not actions that give you consent. Those are all choices I’ve made, and they do not give you the right to lay one finger on me without my consent.

What does matter is that it is always wrong to rape someone. It is up to you to realise that it is wrong to have sex with someone who cannot consent; it is up to you to realise that a person who is passed out drunk is vulnerable and not an object to have sex with. It’s up to you to understand that there are boundaries and that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’. This applies to all people.

I really hope that the victim of Steubenville (and, really, she is the victim of an entire community, not just the two rapists) has seen that there is immense support, even in the face of all the negativity thrown about on social networks. I hope that all victims, regardless of whether or not they’ve reported anything, understand that there are people out there that support them. There are people who realise that they are not at fault for what happened to them; there are people out there who realise that their attackers are disgusting excuses for human beings.

People who want to see society advance enough to be understanding of the fact that there is never a good excuse to rape someone really do exist. Maybe one day they’ll achieve this goal, but it’s something we really need to keep working toward.

This conversation needs to keep going because something needs to change.

The papal election has been a pretty popular topic. We finally get the first non-European pope of modern times, Catholics in Latin America are excited, people believe he’ll be more understanding to the plights of the poor, and everyone is focusing on Pope Francis’s apparent homophobia and feelings toward women. All of these are completely understandable topics considering the popularity of the Catholic religion and the influence of the pope on many of these people.

Now, I’m not going to go into the specifics about this event. First, I’m not immensely interested in it. I do enjoy hearing about my Catholic friends’ perceptions of it, and I enjoy hearing how they view news coming out of the Vatican. But I’m not really interested in all of the particulars of the pope. What Pope Francis says has nothing to do with my beliefs; it has nothing to do with my (non-existent) religious organisation. I have a vague understanding of how much of the process works, but that’s not what’s going to be discussed here.

What is going to be discussed is why we need historians.

Because it is actually big news that there is a change in the hierarchy of Catholicism, news stations have happily provided coverage of this event. One of those was NBC Nightly News, who had this lovely clip covering the apparent “Leaatin American” (see screen) influence in the Catholic Church.

Ignoring the apparent spelling errors of the transcript, the anchor wrongly assumes how long Latin Americans have been waiting for a pope of their own.

Ignoring the apparent spelling errors of the transcript, the anchor (who isn’t pictured) wrongly assumes how long Latin Americans have been waiting for a pope of their own.

The problem is that the news anchor wrongly assumes that Latin America has been waiting 20 centuries for this event to happen. This neglects an incredible amount of Latin American (pre-)history, including the tribes and civilisations prior to European conquest. It wilfully forgets that the European ‘discovery’ of the New World is accredited to Christopher Columbus (who we also celebrate in the form of a public holiday, annoyingly), and that didn’t happen until 1492. We even have an irritating poem that they used to teach in elementary schools so that children could remember what year he found a lot of new (to Europe) land.

In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1500s that Latin America was even really colonised by European nations. Following the subsequent creation of the many colonies throughout the Americas, thousands upon thousands of indigenous populations died to both exceptional violence and disease (and sometimes exceptional violence using disease, if the Europeans were feeling particularly accommodating). It wasn’t until that time period, known as either the Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration, that there were really any populations of Catholics living anywhere in what is now Latin America.

Prior to that, you have the vast (and often unknown) histories of the Pre-Columbian civilisations and indigenous populations. And I’m fairly certain most of these people were not monotheistic; they were primarily polytheistic and many of the smaller tribes were also animists. These people couldn’t have cared less about a pope because he both didn’t have any influence over them, and they most likely didn’t even know he existed.

So no, NBC Nightly News, no person in Latin America has been waiting for 20 centuries to have a pope from their region. At best, they’ve only been waiting 500 years. And to be fair, the amount of time is probably lower than that because many of the people who colonised the region considered themselves Spanish or Portuguese (or whatever European nationality); it wasn’t until a many generations later that they started believing themselves to be distinctly Latin American and not European.

And that doesn’t even speak of the difficulty in the labels, the creation of terminology, or how these people view themselves in term of national identity. I’m just addressing this whole issue on a very basic level, but there is so much more that could be elaborated on.

Note: I love Latin America and its people more than anything, so I’m really happy for them since they’re getting the representation in the Catholic Church that they deserve (especially considering they’re such a significant population of it). I just wish people would learn something about an area’s history before spouting facts that clearly aren’t true and neglect the ancestral stories of people who do still exist, as there is a significant population of indigenous people throughout the region.

Anita Sarkeesian - Damsel in Distress

The first video in the series focuses primarily on Nintendo franchises. It’s too early to say how the following videos will be structured.

Recently, Anita Sarkeesian released the first video in her series called Tropes vs Women in Video Games. Its content is entirely about the use of one of the most common literary devices pertaining to women in entertainment: the Damsel in Distress. I’ve seen a few of the related video responses, and I’ve spent a good portion of my free-weekend-time reading the comments and critiques people have given her or engaging in an actual conversation about it. And I’m noticing one common theme among a lot of the people responding to this.

Many of them don’t really seem to understand what the Damsel in Distress trope is at its core, citing their disagreement with categorising Zelda as a damsel. If they do understand it, they don’t understand how its constant use can be harmful and problematic to our society. Also, they wilfully ignore the creation of a similar category of these characters: the Helpful Damsels.

There are probably more than a dozen explanations of what this trope really is, but I’ll save some time and put it out there like this. The Damsel in Distress is essentially any young and presumably innocent woman who has been captured. This capture can be filed under physical detainment, curse or possession, or any other form of psychological captivity. There is only one person who can save this woman: the altruistic hero. You know that he’s altruistic because there are often stories intertwined with the original that show the moral impurities of the previous would-be rescuers.

The essential story element is the heroic effort to save this woman. In the past, it was often a woman of the upper echelon, specifically a princess. Today, you’ll probably see a woman from the middle class reprising that role; in all honesty, you’re still more likely to find they’re middle-upper class and higher. This is also systemic of an issue about the perceptions of class hierarchies in entertainment, which is a conversation for an entirely different day.

Sarkeesian also puts forth a category that we’ve seen many times before: the Helpful Damsel. Her examples of this range from the damseled characters providing the hero with pieces of useful information to giving him items that will provide useful on the journey. We’ve seen these sorts of damsels in the past, too.

It was beyond Yuna's given-power to refuse to marry Seymour, which is a form of captivity.

It was beyond Yuna’s given-power to refuse to marry Seymour, which is a form of captivity.

Final Fantasy X’s Yuna is a great of example of a character that maintains growth, is well-liked by fans and can be useful but is repeatedly made into a damsel. She’s physically captured by the Al Bhed to stop the journey, she’s physically taken by Seymour and forced to marry him, and then Mika psychologically imprisons her by holding the fate of her friends’ lives as a result of her actions. Her power is taken away from her in all of those moments, leaving it up to the hero (Tidus) and company to rescue her. She’s helpful, but she’s also left weakened. This then turns to another annoying plot twist (which should build her strength of character) that she’s threatening to commit suicide in order to save her friends, even though we know she’ll be saved by her summoned aeon. Her sudden ingenuity is delightful but also a poor piece of writing, since she could’ve done it before she even married Seymour. Much of this is to place the story back on Tidus and his character development or understanding of the world he’s been placed in, not to enhance Yuna.

In other areas of popular culture, one of the most well-known examples of a Helpful Damsel is Rapunzel. The entire story is about her being stuck in a tower against her will by an evil witch; the tower essentially has no way of entering it as it has no stairs or doors. The only way in is by climbing her hair, which then begs the question of why her prince didn’t rescue her immediately and continued leaving her in a tower. But she provides him with assistance in her “rescue,” using her hair as a ladder or rope. In other variations of the story, the witch can levitate which reduces the necessity of Rapunzel’s hair; this somehow makes Rapunzel unaware that her hair is really bloody long. Her captivity plays on the prince’s attitudes and perceptions, as does the eventual moment when the witch sends her off into the world to “fend for herself.” We don’t get to see her development to the world in most variations (Disney thankfully addresses this), and we’re only privy to how these events of Rapunzel’s life affected the prince. It’s awkward.

Excuse me, but what? How on earth would you not realise you have a giant leash attached to your head?

Excuse me, but what? How on earth would you not realise you have a giant leash attached to your head?

Either way, Rapunzel is placed in this story as a damsel in distress (she’s detained in a tower) who is also helpful (her hair is a ladder, and she recognises this at some point). We see this in video games all the time. The newer incarnations of Princess Peach, even when captured, provide her hero (most likely Mario) with assistance; the number of times she’s detained in the entire main series is overwhelming when compared to the times she is not. There may be a handful of examples where she’s not captured, but there are far more times where she is. That’s what continues to make it problematic; one swallow doesn’t make a summer.

The same goes for Princess Zelda, which is an example that Sarkeesian uses and people hold issues with. The biggest issue seems to be that Zelda is exceptionally helpful and is thusly not a damsel in distress. The problem with that is that this trope applies to temporary points of time, which doesn’t negate the fact that while Zelda can be helpful, she still becomes a damsel at some point in time.

While it’s wrong of the video to say that Tetra is Zelda (because she’s not – she’s a descendant, which is more a case of semantics and story accuracy), it is fair to say that Tetra is a strong female so long as she’s a pirate; the moment she reveals herself to be a member of the Hyrulean Royal Family? Bam, she’s kidnapped. That’s not even the only case of being damseled in Wind Waker; it starts off with Aryll being kidnapped, starting Link’s journey with Tetra.

The same thing goes of the other instance in which people are taking issue with: Zelda as Sheik in Ocarina of Time. The moment she reveals her true self, she’s captured. That’s what damseling is. She goes through the entire game as a helpful male who then succumbs to detainment by Ganondorf the moment she reveals herself to be Princess Zelda. It doesn’t matter what the story reason is (that she’s part of the Tri-Force); it matters that it’s the literary device being used.

The Damsel in Distress trope is, to quote Sarkeesian’s video, something that happens to a character. It’s not purely something the character is; that’s the distinction, and that’s why it’s so important to pick up on this subtlety when it’s used in a context similar to Ocarina of Time.

But you’re saying that it’s bad to use this trope! It advances plots and stories and has a purpose!

No one said this trope is bad. What we’re saying is that it’s problematic because of its overuse. Even if you examine modern incarnations of this trope, there’s still one commonality that causes problems: The vast majority of people in the Damsel in Distress role are females (hence the name). With games like Final Fantasy XIII, we’ve found that the primary hero no longer has to be male. The sad fact remains that the person in need of help? She’s still female. So at least we’ve advanced to the possibility to save someone, but we’re still saving a woman; men almost never require rescuing in the entertainment industry. They are more likely to be able to escape through their own engineering and cunning.

It’s not always a bad plot device to have someone in distress, to have a hero who wants to save someone who is in trouble. It’s the way the treatment of the characters is handled or how the characterisation of that distressed person is neglected. Another issue is that when a damsel goes through the capture, the story does not belong to her; it belongs to the hero. We see how it affects them, and we are rarely privy to any information as to how the detainment has affected the detainee. It merely becomes an “oh, thank you” and everyone continues on their merry way. That’s what makes it problematic.

This may be changing slightly, but it’s still happening. You can see it if you look at games like Borderlands 2 and how they handle their two female characters. At the start, we already have the damsel in distress: Angel. Angel’s being held against her will by her father because Sirens are powerful beings who allow Handsome Jack to obtain his ultimate goal. Later, when Angel forfeits her life to help your character, Lilith is then captured and made to do the same thing. Both women have been damseled in the course of the game. They’re both women who I would consider to be Helpful Damsels, and they’re both strong in their personalities. Angel’s a bit more difficult in this category because Jack occasionally uses her through psychological captivity to screw with you and mess up your journey to ruin his plans.

This isn’t an inherently bad thing; the Borderlands games are wonderful, and I enjoy them immensely. But it is important to see that these are two recent examples where there are still women being placed in roles where their power has been stripped from them. Lilith is a capable fighter, and we see that; Angel is brilliant, and we’re given clues to that through both side stories and her ability to try to help you outside of the mental possession. They’re great characters, and the story is still enjoyable. The problem is that both characters lose their power and are forced to do something they against their will, and that’s not something you generally see with male characters.

The point of this is that sometimes we want to see an equal representation of what’s actually happening in the real world. Women help men on a daily basis, doing more than just handing them information and items to make their lives easier. Likewise, men aren’t always the white knight coming to a woman’s rescue. Why is it that we don’t really see this reflected in our entertainment media? Why is it that women are rarely allowed to save men in the same way they save us? These are all valid questions that we should be asking.

We’re not saying to eradicate this story entirely, but we are asking for there to be either slight changes made to it (making girls less useless in their own escape, which has actually increased the number of ‘Helpful Damsels’) or to add other stories to the mix and provide options for a demographic of both men and women that is tired of the same lazy storylines.

In 2009, the Entertainment Software Association found that women were 38% of the gaming audience; I’m sure the statistics have increased, even if slightly, in the last four years. Even though things are changing (especially with indie games picking up some of the slack and the increased popularity in open-world sandbox games like Minecraft), we’re still seeing a large portion of the stories focusing on the same elements without offering any alternative stories.

Things are getting a little better, yes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still issues that we shouldn’t address. This is only one trope out of many that we should be addressing; it doesn’t even hit on the others that are used to characterise females in games. It doesn’t even pick up on how we use effeminate men in games, and it doesn’t express the crassness of the stereotypes for masculinity that we still see. It doesn’t express issues with the portrayal and treatment of children. And it won’t even begin to address the many other areas of discrimination that we continue to see.

So for the tl;dr version of this entire post: Damsel in distress is an overused literary device that strips some or all of the power from a young female character by detaining her physically, psychologically or through a curse/possession. Her story is not her own and belongs to the hero as a means to progress his story. It is not something that a character is, but it is something that happens to a character; just because you’re a strong character at Point A of the story doesn’t mean you can’t be damseled in Point Z. It also doesn’t preclude you from helping the hero in some fashion. The problem is not that it exists but how it is represented and the frequency of those representations.

Over the past week or so, people have been angrily posting nonsense because Sasha Grey read to children in an elementary school in LA. Let’s break this down for better understanding. Sasha Grey, who was once an porn actress, read children’s stories to classes of young students and people are freaking out over it like she made them sit through her entire filmography of adult films.

Yeah, I’m not seeing the big deal either. I thought I would’ve seen the end of it a few days after it happened, but apparently not. I guess this is what happens when you have a bunch of Mombies on your Facebook feed (and not nearly enough awesome people who happen to be parents to make up for it).

Here’s what happened that day: She came in dressed as a normal human being and read Dav Pilkey’s book called Dog Breath for kids who are somewhere in first to third grade. Maybe there was a bit more (like choosing which book to read!), but she definitely didn’t walk in teaching them about the porn industry or how to double-penetrate. She didn’t give them lessons in which sex toy works best in what situation, and she didn’t ooze STDs all over the precious little children. Her shirt didn’t tell them what she’d done in her past or to look her up on Google.

She. Read. A. Book. She tried to promote reading to kids as being totally awesome! You know, something most people can get behind and agree on. We don’t have programs teaching them to read less, and we love it when people try to get them read more. In fact, cool parents wouldn’t care who was invited by these programs… You know, so long as they hadn’t committed any crimes against children (or any other human beings) and are doing something that should have a positive impact. In fact, I absolutely love some of the comments from parents I’ve seen:

A friend of mine who has two young children who, like others their age, love reading the same stories again and again.

But the mass amount of stupidity is overwhelming. With people making irrational jumps in logic (“What’s next? Allowing hookers to go read to our kids?”), it makes my stomach churn. Should the people who interact with our kids be absolutely chaste in their personal life or made to regret their past careers? Trick question, since the answer is obviously no.  Chances are that any adult involved in their child’s life has, at some point in their life, engaged in a sexual act.  Maybe it wasn’t for money, maybe it wasn’t on tape, and maybe it wasn’t more than just for some form of procreation; the fact is – to whatever degree it was – those people have had sex in some fashion.  That doesn’t make them bad people, whether or not it was on tape.

“What if they look her up on the Internet?” Yeah, okay. They’re in elementary school, and the chance that they’re going to do it are probably close to not at all. If anyone’s going to, it’s going to be those “concerned” parents who have nothing else to complain about. These children, more than likely, had no clue who she was. Honestly, they probably didn’t give a crap who she was; they just liked that she came to read a story to them!

Would these parents protest if Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant came to read to their kids? What about Paris Hilton? Lindsay Lohan? The list goes on and on, but where would it stop so that people just won’t complain about it? (In reality, someone would probably still whine if you brought some of the most neutral personalities in the world.) I don’t care if they introduced her as Sasha Grey or Marina Hantzis; the point is that she’s not any worse a role model because she’s a sex-worker than some of these other people our children are exposed to on a daily basis just because they’re celebrities.

This is exactly the comment I can get behind. There is more to worry about than Sasha Grey if these are the kinds of things those kids are looking up online at their age.

I just can’t get behind all the people who are badmouthing her simply because of her previous career choices; I can’t understand all of the negativity toward her for doing something commendable just because she made money in the porn industry. She found something she enjoyed (or didn’t hate) and ran with it; she made money, and now she’s working toward becoming a mainstream actress. More than just saying “she’s done what she’s wanted,” I’d rather let her defend herself (through her appearance on The View).

My biggest questions, though, are mostly about a lot of the parents. How many the parents who are wasting time complaining use that time to engage in their children’s education? How many spend a few evenings a week reading books with their sons or daughters or helping them with their homework? Do they honestly think that this one encounter is going to make their child slip straight into the porn industry the moment they turn 18?

If there’s anything to be pissed off over, it’s the fact that (some of) the staff at Emerson Elementary denied she was even there until, well, they absolutely had to. You know, pictorial evidence will occasionally force you to do something that you should’ve done in the first place.

 

In conclusion:

If I were in the position of the parents (who actually care about their children), I would like the school to send me a notice telling me about any special guest that my child is going to be exposed to. I want to know who they are in the event my hypothetical child has any questions; it’s also nice to be informed of all activities going on in schools so that you can better prepare your children (especially according to your family’s beliefs, but we no longer have to worry too much about the religious renditions of Christmas or Easter existing in public schools). If any parent really had too much of a problem with an ex-porn star reading children’s stories to their elementary schooler, then they could lodge a complaint or keep them home that day.

I, on the other hand, wouldn’t mind her reading to my future children. Knowing that kids can read the same couple books for a year and still be obsessed with them, I’d have no problem letting her read in my place on occasion just so I could stop reading them. (Let’s hope that, when I have kids, I can convince them to engage in reading a variety of books and not the same four over and over again.) If I knew her in real life or were friends with her, I would have no problem letting my children interact with her; she shows the capability of separating her adult life, and I highly doubt she’d make a big deal about it in front of kids.

Also, many schools in my area require that anyone who volunteers go through a rigorous background check to ensure that they’ve not been convicted of any violent crime (against any other human being, including children). I suggest that all schools do the same to provide more protection to everyone involved, including the school staff.

In fact, I’d probably be more angry if the schools allowed Michael Vick or Tonya Harding to read to my children.  Now those seem like really poor choices.

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