Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hey Baby

I've finally come across something about which I feel compelled to write: a video game that offers "feminist commentary." As illustrated in the great Grand Theft Auto debates of 2008 (which remains the most viewed, commented on and spammed of all my posts), I am no great fan of video games. But this I had to see.
Finally, there is relief for women plagued by catcalls hollered from speeding car windows, unsolicited innuendos offered by complete strangers, and proverbial one-liners greasy enough to make you gag.
Most women experience street harassment at one point or another. I can imagine feeling some pleasure at virtually kicking some ass, especially since it doesn't have the same consequences of hollering back in real life. However, a game like this does little to address systemic issues like gender based oppression, violence against women, commodification of feminine bodies or race and class issues that inform street harassment.

As you may know, I am the moderator of the Chicago Hollaback site so I do have some authority to say that street harassment is no laughing matter. A game like this exists for a reason. As Karen Garcia says in the above mentioned article, this is something that we should be talking about seriously.
As much as Hey Baby is ostensibly a shoot ’em up gorefest, there’s way more to it than that. It’s art, activism, and social commentary operating under the novel guise of a recreational pastime, and despite its in-your-face presentation, its underlying message is meant to be discussed seriouslyand it should be.
I hope that this game does create a dialogue, that would be a magnificent result. I fear it is just going to lead to more misrepresentation of feminism as some sort of violent man-hating cult. I also do not like the idea of combating violence with more violence, even if it is virtual violence. I want to have a public dialogue about how catcalling a woman can make her feel terrified, objectified and/or violated. We should talk about how men who harass seem to pleasure in the sense of powerlessness that catcalling can instill in a woman, if only for a moment. And we really need to talk about how power is distributed in society as a whole to understand why certain people are harassers while others are harassed. It is no coincidence that women (or feminine people of all genders) are usually the victims of this harassment. This is all about power.

I have not played this video game, but I have a feeling power is not discussed in that particular way. It leaves a lot of things ambiguous. What is the gender of the shooter? Does it matter? Why is the harassment sexual? What are the implications of class and racial identity when it comes to street harassment? And, perhaps most important, why do some men publicly harass women on the street at all?

I sincerely hope that this game does create a public discussion about these topics. If it does not, than it is just another violent video game.

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