Monthly Archives: June 2013

These two weeks in the Slacktiverse, June 29th, 2013

(posted and compiled by chris the cynic, written by members of The Slacktiverse)

I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing that these two weeks have been light blogwise.  On the one hand it saves us from a giant blogaround, on the other hand it makes it look like no one ever writes anything if this is all that came out of two weeks.  Anyway, computer still not fixed.  If someone else could do the writing prompt for this week tomorrow (Sunday) that would be nice.

The Blogaround

Lydean wrote:

I’ve been trying to start posting regularly again, and somewhat succeeding. I wrote a post about my name, why I changed it, and how it makes me happy and posted another comic commentary. The latest one is about Captain Britain #3 and features my first short attempt at deconstructing. But mostly it’s my silly comments.

coleslaw wrote:

Only two posts this week. When I saw a class picture of a little boy named Miles, I immediately thought, This Is What Privilege Looks Like. That post got a lot of traffic from the atheism plus reddit, for some reason, despite having nothing to do with religion or atheism. I think the second comment on the post itself was actually intended for the reddit discussion.

Also, John and I enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing, but I couldn’t avoid thinking of An Alternate Ending.
I added a third post, called I Don’t Understand, even though I do understand. I think.

chris the cynic wrote:

Before my computer broke down things were actually productive.  I had a couple of posts on movies.  The first was noting a very annoying bit of stupidity in Resident Evil: Resurrection.  (Short version, they had two ways to save the world, one was never mentioned, the other was blown up by the nominal good guys, plus the movie depended on the plot driving character being out of character on an obvious evil twin kind of level.  Long Version: Read the Post.)  The second was commenting that the move The Darkest Hour focused on characters who are basically sidekicks to the various Heroic characters they encounter.

Because my sister is attempting to land a reality show, I am now on youtube.  For a very short video.  I thanked people who made donations for having done so, no need for a link I’ll just say it again: thank you.  I talked about trying not to be disabled, I mentioned that I’m pretty sure the soul bubble burst, and I wrote a short fiction fragment on a sad trombone.

I mentioned that Nick Fury from the movie The Avengers (can’t speak to the version in comics and cartoons) is utterly evil.  It could be explained away as bad writing but that’s a boring explanation.

On the Twilight front I had an Edith and Ben bit where Charlize met Edith and Ben in the kitchen post trip because that’s more in line with the personalities of Edith and Ben than Edward and Bella’s run and hide strategy.  And, because Bella in her intentional evasiveness said she wasn’t interested in any of the boys, I wrote a thing where Charlie tries to convince lesbian Bella that it’s ok to be herself with him.

When I’m lucky secondary computer miraculously connects to the internet, it did earlier today for the decon round up.  Most of the time I’m not lucky and making a post requires being in a position not conducive to thought so I tried to come up with a low thought thing to write about.  Enter the movie Looper.  My first spoilerific post is here.  In the comments to that I was pointed to people diagramming the movie.  There were three ranging from, “Completely accurate,” to, “Pretty sure this person never watched the movie.”  I took a post to review them and also tacked onto the end a more intelligent way the main character could have accomplished his goal at the end of the film.

I said one of my computer games has become self aware.

I wrote an installment of My Zombie Apocalypse Team with no zombies in it in which a group armed with guns is successfully held at flutepoint.

In Case You Missed This

Brin writes:
Normally I’m never sure which of the many posts I’ve read over the week should be shared, but when I thought of “interesting things I’ve read this week,” this article about the Denisovan branch of humanity and how we learned what little we know about them sprang to mind. I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for science being awesome.

Lydean writes:
HuffPo had a good series of articles on Asexuality. (I’ve mentioned it several places because yay!) The front page for it is here. The fourth article is about sexual assault, but the others are pretty much safe if you avoid the comments (they’re *mostly* good, but there always has to be those few people)

I, chris the cynic, would like to be able to link to articles about what’s been going on in Texas and the downfall of DOMA, but the internet is not playing nice right now and I didn’t get any submissions on that.  So here’s the best I can do, stolen from the deconstruction round up where “Deconstruction (Feminism)” is a tag:
Abortion Ban In Texas
Living With Fear In Texas
Texas and Rape
Live Stream of the Texas Senate
Texas Live Blogging
The Bill is Dead
Rick Perry Calls Another Special Session
Filibuster Retrospective

SCOTUS Struck Down DOMA

Also bumped into during the compiling of the deconstruction round up, a response to the kickstarter sexual assault guide (you read that right) by someone who has been sexually assaulted.

And to end on something nice (via Fred Clark) what happens when you put a camera in a cube of mirrors

Things You Can Do

No submissions this week, email or comment if you have something.

–Co-authored by the Slacktiverse Community

Deconstruction Round Up, June 29, 2013

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by chris the cynic)

Day late (computer parts have still not arrived) but I’m hoping to have the weekend post done on time so the next few hours would be a good time to submit for that.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Multiple Deconstructions:

Erika M. and Will Wildman: Something Short and Snappy

Froborr: My Little Po-Mo

RubyTea: Heathen Critique

Multiple Deconstructions:

Justice_Turtle: ReadAllTheNewberys

Mouse: Mouse’s Musings

Philip Sandifer: Philip Sandifer: Writer

Yamikuronue: Raven Wings

Multiple Deconstructions:

Please comment or e-mail us if we’ve forgotten anybody or you have anyone to add. Or if any links are broken, or if you’re linked to and don’t want to be, or if a time traveler shows up in a ’53 Chevy that’s bigger on the inside, or for more or less any reason really.

How Not To Be A Privileged Ass (A Lazy Person’s Guide)

[Content Note: Discussion of Anti-Semitism ]
(A previous version of this was posted at Stealing Commas.  This version is cross-posted to Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings, which is why there’s a note from Ana at the end.)

Why this matters

There are activists out there to make the world a better place, this post is not for them.  A key component of being an activist is the whole “active” thing.  (What happened to the “e” when the ending was added is a story for another time.)  This is for the rest of us.

The rest of us is an important group.  Without the rest of us doing some small part activists find their work difficult at best.  If the rest of us are hideously wrong then activists have to devote their time to correcting the rest of us when it might better be used elsewhere.  But even more important than that, the rest of us make up the world in which everyone is forced to live.

Unless someone has got a way to hitch a lift on a passing flying saucer, the rest of us are who they’re stuck with.  We surround them like water surrounds a fish.  We make the world in which they live.  The background radiation of social reality is emitted by the rest of us.

That can be used for good or ill.  The rest of us can make the world (or at least our corner of it) a space that is safe for all.  Or we can make it a place where people are afraid to speak their minds or be themselves, a place where people feel constantly beset by incoming fire.  A place that one wouldn’t want to live but, again barring hitching a lift on flying saucers, everyone has to.

This post is about how to be a good part of the rest of us rather than a bad part of the rest of us while expending minimum effort.  There’s a reason it says, “lazy person’s guide.”

As it turns out there is nothing difficult or complex.  It requires only two things:
1 Listen.
2 Take into account what you hear when you listen.

That’s it.

Why you have to listen

You have to listen because you don’t know everything.  Fortunately human beings have adapted a way to deal with this: Language.  You may not know what it’s like to be a certain type of person, but they can tell you.  So, for example, I didn’t know that the word, “Lame,” was used as a way to describe and insult disabled people.  I knew it was used to describe injured horses, chess pieces that can’t jump, and uncool things, but I had no idea it was used on people.

There is a reason for that.  Not being disabled I don’t have to live my life with people constantly throwing insults at me that are based on being disabled.  In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been present when such insults were hurled.  That’s my world, a world where these things don’t even pop up on the radar.  If it weren’t for someone telling me that, yes, that word is used on people and, yes, it is incredibly hurtful to use it as a generic way to say uncool and, yes, it is used as a slur… I would not know these things.  I would be blissfully ignorant –which is nice, note the “blissful”– but leaves me in a position where I can end up hurting people.  Because maybe someone who’s just been called “lame” 85 times in a vitriol filled rant about how they’re an evil asshole mooching off the system to get good parking spaces just walked into the room and maybe, without knowing the varied connotations of the word, I say, “That’s so lame,” about something I think sucks and the word, “lame,” hits them like a punch to the gut.

Sometimes people do go too far, and sometimes the standard repository for all knowledge which contains much that is apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate gets things wrong.  The example that comes to mind is, “Brouhaha.”  It’s impossible to be totally certain about anything in the past.  Maybe the dinosaurs all had iPads.  But insofar as we can be certain “brouhaha” did not originate in antisemitism.*

I bring this up mostly because I feel like if I didn’t, the perfectly reasonable objection would form in someone’s mind, “But other people can’t always be right.”  No, they can’t always.  This is a fact of life.  But what is true is that, for any slur, the people against whom it is used know a hell of a lot more about how the slur is often used than everyone else.

And it’s not just slurs.  I started with them for the reason that they’re an easy thing to understand.  When someone is using a racial, ethnic, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, abilist, [any number of other things] slur it’s pretty easy to see that they’re in the wrong.

Most prejudice is more subtle and thus much easier to miss when you’re not the target.  Not being the target, by the way, is part of what privilege is.  You don’t have to be under fire, you don’t have to know anyone is under fire, you don’t have to live with the realization that we live in an extremely fucked up world where people are treated like shit just for being who they are.  You get to live with blinders and whatever problems may befall you, no matter how severe they might be, you never quite realize how other people have to deal with systemic hurtful bullshit on top of the ordinary problems of life.  Except that’s not even it, because that skips how ingrained it is.  For them systemic hurtful bullshit is part of the ordinary problems of life because it’s part of ordinary life period.

Listen to people, listen to what makes them feel safe and unsafe, welcome and unwelcome, so forth.

How to Listen

This might be hard, people might say things about you that you don’t want to hear.  You may feel yourself going on the defense.  You might want to argue, “No, I’m totally not doing X because…” or, “I’m not a Y, I’m insulted that you could even think to say I remind you of a Y.”  These impulses are perfectly natural, what matters is not that you have them, if you have them, but how you respond to them.

Don’t take the defense.  Don’t say, “I can’t possibly be alienating [so-and-so] people because I have a [so-and-so] friend.”  People who have been here before will instantly know that you have your head up your ass if you take that road.  Don’t try to argue that people are wrong to feel unsafe or unwelcome.  They’re not.  Their feelings are not yours to dictate.  Maybe you can’t make them feel safe and welcome, but then that comes down to you accepting that such people will not be safe and welcome in your area, be it your house, your school, your blog, your youtube channel, your club, your circle of friends, your church, your facebook page, your forum, your camping trips, your business, your…

Don’t try to argue that you doing X totally should not have produced response Y because [whatever].  The issue is not what it should have done, but what it did.  Y has happened, the question is what, if anything, you’re going to do about it.

Don’t try to argue that you’re not a [bad thing].  What you are is between you, yourself, your soul if such things exist, and your god if such things exist.  For the rest of us what matters isn’t what you are but what you do.  If the things you do are [bad thing] then it doesn’t matter that in your heart of hearts you’re not [bad thing], you’re still doing [bad thing] things.  This also leads us into another thing, by shifting from what you did to what you are you’re making it all about you.

Say someone says, “You did X and that makes me feel Y.”  If you then you make it all about you and how you feel, you’re ignoring the other person.  You’re cutting them out of a conversation about how they feel.  Or, in short, you’re being an asshole.

If someone says you hurt them the first thing to do is to apologize for hurting them.  Even if this is one of the rare cases where you didn’t do anything wrong, they still got hurt and you didn’t want that so you should have no problem whatsoever with giving a sincere apology.

Next comes asking them how you hurt them so that you won’t do it again.

And finally comes self reflection and priorities.  I’ll talk more about priorities later (I know this because I’m typing out of order right now) but the basic thing is how important it is to you not to hurt others.  If it isn’t important at all, congratulations: you’re an asshole.  But there are levels where it might not be your most important priority.  Maybe they were hurt because they thought brouhaha was an anti-Semitic slur and you think educating them about the origins of the word not being anti-Semitic is more important than stopping using the word.  Depending on the situation, though, this behavior, in itself, can still make you an asshole (even if you’re factually right).  We’ll get to priorities.

How to Respond

Sometimes people will give you suggestions, sometimes solicited and sometimes not.  Some suggestions you might think are already in force for everyone, if they’re being suggested that implies they are not for the group suggesting it.  Try harder.

Do not:
1 Take suggestions as personal attacks.  (“Go to Hell,” can be considered an exception.)
2 Say they won’t work without trying.

If you’re not going to follow a suggestion then say why, and realize that in so doing you’re stating your priorities.

This is where I talk about priorities.

Some people that I respect very much run a forum that is not a safe space because their rules are that anything that is neither spam nor a direct personal attack gets to stay up.  Usually this is fine and usually the space is safe.  When someone started comparing business tactics to rape it became very clear very fast why this leads to spaces that are not safe.

I talked directly to someone basically in charge of the forum and he made two things very clear.  The first was that he thought what rape metaphor guy was doing was horrible and he intended to oppose it in any way he could short of breaking the rules on which the forum was based.  The second was he was not going to oppose the rules on which the forum was based.  This was because the rules, to them, were not just arbitrary guideposts for how to deal with a given thing, they were the founding principles on which the entire place was based (I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.)

All speech short of direct personal attacks was sacrosanct there, which meant all other priorities (including making it a safer space by keeping it clear of callous rape metaphors) were secondary.

When you make a decision like that you’re ordering your priorities.  In that space free speech was a higher priority than avoiding triggering a rape victim who might be reading a thread about copyright and some shenanigans with a game and the company making it.  The people who made that determination never thought the question would come up, but when it did they stuck by their own rules and tried to shoot down the rape metaphor person as users rather than administrators.

If people triggered by mentions of rape say that they don’t feel safe there, there can be no argument.  In that space free speech is considered more important than making such people safe.  That’s the decision that was made.

I bring up this tangent to point something out, having your space not be safe does not make you evil.  Choosing a set of priorities that leaves the space unsafe is not a sign you’re demonic.  The people who made the forum I just described were good people.  If you want to be like them you can be, but you should take something else from it: they were honest about it.

They didn’t make any arguments saying, “No, this really is a safe space,” or that they were addressing to the needs of those who would be triggered.  They didn’t push back against those who pointed out it wasn’t a safe space.  They didn’t make a fight of it.  They simply said in straightforward terms that they had a certain set of priorities by which they governed and that meant it was not going to be an always safe space.  It was going to be an, “As safe as the commenters can make it without using any administrative powers save for direct personal attacks,” space which is decidedly not the same thing as a safe space.

If you decide that a space you have control over is going to be run by a set of rules that doesn’t result in a safe space, do not argue that it does.  Do not argue against those who say it isn’t safe.  Do not argue at all.  Be up front, you have some other guiding principle that’s more important to you than making the space safe.  Admit it, own it, and leave it at that.

Listening doesn’t mean that you have to incorporate everything everyone says, but if you’re going to go flatly against it you should at least acknowledge it, probably say why, and do it in such a way that you’re not presenting an argument why what the person said was wrong but instead simply stating why you will not be using it.

And that goes for anything, if someone says, “X would make me feel safer/more welcome,” and you want to say, “No way I’m doing X,” be honest about the fact that your reason for not doing X is more important to you than making the person feel safer/more welcome.  (If this should make you feel like you need a shower, reconsider your reason for not doing X.)

Listen and incorporate that into what you do, but sometimes you may incorporate it by saying, “Not gonna do it,” rather than incorporating it by doing it.  Be aware that this will keep some people away, be aware that (depending on what “it” is) this may make some people think you’re an asshole.  Do not argue with these people.  They’ve told you what it would take to make them come, they’ve told you what it would take to make them not think you’re an asshole, you’ve chosen not to do that.  Discussion ends there.  Leave them the fuck alone; it’s their right to leave/think you’re an asshole when you’re choosing not to meet their needs.

Only you can determine your own priorities, but everyone else gets to determine how they react to your priorities.  For whatever it’s worth, your priorities might make you an asshole.  They might make other people think you’re an asshole when you’re not.  They might do any number of things.  Many of those things are good but I’m going for warning here and thus sticking to the bad.

Asking

Ask.

This is the single most active thing I will tell you to do in this article, but it’s important.

Say your group is mostly male, or mostly white, or mostly straight, or mostly straight white males, or mostly whatever and you think it should be more diverse.  Ask how you can get a more diverse following.  Again:
1 Listen.
2 Take into account what you hear when you listen.

And here’s a problem I haven’t gotten into before.  The people who speak up might take a lot of flack.  They might get shouted down.  You can’t listen to someone who has been shouted down.  If someone responds to your request for advice you had better be fucking ready to defend them.  You got them to stick their neck out, don’t you dare abandon them.

If you’re the reason someone is speaking, if they’re responding at your request, then you’ve just grabbed yourself the job of bodyguard until they’re no longer speaking at your request.  If they start getting personal attacks because of their response to your question it is your job to shoot those attacks down.

You can’t just ask and then watch the chaos ensue.  You drew these people out so they could say something you wanted to know, you have to protect them from the consequences of doing what you asked.  The bigotry that can come out of the woodwork at times like these is stunning and disheartening and you need to make sure it’s not silencing the very voices you asked to speak.

Some parting thoughts

There’s probably a lot more to that, but I note that for all the words it’s still very, very simple.  None of it is activism.  It’s not really very active at all.  It doesn’t require any more effort than you currently expend.

Listen.  If you listen you will learn.  If you learn you will be changed.  If you are changed that will change how you act.  It all starts with listening, which is a very passive thing to do.

If you don’t want to be a privileged ass then listen to those who do not share your privilege.  Don’t just make a show of listening, actually fucking listen.  Then, having listened, make use of what you learned.


* Because the belief that “brouhaha” has antisemitic origins is so ingrained it was suggested that I go into a little more detail here. My first try was three pages (or longer if you don’t single space), my next was shorter but still too long. This is attempt three to keep it short.

The word “brouhaha” does enter the historical record eventually and so we get things like Moliere’s play** including the term which premiered on November 18th, 1659.  There we find that “brouhaha” can be translated as “applause” because at the time it meant an uproar good or bad. But where it comes from has never been proven and barring time machines likely will never be proven. For the longest time it was just assumed to be a bit of onomatopoeia invented for French theater.

Then the antisemitic origin theory arose. The major problem with it is that it requires a phonetic change the likes of which have never been seen before, concurrently, or since. It would be the only time in the history of any language that such a change took place and fly in the face of everything we know about phonetics and linguistics. Compared to that, the fact there is absolutely no evidence to back up the antisemitic origin theory is minor at best.

The theory, in full, reads like someone saying, “Tell me, Muse, of the word of many twists and turns,” and as you might expect that leaves you with 12,110 lines of dactylic hexameter which is why I’ve had such difficulty keeping this short, but I’m going to try. The theory, with details stripped away to save space, goes like this:

Someone who didn’t really know Hebrew overheard the words, “barukh habba,” and coined a new eight word phrase based on them (“Brou brou brou ha ha, brou ha ha,”) which entered into French theater of the farcical variety with a negative meaning. Then the meaning completely reversed itself into something of equal and opposite negativity. Then time passed and the words before the comma were thrown out (leaving “brou ha ha”.) Then time passed and the phrase was collapsed into a single word (brouhaha.) Then the meaning completely changed again, this time shedding all negative connotations and denotations and going from something a single person would say in a play to a simple description of the disposition of a crowd.

And at that point the theory ends because we’ve reached Moliere and that puts us into the realm of firm history rather than theory.

And that’s it, basically. With the details it goes on forever but the short version is:
barukh habba → brou brou brou ha ha, brou ha ha → brou ha ha → brouhaha
(While the meaning went through much more radical and unexplained changes.)

It’s the first step (barukh habba → brou brou brou ha ha, brou ha ha) where the theory really falls flat on its face. Words don’t change that way. They can change radically (e.g. Caseus → Cheese) but there are things that govern how those changes take place and unless aliens did it “barukh habba → brou brou brou ha ha, brou ha ha” does not track. What is the same and what is different between “barukh habba” and “brouhaha” doesn’t work from a linguistic standpoint if we’re saying the second came from the first. We’re in dinosaurs with iPads territory.

And that’s probably as short as I can make this. Hopefully viciously removing all context, detail, and supporting evidence in an effort for brevity hasn’t made it look like I’m talking out my ass.

** Ana’s Note: I’ve asked Chris to go into this detail here so that the comments on the post can be largely about the content of his excellent guide and not a huge derail on the etymology of brouhaha. (So if he has looked like an ass in the above, I take full blame for the assitude.)

I was able to dig up the specific Molière reference if anyone cares to research this further in their own spacetime. The play in question is Molière’s L’impromptu De Versailles. You can find the link to the “brouhaha” quote on Google Books here. A side-by-side French-to-English version can be found on Amazon Kindle here. The line in question is there rendered:

   Là, appuyez comme il faut le dernier vers. Voilà ce qui attire l’approbation, et fait faire le brouhaha.

There, lay the proper stress on the last line; that is what elicits approbation, and makes the public applaud you.

This translation (clapping, applause) is also viewable in the 1728 edition of “The Royal Dictionary” available on Google Books here. The scholar I spoke to believed the word to be onomatopoeia in reference to the sound of the clapping crowd, and noted that onomatopoeia can vary widely across languages. Thank you, and thanks to Chris for writing this wonderful post.

Board Business, June 26th, 2013

(posted by chris the cynic)

Irregular Business

I have access to two computers, of which both are broken.  Access to the internet has been… odd.  Right now one of the computers is playing nice and after a false start (I was lucky the seller did a final inspection, I was unlucky that it turned out they needed to) replacement parts are on the way for the computer that plays nice more often.

One result of this is the notable lack of a weekend post last weekend.  Which means that this coming weekend post will be for the last two weeks (or longer, not everyone submits regularly) so if you’ve written anything interesting in the last… I’m going to say “forever” feel free to send it in.  The deadline is the same as usual (see below) but I actually prefer that you don’t wait until the last minute.

Also, I doubt this will get any response because it seems that “In case you missed this” and “Things you can do” have become largely vestigial, but if you’ve read anything interesting of late (or know of any worthy causes) please do submit because I haven’t (and don’t.)  Computer problems and all.  So while normally that’s like a favor to the whole community, this week I would consider it a personal favor if you could, by submitting, let me know what I’ve been missing.  (Most of my online efforts have been going into checking my email and making sure I didn’t leave anyone commenting on a blog post hanging.  It’s surprisingly difficult to do that when one computer is literally falling apart and the other is barely on speaking terms with the internet.)

Regular Business

Submission deadline for the weekend post is 20:00 EST Saturday. (Article submissions can be sent in any time.)

Anyone who has submissions for the weekend post should send them in.  Some people wonder if they really deserve to be in the post.  The answer to that is always the same: You do.  So try not to be afraid and do try to send in submissions if you have them.

The sections of the post are as follows:

The Blogaround

Any denizen of the Slacktiverse who has posted an article to their own website since they last submitted to a weekend post is invited, enticed, and cajoled to send a short summary of that article along with its permalink to the group email. That summary and link will be included in the next weekend blogaround. This will help to keep members of our community aware of the many excellent websites hosted by other members.

Remember, this is since you last submitted to a weekend post, not since the last weekend post. For example, if the last time you submitted was a month ago, everything you wrote since then is fair game.

In Case You Missed This

Readers of The Slacktiverse can send short summaries of, and permalinks to, articles that they feel might be of interest to other readers.  These should be sent, as you might expect, to the group email.

Things You Can Do

Anyone who knows of a worthy cause or important petition should send a short description of the petition/cause along with its url to the group email.

Deadlines
Please email all submissions to said group email address (SlacktiverseAuthors at gmail dot com). The deadline this week is 20:00 EST.

Urgent or time-sensitive announcements will be posted immediately rather than being held for the next regular Weekend Post.  But you’ll have to tell me they’re urgent or time sensitive because it’s liable to go right over my head if you don’t.

This can be used as an open thread, if you want.

Writer Workshop

(Posted by chris the cynic)

Those of you who also frequent Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings will find this somewhat familiar.  Here, as there, it was requested that there be a regular post to talk about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). Thus this post exists.

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Are there any questions you’d like to ask or frustrations you’d like to vent?  Writing workshop below!

The Women of Nintendo, Part One

Recently, to my inexpressibly immense excitement, Nintendo announced the addition of Megaman to the lineup of playable characters for the upcoming Super Smash Bros. 4. That same day, to my rather more muted excitement, they also announced the addition of the Wii Fit Trainer, the fourth woman among the series’ more than 30 playable characters.

That’s how few women there are among Nintendo’s iconic characters: to find four, they had to dig so deep as to add a character who doesn’t even have a name. And honestly, who else is there they could add? Midna would be admittedly awesome, but she was only ever in one game. Besides her… Krystal from Star Fox? Dixie Kong? Gender-swap the existing Pokemon Trainer? None are particularly compelling. Nintendo has a plethora of iconic characters, but when it comes down to it, out of the dozen or so in the top tier, only three are women: Princess Peach, Princess Zelda, and Samus Aran.

Anita Sarkeesian is already doing an excellent job of surveying the treatment of women in the video game industry as a whole in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series on YouTube. I’m not going to retread that ground here; what I thought I would do instead is examine each of these three iconic women in turn, how they’ve evolved over time, and how Nintendo has treated their characters.

We’ll start with Peach.

Pretty in PinkPeril

An image of Peach, a young, white, blue-eyed blonde woman wearing a frilly pink dress and a jeweled crown.

Official art of Princess Peach as she appears in the Super Smash Bros. series.

Peach is, in many ways, the first lady of video games. She is female lead of most of the Super Mario Bros. games, and love interest to those games’ hero, one of the most recognizable fictional characters ever created, Mario.

Peach was introduced in Super Mario Bros. (1985), at which time she was known as Princess Toadstool. The daughter of the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, she existed solely to be kidnapped (an event which occurred in the instruction manual, which is where the bulk of a video game’s story generally took place in that era) and rescued at the end of the last level. She is entirely passive—her sprite isn’t even animated!—and has no dialogue except thanking the player and challenging them to replay the game at a higher difficulty. She is objectified in every sense of the word: the object of Mario’s quest, immobile, and an entirely passive damsel in distress.

At the opposite extreme is her next appearance, Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988), in which she is one of four possible player characters and has a unique ability to float after jumping, making her the character of choice for a lot of children of the time (myself included). She is an active presence throughout the game, bopping enemies and throwing vegetables (it is a deeply surreal game, even within the context of the generally surreal Super Mario franchise) on an equal footing with Mario and Luigi, and at no point is she kidnapped or treated as a sexual object.

Sadly, this vast improvement on the treatment of her character was entirely accidental. The game known in the U.S. as Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic (1987), and originally had nothing to do with the Mario franchise or characters. For its American release, Nintendo of America made a marketing decision to replace the main characters with Mario characters, but leave them otherwise unchanged. Peach was chosen to replace the Doki Doki Panic character who could float because her dress could, in the game’s dream-logic, function as a parachute.

With the exception of Super Mario Bros. 2, Peach’s depiction in the core Mario series (which includes the subseries Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Galaxy, and New Super Mario Bros., as well as the standalone games Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Sunshine) has consistently been that of passive victim. Outside of the core games, she is usually depicted with more agency, most especially 1996’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. In that game, Peach is kidnapped for a brief time, but interestingly, her role as Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom is depicted as being not all that different from being held captive, and she runs away from it. She is by far the most useful character in the game, having access to both some very powerful attacks (if you know where to find them and how to do them) and the best healing and support abilities of any character.

Peach in a skin-tight pink jumpsuit, walking along a road.

Peach as she appears in Mario Kart.

Peach is also playable in the Mario Kart series, many of the Mario sports-game spinoffs, Super Paper Mario, and Super Smash Bros. (the last of which is almost entirely based on her Super Mario Bros. 2 depiction, with a few nods to Super Mario RPG). Technically, she’s playable in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, but her segments in that game consist of talking with a lovestruck computer that keeps her prisoner and spies on her in the tub, and then getting possessed by the villain and serving as the final boss. Finally, Peach stars in Super Princess Peach, which I will address later in the article.

Peach wearing a pink soccer uniform consisting of sneakers, gloves, short-shorts, and midriff-bearing top.

Peach’s character art in the soccer game Super Mario Strikers simultaneously infantilizes and sexualizes her.

Peach’s depiction, with the exception of a few standouts like Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario RPG, is fairly consistent across her appearances, to the point of being effectively static; there is little difference between her character in Super Mario Bros. 3 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. She is the epitome of the Western concept of the fairy-tale princess, and would fit right into the Disney Princess line between Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Her childish mind in an adult body makes her the ideal object of a White Knight fantasy. A sweet innocent who is perpetually in need of rescue, she waits passively for her savior and rewards him with cake or a kiss on the cheek when he arrives. Peach’s role as a princess is equally a part of this objectification; while there is such a thing as a ruling prince/princess, they’re usually found in principalities; if Peach ruled the Mushroom Kingdom she’d be a queen. The role of a princess in a kingdom, generally speaking, is to bestow kingship on her eventual husband, implied to be Mario and thereby the player—yet another way in which she is a reward, rather than a person with her own agency.

But what about in her own game? Surely she must fare better there?

As I mentioned, to date Peach has had a starring role in only one game, 2005’s Super Princess Peach, a role-reversal in which Mario has been kidnapped and Peach must fight through a series of levels (generally among the easiest and most forgiving in the entire franchise) to rescue him. Unlike Mario, who generally travels alone, Peach is accompanied by the talking parasol Perry, who advises her. Throughout the game, the player is able to temporarily change Peach’s mood, altering her abilities: happy Peach is surrounded by wind and can fly in some areas, sad Peach runs very quickly and cries a steady stream of tears that damage enemies, enraged Peach is slow but invincible and able to set enemies on fire, and calm Peach regenerates health. Finally, at the end of the game, after Peach defeats the last boss, Mario breaks the door of his cage open by himself.

The image is split into two columns. The left column shows Peach crying a fountain as she navigates a level. The right side shows Peach in a serene state as she navigates a different level.

The left side shows what Super Princess Peach looks like when Peach is in sad mode; the right is calm mode.

In other words, her own star turn gives Peach an easier adventure than any of Mario’s, yet shows her still in need of male assistance every step of the way—and even then, the game can’t bear the suggestion of a woman saving a man, and has Mario rescue himself. On top of that, the mood mechanic is readable in two different, but equally misogynistic interpretations. Extradiegetically, it’s an encouragement to the player (implied to be an insecure, heterosexual man, since who else would find the notion of Peach rescuing Mario to be unacceptably threatening?) to regard women’s emotions as things to be manipulated for his own gain, as clear an invitation to Nice Guy Syndrome and pickup-artistry as I’ve ever seen. Intradiegetically, it depicts Peach as the convergence of two misogynistic myths, that women are overly emotional and that they use over-the-top displays of emotion strategically.

The majority of the time, Peach is depicted as a passive, nonthreatening object onto which the player can project White Knight fantasies. Occasionally, she is depicted as having agency of her own, but in her one starring role, her depiction is so overwhelmingly sexist as to be arguably worse than the objectification in other games. She is a blatant and consistent example of the rampant sexism in video games in general, and the Nintendo oeuvre in particular.

Next installment: Nintendo’s other princess, Zelda.

–Froborr

Computer Problem Update

Things have gotten more annoying but should, in theory, be fixed by week’s end.  As a result I’m just not going to do the weekend post for this past weekend.  Instead next weekend, when I should have a working computer, my plan is to have a “These Two Weeks in the Slacktiverse” post.  Anything submitted between the last post (June 15thish) and this coming Saturday (June 29th) 8 PM US eastern time will go in that post.  The usual blah about how it’s ok to submit things not from that time period provided they haven’t appeared in previous weekend posts.

Sorry about the irregularity.  It’s annoying to me too because I had a productive week and would rather get that stuff out there and linked to than have it incorporated into a much larger submission next week.

That said, you have no idea how hard it’s been to make this simple post.  A weekend post, even a very delayed one, just isn’t happening.

-chris the cynic