There’s nothing casual about sexism.
It isn’t a lazy Sunday afternoon spent reading books or lying in a hammock somewhere with a fancy cocktail in one hand. It isn’t a Friday at work where you can wear blue jeans instead of blazers or a flowy dress instead of a tight pencil skirt.
Sexism is men cat-calling women on the way to work, following them down darkened alleys to scream obscenities at them to then get unreasonably angry when those women don’t respond favorably.
Sexism is women being beaten for the mistake of being born female, being paid less on the dollar, and being told they are somehow less than men.
Nothing about sexism is casual and yet casual sexism exists. And it’s more prevalent than you might think.
Sexism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women” (emphasis theirs). As the definition implies, sexism is often intentional and based on perceived social roles and the violation of them.
What’s different about casual sexism is that it’s sexism that is so ingrained and common that we forget it’s even there.
It happens when women aren’t hired for jobs because their bosses are worried they’ll only work for a few years before popping out babies and draining the company’s paid leave reserves. It happens when men make jokes about hairy lesbians or bright young things that are too pretty to work or too gorgeous to have brains. It happens when women take leadership positions and the confidence they would have as a man is described as having a “bossy” or “bitchy” attitude.
It happens in a hundred different ways every day in our society, our media, our everyday lives and even our video games.
Alanna Vagianos at the Huffington Post compiled a list of #QuestionsForMen tweets that perfectly describe the hundreds of ways sexism is ingrained in our society.
Examples of casual sexism in video games are all too common. Most of them involve rewarding player characters with women (particularly prostitutes) in games like “God of War” and “Grand Theft Auto,” and violence against women (of which prostitutes are a significant number) in “Red Dead Redemption” and “Bioshock.”
But casual sexism is more than just outright violence. It’s often as little as a thoughtless disregard for female players or their representation in video games of all genres.
Take for example the Gearbox hit “Borderlands 2.” Out of the two female characters, at least one was specifically designed with female players in mind, and not in a good way. Gearbox lead designer John Hemingway wanted to, “make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree.”
Thus the DLC mechromancer, Gaige, was born.
Although Gearbox quickly condemned Hemingway’s description of the character, the “Girlfriend Mode” skill tree, officially dubbed “Best Friends Forever,” still exists in all its condescending glory.
Called one of the cutest characters ever made by lead designer Hemingway and given a condescendingly named “Best Friends Forever” skill tree with gems like “Close Enough” that don’t require players to aim and a potential reference to women in the kitchen with “Cooking Up Trouble,” it’s easy to see casual sexism at work, once you start paying attention.
Hemingway presented Gaige’s “Girlfriend Mode” as a way to be more inclusive of non-player audiences, but he actually just alienated women, nearly 48 percent of the gaming population, according to the Pew Research Center.
Nuances of language and meaning aside, there’s a significant percent of the population that definitely did not take issue with Hemingway’s statement. And that’s what’s so scary about casual sexism.
Because it’s an attitude that is generally assumed and co-opted by men that refuses to allow any deviations or changes in belief. Pew did the math, and 60 percent of Americans agree with the statement “most people who play video games are men” with 31 percent disagreeing and another 9 percent unsure if it is true or not.
It’s something I assumed until I started really looking into the demographic breakdown of video game players when I started this blog. And if everyone holds this idea, nothing is going to change and casual sexism will continue to be a problem.
Because it is a problem. Whether you’re violently murdering a female character or “helping” gamer girlfriends play by condescendingly lowering skill requirements in a “Girlfriend Mode” created just for them, casual sexism in video games is a problem because it reflects casual sexism in society.
And if we change our attitude in our video games and other media outlets, then maybe we change our attitude in society as well.
So combat sexism, both casual and not, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.