Living down the street from an independently owned feminist bookstore (Women & Children First) means I have come across some rather great books as they are released. This week’s case in point: Feminism and Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler (cofounder and editor of Bitch magazine). Reading the back cover summary, I quickly realized one aspect of pop culture that was not mentioned was one on which this blog concentrates:
“In Feminism and Pop Culture, author and cofounder of Bitch magazine Andi Zeisler traces the impact of feminism on pop culture (and vice versa) from the 1940s to the present. With a comprehensive look at representations of women in film, television, music, advertising, and news media, this book is an ideal introduction to discussing feminism and daily life.”
Initially I raised my brow and contemplated whether this would just be an intro book of little worth to me, but decided the book was worth a chance. I was not mistaken; neither was Zeisler’s aim.
What the book does is exactly what it says: displaying how feminism and pop culture have had an (often contentious) exchange that has shaped both in ways that probably were not expected. Videogames are also not entirely discounted, having three mentions in the book, pointing out that Zeisler is aware of them and the role they may well play in the future, and acknowledging that they are a part of pop culture. Have they added to feminist discourse however?
The one full example of the book dealing with videogames in more than a passing note is illustrating how Lara Croft rose out of a general atmosphere of pop culture’s acquisition of the riot grrrl scene and turning it into girl power through the use of groups like Spice Girls and in advertising through catch phrases coopting and at times even expanding women’s empowerment. “Though Lara Croft, the impossibly buxom heroine of the Tomb Raider video games, was by the late ’90s the most mainstream pretender to a girls-kick-ass throne, she was also the pixelated embodiment of a male gaze-centric fantasy of what a heroic woman looked like” (96). She then goes on to provide examples of women during that time that were more nuanced and fully realized female protagonists in other media: Xena the Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, to some extent, even the Powerpuff Girls.
One question we’re facing here is of scale. Many of the examples Zeisler uses are ones that are viewed and more readily accessible to people: television shows, advertisements, music, and film. Videogames are expanding, and because of their relatively new stature, the effects of what they’ve given to pop culture are still being teased out and examined in even a more general sense. If we are to believe some of the wacko politicians in the other country that holds claim to my supposed loyalty through citizenship, many videogames are merely Killerspiele. Of course, this is hardly the property of any one particular country, but we’re currently the comic books of the 1950s, under careful scrutiny by many parties. Many people play videogames, but have many played the examples which we could discuss from the past? Would they care to go back and take a look?
Another aspect to note is how the media Zeisler discusses all had massive efforts to target and advertise to women (‘chick flicks’, women’s products, girl groups, et cetera). It feels as if videogames have only very recently, within the last ten years, even attempted to realize there exists a whole other sex that might be interested in the games provided. While we could probably argue that they started off in a somewhat sex neutral space (even saying this feels circumspect), there definitely exists a time when the top titles were not aimed at women in the slightest. Now that we have seen it, it’s almost painful to watch how easily it has stepped into the feminist backlash phase of advertising in many regards.
One other point to consider is that Zeisler does examine many of these pop culture phenomena from a personal vantage point. While offering various readers’ responses to prompts in excerpts found throughout the book, her own personal voice makes it very clear that she has been at least somewhat immersed in many of the various media of which she speaks. If videogames are not of interest to her, I could hardly expect her to wring out information on a topic that holds no interest to her. After all, this is a woman who admits that pop culture can often be problematic, but she consumes it all the same. Every one of us does in various manners. We make our decisions based on our interests, and this may mean that some aspects of pop culture may never speak to us directly.
Will videogames affect feminism and proffer a similar exchange that can both be enlightening and frustrating? I believe they already have (or so my blog posts would lead us to believe) on both counts in varying degrees. It certainly is a topic about which I feel passionately, and it was useful reading this book just to refresh and fill in some of the gaps of my education while tracing the second wave of feminism and beyond’s battles and cooperation with various media.