The French Revolution Game I’d Like to See

We’ve encountered many bizarre defenses for Ubisoft’s exclusion of female characters from some of their Assassin’s Creed games, including their latest about the French Revolution -Sarah Ditum at Kotaku highlights some of the most vexing- but one claim, echoed at various points by developers and fans, puzzles me most: women did not change history. My friends, women not only changed history, they did it with panache.

Case in point, Theroigne de Mericourt, pictured above, French revolutionary, chaffed by the restraints on her gender, debated with important French politicians, wore a male riding habit, and befriended the Austrian courtier who, convinced that she led the Revolution, captured and interrogated her. Eventually, she waded into battle. Long before she raised a pistol, however, Royalist journalists vilified her as the antithesis of “good” femininity, violent and promiscuous. She later delivered her fiercest condemner to a mob.

Attacked by women from the opposing Jacobin rebels, Mericourt was rescued by a famous Jacobin leader whom Charlotte Corday would later assassinate with a knife she pulled from her corset, blaming him for the grisly turn the Revolution had taken as dissenting revolutionaries with whom she sympathized were executed. She was once called “the angel of assassination” and at her trial famously said, “I killed one man to save one hundred thousand.”

There you have it, built-in diversity, one female revolutionary who wore men’s clothes and carried a pistol, another who accomplished her assassination in a traditional gown and corset. Are these stories not begging for a treatment in a book, film, or game? C’mon!

Are Female Characters Likeable?

At her blog, Ada Hoffman’s speculations on whether audiences like female characters less than male characters brought to my attention this great post from It’s four years old, but this insight from commenter fenzel about the persistent misconception that kickass female characters are just faux-men is still relevant -perhaps the most relevant to me:

“Maybe women want to have adventures too, and want to be adventurers, and when we identify this need as masculine, we shut them off from something they want. And maybe when we insist women not be portrayed as adventurous, or be only secondarily so, or alienate them from our storytelling’s predominant adventure phantasmagoria, we diminish them and shrink the space where they might exist as fictional characters or self-identifying beings…

… And maybe, by insisting that something is essentially masculine when it isn’t, we shortchange and diminish men as well, by limiting how they might imagine themselves and setting them up as essentially hostile to modernity and social progress when there is no real need to cede that ground either.”

I understand, in a way. An audience long exposed to kickass female characters as tokens in an all-male cast will dismiss them as much as their writers do. Case in point, Maggie in TNT’s Falling Skies constantly plays second fiddle to the entire cast even though she’s the most competent soldier in the war against aliens- because the creators of the show don’t give her any conflicts and maintain her as one-dimensional all-star. At least Anne got some development as war chief slash vengeful mama.

In Shana Mlawski’s column, she suggests that we still represent women as bastions of morality in fiction while male characters enjoy leniency and open minds from audiences. They can be anti-heroes, cowards, losers, et cetera, et cetera with apparently far less criticism. Although I’m a fan of neither, we have yet to see a female-starring Breaking Bad after Weeds. This reminded me of a conversation with a friend, when I observed the differences in urban fantasy by men and women, which focus on everymen and overachievers, respectively. “Overachievers” may be unfair, since urban fantasy heroines have problems, but they always triumph in contrast to urban fantasy heroes who barely hold onto their limbs and typically stumble into solutions rather than outwitting -and never overpowering- anyone.

I’ve always thought this spoke to women and men’s struggles (and these characters definitely revolve around struggle.) I can only guess at the reasons some men relate to the heroes. Do they feel helpless or stressed by life’s boss battles and find it cathartic to read about another man at wit’s end? I can definitely understand the appeal of the heroines, however. Women are expected to accomplish this, that, and the other, and urban fantasy heroines may not technically manage all of them, but they come close. Notice I’m speaking specifically to urban fantasy because protagonists change radically by genre. I’m told scifi features similar heroines, but as racism slaps me in the face every time I pick up a scifi, my forays into the genre have been few. Kickass female characters are still, by and large, a minority, but as I’ve noted and fenzel notes, they’re criticized harshly. We can’t expect to relate to every female character and view that as a lack of realism. Are there a lot of action heroes strolling among us?

So, in sum, maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe we want some better writing and more opportunities, maybe we’re expressing different struggles, and maybe we need to appreciate a spectrum of female characters, failings and triumphs because, as Hoffman notes from her informal survey, the only consistent is that no character is likeable to everyone.

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From Whence and Whither So Many ‘Saving Muslim Women’ Book Covers?


I cannot tell you how disgusting and fetishistic I find the “Muslim woman saved by Western culture” genre that Western readers gobble up to affirm their superiority and indulge morbid delight. Now, even more problematically, these covers are migrating to translated works unrelated to that theme, as if they’re representative of any Mideast or African lit. I wish an editor would see this.

Originally posted on Arabic Literature (in English):

It was last November that Adam Talib gave his talk about “Translating for Bigots,” and this May that Africa is a Country wrote about “The Dangers of a Single Book Cover.” There is a lot more to be said about how Arabic literature (in translation) is jacketed, and how this packaging affects how we experience books:

From a slide in the presentation "Translating for Bigots."

From a slide in the presentation “Translating for Bigots.”

It’s not only six-year-old children who prefer the taste of foods that are packaged with licensed cartoon characters; adults also perceive a difference in the taste of potato chips depending on the colors on the bag. Although it seems that similar studies haven’t been done on dust jackets, surely it’s a small leap to believe that the outside of a book affects, at least in some way, how we perceive the contents.

That’s the theme — briefly discussed —…

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Cookie of the week*: men defending feminist space at PyCon

Originally posted on Geek Feminism Blog:

Cookie of the Week* is an occasional series highlighting action in the geek community to fight sexism, in order to show that fighting sexism is possible and happening.

This week’s winners, several men attending this year’s North American PyCon, we know of thanks to a guest post from Lisa Hewus Fresh. Lisa is a Python programmer living the good life in beautiful Portland, Oregon. You can follow her on Twitter @bugZPDX.

feminist hacker lounge at PyCon 2014

Liz Henry’s photo of several visitors to the feminist space at PyCon 2014, licensed CC BY-ND

For context: throughout the conference, open spaces were available for hacking and discussion. Geek feminists of all genders hung out in one of them, a feminist hacker space — a “a great place to go relax, decompress, and hang out with friends” and to “always find other women to hang with”. This year’s North American PyCon also featured…

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Better Representing Muslims: A Few Ideas

Ramadan Kareem

Robert Rath writes a few ideas for better representations of Muslims at gaming magazine The Escapist. I give it my official Maaaslem stamp of approval, lol. It’s a must-read for anyone writing Muslim characters, particularly Middle-eastern characters. So many Western writers think they can write Muslims with no more than a passing acquaintance with boob tube stereotypes or a Google search. The above comic-cum-TV show, The 99 (Netflix DVD) is world popular and peopled with world characters, including characters with disabilities, POC, and Muslim Arab characters who aren’t explaining their religion to viewers since the show’s not written through a non-Muslim gaze and Islam isn’t explicit in the show (yet still protested). Ramadan Kareem!

Gaming News

D'vorah from Mortal Kombat XFrom one of my favorite franchises, Mortal Kombat. D’vorah joins the lineup in X. Maggie and her pet trapjaw from Evolve also look really cool.

I Am Sexist. Eurogamer Editor-in-Chief Tom Bradwell confessing past mistakes and establishing a hopeful, more conscious tone for the future of the magazine.

Sex Role Stereotyping is Hard to Kill. Researchers Holz Ivory et al. at Virginia Tech (2014) discovered that when gaming online, players reinforcing common stereotypes receive the most friend requests, i.e. female gamers making “positive utterances,” like “nice shot,” or being silent and male gamers making negative utterances. Not surprising to me that those comments reinforcing common notions of masculinity attract the most response.

Curbing Online Abuse Isn’t Impossible. The team of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) battle arena game League of Legends decreased abuse between players in their online game environments by removing opportunities for or placing hurdles to abusive behavior, e.g. defaulting chat to “off” during fights, and explaining reasons for bans.

Exciting news of forthcoming games from gaming convention E3:

Mirror’s Edge 2 featuring Faith Connors, parkour pro, daughter of activists, and courier for the revolution against a totalitarian state. I think this is lifted from my dreams or something. <3 A female District B13 (2004)? Yes, please.

inFAMOUS: First Light, the inFAMOUS franchise’s origin prequel for girl-next-door turned superpowered ally Fetch, who smashes through the city with two purple-fire-glazed fists of glory. Can you tell I’m starry-eyed?

Sunset Overdrive fires challenge. Asked if players can choose female characters, associate community manager Brandon Winfrey said, “Of course. Self-expression is super-important to us. So you can be female, you can be male, you can be different skin tones, you can be different body types. All the clothing is gender-neutral, so if you want to be a dude in a skirt, you can be a dude in a skirt, all right? Just be who you want to be.”

See also Impa and Princess Zelda, traditionally franchise damsel in distress, own enemies in Hyrule Warriors. Read this Polygon article for more on coming female characters and developer opinions on diversity.