There exists some question as to whether or not I can be a feminist, so prior to writing this post I had the following conversation via GChat with my wife (who definitely is one):
me: Do you think I’m a feminist?
(No wrong answer here, and feel free to not answer. Just have it on the brain.)
Not a hard question.
Which I guess means it’s okay for me to comment on this post about the new game Hey Baby. The game’s premise is simple: wander around the city being harassed by male hecklers, jeerers, catcallers, and wolf-whistlers, and then kill them all. My first reaction—for which you may be justified in stabbing me in the eyeballs—has more or less held since watching the trailer: they should really be marketing this to men.
The Utne Reader post (linked above) seems to completely miss the point of the New Statesman post it takes as its source. Utne quotes:
“Video games have long been an acceptable outlet for men’s fantasies and everyday frustrations, however unpleasant. Hey Baby is similarly about familiar frustration - in this case, the kind of frustration that women feel when strangers treat them as sexual objects in a public space.
but this is by far the least interesting comment in the New Statesman post. What Utne seems to miss is that there can be no equivalent frustration for men. This is part of the problem privilege represents: fundamentally different experiences for men1 and women in society.
Guys do not, by and large, get leered at, nor do they get heckled, jeered, catcalled, or wolf-whistled. Men go about their business in public spaces without being perceived as sexual objects.[^fn2] In short, guys do not have to deal with Schroedinger’s Rapist. The frustration that women feel when in a public space and dealing with the male gaze has no male counterpart. It is something utterly foreign to men.
The Hey Baby website seems—perhaps ironically—to buy into the idea that the whole point is frustrated women venting. Maybe it is. But just watching the trailer for the game reminded me what games are capable of: shared subjectivity.
I can never know what it’s like to be a woman, but watching the trailer, I did get a flash of that experience. The perspective offered to me as mine was housed in a body that was under attack on all sides, barraged with sexual suggestion and harassment. I had an experience much more in line with this comment from the New Statesman:
The men who do approach vary in age and race, and their comments range from the seemingly innocuous (“God bless you” or “You look nice today, miss”) to lewder suggestions, along the lines of “I’m not hungry, baby, but I’d love to eat you”. The game does a great deal to show how, for a woman used to defending her personal space from all manner of intrusions, even a polite comment can feel threatening. Fascinatingly, Hey Baby translates what men often see as individual compliments into the atmosphere of sustained threat associated with a first-person shooter.
The tragically unselfaware comments on the Utne blog suggest that not everybody has that same experience, though. One commenter says, “One of the men got blown away for saying ‘your so beautiful’. What?”[^fn3] For me, it wasn’t the content of the comment—it was the fact that the speaker assumed he had a right to comment on my (imagined digital) body, whether positive or negative, whether graceful or lewd. (Guys: wouldn’t you be made uncomfortable if a significant percentage of women you met told you you have a shapely penis?)
All of which is to say that Hey Baby takes an otherwise inaccessible experience and makes it available to men, using the familiar tropes and structures of gaming to reframe our perspective on an issue in reality. Whether or not it’s a real game, I feel like the experience it offers is one that can alter perceptions and, maybe, behavior.
(Finally: “I like your bounce?” Really? Is that a thing people say? If so, it seems to me that giving women the opportunity to vent this particular frustration, however familiar or unfamiliar it might be, is a worthy cause.)
[^fn2]I mean this not only in the “objectification” sense, but in the grammatical sense—something to be the receiver of sexual verbs (whether glances, comments, or physical actions).
[^fn3]As a courtesy to the commenter, I’ll omit the [sic]. OH I GUESS I WON’T!
I’m being too general, here and throughout, I acknowledge. There are many, many ways in which men—men of color, gay men, trans men—are othered and threatened, but my perception is that this is still not the same as what (nearly) all women go through (nearly) all the time in public spaces. ↩