Does Sexism Trump Even The Profit Motive?

Does Sexism Trump Even The Profit Motive? June 20, 2013

Anita Sarkeesian received a ton of dismissal, much of it abusive, for the above tweet. One of the few common responses to complaints like hers that even tries to take the form of an argument is that game manufacturers or filmmakers or others who neglect to create stories around female characters are simply slaves to market forces. It is implied that if people wanted female characters creators would of course make them. And then sometimes we’re explicitly told that they are not going to make them just to appease feminists unprofitably. (Because of course feminists don’t speak for a sizable consumer base!)

To an extent this may be an empirical question. I hope psychologists can do some really important research that figures out what exactly people really do (or could) want and what really do (or could) sell. But a lot of these remarks that just dogmatically assert that the games couldn’t sell and that there could be no market for female-led games usually sound more like a desire for feminists to just shut up and a willing contentedness with the first reasonable sounding excuse for the status quo to come down the pike.

What I want to know is when good capitalists ever waited around for demand before deciding to profit off something? When did capitalists ever assume that the nature of human desire was physiologically fixed by biological forces beyond human tampering? The whole way capitalism works is by creating demand in people for things they didn’t previously want. The whole goal is perpetual growth. So I find it suspicious that game companies assume that not even girls would be more likely customers were there more female lead characters. I get why they assume that girls and women are more likely to play games with male leads than boys and men are likely to play games with female leads. Girls and women have had to adapt to identifying with male led stories overwhelming all their options their whole lives. But why aren’t they concerned at all about the untapped market of those girls who are presently altogether uninterested in video games? Do they really think they’re reaching every girl they possibly could? Do they really assume that the only reason far more boys and men seem to play video games than girls and women is that girls just are inherently less interested in video games? Is there any reason to assume that? Actually, let me put that a more salient way: is there any reason to lose money over that assumption if it’s wrong?

When overwhelmingly male creative and business people who should want to expand their market any way they possibly can are actively neglecting and thereby alienating a huge potential buyer base just because those potential consumers are female, could it possibly be that their sexism and self-absorption are actually what is overwhelming even their business sense? Could it possibly be that this is the result of lopsidedly male executives and game designers having a sexist failure of imagination that completely underestimates girls’ and women’s minds? I mean, is that at least possible? Isn’t it at least worth thinking about?

Now, I’m not going to call everyone who genuinely thinks that this is just market determinism a mysognist who hates women and equality. But here’s the problem. If you care about equality, you should care about girls having as many role models, as many heros of stories to identify with, and as many games they’d love made for them as possible–or at least an equal number to those that boys have. If you love and care about girls and boys equally, why wouldn’t you at least want this.

So, maybe you think that the market forces and girls’ brains make it impossible. But why would you be hostile (and even abusive) to those expressing frustration over this situation. And why wouldn’t you think about exploring whether maybe the situation isn’t irremediable before firing off a dismissal of the whole concern. Wouldn’t it be better if girls could be able to enjoy and want video games more? Isn’t that an extra good thing for them to choose from? Wouldn’t it be awesome if they did have more video games and movies they could see people like them as lead characters in? If all that might take is more female representation in board rooms and creative rooms, and you’re a fan of egalitarianism, wouldn’t that be fairer and more likely to yield results that are good for girls and boys alike?

What’s that? “Special treatment?” You don’t want “special treatment” for girls and women? So, if women in creative rooms and board rooms could be presumed more likely to create products that increased the number of young girl consumers that’s still not a justification for hiring and promoting more women? Not even if by their very gender they would have insights that would sell more products to others of their gender? Even in this rare sort of case where gender would actually be a kind of qualification, it wouldn’t count? “Equal treatment” means lopsided numbers of men in power making products only for half of the potential buying public? Equal treatment means 100% of the new games catering to fantasies of being a strong man rather than a strong woman. “Real egalitarianism” avoids completely the golden opportunity to play games featuring powerful leading women they can identify with? That’s “real egalitarianism” as opposed to that supposedly female supremacist feminist kind? It’s only real egalitarianism when the outcomes are lopsidedly in favor of males both making the decisions and boys reaping the rewards? Any deliberate correction to this power dynamic would be doing unearned favors to women and girls?

Give me a break.

If you oppose girls having more role models, lead characters in stories, and games to play, and if you oppose making conscientious efforts to increase women’s participation in creative and business decisions that could open up whole new profitable markets, and instead you want to just lazily assume the status quo is unchangeable and angrily silence those who dare to question it, then you do not show any true interest in women’s equality. Whatever you think about the facts, your heart simply is not in it.

(Thanks to Alyssa for standing up to your friends on this and inspiring me to finally get around to putting these thoughts down.)

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