I already derailed the comment thread on Hugo’s first post of three about the book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel, and I flatly refuse to do it again to his second post, darn it! So I’m going to express myself here instead. (Amanda has another take on Hugo’s second post over at Pandagon as well.)
The title of Hugo’s second post, “Escape, Entitlement, and Empowerment: young men and the ‘Four Ps’” pretty much says it all (the “Four Ps” being Pot, Playstation, Porn and Poker). Focusing in on the “Playstation” P, he quotes a few paragraphs of Kimmel–as a “Playstation P” woman, I was fascinated to try and analyze where I coincided with the “guys” and where (if anywhere) I took off on my own, and what meaning that might have in terms of gendered arguments such as the one below. Let’s examine it!
Because, as it turns out, the fantasy world of media is both an escape from reality and an escape to reality — the reality that many of these guys would secretly like to inhabit. Video games, in particular, provide a way for guys to feel empowered. In their daily lives guys often feel that they don’t measure up to the standards of the Guy Code — always be in control, never show weakness, neediness, vulnerability — and so they create ideal versions of themselves in fantasy. The thinking is simple: if somebody messes with your avatar, you blow him away. It’s a fantasy world of Manichean good and evil, a world in which violence is restorative and actions have no consequences whatsoever.
This doesn’t resonate with me at all. It isn’t that I don’t feel I always have to be in control and never show weakness, neediness and vulnerability–quite the opposite! As a woman in a heavily male-dominated profession, I must show more control and far less weakness/neediness/vulnerability than even your average guy can get away with, if I want to be taken at all seriously. In my personal life, as a feminist single mother raising two sons, again, the pressure to provide such an invulnerable role model is constant and unrelenting. However, I have no urge to physical violence–I rarely ever have such an urge, except in situations where I am directly physically attacked by another person. Therefore, I find no psychological freedom or release in the knowledge that oh hey, I CAN kick that sumbitch’s ass here! Woot! As a matter of fact, the need to suppress weakness, neediness and vulnerability is no different in the virtual world of Warcraft than it is in the real world on Earth, not for me. I am a woman in a MMORPG (for all you noobs, that’s a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game”); I’d better not act like some kind of pussy if I’m in a group! The lack of consequences does not appeal to me either, again, as there are certainly game consequences for acting like a dumbass–the only “consequences” that could be said to be escaped are, if you choose to massacre other players or computer-generated characters, you won’t go to jail. Since I have no urge to do so, there is no relief of any suppressed feelings for me.
They’re getting a parallel education to the formal curriculum — complete with its own Three Rs: Relaxation from the weight of adult demands and of the rules of social decorum (also now known as political correctness); Revenge, against those who have usurped what you thought was yours; and, Restoration to your rightful entitled position in the world.
Oh now, Relaxation I understand! World of Warcraft is most definitely an escape from the real world, with its stupid obsession with minutae and social interaction–it’s puzzle-solving and ass-kicking fun, pure and simple and wholly engrossing. Revenge…again, that does not resonate. Revenge against whom? Those I might possibly want revenge against are still quite in power in the mythical World–there are kings, commanders, wealthy merchants, etc–the World is just as hierarchical and biased in favor of those with money and power as the real world. Now, WoW does offer you a far more straighforward path to success than the real world does–it is the most basic and pure distillation of the highest ideals of capitalism and the Protestant work ethic–as long as you are willing to buckle down and spend lots of time and effort at the earning, you will guaranteed rise to a position of great power and wealth, without the unfairnesses of pre-existing family and coinage and irrational prejudices that beset us in reality. I do quite appreciate that…but there really is no revenge factor there. It’s much more along the lines of the first R, relaxation–not having to navigate pitfalls to success that are a function of the real world and none of my personal making.
Restoration–oh yes, that DOES resonate with me, though after reading the next paragraph, I realize that I have finally hit upon the strange dichotomy that is the real gendered difference in the “Playstation” P.
They spend so much of their lives being bossed around by other people– teachers, parents, bosses–it’s really a relief to be the meanest, most violent, and vengeful SOB around. And they spend so much of their lives in a world that is, if not dominated by women, at least is characterized by women’s presumed equality, that it’s nice to turn back the clock and return to a time when men ruled — and no one questioned it.
This is almost funny.
Here is how it would look if it were rewritten for me.
She spends so much of her life being bossed around by men–bosses, politicians, religious leaders–it’s really a relief to be in a place where her gender is only a matter of aesthetic choice; it in no way affects her career, her autonomy or her physical abilities both real and perceived by others. No matter what others in the World say or think or even try to do, they cannot discriminate against her on the basis of her gender–she can be and do anything she wants, finally and incontrovertibly–the most anyone can do is spit a few obscenities, and that is easily remedied by simply placing them on Ignore.
Whereas the “guys” apparently want to be conscienceless reavers, motivated by and answering sheerly and only to their grossest whim at the moment and are therefore freed by that state, what I want to be, as it turns out, is a hero. Women aren’t heroes, you know. There is one form of “heroism” and one only that women are encouraged (we might even say “forced,” betimes) to pursue, and that is the “heroism” of complete self-immolation. Women are lauded for sacrificing every personal inclination to further the ambitions of their husbands and devoting themselves to raising children. The “heroic” woman is one who lives in a permanent and driven state of personal servitude to men and children. The ultimate sacrifice, of giving your life for your freedom, the freedom of others, an ideal–women are actively discouraged from any form of that heroism except that of dying in the name of pregnancy. A woman’s heroism is never exciting, never results in great power or prestige or personal gain or adulation–a woman’s heroism is by definition hidden behind those surrounding her, done in as much silence and humility as possible, and always in the channel of her reproductive and homemaking function.
In the World, I can be a hero in all the ways men are encouraged and lauded to be heroes–I can use my force of arms to defend the weak; I can choose any number of professions to further my defense of the weak; I can gain great fame and riches in pursuit of my heroism and my name will be known throughout the realms. (Seriously!) My reproductive function, in fact, does not exist at all.
So, interestingly enough, in an unregulated fantasy environment, I aspire to the ideal of heroic manhood–that is what I find so freeing and liberating–and guys aspire to the ideal of amoral piracy–that is what they find so freeing and liberating–apparently no one aspires to the ideal of self-sacrificing womanhood–er, surprise surprise..? Probably the most intriguing (and distressing) aspect of this is how said guys can perceive themselves as living in a society where women control them so strongly while I perceive myself living in a society where men control me so strongly…the SAME SOCIETY..? A puzzle. I expect I will give it a lot more thought and perhaps a follow-up post will be forthcoming–stay tuned!