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Reason magazine’s Video Game Nation cover: misogynist or really damn misogynist?

01 Jun

By way of a story link, I found myself at Reason magazine’s site. There I discovered that the theme of the June 2014 issue was “Video Game Nation”. My reaction was

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Then I saw the cover art for the print edition:

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And my reaction became

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The image is a riff on a Grand Theft Auto V ad and the man in the illustration is surrounded by paraphernalia that specifically relates to the article What’s Libertarian About Gamers? Ironically, that same article had this to say about the sex of gamers:

For those who still operate on the belief the gamers are mostly male, set the sexism aside. The gender split is nearly 50/50, though we did not determine whether women and men liked to play the same kinds of games.

So… the article says that their survey showed just about half of gamers are women. How exactly is a cover illustration showing a gaming guy in a suit and a nagging, buxom blonde in a halter, short shorts, and Ugg boots appropriate or accurate?  The image tries to show the “truth” about (male) gamers according to the survey, yet resorts to an insulting, outdated, sexist trope for the woman and the interaction between the two figures. I’m not sure who the artist is, since the piece seems to be signed with three triangles, so I’ll blame magazine Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch.

I’m not thin-skinned or overly precious, I get jokes, and I don’t go hunting for sexism. But as a woman who grew up gaming, worked in technology, and continues to write about both topics, sexism frequently slaps me across the face. I didn’t expect to see it on such vulgar display by Reason, whose articles I read often and to which I used to subscribe. I’m deeply disappointed and more than a little pissed off.

Women gamers come up against a variety of reactions. Some men — thank you very much, guys — treat us like anyone else. They judge us by our ingame skills, accept us as friends and equals, and don’t care whether we are tomboys or girly girls (said with affection not derision; I am one). Others bend over backwards to be chivalrous, give us things we haven’t earned, and treat us as special and beautiful creatures. While that’s a pleasant situation and some female gamers (and men playing as women) take advantage of it, it’s inappropriate, unfair, and unintentionally condescending. But then there is the reaction that female gamers see all too often, especially if they dare to roam into “masculine” realms like war games. A lot of gamers talk trash, but the vitriol spewed at female gamers is often gender-specific. We are threatened with stalking, rape, and mutilation. We get demands to show our tits and if we refuse, are told we must be fat ugly cows. We get propositioned over and over and over. Give the sexism tag at Kotaku a look if you want some specific examples. The Reason cover has managed to reinforce that women are not real gamers. At least the artist showed restraint and didn’t draw a stove behind her, so she could literally be in the kitchen instead of gaming — a taunt heard often enough that female gamer/artist Jenny Haniver named her harassment awareness website Not In The Kitchen Anymore.

Another area of concern for female gamers is the hypersexualized portrayal of women characters: big bouncing breasts and tiny waists in skimpy and impractical outfits. The Reason cover flaunts this type of sexism as well. The man is hefty and fully clothed while the woman is dressed for… her shift as a go-go dancer? A music festival? I’m not really sure who’s wearing that combination nowadays. Her clothes are skin-tight and skimpy and her cleavage is ample. Was the artist trying to make a dig at the male gamer, who would rather play than be with his hot girlfriend? I don’t think so. Her folded arms and scornful face don’t paint her as an alluring woman, despite her bodacious body.

Some of the articles in the issue are fairly good and others are lightweight. It’s a shame they didn’t choose to showcase male and female gamers playing side-by-side or competitively; images that would not only have been less offensive, but more accurate. In the end, I’m left with one reaction for the artist, the editorial staff, and anyone at Reason or Reason.com who saw the cover art and thought it was a fine choice to promote their content:

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UpdateReason magazine replied to this criticism already, when the cover came under attack when the issue first appeared. The rebuttal is written by Managing Editor Katharine Mangu-Ward and she says that Art Director Barb Birch commissioned the image. So, women can be insensitive about female gamers too. Apparently Matt Welch wanted a “cleaned up” recognizable image (from Grand Theft Auto V), and said, “we’re paying respect to that culture”. Removing the raunchiness of the original pays no respect to the culture of the game and keeping the non-playing, nagging woman in the artwork pays no respect to the culture of gaming or to women. Why did they only update the man’s appearance and attitude?

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