Well damn it, the one year I don't go to Comic-Con, I miss out on being officially designated the hottest girl there!
I'm referring (jokingly) to Dante's Inferno's now notorious "Sin to Win" contest in San Diego. Yes, an apology has been issued by EA. Yes, they completely misjudged their audience. But the whole debacle opened up a can of worms that's actually offended me more than the original contest did.
Check out this quote from Destructoid, who denounced the contest with the headline "EA to prostitute its booth babes for you, the customer", and tell me this isn't part of the problem, instead of part of the solution:
One the one hand, the job description for "model" opens women up to this sort of thing: models exist, inherently, to be objectified and sell products. Obviously, these girls don't have any moral opposition to it, or they wouldn't have taken their clothes off and signed EA's contract (not necessarily in that order.)
Great, so if you're a convention model, you're automatically a slut who is nothing but a collection of sex organs. Excuse me? This defends us how? And who said these women were naked?
Other headlines include "Harrass a Booth Babe" (Mashable) "be a ‘willing' victim of mass acts of sexual harassment" (Geek Girls Rule), and "EA puts sexual bounty on the heads of its own booth babes" (Ars Technica)
To all you well-meaning "champions" of us booth babes and cosplayers, kiss my half-naked, metal-bikini-clad ass.
Anyone in their right mind knew that EA had to be kidding with their advertised prize of "the hottest girl at Comic-Con. Dinner, Booty, and More". Those like GamingAngels who say that the campaign is sexist are right, but it is not sexist outside of the norms of society, and at the very least they are rightly identifying this sexism as a sin.
There is no getting around the reality that this was, in essence, a "men-only" contest, but that, again, is not outside North American tradition. Mother's Day contests, mom and daughter contests, brides-only events, ladies nights, and contests exclusively for women filmmakers, writers, photographers, and businesspeople happen all the time without hew and cry. In fact, the leiasmetalbikini.com events I participate in are women-only. I'd love to say that no one has complained about this common sense rule intended to maintain a respectful environment. Sadly, they have. Sometimes the masculist movement, like its feminist counterpart, can be extremely stupid.
There's no saying women couldn't have entered the EA contest if they took pictures with other women; most women just didn't want to. The contest doesn't really work with male photo subjects, because while booth babes are all over the place, "stall studs" really don't exist yet.
Granted, the sexism issue is a complex and thorny one, because gaming is still overwhelmingly male, like beer sales and jock straps. That, however, doesn't make the degrading of women acceptable, and far, FAR too often we are just props in gaming. But what I've seen of Dante's Inferno, the game avoids this: hooray! Fat, ugly women exist in the Inferno, if nearly nowhere else in gaming. It's about bloody time. It would take me a thesis-length paper to explain why the elimination of feminine grotesquery from video games is wrong and harmful to women.
Furthermore, ladies, I know how we talk about the men we objectify. We're hardly virtuous. We just lust in different formats. You know, like boyband concerts? George Clooney movies? Slash fiction? Dante says that hypocrites get sent to the eighth circle of hell. In case you're not sure, that's the second worst circle.
And was any woman really degraded through EA's contest? They're being held up as beautiful. The winner was going to be chaperoned on the "date", and the ladies probably made excellent money. There wasn't going to be any sex, no matter how much the guy drooled. How is this degrading? This isn't a tailhook party, for crying out loud.
Yes, EA broke the cardinal rule of advertising: "offend no one". Bad EA, no biscuit. But claiming that EA was encouraging attendees to assault booth babes goes way too far, when the flier was clear that the "Acts of Lust" in question were just photos.
Claiming that a photo contest completely removes the common sense and impulse control of an otherwise rational human being is not just absurd; it's dangerous. It's "the devil made me do it." It's "I got orders to kill from my dog." "Manson told me to." "The Catcher in the Rye made me shoot John Lennon."
Men are responsible for their actions and their libidos no matter what. Comic-Con is full of bulging breasts, spread legs, erotic art, and pornography. If dudes can keep their willies in check with all that going on, an ad campaign that tells them to take pictures with pretty girls - something they're already doing anyway - doesn't turn them into johns or would-be rapists.
I don't know when the idea of personal accountability got flushed down the toilet, but we need to get a plunger and fish it back out. I know these angry people have the best of intentions, but they need to take a second look at what they're yelling about, and what the longer-term consequences of their attitudes are. I'm proud of my admittedly imperfect body, proud of my love of comics and games, and it's wrong for sources who have never asked me why I do what I do determine that I'm objectifying myself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some women have had bad experiences, and that's terrible. But we need to stop that from happening, not imply that models sign on to be diminished when they take a job. That's bull.
That does not mean Comic-Con doesn't have a problem with lax safety. Part of the reason I didn't go this year was because I was mildly assaulted in 2008 by a guy who was still drunk from the night before. He decided it was a great idea to force a slobbery, lecherous kiss on me while his buddy giggled behind a camera, in full view of convention center security guards, who did nothing about it. I can still remember how the guy smelled, and how he looked at me uncomprehendingly after I shoved him away and yelled "Not cool man!" But I doubt, fifteen minutes after it happened, that I could have picked him out of a lineup. I was too rattled, and had interacted with too many people that day.
According to internet message boards, I wasn't alone. Before that, I'd occasionally had my ass grabbed; I'd had stupid boys giggle while they stared at my boobies; I'd gotten some leering looks and dumbass comments. But I get that nonsense on the street, in malls, on the subway, and in bars. With the way I look, unfortunately it happens: people assume things about me because of my proportions. That is wrong, and that is an attitude that needs to be changed. My current reality is that far too many people think I'm stupid, a poser, some sort of she-demon or exploited victim. I have to dress like I'm fat to avoid looking like "a floozy". Women meet me, then google me, and go white at what I do - oh she used to interview porn stars! How scandalous! I've also interviewed Canada's Attorney General, and done documentaries on racial stereotypes. I've advocated to reduce negative body image and have done workshops with women to help improve their self-esteem. But, you know, it's not fun to talk about that. The negative is what gives people the adrenaline rush. Outrage! Outrage!
I used to love Comic-Con because I didn't get that there. Most people were respectful, even admiring. It was fun. It was hardly negative attention. Sadly, people seem to treat Power Girl, Cheetara, and Princess Leia with more deference than a real woman, but at least that outlet exists and is accessible.
Since geekdom became "cool", since Comic-Con became The Big Show, something changed. People who didn't know the sub-culture started pouring into the convention in droves and brought with them a sense of groping entitlement. No contest was involved in that. No great Satan of advertising. Despite these problems, Comic-Con still has no sexual harassment policy. Other shows are a blast. Anime North up here in Canada is wildly fun. Things don't get ugly, because there are clear policies in place, and if you violate them, you get thrown out.
Why are the people going after EA not taking issue with Comic-Con's lousy rules? Instead, there's all this screaming about modeling being an inherent sleazy job. It's not, and I'm far angrier at that assertion than at EA for being glib about the tradition of photographing people in costumes. These conventions are one of the few places you can be bigger than a size 4 and still be considered beautiful by the masses. So shut the hell up about our objectification, do-gooders, before you unintentionally ruin that. Get the rules changed instead. Let people know it's going on. Because I think that most companies are ignorant - due to no fault of their own - of this new reality.
When people overreact, like they are on this issue, it makes it harder to fight the real fights in the gender wars - and there are real fights, just ask Sonia Sotomayor. These knee-jerk reactions to relatively harmless - if stupid - fun add to the perception that us feminists are shrill, man-hating zealots who have lost any sense of perspective. There are things in the world that need changing. Some persistent attitudes toward women suck. But Dante's Inferno isn't the right battleground, because no harm was intended and the instructions in the contest were clear. This is, I believe, a backdoor attack on the very concept of women using their appearance to make a living. It's rooted in the inherent distaste some people have for the respectful appreciation of the physical.
I don't like that finding another person attractive has become disgusting or abusive, because finding beauty in the world is a pleasure in life that doesn't involve putting smoke in your lungs or a needle in your arm. I think of all the game developers at E3 that I ran at and hugged. If I were male and they were female, that affectionate greeting might have been seen, in some corners, as assault.
We had a good thing going at Comic-Con until the last few years, but now reason and perspective have left the building. Those guys in the booth selling foam zombie fetuses better watch out: people might think they're advocating abortion of the undead unborn.
Of course, the likelihood of that is next to zero, because when it comes to death, decapitations, severed limbs, and fountains of blood at Comic-Con, everyone knows it's not real. That's even though good ol' Dante classified violence as a more sinful ring of hell than lust -- by five levels. In fact, lust also ranks as milder than gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, and treachery. When it comes to sex, however, people lose all sense of rationality in an orgasm of outrage... I think because orgasms of any kind are just fun.
Ironically, the source material for Dante's Inferno involves a male guide: the Roman poet Virgil. However, when Dante reaches the top of Purgatory and proceeds through Heaven in the second and third parts of The Divine Comedy, his guide is Beatrice, a beautiful woman. That's right: in Dante's world, the path through hell is toured with a pagan fanboy, while the spin through Heaven is done with... a booth babe.
Let's face it: those easily offended aren't going to play Dante's Inferno. EA's shocking ad campaign can hardly be said to be downplaying the disturbing content of the game itself. I'm not saying that geek events like Comic-Con should be complete free-for-alls with no limits, nor should they be horribly sexist events that make women feel violated. I just don't like the assertion that the 95% of male attendees who can behave themselves are as stupid as the people crying foul claim. I like less the implication that the hired models are somehow of inherently low moral character.
One final point: EA posted a picture of a Comic-Con cosplayer dressed as Kratos on their Twitter account. Kratos is a character who runs around perpetually half-naked, but no one flipped out. Now who's sexist?