Idolatry, Beyoncé and feminism

Dear Dad,

I think a lot about my Sunday school lessons, and particularly the commandment not to have “false idols.” As a kid, I learned that this was in response to the Israelites, led by Moses’ brother, Aaron, creating a calf out of gold to worship. As I grew up, you and Mom taught me that idols are more than just statues of gods; they’re anything you put on a pedestal for worship, like money, a relationship, or a pop star.

This lesson came to mind when I saw the latest Beyoncé trend sweeping the Internet: #Beyoncealwaysonbeat. If you’re not familiar, footage of Beyoncé dancing is matched up to almost any song you please, be it rap, pop, gospel, or the Ducktales theme. The results are glorious.

But, as anyone who reads music would know, and as Slate points out, it’s not hard to match up music and dancing when most songs are written in the same time signature.

I love Beyoncé. I think her music is fun and inspiring, her dance moves are ridiculously awesome, and her feminism is empowering in its unabashed visibility. But, scrolling through #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos at 11:05 last night, I thought again about those Sunday School lessons on idols, Dad.

Beyoncé is not perfect. She does make mistakes. And putting her on a pedestal is dangerous for me and her, as I risk disappointment, and she gets held to impossibly high standards.

I’m learning to respect people I admire as humans, instead of believing they, and their dance moves, can never slip. I’ve written before about Anita Sarkeesian. I think her work is hugely important and I love her videos. Recently she tweeted about how Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film. My heart sank. Obviously, I didn’t feel the same. And then I realized that it was perfectly okay for us to disagree. Feminism is not a monolith and Anita is not my idol. I can respect her opinions and work but I don’t need to be on the same page as her about everything.

In the end, Dad, learning not to have idols helped me be a better feminist, and helped me relax and enjoy things more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if there are any new #Beyoncealwaysonbeat videos.




On “Bravely Default” sexism

Dear Dad,

I recently bought a really fun game for my 3DS (thanks for that awesome present, by the way). It’s called Bravely Default, and it is exactly what I was looking for in an RPG: fun game mechanics, cool job classes, an involved story with an elaborate world and a hefty dose of nostalgia. There’s only one problem. It’s enormously sexist.

I got my first hint with the character of Ringabel, one of the members of the main party, who is constantly asking, “Will there be ladies?” when the group talks about traveling to another place. At one point, he claims he has so many girlfriends he can’t keep track. His advances at the two women in the party are constantly met with rejection and “unacceptable.”

But I was only mildly uncomfortable until the character of the old sage was introduced, a supposedly wise old man who crafts holy cloths for the vestals to wear in religious ceremonies. But instead of greeting the vestal as an equal or religious figure, he remarks that she’s gotten pleasantly curvier since he saw her as a child. He then remarks that the previous vestal was “very firm,” as in having firm, “taught curves.” He then proposes to share his bed with the two young women of the party, who are vocally uncomfortable with this.

Later, the group travels to a town of all women, where the residents are catty and vain, and male visitors happily ogle and critique the women on the street.

At every turn, women in the show, even playable characters, are treated as sexual decoration and prey. The main women, Agnes, a religious leader, and Edea, a knight, do not receive respect they deserve as people, but are reduced to their gender, and how attractive they are. They are constantly protesting Ringabel’s and others’ advances, but the male characters brush this off.

A shot of the video game "Bravely Default" in which the rake character, Ringabel, compares using abilink feature to picking and choosing between two girlfriends.

What is meant to be humorous in fact dehumanizes women. Here, a feature of the game is the same as having two girlfriends, as if women are sex commodities.

I’m sure this is meant to be lighthearted and fun, but instead it promotes rape culture and the objectification of women. The male characters refuse to respect that “No means no.” They don’t honor the women’s right to determine the level of intimacy or lack thereof that they desire. Unfortunately, this passes on the message to the boys and men that play this game that this kind of behavior is acceptable and normal:

“Because of its essential interactive nature, gaming occupies a unique and possibly more detrimental position vis-a-vis the portrayal and treatment of female characters,” says Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, in her latest video for her Tropes v. Women in Video Games series.

Not only is the treatment of women very poor in this game, but it also passes on to men that this violation of women’s rights is flirty and humorous. And it tells women that their “no” doesn’t matter.

This is rape culture, Dad,  a combination of media, laws, values, beliefs, jokes, etc.,  that “condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . . In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change,” according to Emilie Buchwald in her book “Transforming a Rape Culture.”

It’s gotten so bad in the game, Dad, that I’ve had to stop playing for a while. With every cut scene and conversation, I’m reminded that my rights and my safety don’t matter to the game creators, and that this message is being passed on to others who play the game. It’s scary.

It’s time for a new gaming culture.