At some point this week (I wasn’t following the right people to discover it until today) Chief Brooks posted a rankings list of the hottest women in Smash. I won’t link it here because to do so would be to actively support its existence. As soon as I saw this list, I was immediately disappointed and concerned. This sort of thing is a major issue for the FGC and gamer culture in general, and it was a huge bummer to see my favorite community once again mired in the issues of sexism. This is obviously an extremely complicated issue, so I’m going to try and address each angle of it I can. Strap in, we’re going to get controversial and verbose up in here!
First, let’s talk about the fundamental issue. Any objectification of a person’s appearance, male or female, is wrong. Period, end of discussion. When you rank people based on looks, you are establishing a value on that person as a human being based on one subjective aspect of who they are. Even if you do so without meaning harm, that is what you are doing. No matter what, someone at the bottom of that list is being told that they matter less than other humans because of the way they look.
This is one of those things like the speed limit. Going even one mile over the speed limit is absolutely wrong–it is against the law. However, there are lots of situations where we all feel completely ok with breaking the speed limit. No one in their right mind would argue that the law says it’s alright to speed, but we all do it because it’s fun and convenient, and we don’t really see any harm in it most of the time. It’s culturally acceptable.
So yes, before anyone brings up the hypocrisy of male-centered lists who don’t receive the same level of hate (which we’ll get to in a second) let me be clear–all objectification is not a good thing. No one should ever be told they are worth less than another person based on their looks.
Sexism and the FGC
We’re going to get to the male-lists argument, so hang with me. First let’s talk a bit about how we can and cannot discuss sexism. If you are a male human, it’s not your job to determine how serious the problem of sexism is in your community. You don’t live with it every day. You aren’t the target of it on a regular basis. As men, we have absolutely no idea what it is like to be a woman in a sexist environment. If you are a man who has suffered as a result of sexism, I’m sorry that happened.
Personally, I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never lost out on a job, an opportunity, a friendship, or a relationship because of my gender. I’ve never been assigned value as a person based on the size of my breasts or hips. I’ve never had someone try to hit on me while playing in a tournament, and then call me a bitch when I tell them I’m just there to play video games. I don’t feel I have the right to say whether there is or isn’t a sexism problem in gaming.
To me, it’s the same as a white person saying there’s no racism in America, or a straight person saying there’s no homophobia. We don’t live it every day, we can’t possibly understand it completely. Therefore, we have to turn to the experts in the field. There is clear, overwhelming evidence from the women of the Smash community that we have a sexism problem.
There’s clear evidence in the FGC and gaming as a whole that this issue still runs rampant and actively drives women away from the community. If you are coming to me to tell me that women are just overreacting to this list and things like it, and you are a male human, I’m sorry but I just don’t care. Bring me a female community member who says this is not an issue, and I will listen to their feedback. Until then, we are going to go based on the assumption that this is still a major problem, and incredibly harmful to the women in our community. Now, let me be clear: this does not mean that men don’t have a role to play in the conversation or in solving the problem. Merely that we don’t have the right to decide when the problem is solved or not.
Hopefully, most people reading this are saying “duh, we already knew it was an issue!” If not, I hope you are at least open to the possibility that the women in your community are regularly made to feel uncomfortable, and that there are many women who are actively afraid of joining your community because of the very real issues with sexism.
But What About the Men?
This is the most common argument I’ve seen on social media so far as to why this list doesn’t matter. There’s also a list floating around of the 50 hottest male players in Smash. That list has received very little genuine hate or anger. Everyone knows it’s just for fun, and no one involved seems to be hurt by it. Why is it ok for us to be upset about a list of women, while we celebrate a list of men? Isn’t that a double standard?
Well, yes, of course it is. That is literally the definition of a double standard. I refer you back to the top of this article where we said any objectification that hurts someone is inherently bad. If any person on that list was hurt or made to feel less valid as a person due to their ranking on the male list, that list is also bad.
However, they are not even remotely the same thing. You cannot judge things in a vacuum. As I mentioned before, most men have never really experienced objectification in their lives to the degree that every woman has. Yes, some of you have been attacked for being overweight, too bald, too short, etc. I’m so sorry that happened to you, it isn’t fair or right. However, for most men, even the short, bald, overweight ones, your appearance has not defined your life. Unless you are a public figure, your livelihood and worth as a person has never been defined by your appearance. That is exactly what has been happening for millennia to women.
When sexism happens to a woman, it is being piled on top of all the other sexism that has taken place forever. It is one more pebble added to the mountainous wall that divides men and women. We have made great strides to lower that wall in the last few decades, but it is still miles high. We’re lowering it so slowly that when you add to it it can invalidate years of hard work.
Today women are still losing out on job opportunities because of their gender. In much of the world they still do not have equal rights to men. Even when a woman gets an opportunity, she still has to deal with accusations that she only got the job because she’s pretty. It is still considered culturally acceptable everywhere in the world to approach a woman at any time and attempt to ask her out. In gaming culture, it is still completely acceptable by most to call any woman horrible, offensive names at any time. These things do NOT happen to men to anywhere near the same degree. Simply by virtue of having a penis you start life with advantages over a woman in the exact same economic, family, and geographic situation.
So yes, both lists are examples of objectification. All objectification is bad. However, on the whole male objectification does not need men to come to it’s defense. Male objectification does not ostracize people the same way. It doesn’t make anyone feel afraid for their safety. It doesn’t change anyone’s mind about attending an event or joining a community. The male list may be wrong, but it isn’t offensive. These are two very different things, and it’s a critical distinction. Allow me to explain:
Wrong vs Offensive
My father-in-law is the pastor of a small Pentecostal church in North Carolina. In order to keep his minister’s license with the Pentecostal conference, he is not allowed to drink alcohol in any public setting. If anyone outside of his family might see him, he cannot have a beer, a glass of wine, anything. My wife and I could not have alcohol at our wedding at all because he was involved in the ceremony. For the longest time I thought this was the most backwards, pointless rule in the world.
The bible does not make drinking alcohol a sin. Jesus turned water into wine, used wine as a metaphor for his own blood–dude was totally chill about alcohol. There is nothing in the rulebook for Christians that says our pastors cannot drink alcohol. Consuming alcohol is not wrong. Any Christian who tells you different hasn’t actually read that big book they keep on the coffee table to impress visitors.
However, there are many Christians who are offended by the consumption of alcohol. These are people who come from families where alcoholic fathers abused and molested them. These are people who’s own alcoholism broke their families apart, cost them jobs, and in some cases even landed them in jail. For people in those situations, they have come to Jesus and the church to find a way to overcome their past, to be released from the prison of their sins. To them, alcohol represents all the sin and pain that has dominated their lives for so long. The very presence of alcohol is offensive to them, because of what it represents.
So, for those people, seeing their pastor drink a beer would immediately invalidate his status as leader of the church. Every word he says, every prayer he prays would be tainted because that person could not look past the thing that represents all of the pain and suffering of their life.
The problem is, most of gaming culture has warped the concept of something being “offensive”. When we talk about someone being offended, we imagine someone just overreacting to something harmless. Usually that person just wants attention, and is trying to create drama. However, that’s not really what it means. Something offensive is something that makes a person feel uncomfortable. In many cases, feeling uncomfortable is a good thing. White people needed Richard Pryor’s humor to make them feel slightly uncomfortable, while still laughing, to really gain a bit of perspective about race relations. Often things that offend us cause us to question our perceived understanding of the world, to challenge why we feel offended in the first place.
However, sometimes something offends us because it reminds us of all the times we’ve been hurt before. It reminds us of just how weak and helpless we can be. It puts us back in a place we thought we were free from. It draws us back to all those same insecurities we’ve been fighting our whole life.
Every woman on that list has been told how ugly they are. They’ve been told by our culture how important it is to be pretty. They have fought their whole lives to overcome the inherent disadvantages that come with being a woman. After all that struggle and growth, they then see this list, and are instantly told that no matter how hard they work, they’ll always only matter as much as their looks.
Now, I do not think this was Chief Brooks’ intention with this list. I do not for a moment think that he finds every woman invalid unless she’s hot. I refuse to believe that he intentionally made this list as an effort to keep women from ever feeling truly comfortable in the smash community. I don’t know the dude at all, for me to in any way attack him in this article would be irresponsible.
So, for anyone using this argument, I hope you now understand my perspective. I don’t want to invalidate your claim–yes, it’s hypocrisy for us to have fun with a male list, and then get offended at a female list. However, I will never agree that this hypocrisy invalidates the problem. Yes, it is a bigger deal that a female list exists. No, that is not unfair, it’s exactly the opposite. The reaction should be proportional to the problem. A male list is not a problem, a female list is. While neither should exist, it’s not worth the effort to fight against the male list. It is, however, your moral obligation to fight against any form of female sexism in our community. To do any less would be to invalidate everything I love and believe in about smashers.
To Women Reading This
This article will likely make little difference. Like old people and racism, it’s almost impossible to change a young man’s mind about sexism. So, for all the comments you’ll see about me making a big deal about nothing, for all the comments that say we should just go rage about the male list, for every person who says there’s not a problem with sexism, or that this list doesn’t represent sexism, let me say how truly sorry I am. I’m sorry that you were born into a broken world. I’m sorry that I couldn’t argue your case better. I’m sorry for my gender, and every hurt we’ve caused you.
Let me tell you something true–you matter so much! You are so important to this community. You are smart, talented, beautiful–exceptional in every way. I am so thrilled to have you as a member of my community. I promise to do whatever I can to make it so that you always feel safe here, and to challenge the other members of my gender to be better.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m not a social justice activist in any way, this is the first time I’ve ever written something like this. I hope it was in some way useful.