Songs for the Struggling Artist

“Trying to Help Women is Exhausting”
July 15, 2021, 12:24 am
Filed under: feminism, TV | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Look – I know I’m the kind of person that the guys who make Mythic Quest like to piss off. They’re out here making things, hoping they’ll do something to make me angry. I don’t know if they’ve ever said this out loud but it feels like their ethos is, “If I’m not making feminists mad, I’m not doing my job.” I know the type. I can tell when I’m being baited. So good job, dudes. You did it. Bait taken.

I started watching Mythic Quest after I read several heartfelt reviews of it and I realized that my complimentary subscription to Apple TV was about to expire. I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about, having been assured that one needn’t be a hard core gamer to enjoy it. Season One was a delight. The quarantine episode was touching. The stand alone episode about an entirely different game than the one the series about was innovative and like a short story in the middle of a wacky TV novel. They got me to like these people in Season 1 and then they started throwing punches.

There were some little digs at first and then the big punch was when the lead woman was asked to give a speech at a Women in Gaming conference. She did not want to do it but the men she worked for insisted and so she shows up in fancy hair and make-up (dictated by her male boss) and gives a mess of a speech about how she’s such a mess and not a good boss and always fucks up and the audience gives her a standing ovation. Then the joke of the episode is revealed – this speech that appears to have been her impromptu experience of falling apart on stage (“Oh, I can’t see the teleprompter. Ooops I farted.” Etc) was entirely scripted by her boss. He’s written her whole experience. Her success is really his. It’s pitched as her success because she manipulated him into writing it – but really – it’s clear, the writer is so good, he knew her so well and knows what women want so much, he would be an even better woman than a woman is. When I watched this episode, Season One had given me such good will, I decided that these guys made this choice because of the joke. It makes for a big pay-off comedy-wise to reveal that the boss is the author of the speech. It is funny. So, while what it implies is that women are not even capable of speaking for themselves on the subject of women, you can sort of forget the message, because of the joke. I mean, I couldn’t. I was pissed. But I think the average person could.

But then there was the episode where another woman – the “shrill” feminist character – drives the boss somewhere. She’s going on and on about her relationship with her partner and the boss explains to her that she’s missing her chance to get him to help her with her career. He tells her this is her moment to give her elevator pitch. He asks her what she wants.

She cannot answer. She doesn’t know what she wants. She doesn’t even know what an elevator pitch is! The boss is frustrated! He says something like, “Trying to help women is so exhausting!” This scene infuriated me. It’s still infuriating me. Because it seems to simply that all us ladies out here complaining, nay, whining, about wanting a seat at the table wouldn’t know what to do with it if we were given one! We don’t even know what an elevator pitch is! How is a white guy boss supposed to help these people who don’t even know what they WANT?!

I realize I’m meant to be the butt of the joke here – as one of those women advocating for social change but I don’t think that’s why I don’t find it funny. I can love a good joke at my own expense. I enjoy the women’s studies major in the Legally Blonde movie petitioning for an ovester, for example. But this joke on Mythic Quest just feels mean spirited – especially on TV (a place where 80% of shows have more male characters than female ones) representing an industry (gaming) that not only has trouble with their small numbers of women (women who, once they are there, are confronted with an incredibly toxic culture) but also an industry that has been the center of some of the most heinous harassment there is. (I’m talking about GamerGate and the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian here.)

Some say that GamerGate was the beginning of the irredeemably toxic direction of social media that may have led to the intense polarization of our populace and political mess we’ve had to deal with ever since. When Anita Sarkeesian started working on a video about Women in Videogames, she became the target of an unholy amount of horrific death threats and much much worse.

So – in THAT environment, to minimize one of the few women characters like this is just cruel. This character HAS a job in videogames, has already endured sexism, only some of which we’ve seen – and now when she’s given an opportunity, she balks because girls don’t even know what they want?

I’m not saying this couldn’t happen. I’m sure it does. Probably many a woman has choked when confronted with an opportunity a man feels he’s so generously doling out. But in this moment, when women’s work across ALL fields has been struck such a blow that it may take decades to recover, does THIS seem like a good time to laugh about a woman not knowing how to seize an opportunity or not knowing what she wants? When many women have lost the jobs they worked so hard to secure or had to give up their life’s work because there was no other option for childcare, does THIS seem like a good time to laugh at a woman who advocates for other women? Read the room, guys.

If women not knowing what they want was really a thing that happens, I have a suspicion about why. If this character in this episode was ambitious, she’d be less likely to be hired. Ambition is not (sociologically speaking) a desirable trait in women. Men who are like the boss in this show don’t tend to hire ambitious women. They hire women who will help them forward their own genius. The only reason this boss is hanging around with this “shrill” woman is because he wants someone to fight with, for his creative juices.

A woman who is overtly ambitious for herself would never make it past the front door.

But sure. Yes. Trying to help women is so exhausting.

And yet I DID notice that this episode was written by a woman (apparently the creator’s/lead’s sister) and that she also wrote the best episode last season – so..I don’t know what’s going on there, except that even smart talented ladies can throw out some anti-feminist garbage on occasion.

I ALSO noticed that this second season is missing comic genius Aparna Nancherla, both in the writer’s room and the cast, and I have to wonder if this downward slide into misogyny is partly due to her absence. I’m not trying to start a conspiracy theory here but this show does not get a mention on her Wikipedia page and I have to wonder if maybe fighting for women in such a world might have gotten a little bit too much to bear at a certain point. I know I wouldn’t want to do it.

The show does better at inclusivity than might be expected. There are five women in significant roles and four of them are BIPOC. So, that’s something. It’s just…such a drag to watch them pushed into such bummers of stories.

When I started writing this, the season wasn’t over yet and I had a small hope that this show would find a way to redeem itself but I gotta say, it didn’t quite. Sure, some of the women got some big wins but almost every one of them was more or less gifted to them, by a man. And while that’s not a terrible idea for men in power to start to take on (you know, being more generous to women in doling out opportunities is a good idea) it’s just kind of a drag for ambitious women to watch. (“Ok, so if I just find a nice powerful man to give me something, THAT will help me achieve my goals.”) If I were a woman in gaming, I might just try to use my own ambition to start something rather than try to get anything done with these bozos.

And if this show results in a glut of women-created games in response, then it will have been a good thing but I don’t know, man, I don’t know. Then are plenty of things in the world that make me mad, I’m not sure I need a silly show about a video game to be one of them.

This woman character just doesn’t know what she wants, ok? She’s just not clear! She just doesn’t know!

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