On "Hey Baby" And The Invisibility Of Managing Sexual Harassment (Invisible To Men, I Mean)

[Crossposted on "Alas" and on "TADA." The discussion on "Alas" is open only to feminists.]

Bean emailed me a link to this article about the game Hey Baby, a first-person shooter game intended to educate men about street harassment of women.

The game is pretty unplayable as a game — it’s an exceptionally poorly made first-person shooter (“rubbish“). But that’s not the point. Laurie Penny wrote:

Hey Baby taps into the everyday violation of private space that is part of the lives of most women living in cities.

The most subversive aspect of the game is the way it translates what men often see as individual compliments or comments into an atmosphere of sustained threat not so different from that of most first-person shooter simulations, where players understand that violent monsters might lurk around every corner.

Seth Schiesel at the New York Times also found the game to be more of a statement than a game:

At first I found myself somewhat offended. In Hey Baby a man says, “Wow, you’re so beautiful,” and that is license to kill him. It should be obvious that a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable, no matter the circumstances.

But as I played on, I came to realize that it is equally unrealistic and absurd to suppose that saying, “Thank you, have a great day” is going to defuse and mollify a man who screams in your face, “I want to rape you,” with an epithet added for good measure.

And that is the point of Hey Baby. The men cannot ever actually hurt you, but no matter what you do, they keep on coming, forever. The game never ends. I found myself throwing up my hands and thinking, “Well what am I supposed to do?” Which is, of course, what countless women think every day.

I can already vividly imagine various anti-feminists focusing on the double-standard (“a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable”) and ignoring the rest. But of course, the double-standard in gaming exists because a double-standard exists in real life. Men simply do not get sexually harassed on the street in anything like the way women do. A sex-reversed “Hey Baby” would be pointless and contextless, because it wouldn’t be a statement about an actual, real-life problem; it would just be an excuse to blow away women.

My favorite part of the article Bean emailed me wasn’t about “Hey Baby,” but about a consciousness-raising exercise.

One particular sexual ethics program directed at football players asks them to write on whiteboards what they do each day to avoid being sexually harassed. Most stand around scratching their heads.

Random women are then brought into the room and asked the same question. Furious scribbling ensues. “I stand at the back of the lift to avoid being pinched on the bottom.” “I sit in the back of the taxi and pretend to be on a mobile phone.” “I always scan the train carriage and try to sit with women.” “I wear baggy jumpers and pants when walking my dog — even in the heat of summer.” And on and on it goes.

The women are usually shocked to realise the extent to which they have internalised sexual threat as inevitable and omnipresent. The men are shocked to realise the extent to which women have learnt to manage their safety — almost unconsciously.

For men, this is invisible. For women, it’s so omnipresent it’s routine.

When that double-standard is gone, complaining about the double-standard of “why can’t we have a video game in which men shoot no one but women!” might make sense. Certainly not until then.

This entry posted in crossposted on TADA, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

14 Responses to On "Hey Baby" And The Invisibility Of Managing Sexual Harassment (Invisible To Men, I Mean)

  1. 1
    FilthyGrandeur says:

    very awesome post. the game is not terribly good (it was excessively glitchy and hard to control) but i have to admit that there is some reflection of reality in it–when my player was surrounded by pushy men it was a little overwhelming. and even the most seemingly benign remarks (“you’re so beautiful”) gave me a shudder because i immediately pictured several instances which this happened to me. i remember when a man opened a door for me, and i saw in the mirror in front of me he was using it as an opportunity to look at everything (i was in dress work clothes at the time, and was kicking myself for not going home to change first before getting gas–oh the audacity). when i muttered a thank you, the man said “i only did it so i could get your number.” i told him he wasn’t getting it, and was so flustered and angry that i couldn’t just exist, that i nearly walked out without my change. it just exemplifies, to me anyway, the many subtle ways that men like that (not all men, mind you) see my body for their own consumption, and being polite only goes far enough to hit on a woman. i would rather just be left alone.

  2. 2
    SophiaMcDougall says:

    I remember telling a man in a bar about a time, after a fireworks festival, that I’d carried a lighted torch a short distance along a road at night. I told him it was amazing how good it had felt. “That sort of keeping an eye on where everyone is, that you do when you’re a woman — you know, whether anyone’s following you or watching you or whether there are any sidestreets someone might come out of — it just dropped off me!” I told him. “Normally, you don’t even notice the tension because it’s there all the time, but now I thought, no one can mess with me — I’ve got FIRE!”

    He said, “What — women walk around feeling like they’ve got to watch out because some man might be about to do something bad to them, all the time?!”

    I was really surprised he didn’t know that. It seemed to me I was describing feeling exactly how women were constantly told they should feel. “Well. Um. Yes,” I said. “Maybe not so intensely in broad daylight somewhere I know well. But even then… yes.”
    “Do YOU feel like that?” he asked my friend.
    “Oh yes,” she agreed.

    He was appalled. I was pleased he’d got the implications of what I was telling him so readily, but boggled that it hadn’t been obvious to him already. And I was aware that I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to live without the tension he found so alien for more than a few minutes at a time.

    (Although, while I was on an innocence-popping roll, I did point out to him that as a young man, statistically he had a higher chance of being murdered).

  3. 3
    Doug S. says:

    You should see the discussion at this blog.

  4. 4
    littlem says:

    ”a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable”

    Funny. In cultures who sustain the “tradition” of honor killings and states with lax gun laws where the man is the unquestioned “head of household” (no matter how ill-advised his orders), I can somehow see it fitting right in.

  5. 5
    mythago says:

    A video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be lauded all over the geekosphere, defended on Kotaku and would bring its publisher loads of money, as long as it had decent “gameplay”.

  6. 6
    Schala says:

    Personally, I’ve never been scared of going out at night. The people who’ve hurt me physically in life, I knew them. They were neighbors, or people at school, or at work. Not random people in the street.

    I wasn’t raised to fear it though, since I only transitioned at 23 (I’ll be 28 soon). Not fearing it hasn’t gotten me problems, even as a trans woman (I’m lucky enough for it to not be apparent).

    Just saying that not everyone has rational reason to fear going out at night. Some certainly do, others not so much, and it doesn’t cut clearly across genders. It’s more of a neighborhood thing*.

    *Other factors include social class (sort of determines neighborhood for many), sexual orientation (real or assumed), trans status (real or assumed) and disability status. Skin color can be a factor, depending on where (the more white and intolerant the neighborhood, the more likely).

  7. 7
    littlem says:

    Skin color can be a factor, depending on where (the more white and intolerant the neighborhood, the more likely).

    Um, okay.

    I’ve been harassed by men of all colors — and, contrary to what the author of the article Doug directs us to, in rural and suburban as well as urban areas — but YMMV, of course.

  8. 8
    littlem says:

    @ Mythago -

    Some “technical” objections were already raised here.

    (And not even on Kotaku yet.)

    The telling quote to me?

    “I think there are probably better ways to use games to address the issue of street harassment. A controversial premise isn’t an excuse for a lack of substance.”
    Massive, massive eyeroll.

    Also, given the state of gaming, imo, massive, massive hypocrisy.

  9. 9
    harlemjd says:

    ”a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable”

    I must have imagined the existance of that Japanese game where the whole point is to rape women. (don’t remember the name, not googling that shit)

  10. 10
    mythago says:

    harlemjd – sadly, games, plural. It’s an entire subgenre of hentai games.

  11. 11
    littlem says:

    Somehow I get the feeling this Seth person — yes, I know he’s an NYT writer and has been on Charlie Rose — is the type to argue, once that first fallacy ^^ is caught, that it would be unthinkable in this culture, and that Japan is a completely different culture, and therefore his “argument” still stands.

    *eyeroll*

    Which is why I tacked this clause onto my earlier sentence

    where the man is the unquestioned “head of household” (no matter how ill-advised his orders), I can somehow see it fitting right in.

    ’cause I can still see that madness happening right here in the good old US of A.

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  13. 12
    Genevieve says:

    On the subject of men not quite understanding what women go through to avoid harassment–about a month ago, I was talking to one of my friends about the potential of taking the light rail downtown to meet him at a festival after I finished volunteering in the morning. I expressed my apprehension about traveling alone, which I wasn’t used to. He brushed it off as “not dangerous”–and no matter how much I trusted him in a normal setting, in this setting it made me think okay, second opinion needed. The next day I asked my co-volunteer (about my age, female, about my same build) what her opinion on this was…and she gave me a full run-down about how taking the train during the day was probably fine, but it got sketchy at night, and how it was probably smarter to sit near the driver. These are the things women think about and men don’t. And it’s annoying that any of this is necessary.

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