27 December 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: La vie d'Adèle (2013)


La vie d'Adèle or Blue is the Warmest Color (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche) is a heavy romantic French drama, a very good example of cinematic depiction of the realities of making and unmaking affective relationships. And being French, it's explicitly sexual (take care of this, think twice before watching this with your grandma...), full of intense emotions, intimate details, ups and downs characteristics of the life in couple.

The twist away from the typical emotionally charged romantic drama is the fact that the central couple is made of two young women. Therefore, the already existing tension of desire, negotiations, jealousy, changing feelings is accompanied with additional pain caused by coming out, stigma, construction of an alternative identity and other little gifts that the heteronormative patriarchy brings.

Go, block 3 hours (!) of your busy schedule to immerse yourself in what is already becoming a classic of LGBTQI movies. And then feel free to read some of the analysis already done on the possible bias introduced by the male gaze and stereotyping, etc. Some people think it's more of the same old eroticizing for hetero audiences, some claim it as a step out of this girls just playing dogma... Go, make up your mind.

29 November 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)


Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984, Hayao Miyazaki) is a warrior-princess story. While it goes a bit further in the dedication-for-your-cause scale than healthy, requiring effort close to self-sacrifice, that does not change the fact that Nausicaä is beyond any pochahontas out there (well, apart from being a fictional while the other one was not).

Miyazaki does follow a feminism-of-difference argument on the innocent-girl-in-touch-with-nature saving her world and outsmarting the establishment, but that gets somewhat balanced with the fact that the invader leader is also a woman... Anyways, here you have a full-blown (animated) action movies with an underlying environmental concern with a great (very active and independent indeed) female lead. Inspirational it is.

20 October 2013

Shanique ♥ Being a Girl

While going through the stories about the IPPF's Emerging Leaders' Summit celebrated a year ago, a initiative called The I'm Glad I'm A Girl Foundation caught our attention. It does sound like we have many things in common, so we asked it's founding member, Shanique Campbell to share her story. 

"I am Shanique Campbell.
I enjoy singing, chilling with the people I love and eating... I am a BIG foodie.

If I really stop to think about it, I started as small as 5 years old when I would get the most helpful certificate every year in school. But this really evolved in high school, selling newspapers for my key club that would then be used to purchase much needed items for children's homes all over.
In University, I became a peer leader for the premier leadership program UWILEADS; which had as a part of its function a Social Justice Programe that sought out ways in which both schools and communities could be engaged and people could become empowered.

Upon getting pregnant in 2011, the latter part of my second year of University studies, I had an extremely difficult time adjusting with what was to come not just physically but mentally as well and what started out as just a summer camp has now developed into being so much more. Not only did I give birth to a beautiful baby girl, but I also had the opportunity be a founding member of the only foundation of its kind in Jamaica; The I'm Glad I'm A Girl Foundation.

Our target was to empower girls who are currently in the most defining moments of their lives - puberty - and by way of doing that, not only empower them but help them to empower their friends and families.

This foundation has redefined me and has really put into focus what I believe in. It has also afforded me the opportunity to travel and not only speak about Jamaica and what we are doing there but to also share best practices with other regions so that they too can help to uplift this vulnerable group. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Conflict Resolution, Financial Literacy and Career Planning are all things that are needed to help to cultivate the world that we want to see.
I firmly believe that if you develop a girl, you develop a nation and as such I try to share my passion with anyone who will listen.

What makes me continue is really just a drive to see social justice and gender equality something that is a reality all over the world. I truly love what I do and as a mother, I want to be the change I wish to see in the world so that my daughter will have a different experience than I did.
As an Emerging Leader with IPPF and the youth advisor for the Global Coalition on Women and Aids, I see myself being able to give a voice to the voiceless and to help others find their voice along the way and it is a responsibility that I honor with pride.

The world would be a much better place if everybody would:
Before I am 80, I would like to travel to at least 40 countries, to experience the many different cultures and of course try out their food. I would also like to be thought of as a pastry chef by even one person! :) "

10 October 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Made in Dagenham (2010)


Made in Dagenham (2010, Nigel Cole) is a dramatization of the strike that brought "the Equal Pay Act 1970, the first legislation in the UK aimed at ending pay discrimination between men and women, and the first such legislation in the world".

While you can read more in wikipedia and your history books, here you have a very nice and uplifting version. It shows the tensions that collective action creates (and sure created when striking wasn't something that feminized professions did), and the overt discrimination, patronizing and economic exploitation to be experienced by women that led to the strike. Even more, a prominent place is dedicated to our ever alive foe of second shift and the double standard that is expected from working men and women. Nevertheless, there are also  pretty dresses 60's dresses, the spirit of female friendship and solidarity, and happy ending*.

Made for those Friday nights when your drive for activism and feministing is down and needs a boost. Made in Dagenham will do the job.

* Well, the ending is relatively happy as in the EU28 we are still some 16% on average below the male wage (and some more in US and other places), see the chart for 2012 data below.

20 September 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Julie & Julia (2009)


Looking for a lift-me-up? This is the right one. Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia (2009) is all you need if you're into cooking, blogging and inspirational role models.

In one movie you get the always amazing Meryl Streep being Julia Child and fighting with French cooks in 1950's Paris + an office clerk blogging away. We have to admit that the Julia Child part is much more delicious than the contemporary one, although both are based in real people finding their creative exit in cooking (making food can be liberating if that's your choice and resonates with your most authentic self, no doubt).

Can't help but love the way how her passion for food (not fat shaming to be found in her approach to munching!), her wish to do something instead of being an idle wife, her relationship with her husband are depicted... You end up believing and enjoying! Bon appétit!

09 August 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Girl Superheroines


Again and again, a disclaimer first. Yes, superhero movies are mostly already problematic. Lots of violence, lots of sexism. But being part of the popular culture, some inspiration can be drawn from the genre. Assuming you'd be obliged to look for superheroine movies, here is our take on those.

First of all, the stereotypical. Say hello to Kick-Ass (2010) and Kick-Ass 2 (2013). Apart from the extremely tough character of Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl there's not much going on for these movies. Flat, explicitly violent (rated R both of them) and quite boring. Gender-based jokes are less than tasteful and the whole genre could be classified as traditional superheroes meet mean girls.
Anyways, you may want to bear through those just to realize how bad the superhero thing is when it comes to heroines*.

And this is the place where the invitation to go back to our childhood goes. Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005) as a somewhat healthy alternative. In order to convince you, the laborious people of buzzfeed.com have compiled a whole list of the reasons why "The Powerpuff Girls Could Have Replaced Your Gender Studies Class". Some of the reasons include, obviously, the fact they do not fit the "sugar, spice and blah-blah stereotype", had a male primary caregiver, did (together with many other characters) drag and dress-up, etc. And they fought patriarchy -in their cutesy and drawn baby-girl way - as they fought villains.

* Yes, Hunger Games are on and will be featured eventually. No, Catwoman or other female characters from different Batman movies do not count. The saddest of recent takes on women and superpowers ever was probably Watchmen (2009).

02 August 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Girls (2012-)


This goes in the same way as Sex and the City (1998-2004). While you would like to hate it and tell everybody how shallow and untrue it is, you find yourself glued to the monitor. And being thankful that each episode is just about 20 min.

Again, this is mostly a story of how not to. And how we all do stupid things. And we all are somewhat anxious at times. While Girls (2012-) caused various storms in the US media bla-bla (well, see here where the series is compared with a 1925 hipster essay on emancipation and cliche formation, here, and here; and that's just one magazine that prides itself on going deep into pop phenomena), take it for what it is.
A story on being structurally privileged - go, google the whole thing about Girls lack of racial diversity, like this - and still very insecure. On being confused and very weird. Very weird.

Again and again, and it's impossible to repeat it too much, this is not role-model show. There are no such, btw. Watch it as an anthropological study on some girls in some place. I doesn't have to be representative. It doesn't have to be healthy. But it may take some stigma off from being weird, having mental health issues, dealing with your own body, being entangled in relationships that you know are no good, etc. The usual stuff.

The obvious bonus is that the creator of the series is a girl (Lena Dunham was born in 1986), so we can just relax and listen to her stuff. As an anthropology piece, we said.
Just to realize that the problem is not only the perfection, the girls that Courtney Martin describes as
"We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving… We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation. We drink coffee, a lot of it. We are on birth control, Prozac, and multivitamins… We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others. We never want to be as passive-aggressive as our mothers, never want to marry men as uninspired as our fathers… We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything." (from this book)
We also have the other end of the messiness and anxiety spectrum. Plus all the shades in between.

26 July 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: The Hours (2002)


The Hours (2002, Stephen Daldry) reflects the inner life of three very different women - one of the being Virginia Woolf - connected by Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925). Based on Michael Cunnigham's eponymous novel, the plot revolves around the fragile nature of happiness and how, even when satisfaction is expected, is does not always come.

Other recurrent themes are the complexities of affective relationships (love is complex, you know), sexual orientation and ways to canalize it (especially in oppressive setting), femininity and gender roles.

Of course, the three lead actresses - Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore - add value to the picture. Also, pay attention to the colours and to the beautiful, stream-like pace of the movie

19 July 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Sex and the City (1998-2004)


OK, OK... this is one of those you never thought of this as being a feminist piece. Again. And each of those surprises have their own special reasons. Sex and the City, the series (1998-2004) is no exception (add the moves to this at your own risk).

An innovation when it comes to drama-comedy long term series. A series with 4 women as the central characters. A nonchalant attitudes about sex. Life beyond sex and men, like, emm, jobs. Outrageous dresses. Non-perfect women. So on...

Obviously, it can be annoying, stereotype-ish... Yes.
Here's the trick - and read the article linked below, it does a better job at explaining it - too many people all around the world took it as a how to be and what to strive for look-book.
In many most cases it's a visualization of how not to (the obsessions with looking for the perfect partner, making up drama for drama's sake, etc). Take it as a meditation of the flaws of the sexual and romantic liberation of women who are still brainwashed into looking for the right one while wearing dangerously high heels and managing professional lives.

If we can't convince you to give a second watch to Sex and the City, maybe this Emily Nussbaum's article will convince you about its special place in the pop history: Difficult Women. How “Sex and the City” lost its good name.

12 July 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)


OK, this is cult. This is scandalous. This is classic. If you haven't seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, Jim Sharman), drop everything and get a copy!

If you thought that Shortbus (antother must movie for people in SRHR, mind you) was outrageous, this is even better. No graphic sex but an even more whimsical take on sex and sexuality. Gender fluidity, happily (pleasurably!) lost virginities, ditching the monogamy... all that in 1975 and in drag!

In case you saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower and didn't really get the performance part, this movie is what they were mimicking. Being part of the fandom, obviously.

+ The soundtrack is the best. Here, have a taste!

05 July 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)


Probably the most gender-not-in-the-picture movie about a girl-child that you will ever know. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin) is at the same time scary (be aware of the possible trigger of very rough kind of parenting) and somehow inspiring...

If you treat it as a metaphor (yes, again, as with Picnic at Hanging Rock) - and not as an actual story of a small child wandering around, lost and scared - it is a journey of a free person in the big, wide world. Occasional damage is caused, being nature and all, but things somehow make sense, there are people you can trust and even the scariest monsters (storms, police, actual monsters) can be tamed if you stand brave and look them into eye.

An additional gem is the very young Quvenzhané Wallis who we are waiting to see in upcoming movies. While so, she's already known for not playing dumb nor fake humble. And having been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar when you're 9 is, well, AWESOME! 

28 June 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)


This is not a directly inspirational movie. It's one of those that show the dark and eerie side of the traditional femininity. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, Peter Weir) is a mystery piece with little intention to be empowering.

Nevertheless, being a story on a all-girl boarding school in 1900's Australia where the notion of being lady like in all circumstances reigns (based on a novel by Joan Lindsay), it cannot escape but to portray the restrictive nature of such life. It's a life where taking off your gloves in a hot day is already a rebellion. And taking a walk - a dangerous adventure.

Instead of treating it as a mystery piece, watch it as a metaphor of the female condition, so severe and unfulfilling that disappearing may seem like a good idea.  

21 June 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Babette's Feast (1987)


This is a special treat. Continuing with work of Karen Blixen, this is motion picture is based on her novella with the same name. So here you have a very severe Danish countryside, autonomous decisions to be made and both independence and solidarity to be had. Austerity as life style choice and cooking as a creative, artistic expression. Embraced via informed decision.

While the story touches several rather triggering points when it comes to religious piety vs. bodily and emotional pleasures, it does convey the life lesson regarding the pleasure. Le plaisir c'est bon por la santé. It's good for you! When it's a conscious decision to indulge and you do accept the consequences, of course. Enjoy!

20 June 2013

Momal ♥ Being a Girl

Through contacts made in WSYA and Women Deliver, we are happy to present:

Name: Momal Mushtaq, creator of thevoiceofyouth.com and thefreedomtraveller.com

I enjoy doing anything that would fall under the category of social media, social entrepreneurship and/or social work.

I founded The Voice of Youth (tVoY) in June 2010. It is an award-winning youth network spread across 151 countries of the world. Social media as an alternate form of media has brought the conflict zones of the world into limelight. With the vision of a peaceful society, one of the goals of tVoY is to speak to millions about resolution of conflicts, their nature and root causes. Our focus is on the young people. By sharing their story, we feel they can be a great source of inspiration and encouragement to those who are going through similar situations.

Other than that, I recently launched The Freedom Traveller. I call it "a young Pakistani woman's uprising, her desire to be free and her dream to travel the world." I come from a male-dominated society where girls can't go out alone anywhere – be it the store or the university – everything is dependent on males. Considering this, just being abroad has been 'precious' for me, because that's when I got to experience the true essence of freedom, and you can talk about it, think about it, see it in on television screen but you can't feel it. I have launched The Freedom Traveller to continue my journey as a traveler, redefine the word 'freedom' for women and highlight the work of other inspiring women from around the world. 

The world would be a better place if everybody would:
See The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Listen to TED Talks (I ♥ Being a Girl seconds that, see here)
Read The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003) by Mitch Albom
Try following their heart.

Before I'm 80, I'd like to travel the world.

14 June 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)


OK, so this one has to be explained.

So, do we suggest that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, Howard Hawks) can be a feminist inspiration? Yes. Is it that obvious? No.

First of all, the title of this musical and feel-good-fun-piece is totally misleading. It's not about gentlemen and what they prefer. This is a feature of what do girls want and how they get it.

Obviously, exaggerated and containing some not that inspirational puns (thinks of the 1950's gender ethos in general), but still it's them - the amazing and beautiful Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe - who move the script. And the solutions of the difficulties (there had to be, because no difficulties = no plot) come from their resourcefulness and intelligence. And their erotic capital, too, yes.

It is just anthropologically how a message of female supremacy emerges in a totally sexist setting. Not that we agree with any gender-based supremacies, but you have to admit the weirdness of the message. So here you have a wrongly wrapped anthem to blondes and brunettes getting what they want, both honestly and with some cunning. And almost never engaging in mutual slut-shaming while doing it, bravo!

Plus, of course the fact the both of them are curvy and believable-bodied. And below you can find an excerpt of some of the objectification of the male body going on in the movie, for a change.

08 June 2013

I ♥ Being a Girl at WD'13: Galia

Galia during European Caucus at WD'13

"I honestly forgot to take more pictures during conference sessions, so basically I only have two and they are hilarious in a way, I think"
Galia from the Ukranian MA of IPPF attended Women Deliver this year and shares some of the impressions and frustrations that such a hectic event causes:
"...I am not sure if my story is of any interest because really, most of my impressions of the conference were getting together after the flight, getting used to a new time zone, and then flying back. It was all so quick that I didn't have much time to realize what was happening. Now that I have this kind of experience I know that during such conferences you need to think and react quickly to new environment, but I wasn't prepared for that at the time of the conference.

During the Conference I got to meet several people from absolutely different parts of the world and hearing their stories was quite interesting and new to me. Hearing about situation of women's health and rights in African countries was something absolutely new to me, too. I saw that during the conference not too much attention was paid to situation we have in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, and that was something I was missing, since I've never wanted to work in African or Asian countries, but wanted to do something good for women in my country which is Ukraine.

I was hoping I could understand what else I could do besides being a volunteer but I haven't received that answer yet. I do know for sure that as a social worker (I am getting my Bachelor's degree in that field in a few weeks) I'll be working and helping women, but haven't figured out how exactly. I did realize that gender discrimination is not that much of a problem in Ukraine - there are problems that are far more serious, like domestic violence or breast cancer. "

07 June 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Labyrinth (1986)


Here, with a summery, Dora-the-Explorer vibe, we suggest you (re)watch Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson). While the morale of the story of the quest of young and angsty Sarah could be interpreted as - just like in The Wizard of Oz (1939) - teaching her a lesson that the home and the already familiar is the best, we suggest another interpretation. The journey she makes (deciding to go and deal with the crisis on her own, speak of agency right there) reminds her what is that she actually values and how much power and intelligence she has to overcome the cunning and annoyances she meets in the world of Goblin King David Bowie. Which is a good thing.
It's a decent young hero's journey. Just that she happens to be a heroine. So here you go!

Additional quirks of the movie is David Bowie, of course, all kinds of weird and troubled creatures, and the striped baby onesie among others...  

02 June 2013

I ♥ Being a Girl at WD'13: Fungai Machirori

During our time at Women Deliver, we were happy to meet many active and aspirational young women.One of them, and one of Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders, is Fungai Machirori.

Fungai is the Founder and Managing Editor of Her Zimbabwe, a project she started in order to reach grassroots and marginal communities and women through social media. Fungai named the project HerZimbabwe, "Because it is her vision of Zimbabwe, her experience of this nation in the historical, pphysical, spiritual and futuristic."
She started the platform with zero funding, using her skills as a trainer and editor to other young activists who in tern helped her develop the website and its image.

The website provides a rich palette of personal stories, experiences and views on gender roles, inspirational leaders and development, sexuality, relationships, health and growing up and living as young woman in Zimbabwe. The website takes a honest approach to both the challenges that women face (either in Zimbabwe or globally) and the struggle to transform social-media input into real-life results and actions.
"I can’t put a price on a personal story. In my view, it’s the most precious thing that every one of us has; a narrative that defines us. I would like, through Her Zimbabwe, that these narratives be given freely and by women who have the right support systems to help them face whatever societal or cultural backlash they may experience."
You can also read more about Fungai's views and experiences at her personal blog here!

01 June 2013

I ♥ Being a Girl at WD'13: Gehad

In the Youth 2.0: Young People Online session on Tuesday, Maya had the pleasure to share the panel with Gehad El Sayed from Y-PEER who talked about her network's 10 Days of Activism campaign.

We approached Gehad asking for empowerment recipes and tips on how to overcome the difficult moments of activism. She suggested three aspects for successful work:
  1. Wishing to do something unusual (unusually beneficial) for the community as the starting point.
  2. Having full support from your relatives. And in this case it's not about your blood-related family exclusively, although their support is also very appreciated. You need a social safety net that you can rely on.
  3. Trying to find the right approach to the problem, a new way to go forward that hasn't been tried yet.
And for the times when everything seems to be against you, Gehad suggest you keep trying and use the unpleasant, not that successful experience as something to learn from until you find the genuine spirit in which the task becomes bearable. And remember how it could've been so much worse in the first place. 

31 May 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: 17 Filles (2011)


Well, this is a controversial and complex one. The outline may seem bizarre and basis of an absurd comedy, once you are presented with an introduction that "when Camille accidentally becomes pregnant, 16 of her friends and classmates decide to follow suit, throwing their town and school into chaos...", nevertheless, 17 Filles (2011, Delphine Coulin & Muriel Coulin) brings the conversation on teen pregnancy beyond what you have seen before.

This is not Juno (2007) with it's ups and downs being still framed in complete security and parental support, the pregnancy being a result of boredom. These French girls - and the movie is based on a somewhat true story that happened in Gloucester, Massachusets in 2008 - use sex/pregnancy as one of the ways to gain agency and control over their lives. The fantasy that rises from one unplanned pregnancy leads to a vision of independence and communal life based on shared maternity away from the parental control and not-promising-at-all future of their town.

While, of course, there's a lot of content to challenge - the instrumentalization of sex ignoring the dimension of pleasure, the absence of parents or their male peers sex partners, the reckless driving, smoking and drinking while pregnant, and the outlandish view that a life with a baby would be somehow easier - it comes back to haunt you exactly on how it questions the narrative of teen pregnancy that we are used to.
You watch the girls while they look for things in their lives: to do, to be, to strive towards... in a confusing, rather lonely world where suddenly something so basic and so contrarian to everything they have been warned about as pregnancy (with no sentimental strings attached to the biological fathers) suddenly seems like a good idea that would get them out of the slump of adolescence and make them adults.

Just to keep in mind that teen pregnancies do not come just from not knowing the biological consequences of sex. It is a much more complex conundrum of things that we should be working with... So, enjoy!

BTW, at the moment there is somebody on YouTube that has uploaded the entire movie, so you may take advantage while it lasts...

28 May 2013

I ♥ Being a Girl in the social media and young people session, #WD2013


Maya just did her presentation of  I ♥ Being a Girl in a session Youth 2.0: Young People Online, talking about where this project came from and what we have been doing since 2010. Together with Gehad from YPEER, Sana from Chanan Development Association and Vanessa from Planned Parenthood Global sharing insights on social media and the nature of the internets.

25 May 2013

Off to #WomenDeliver we go!



This year our conference of the year will be Women Deliver. This blog has gone through two International AIDS Conferences (2010 and 2012), so we expect an experience mixing something new and something old.

Here are the sessions that we will be present at (apart from the fact that Maya has been singled out as one of the 100 Young Leaders, yeah!):
  • May 28th, 11:30 in room 401 session Youth 2.0: Young People Online will take place, talking about digital natives, peer-to-peer social media and activism online with real life campaign examples.
  • May 29th, 14:30 in the Cinema Corner (Exhibit Hall 2, Hospitality Suite 2) we will be giving a brief presentation of I ♥ Being a Girl and screening both of our short films (1, 2).
  • May 29th, 19:30 in room 410 the European Caucus with a focus on the diversities in Europe and Central Asia will take place. We will be there talking about challenges and possible solutions!
And we will be reporting on the inspirational things happening and people met here and on YSAFE Twitter!

24 May 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: V for Vendetta (2005)


Yes, yes, it has been too long since we have suggested a piece of very powerful fiction. V for Vendetta (2005, James McTeigue) comes directly from an eponymous dystopian graphic novel and follows the logic of inspiration-and-empowerment-through-frustration-and suffering.
Hear us, we do not suggest it as a baseline approach to your private life (there's too much suffering already, thank you), but there is no doubt that Evey Hammond is a role model on how to follow what you think is right and how to look for what may bee hidden from the eyes. And how you lose fear by actually doing things.  

Also, in order to continue with your work that may be challenging and solitary at times, it may be a good idea to give some though to legitimate civil disobedience and personal responsibilities we all have towards the place we inhabit, our home, our family, our communities. And the capacities - for somewhat limited that they tend to be - to improve some of that are what you have to be putting in action. Little actions matter. So take this as a manifesto to have a personal revolution first and then ask it from others. And to hold your representatives accountable. Yes, there is no conflict in that, it's complementary.

17 May 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: The Wizard of Oz (1939)


A cinematographic treasure just for you. And we'll tell you about it's feminist value, too.

You see, while the finale of The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming) does suggest notes of you-stay-home-and-stop-dreaming, the beginning Dorothy wishing to see more (and trying to do so) and then her actually doing things is a much better lesson to take from the movie.
First of all it's a emancipatory journey of the hero heroine. She does things, believe it or not. And previously she decides to do them.

Also, curiously enough, the author of the book series that the movie is based on, L. Frank Baum, has given much more agency and power to the female characters. It's Dorothy who receives advice from Glinda, the good witch, kills the Wicked Witch of the East and then confronts the Wicked Witch of the West. She does have companions (that she herself emancipates) and the Wizard that she deals with, but female characters are the protagonists.

And nobody has doubts that her life - even if back in old, black-n-white Kansas - will never be the same again. Because experiences matter.

10 May 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Mean Girls (2004)


This, as some other of our suggestions - like Dirty Dancing (1987), for example - may seem unlikely to be labelled as feminist inspiration.

But we insist that Mean Girls (2004, Mark Waters), the girl-on-girl hate classics for those who have grown up in the 2000's, does offer at least some empowering life lessons:

a) You do not need men to perpetuate the patriarchy. The whole thing - as heteronormative and fallocentric as it gets - can be going on with the objects of the rat race being completely oblivious to the fact that friendships, sanity and intelligence is sacrificed for entering in a couple.

b) Playing dumb (or different) is a strategy that doesn't work in long term. And it hurts your most authentic self. Not worth it.

c) The urge to be part of a group, to have social capital is a (social) life or death issue among adolescents (it may get better with the age, not always, though). Trying to be cool is hard enough... and bullying exists, especially the body-, gender- and sexual orientation-related one. And it takes a lot to try to get over that and hope on that it gets better.
This is to be taken into account when trying to intervene and change the behaviour. 

03 May 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Ken Park (2002)


Even more complex and disturbing than Kids (1995), Ken Park (2002) is Larry Clark's and Edward Lachman's return to the world of teenagers, and this time it's Californian skaters already in 2000's. As you can see from the trailer, it may seem quite explicit and scandalous. You get nudity, sex, incest, violence... and all of it seems rather pointless, almost boredom driven.

This is the answer to some of the questions asked in Kids. Ken Park makes it clear that adolescents are not the weird and creepy ones. They've learned it the same way they learned their table manners and kick-flips. By seeing it happen again and again around them. Again, a stark reminder about our collective responsibility towards the young... and a visualization how it may go - and at times is going - terribly wrong in seemingly idyllic setting.   

26 April 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Kids (1995)


Kids (1995, Larry Clark) is not an easy to watch movie. Due to director's documentary-like style it feels true. And the reality it depicts is the one that parents are scared of. How lots of free time and wish to have fun can turn into a mix of parties, fights, drugs, casual sexual encounters with STI risk, etc. And how toxic ideas about sexuality and gender may make it all even worse...

Obviously, this by no means is intended to demonize the teenagers even further or to be a call for more parental control (no, thanks, we ourselves were adolescents few days ago). But Kids shines the light on how we fail the young and very young adults when it comes to learning trust and exercise of autonomy. And how they try to settle their problems on their own.

An additional read to maybe somehow console you afterwards: Laurie Penny on how "today’s teenagers are smarter, tougher and braver than my generation – and yours, too". 

19 April 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Out of Africa (1985)


The trailer may give an erroneous impression... Karen Blixen's (1885-1962) memoir Out of Africa is not about sitting around waiting and then hugging Robert Redford a lot (although, nothing wrong with it, of course). It's a tale of daring travel, by XIX century standards at least, some convenience driven marriage, some STI, some love and learning how to love-and-let-go of people.

And when you have Meryl Streep reminding you that you cannot tame and cage people you love, what else can you ask from a nice, memoir based drama?

14 April 2013

Sunday is for Horizons: The Guardian's Top 100 Women


 For the afternoons that you would like to spend in the internets, wikipedia and youtube but don't know where to start from... and in case you already did you googling around the things mentioned in Makers: Women Who Make America (2013), here comes a considerable material to carry on investigating.

So the story is that in 2011 The Guardian made a list of 100 world's most inspirational women. The list is not an actual 1-to-100 list but a gathering of women according to the categories below: 
While you probably won't agree to all of them and won't even know many of them, this is a nice place to start to have a grasp on living, inspirational women. Learning and lots of clicking guaranteed.
This being pretty much - with formidable exceptions, thank you - an English-speaking/general culture exercise and the categories might seem somehow wacky (television? really?), feel free to make your own, more local (or more global) list, be it on a sheet of paper, on Pinterest, while having summery something with your friends or on your own.

All of this, of course, can serve also as a major downer when you realize that a 100 women exercise is still a marginal one due to the scarcity of non-males at the top of every wiki-worth field. The only consolation being the fact that this kind of project would be much harder (and whiter) as some 50 years ago...

+ Another cool list (very US-centered, yes) is this one by Hadley Freeman.

12 April 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

#InspirationalMovies #WesAnderson

Finally, a Wes Anderson movie where girls - OK, a girl - take active (and not sobbing and passive aggressive) decisions. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is a cute story about love and emancipation. Also about the fact that you don't have to wait until certain (legal?) moment of becoming person or adult in order to do things that resonate with your most authentic being. And a great amount of relationship dos and do-nots you'll see are the same at every age...

Most of all keeping in mind that both Suzy and Sam were persons with their interests, conflicts and preferences before escaping (this is not Romeo and Juliet stuff on sudden transformation and emancipation by love) just that they chose to be together, too.

05 April 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Ghost World (2001) vs. The Help (2011)


Compensating for last week, here we are with a double feature and an almost contradictory message. It is Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff) vs. The Help (2011, Tate Taylor).

Both might result triggering and problematic (nerdiness, cruelty, whiteness, self-righteousness are all featured) but this is not why we are bringing them up. We are bringing these two together because there you have the forever dilemma - especially felt by women in certain situations but universal still - between fitting in and daring to be different.

And those two movies are antithesis to each other: while The Help is exploring the impulses that makes one to step out and stand her ground about one's core beliefs, although it may imply social sanctions, Ghost World introduces you to Enid and Rebecca who, having spent years curating their weirdness and marginalization in the realms of formal education, are negotiating a re-entering into the world of normal.

The morals is the following: trying to find strength to be as authentic as you wish and courage to change if you feel that the previous you is somehow outdated and needs an update. Transformation is human. It's really OK. As is questioning, searching, and not really knowing.

24 March 2013

Sunday is for Horizons: How to go to movies? The Bechdel test and so on.

#BechdelTest #movies #Sunday

Back to the conversations with popular culture that we are immersed into. One of your ways to chose culture to consume can be our inspirational movie suggestions, of course, but today we are offering an additional criteria.

OK, this is a practical advice column of in-case-you-didn't-know-this. So, meet Bechdel test, the idea that it just makes sense that in a cultural product there would be
   1) at least two women
   2) that talk to each other
   3) about something else than a love interest.

Sounds normal and easy? HAH! Not that easy. And we agree to Colin Stokes up there and the ladies in the comic below. Yes, you can find inspiration and role models in differently gendered characters than you identify (I have always wanted to be Yoda when I grow up, seriously). Yes, Bechdel test can lead you into weird paths (horror tends to be Bechdel test friendly, so is a lot of porn...).

It can still be a fun addition for not being able to consume the pop culture without questioning it. Aha, tiring, but be honest, you wouldn't want it in any other way.  
So, this movie list is a combination of bechdeltest.com and imdb.com evaluations. Assuming the accuracy of those, here you have good, fresh movies (7 and more in the scale of 10) that comply with the Bechdel test.

22 March 2013

Friday is the (Inspirational) Movie Night: Born Into Brothels (2004)

#InspirationalMovie #BornIntoBrothels

This week (and apologizing for not being there for you last Friday) we suggest a feature-lenght Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (2004, Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman). The outline is rather easy to understand:
"Briski, a documentary photographer, went to Calcutta to photograph prostitutes. While there, she befriended their children and offered to teach the children photography to reciprocate being allowed to photograph their mothers. The children were given cameras so they could learn photography and possibly improve their lives. Much of their work was used in the film, and the filmmakers recorded the classes as well as daily life in the red light district. The children's work was exhibited, and one boy was even sent to a photography conference in Amsterdam. Briski also recorded her efforts to place the children in boarding schools." (Wiki says)
Nevertheless, the movie find its way into many of the debates that the SRHR/development communities usually have. What to do about the human miseries? How can one as an individual make a significant change? Can you, actually? What are the best interventions? Short-term? Long-term? Creative? Bringing discipline? How do you overcome bureaucratic obstacles? How do you change a culture opposed to (our, Occidental) notion of human wellbeing? What are the primary needs?
And all of that without even entering in the debate surrounding commercial sex work.

So enjoy thinking. Answering is optional.

20 March 2013

Why so many videogame characters look like me, but I prefer to play with someone else, pt. III

(You may want to check out the part I and part II beforehand,)

"So, to sum up: there are different reasons why I intentionally deviate from the default model when playing videogames. First off, this has to do with identification. Most lead characters are white, muscular and above all: aggressive male. These characteristics shape the stereotypical ‘tough guy’ standard which features prominently in many video gaming adventures. To my taste, such ‘hypermasculinity’ – as if I were playing with a walking steroid – is not the type of hero I could recognize myself in nor want to play with, despite sharing a lot of overall features with this masculine and Caucasian default. On the contrary: I would prefer the more ‘in-depth’ characters that are known for their interesting stories or personality rather than their looks and so called ‘manliness’. Nah, I’d settle for someone that would act more like me instead of just matching some of my looks.

Secondly, even though colored male characters are seen more and more in videogames these days, they are still being a minority in regards to the white norm; not to mention the equally important underrepresentation of female models. And to make things worse: the women that do feature in such interactive adventures are too often limited to another cliché: that of the ‘sexy heroine’. Thus, despite that diversity in characters is slowly slipping through more and more, the options we as gamers get offered nowadays are still too damn restricted. And on a symbolic level, that means a lot, for the current sexist and racist standards reproduce the inherent message that certain roles are not ‘supposed’ to be played by characters with a specific gender or racial background. Representation is definitely an important factor in need of improvement. The easiest way to challenge the current harmful standard is by deviating from that norm whenever possible; to cherish the opportunity for change if the game offers even the smallest mode of ‘personalization’.

Thirdly, I choose variety in my gaming experiences merely for the sake of variety itself – to see what could *also* be a way to play an adventure. For instance, to grab back to the Mass Effect example: changing the gender of my hero(ine) goes hand in hand with switching to another voice actor, meaning that the story will be experienced differently, as each of two actors does a different job to it – despite having the same lines to perform. Both have their own style of adding life to the Shepard-character, for that is all voice acting is about. Furthermore, going with a different skin color and other bodily features than my own makes me, the gamer itself, look differently at the game as a whole. It makes me able to approach the adventure and interactions with other character ‘through a different lens’. Even though the voice acting will still be done by the same person that delivers the lines to the ‘white’ Shepard, throughout my whole 40-hour-long-gameplay do I get to look at and identify with a protagonist of color (if I chose one of the variations on this racial spectrum). Not only does this experience teach me that epic adventures are open to anyone and not just the Caucasian-looking ‘tough guy’ standard; it also makes me more susceptible to look at the racial background of the other non-playable characters in the game besides my own. ‘Becoming a character of color’ (instead of white, as is the norm) makes me question the lack of representation of colored characters in that game as a whole, as I constantly get reminded by ‘my’ looks what is otherwise not included or at least misrepresented. In other words: changing the racial identity or gender of the protagonist makes me aware of the privileges of playing with the ‘white guy’ model, as this is still the unquestioned standard in most games. Thus, by intentionally seeking more variety I get to think critically about my own position and how standardized ‘my own identities’ are, for now I become more alert of the ‘normative’ and the ‘deviant’; it makes me question why these are the norms in the first place.

Concluding: emphasizing variety in gender and racial identity is at this point still needed to show the structural lack thereof. Ironically, to ‘make aware’ that inclusion of all kinds of humans is still limited and no equal representation has been achieved yet, the current differences need to be pointed out exactly because of such existing lack - as it then becomes a sort of ‘in your face’-message. I know that I for one took a long time to realize that so many games I played were exclusively targeted at me and people like myself that fitted a limited gender- and racial-category. Because of having the privilege of being part of the norm I did not realize how alternatives to this sexist and racist standard are underrepresented. Therefore, by playing with different kinds of characters – different in many ways, not only in regards to gender or racial features – I hope to become better alert to able to speak out against such structural racism; as that is what lack of inclusion and underrepresentation is all about. And I can tell is that actively ‘adjusting’ my in-game looks hasn’t been a bad decision at all – rather the opposite. So I am expanding my gaming experiences by trying to identify with a different protagonist than the usual white ‘tough guy’ model, while at the same time seeing my own privileged identities in video game land being emphasized and therefore questioned? There seems to be no more enjoyable way to make me learn of the current sexist and racist standards in videogames and use this ‘experienced knowledge’ to share with other than by doing – by literally ‘gaming to differ’.

For as we have seen with the Mass Effect example: if only enough of the gamers themselves raise their voice and share their issues with the default norm, can change on a more individual level lead to improvement on a larger scale in the end. And that’s exactly why I deliberately choose to play with a character I am ‘not supposed to’: simply because I get to identify with a model that looks different from myself, I get made more aware of what is *also* among the possibilities that are not part of the privileged norms. Something which is beneficial to me as well, as that deliberate choice for variety is exactly what turns out to add more and more depth and pleasure to my videogame experiences compared to sticking to the default choices. Only by playing with a female heroine, character of color or choosing for the protagonist to develop a same-sex relationship, which would usually not be the standard option, does this underrepresentation and problem of non-inclusion get emphasized. Turns out I need to get ‘embedded’ with the minority identities in games to question my own prevalent privileges, for otherwise I would not have known. Now talk about irony." 

The genderswapped Super Mario characters are done by Rolling Rabbit, we found them too cute not to be posted as illustrations for this topic.

Daryo is one of those people that enjoys playing videogames and has a mind set at reflecting on things with 'feminist glasses' on, hence the love for Gender and Sexuality Studies.

19 March 2013

Why so many videogame characters look like me, but I prefer to play with someone else, pt. II

(Happily continuing from where we left it yesterday...)

"Well then, are all videogames like this, limiting you to play with this one-dimensional ‘tough guy’ type, both in ways of body shape and personality? Of course not; there are lots of games that do offer lead character of color, a female protagonist or any other personage that otherwise deviates from the limiting norm as mentioned above. It is not like no alternatives are offered ever at all. Nonetheless, adding more options to the pile of features doesn’t necessarily create more difference in gaming models. In contrast: this simply constitutes another norm, as the variety within the category ‘women’ in videogames is also a lacking issue. While the presence of their gender is already underrepresented, the female characters that do appear are often limited to one ‘type’ of body as well: that of the (usually) light skin color, ‘fit’ body shape and big – if not huge – overly present breasts. Furthermore, their role often seems to be limited to being a sexy sidekick or simply functioning as background decoration. Because of this, the main goal of their appearance in videogames seems to make them look sexy, rather than focusing on actual contribution to the story, such as through their personality, humor, in-game capabilities or combat experience, for instance.

Now of course, being sexy is not a bad thing per se, but the fact that so many female models are created along these limited lines does proof problematic, as it then becomes a matter of sexual objectification. Rather than being included in the adventure for, say, their tactical insights, witty personality or maybe even physical strength, many of these ‘sexualized’ women see their presence being reduced to providing visual pleasure. This gets even more emphasized by the clothes they are sometimes wearing, underscoring even more the uselessness of their ‘attractive’ appearance; as something not inherent to the story, yet overly present within videogames. Where most male characters are at least wearing comfy and protectful gear that makes sense considering the adventure they are heading towards – often a dangerous one - lots of female models are unnecessarily ‘stripped down’ and ‘sexed up’. Rather than getting armor that suits their needs, heroines commonly get provided with clothes that are primarily pointing out their bodily appearance rather than being fitted for the dangers they might be facing. If you’re wearing an armor that shows your naked legs and visible belly button, while at the same time emphasizing the size of your breasts, you are obviously not fit for an adventure on high heels against countless enemies trying to hurt you, right? Well, try to explain this to the many game developers then, as their games often suggest otherwise. Despite the illogic of this kind of dress within the setting of the game, lots of female characters are nonetheless portrayed in such a ‘senselessly’ sexualized way, insomuch as that this then becomes a whole other cliché on itself. Thus, while the norm of ‘maleness’ is being challenged by adding more female characters to the pile of protagonists in gaming, this has the ironic consequence of helping another limited and stereotypical norm into place: that of the ‘sexy heroine’ as an alternative to the ‘tough guy’. Once again, a one-dimensional portrayal of characters becomes the dominant standard. And all because that is what the game developers choose to display – rather than offering the options to deviate from these fixed models.

Then, what does it mean when a videogame does enable me to decide upon the looks of the protagonist? Well, quite a lot actually, for now I am provided with the ability to make my own choices; to be able to ‘own’ the gaming experience. Especially when the ‘default’ model is yet another copy of that ‘tough guy’ type or ‘sexy heroine’, I will, simply for the sake of variety, often deliberately choose to play with a character that deviates from these standards. More than once, I intentionally alter my gaming model’s gender, skin color, hairstyle, clothing or other features whenever such options are available. By doing so, my actions become an ‘act of resistance’, however small that may be. Rather than playing with that overly used ‘hypermasculine’ (and often white) default character, I try to add as much variety into my gaming experiences as possible. Having played with too many ‘male’ characters already? Then the next session I’ll choose another gender. Tired of seeing a white modeled hero in a lead role again? Time to go for a different skin color as of now. You see, being able to make such subtle choices on the looks and likes of the protagonist can make a big difference on how I would experience a videogame. Not only does such variety make one adventure contrast more to the other, it also breaks with the rigid notions that there can be only be one ‘sort’ of character for a certain type of game; it questions stereotypical thinking that links gender, ethnicity and body type among other features to the limited places where they supposedly ‘belong’. For example, adding more female characters to action games challenges the idea that heroines have no place in ‘dangerous’ adventures. Rather than regulating them to second-tier-roles, women could thus become a core-part of (action) games we well.

See my issues with the ‘fixed game models’ now? Being able to make my own choices enables me to break with racist, sexist and other restricting assumptions common in video game land. Even though I am, with all my choices, still bound to the options provided by the game developers, cherishing every opportunity (however small) that challenges the limited norms in videogames is a victory on itself. Maybe not so much in the eyes of everyone – the majority of the game developers are still white men and pre-dominantly target a male audience - but on a small scale, it can make a difference to the individual that does seek those alternatives. And maybe this is just a small step to the bigger change I am hoping for – that a little while from now ‘female’ models or ‘characters of color’ are not seen as additional features to the ‘tough guy standard’, but become an equal and worthy part of the world of video gaming as well. For there are games in which the ‘second option’ has become as popular as the ‘default model’ over time: one of my favorites being Mass Effect series, insomuch as that the final game in the trilogy made male and female characters starring the promotional videos. Not to mention that the female version of protagonist Shepard is dubbed ‘Femshep’ in popular culture; as being a whole different character on itself rather than just a twist to the masculine standard. Indeed, while the first part of the Mass Effect series started with the white and male default, the sequels developed in such a way that in the end the lead character Shepard was no longer exclusively promoted as single gendered. On top of that, the popular opinion goes that the voice acting for Femshep is genuinely better performed than that of the original ‘guy Shepard’ – ironically, the ‘alternative option’ being the superior of the two. Oh, and then there’s this addition to Mass Effect 3 in which same-sex relationships become fully optional; something which was lacking in the previous two parts for at least the male designed Shepard, but which changed after many fans condemned the series for not including such romances and sexual subplots.

Therefore, the above example shows how merely including an opportunity to change the looks and likes of our videogame characters can lead to a shift of norms on the long term – if only the players embrace this as a chance to show the developers the need for more such ‘personalization’. What we see here is the change of a popular game hero from initially the white Caucasian and heterosexual male standard to a character that now varies in gender and sexual interest, while giving the gamer the option to alter the racial identity and looks of their hero(ine) as well. Of course, although you are still limited to the options given by the game itself – Shepard is young, slim shaped and muscular nonetheless and doesn’t vary at all in body shape – the underlying argument still stands: applauding the opportunity for small change in your videogame experience might lead to shifts on a bigger scale in the end. Even if the ‘second option’-kind of inclusion of Femshep in the first Mass Effect part were merely symbolic, the fans picked up on it – and that lead to the developers investing more into this path after all. Both sequels would not have taken that first step to add further diversity if it hadn’t been applauded as much by the fans. All because we, as gamers, actively deviated from the ‘default character’ did the game creators see what could *also* be part of an intense and worthy gaming adventure. The individual demands for more variety thus lead to a change on the larger scale; to the representation of more types of characters."
(Come back for more tomorrow...)

While waiting for that, some further reading:

Daryo is one of those people that enjoys playing videogames and has a mind set at reflecting on things with 'feminist glasses' on, hence the love for Gender and Sexuality Studies.

18 March 2013

Why so many videogame characters look like me, but I prefer to play with someone else, pt. I

"There are many reasons why I like to play videogames, but the most enjoyable aspect seems to be the bonding I (as a gamer) develop with the lead character of the story. If the protagonist of the game has a personality I can relate to or an appearance I can identify with, this simulates the experience as if I were in the middle of that adventure myself. This is what distinguishes gaming from other more ‘passive’ events like reading a book or watching a movie: the active manner in which to command the main characters through their story. You, the player, are not simply experiencing a videogame, but literally doing it. By guiding the actions of the lead characters, one gets personally involved in the situation. In other words, the gamer becomes the hero of the story. No, even better: I get to be that hero. All that occurs in the game only happens because I’m the one pushing a button on a joystick. If I don’t, the story would cease to develop any further. It’s this feeling of being ‘in control’ that makes video gaming so rewarding, as it is only due to my own efforts that the adventure progresses the way it does. A simple conclusion would thus be that my feeling of ‘being involved’ is related to the amount of control I have over the events happening. After all, if it is going to be my adventure, I want to have a say into as many aspect of the game as possible. So, whenever I am given the option to decide on the looks of the protagonist, or to alter their personality in accordance to my desires, I will therefore happily do so.

Nonetheless, many videogames do not offer any options for character personalization; a lack which, I think, puts a distance between the gamer and the game itself by holding out on some level of ‘personal connection’. An immediate question that pops up, would be: why can’t we always choose the looks and likes of the lead character? Does it really matter whether the protagonist has a certain gender, skin color, hair style, body shape or personality? In many instances it doesn’t, I would argue, as these characteristics are often not inherent to the story and thus become interchangeable features. More importantly, lots of video games are already designed so that the character’s looks can be decided upon by the player – albeit you are still limited to the options provided by the game developers. Being offered this chance in the first place means there is no need for a ‘fixed’ model in that game; any variety in body type or physicality will do.

Regardless of such positive examples, however, a bigger share of video games still does not include any options for character personalization, despite there being room for this anyway in light of the story. As if it would matter whether ‘the hero’ has a specific ethnic-cultural background or portrays a certain gender; anyone could save their friends and family from yet another invasion by either a foreign army or aliens, right? (This is a popular setting in videogames in which ‘an average citizen’ becomes the sudden hero. Nonetheless, the variety among these ‘accidental protagonists’ is highly restricted.) For no apparent reason, almost every ‘occasional hero’ is male, white and highly masculine in its features with no option to change any of this. And that bothers me, these unnecessary limitations to a fixed set of characteristics. Why does it always have to be that single type of protagonist; that one ‘default model’ again? Especially when the story is about an ‘average citizen’ and the adventure takes place in a multicultural and ‘Western’ society like the United States – where lots of action-type games come from and/or are taking place – it would make sense to include more variety in the looks and likes of its lead characters. Or even better: to provide the player with the option to make their own choices on these features. After all, the opportunity to make your gaming experience more personal, to affect your character’s look in a way you feel most comfortable with: that’s what I see as one of the most important aspects of a worthy video game. If I can make the lead role in the game reflect my looks or personality, it gives me the impression I am living the story myself. This character I then play with, the protagonist I give commands to… that is me I’m guiding through the story and not someone else I do not care about as much. Being able to identify with the lead roles(s) and their looks or actions increases the amount of involvement.

Unfortunately, as already said, too many games are limiting the gamer by only letting you play with a fixed character. Now, on itself that shouldn’t be an issue per se. If it would make sense ‘story-wise’ for the protagonist to have a certain look or personality, I can see why the developers want to stick to their decisions and don’t give gamers the option to change this. Sometimes there is a reason behind the choice – and no alternative seems suitable. However, in many games with an unchangeable lead character, the latter is not the case. In such instances, where the protagonist has interchangeable features but the developers decide to stick to a ‘fixed’ model nonetheless, it becomes a downright negative thing to limit the game to that ‘default’ character rather than offering the player a chance to customize. Especially when such ‘preset characteristics’ are yet again shaped like the ‘tough guy’ default, this male-focused and ‘white’ standard in video games becomes recertified once more. Lack of diversity then becomes exclusion, as only a limited type of ‘gaming heroes’ is being displayed, diminishing the variety of in-game models that players could recognize themselves in.

Now, this does not mean that I can’t enjoy a game in which the main character doesn’t reflect my features or personality. I don’t mind playing with a model that acts and looks different from myself as long as the story is well written and this personage has some ‘depths’ to offer. That is, when the character has a rich background and the game develops in a profound way; as if watching an amazing film or reading a wonderful book. If that were the case, I would be totally fine with such a ‘given’ set of characteristics, as it would be in accordance with the story to not deviate from this fixed model. Appearance is one thing to identify with, while character traits are another – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be both to make a game enjoyable. If protagonists looked different from myself, but acted in ways I would be doing as well in alike situations, this would still enable me to identify with them; to get involved in the events as if I were experiencing these on my own. Nonetheless, despite being able to relate to characters that look different from myself, this doesn’t negate the fact that a limiting standard in videogames is occurring. Namely, in terms of gender and race, we are still offered a rather restricted default of the male, white, heterosexual and ‘hypermasculine’ hero; the walking steroid, known for its physical brutality rather than personality or brains..."

Daryo is one of those people that enjoys playing videogames and has a mind set at reflecting on things with 'feminist glasses' on, hence the love for Gender and Sexuality Studies.