“…that really kind of angry defensive feeling you got in your gut while you read this post where you felt attacked? That was your privilege kicking. ” – Brendan Keogh
I laughed at this. Not an uproarious booming projected in mockery, but a wry, sour snort at its surprising accuracy. Angry? Defensive? Without even having seen the trailer in question, I began mentally taking notes on my points of disagreement, filing away responses to de-construct Brendan’s piece – line by line if necessary. Then I read the quote above, laughed, and my irritation dissipated. I read the post again, this time unencumbered by a knee-jerk emotional reaction, but something still nagged at me: why did I get annoyed and defensive?
Brendan says it’s “privilege”, and I certainly fit that description: I’m also a straight, white, male. My interest in a feminist view of gaming is relatively recent – since Freeplay last year, in fact – so I’m also happy to class myself as appropriately ignorant on the subject. That said, “privilege”, to my mind, explains neither the immediacy nor the vehemence of my negative reaction upon beginning to read Brendan’s post, but I’m fairly certain now what does.
“Rape Culture”. The phrase itself is extremely unsettling, and re-reading Shakesville’s explanation and definition of the term (I found it after Freeplay last year too), confirmed my suspicions. At this point I’m going to pause and take a deep breath before proceeding, because I am acutely aware that what I’m going to say next could seriously offend people; something I normally couldn’t care less about, but really want to avoid with this topic.
I feel it’s too nebulous a term for the severity of its implications. Specifically, I disagree with the claim that sexualised violence constitutes rape culture. I distinguish sexualised because despite the shared etymological heritage, it bears entirely different connotations to sexual. From Wikipedia, sexual violence is:
“any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” - World Health Organization., World report on violence and health (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002)
The act of sexualisation:
While violence is:
“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” - Krug et al., “World report on violence and health”, World Health Organization, 2002.
Summarised, the differences could be denoted as follows: sexual violence is violence relating to sexual acts, while sexualised violence is violence made “sexy”. This is where I have a problem. Sexual violence, without a doubt, fits under the umbrella of rape culture, but sexualised violence? Defining sexualised violence as rape culture serves only to discredit the severity of rape and sexual violence, and I don’t understand why anyone thinks this is okay.
Let me be absolutely clear: I am not denying the existence of rape culture. I am not denying its existence in games. Neither am I suggesting that sexualised violence is acceptable, in games or any other medium.
What I object to, is the implication that sexualised violence and sexual violence are similar enough that they can be classed together – as rape culture or any other phrase. To suggest that a video game trailer (repugnant as it may be), is somehow on par with the experience of being raped, is to belittle the horror every rape and sexual violence victim has experienced.
“A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”
Contrast this definition with the myriad examples provided (with appropriate links) by Melissa McEwan and I would hope that “violence seen as sexy” somehow doesn’t register on a scale that also includes children being accused of enjoying rape and sexual torture.
This is the Hitman: Absolution trailer in question:
It contains no sexual violence, promotion of sexual violence, or implication of sexual violence and yet we’re to understand that this is equivalent to a societal belief that wives and sex workers can’t be raped? The gratuitous sexualisation of women is pathetic but nothing about Agent47 suggests sexual desire, or an act of sexual aggression and I simply have trouble swallowing this as rape culture.
Now that I’m sure my defensive reaction wasn’t just privilege, how do we resolve the problem? I think we need another word or phrase to refer to the prolific sexualised violence in our society – in video games, in movies, in television, and in advertising; something that doesn’t trivialise rape and its victims. I don’t know what word or phrase might be, but I feel as though I know what it isn’t.