Bryan couldn’t do a Bridge to the Blog on Feminism so he’s posting about an argument he had about a month ago!

There is one thing I wanted to discuss about feminism that I never had the opportunity to, which is pseudo-empowerment. Once people discover feminism, they’re quick to see it everywhere, and it’s a good start! Looking for signs of hope is much better than shaking your head like a cynical jerk, but there is a lot of sexist media that is able to hide behind one or two fronts to pass their structure off as feminist. To discuss this, I’ll be focusing on an easy target: a video game character from League of Legends named Sejuani.

Sejuani is the leader of a tribe of nomads. They travel through the frozen tundras of their world, fighting multiple armies in a desperate bid to take control of a kingdom that had cast them out. Even without being a leader of powerful barbarians, the character Sejuani already finds herself in a position of power. Riding a powerful boar into battle with a giant flail that almost dwarfs her in size, she is a very imposing figure in the game. Most characters in the game have a written lore to try and make the player feel attached to the heroes in question. Sejuani’s story constantly boasts how powerful she is, constantly using words like “hardship,” “power,” and “command.” So far, the developer have pushed a very powerful female character onto their players. Unfortunately, there is one discretion that lead to a lot of players overlooking the sexism of the character’s design.

This is Sejuani’s “splash art,” a pretty accurate depiction of what she looks like in game. There are one thing that stands out in this picture more than the boar or weaponry: she is going to freeze to death. The game League of Legends often suffers from over-sexualized champion design, and even their most “empowered” characters fall prey to this. However, most characters look at the role and lore of Sejuani and talk about how the design only emphasizes how strong the character is. Her lore even mentions this line:

Armored with absolute faith in her destiny, Sejuani pushed herself to extremes that would have killed anyone without her will to endure. She walked into blizzards without food or furs and trained while frigid winds raked her flesh.

People might argue that her design is perfectly in line with her character. Barbarians, even male ones, are always depicted as wearing a bit less armor than normal. Her decision to train and battle bare in the biting cold only shows how much more powerful she as a character, right? Unfortunately, these showcases of strength and independence are meant to subvert any accusations of patriarchy and sexism. If somebody were to argue that male characters were much more suitably dressed, Sejuani’s lore and design is meant to trick people into thinking there is a solid argument for why this woman is barely dressed in battle. The half-naked hero is not a symbol of strong feminism, but has been designed with feminism in mind so they may get away with showcasing sexism. It may be obvious to those of us looking objectively at the image and lore, but for those who have been playing the game and been bombarded with sexual imagery, Sejuani seems like a veritable Jane Austen character. It is an issue of the means justifying the ends.

As a bit of a postmortem, the designers eventually gave Sejuani a redesign. They agreed that while they were fine with the design of most of their characters, Sejuani in particular was a little egregious. Now donning actual armor, she is much closer to being a respectable female character.

This post was brought up by a mention of Pocahontas in class, and again on the blog. While analyzing Sejuani as a victim of “male gaze” is an easy task, I thought it was important that we recognize when characters are truly empowered or when their empowerment is just an excuse to more freely subject them to different types of sexism. While there isn’t much time left to talk about where you may have encountered this in modern media and literature, I would still like for you to think about it.

Bryan’s Bridge to the Blog

Today in class I overheard one of my classmates say that some of the theories in African American criticism seem obvious, and I would like to address why this is and why it is still essential to be discussed as it went unanswered and ties into the overall discussion of why I found it important to discuss these theories. For those of us who are reading Tyson, many of the theories across all of the sections seem a bit straightforward, a little silly to have to say out loud. However, there is a very important reason for why these things have to be stated.

There are a million things that go undefined. While the Germans try their very best to label everything (backpfeifengesicht roughly means “a face in need of a punch”), English speakers to let specific things slide. What if humans chose to not label gravity, opting to refer to it as “the phenomena of non-sustained, airborne objects falling?” Not only is it a bit wordy, but it makes it harder to study. By giving a theory, a phenomenon, etc. a full name we are marking its importance in that field of study. We find ourselves now able to write about and research these everyday occurrences that previously could only be discussed indirectly. We make the leap from calling something “stuff white people like” to the ingrained issue of Eurocentrism and “everyday racism.” We don’t have to point out “white people sure love ‘taking a year off’ to explore themselves,” because we are free to actually study white privilege as a structure.

If I write about material/ideological… material too much, it is only because this is what I find the most fascinating having grown up as a white male. The actual conventions of African American writing which we spoke of in class are also fascinating to look at. Within the literary sectionn of African American criticism, I found orality particularly interesting. Some of our greatest writers in canon are ones who bring the most “realistic” and well-crafted dialogue (see: Jane Austen), so it is interesting that African American writers commonly feature dialogue so realistically, yet have still been ignored. I read the Bluest Eye in high school, but looking back I don’t remember any discussion of how and why Morrison chose her words. I remember my teacher praising several word choices, but we really only read the novel as a flimsy pretext to have some obligatory discussion on race. We had sound bites more than meaningful dialogue on the work and how it was crafted.

I’d like to know what everybody else’s experiences are with African American criticism prior to English 295, particularly prior to college. I don’t anticipate a lot of people saying they dissected every word, motif, and voice, but I’d like to know how deep everybody’s understanding was of these theories all the same.

Bryan’s Feminist Analysis of “Alien She”

We’ve already covered punk on the blog, but I would like to focus on the riot grrrl movement of the mid-90s and on, particularly with Bikini Kill and their song “Alien She.”  Riot grrrl is a subgenre of punk, one that is largely defined by its empowering messages of equality and feminism. As one of the pioneers of the movement, Bikini Kill set the pace for the movement with two fast and aggressive albums that never strayed from their messages of patriarchy and identity.

“Alien She” is a track off their debut album “Pussy Whipped.” It tackles the struggle of a modern feminist who grapples with the issue of being a self-realized and empowered woman while still having that conditioned side of her that cries out for glitter and glamour. She tries to separate her two halves, but ultimately decides that it is impossible for her to figure out who she really is and who she has been conditioned to be. Some part of her wants to put the “pretty lipstick on” and “go to the mall,” but her other side wants to resist it, knowing that she cannot be sure if it is what she wants to truly do.

I appreciate this song and band as an introduction to feminism, because it tackles the biggest obstacle in becoming a feminist of knowing what one truly stands for. Feminists, women and men alike, have been conditioned growing up; they don’t have their eyes opened till much later in their lives. Suddenly everything has to be called into question, and they have to fight the cliché depiction of being a feminist. In “Alien She,” once the singer decides she doesn’t want to dress herself up and fit a societal understanding of the ideal woman, her other half starts calling her a “dyke,” “whore,” and “feminist.” The fact that the three words are thrown together shows that feminism has become stereotyped as a negative image for women to have. The singer becomes “alien” once she decides to abandon societal norms. The conditioned side of her just wants her to be normal and stop trying to fight oppression at every turn.

Being a man, I can’t really say I’ve had to deal with these inner conflicts. Becoming a feminist required more mental change for me than it did any outwardly or physical change. I didn’t have to stop buying certain products or dress any differently; I just had to see the world through a new lens. It is not a huge step for mankind, but I believe that is one of the reasons Feminist criticism should always be considered. Feminist works like those produced by the riot grrrl movement aren’t exactly hard to find feminism in, but I believe it is still important to examine these to get a good first look. It provides a contemporary looking glass for those who want to understand feminism but have been conditioned to believe it just involves burning your bras and hating men. Feminism is a life-changing ideology for women, and it isn’t something you can just toss aside as if it were the same as calling somebody a “dyke” or “whore.”

P.S. Their entire album with “Alien She” is only 24 minutes, so you have no reason not to listen! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzVPtbIvyMg