Sexism At Fantasy Book Cafe

There’s nothing quite like a blog that intelligently points out all of the world’s wrongs. Particularly sexism. Foz’s “Christ on a bicycle” moment is my favourite.

shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows

Warning: all the rant.

As someone who talks a lot about sexism in general, but particularly with reference to SFF and fandom, I’m often frustrated by the fact that many people either don’t understand what sexism is, or actively disagree that it still goes on: not just because their lack of understanding makes it harder to explain why Hollywood’s predisposition towards failing the Bechdel test is symptomatic of wider social problems (for instance), but because it means that, more often than not, before I can discuss the issue at hand – be it the treatment of women in gaming or the insertion of unnecessary sex scenes into HBO’s adaptation of Game of ThronesI’m forced to run through the conversational equivalent of Sexism 101 in order to get my interlocutor onside. Now, being as how much of modern sexism is insidious and subtle, up to a point, I’m fairly…

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Religious Reformation in Dragon Age II and Final Fantasy X

This was originally posted to Squidoo, but due to Squidoo’s new “spam filter”, much of my work has been flagged for removal. I’ve not been given any indication as to which part of my writing is “spam” (see here: none of it, bitches), so I’m slowly going to start posting it here. This means a few academic blog posts are coming your way. I like to keep you on your toes.

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Before we can explore the discourse surrounding the theme of religious reformation in the videogames Final Fantasy X (Square, released in Japan 2001) and Dragon Age II (BioWare, released universally in 2011), it is important to define what is meant by ‘reformation’. The Collins dictionary definition is, ‘1. improve 2. reconstruct – vi. 3. abandon evil practices’ (p. 620) In this case, in order for change to occur within a current system, everything has to be altered; the entire system has to be reconsidered, not slightly altered.

Within the two videogames discussed here the characters take drastic measures to alter their respective societies into what they believe is better, but each story does so with very different tones and moral choices. Reformation encompasses race, class, religion, politics, gender, sexuality but for the sake of focus, religious reformation will be the main study of this essay as it is the most prominent change within these two videogames.

If you’re currently playing the games in question, be warned: this post has spoilers.

NOTE: Given requests when this was posted on Squidoo, you have full permission to quote my essay in any academic paper, presentation or casual blog that you are writing. Please just reference back to this page and its sources correctly (my name is Willow Wood). I’ve included a bibliography at the very bottom.

Challenging Popular Perceptions
Videogames are undervalued as a ‘low cultural medium’

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Artwork by StellaB

First, what makes these two stories worthy of study when it comes to religious discourse? Is it possible that two popular videogames could contribute more to society than escapism? Gordon Calleja would argue, yes, as ‘[g]ames reflect aspects of the society and culture that made them while contributing to that society in the process; as a result, understanding them is a recursive process of exploration into collective knowledge and social practices.’ (2011, p. 8)

When Final Fantasy X (FFX) and Dragon Age II (DA2) were created it is possible that the religious symbolism and anarchist tendencies utilised within them were simply tools to build immersible worlds. On BioWare discussion forums David Gaider himself, the main writer of DA2, frequently dismisses claims that the creators made conscious links to religious figures and current issues concerning activism. But this does not mean that DA2 or FFX do not critique our moral system or our ability to question the system of society. The games have profound messages even if they are ‘unintentional’.

Ian Bogost argues that, ‘[s]erious games replace the cycle of capital with the cycle of political regimes, the cycle of industrial production, the cycle of institutionalized social goals.’ (2007, p. 320) This means that videogames have the potential to persuade and challenge the real world. Games like FFX and DA2 are underestimated in their cultural value due to their pixelated medium but they can have a profound impact on today’s generation of gamers. Videogames are a free-form place, an environment that can reshape or alter the real world to reflect our everyday lives, desires and morals. And because it is a visual medium that stimulates sight, sound, active decision making and creativity; interactive stories – like DA2 especially – can give the gamer an accessible way to emote and invest in the issues that arise within a free-form world.

As Bogost goes on to say:

On the one hand, videogames can represent ethical doubt through logics that disrupt movement along one moral register with orthogonal movement along another. On the other hand, videogames can represent ethical positions through logics that enforce player behavior along a particular moral register.

It is surprising that the latter strategy has not found more use in games conceived to support stable moral systems, such as those of organized religion. (2007, p. 287)

Here the connection has already been made between organised religion and the persuasive power of videogames. To discuss how FFX and DA2 dismantle their real world parallels, the next few paragraphs will briefly describe the set up of these two fantasy universes

The Foundations of FFX’s Religious System
Where does it come from?

auron03FFX is the more complex of the two worlds to break down. It draws from Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, to name a few. With such a diverse foundation for its religion, even in its alphabet and holy song – Siddham Sanskrit script and mantra-like chants – it is possible that FFX can be viewed not as a critique on one culture’s beliefs but on the very concept of organised religion.

The object of suffering within FFX is hi-tech machinery called ‘machina‘ and anyone who uses machina is a heretic keeping suffering alive. The origin of this technophobia arose a thousand years before the game starts when a summoner (a magic user) called Yu Yevon summoned a creature the people named “Sin“. Sin was programmed to destroy any city that used machina and so, to protect themselves, the Yevon Church was formed.

The Church banned machina in the hopes of appeasing Sin but in order to enforce this rule, teachings were written that said machina made people lazy – made them proud and arrogant – and this was mankind’s sin. Now, despite four successful attempts to kill Sin, he is always reborn, creating a cycle of death and rebirth to remind the people not to use the forbidden technology. It is easy to see a mixture of ‘original sin’ from Christianity – mankind must repent for the crime of one man, in this case a generation – and the cycle of death and rebirth; the wheel of suffering from Buddhism.

final fantasy geeking
Discover more…
When researching for this essay I read a lot of Helluin’s lenses. Her lens Final Fantasy X Symbols & Glyphs in particular informed me about the foundations of FFX’s religion. It’s worth reading if you’re interested in glyphs, symbology and religious mythology.

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The Similarities and Differences in DA2
A slightly easier religion to break down

goldencityThis theme of original sin carries over into DA2. It is much more obvious, too, as its central, ruling religion draws heavily upon Christianity rather than a mix of beliefs. The crime here is that the people idolised monsters, the Old Gods created by the Maker, instead of worshiping the Maker Himself. This angered the Maker and so He turned His back on the world. This false worship is deemed by the Chantry, the church of the Dragon Age world, as the ‘original sin’. To directly quote the Bible we can almost tie together how machina and the Old Gods both represent the snake by offering forbidden knowledge, ‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.’ (Gen. 3:1) This ‘craftiness’ is especially true for the Old Gods as they misled the people even further after the Maker discarded them.

The Old Gods eventually managed to lure a select few mages (magic users) into entering heaven and sitting on the Maker’s throne, but their pride and arrogance corrupted it. The Maker cast humanity aside yet again, the ‘second sin’ and cursed the intruding mages into mindless, poisonous creatures that would breed and plague the world upon their return. It took almost one-hundred years for these creatures to be defeated but, just like Sin in FFX, these creatures keep returning to purge the earth. It is the price for past sins.

This symbolic punishment in both videogame worlds can be compared to the punishment that God placed on Adam and Eve, and upon all their descendants, “To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; [ … ]” To Adam he said, [ … ] “…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…”‘ (Gen. 3:16-17-19) While this is not as drastic as the returning purges within the two videogames, it is hard to ignore the similar connotations.

The Martyr
Yuna as Christ

The final religious distinction to make within Yuna_-_012_CGboth games is the clear representation of a martyr who dies for the people, although depicted very differently in each story. In FFX, summoners, like the protagonist Yuna, are trained to temporarily ‘defeat’ Sin by using magic instead of machina. This magic, however, has killed every summoner who has confronted Sin whilst using it. It is a case of magic versus machine; magic is the solution in FFX and the downfall in DA2.

Summoners must martyr themselves to protect the people as a whole. No solution is offered to these summoners and their companions – there is no alternative; the church is complicit in this. This can be compared to Jesus who theoretically died for our sins, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ (1 Cor. 5:22), and now we are atoning for the ‘original sin’ through the summoners sacrifice. As said by a character in game, “She [a summoner] must ease the suffering of all Spira. She must be a leader for the people.” (Lord Seymour, FFX, 2001). The people of Spira are trapped in their religious beliefs in the hope that one day Sin will be vanquished.

This sacrificial mentality remains even after Yuna discovers that the Church is corrupt and, because of this discovery, has been branded a heretic:

Kelk: Branded a traitor, but still you would fight Sin? Lost to the temple, hated by the people, yet you continue your pilgrimage? Everything lost! What do you fight for?

Yuna: I fight for Spira. The people long for the Calm. I can give it to them. It’s all I can give. Defeating Sin, ending pain…this I can do. (FFX, 2001)

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Read more about the many summoners of FFX and where they came from…
in Helluin’s lens The Summoners of Final Fantasy X

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The Sacrifice
Andraste as Joan of Arc

In Dragon Age history the same value of importance Andrasteis placed upon a woman called Andraste who claimed to be the mortal bride of the Maker. She proclaimed that if people worshiped Him once more and reined in their wicked use of magic, He would return to caring for the world. Andraste fought a long and bloody war for the freedom of slaves and to spread ‘the Maker’s word’, but was eventually burned at the stake. This act lost the Maker’s love yet again – the ‘third sin’.

Upon closer inspection, Andraste’s life is undeniably similar to Joan of Arc (and even draws parallels with Queen Boudica), including the manner of her death, but compared to Summoner Yuna this figure of salvation is proactive and brutal. Both women’s role within the two religions is that of a messianic Christ-figure but Andraste’s death does not achieve salvation, like Christ, and neither does it give the people a respite from the war, like a summoner or Joan of Arc.

Instead, the Andrastian Chantry was formed hundreds of years later based upon her teachings and mages were oppressed out of fear; locked away and watched by the Chantry’s militia. Magic must serve man and never rule over the world again.

Artwork of Andraste found [here]

Being Led to Accept One Outcome
Defying the Yevon Church

final-fantasy-x-yuna-dance-wallpaperWhen Yuna learns the terrible details of the ritual required to defeat Sin she is dismayed, but it is her lover, Tidus, who demands more answers. Only then do we learn the missing piece: that Sin is reborn from the ritual. Once they understand the futility of their efforts – that Sin is purposely kept alive by the Church of Yevon – Yuna refuses the sacrifice and begins a new journey to defeat Sin once and for all, even if that means she must use forbidden machina.

This is obviously a huge leap for the characters to make, especially for Yuna who was raised as a Yevonite, but there is little reason for the gamer to oppose this heresy. As Bogost explains, ‘Persuasive games expose the logic of situations in an attempt to draw players’ attention to an eventual site and encourage them to problematize the situation.’ (2007, p. 332) The problem here is that Yuna must prove the Church is a lie.

Religion is often a source of hope for people. Saints, symbols and mantras serve as unquestionable stability within peoples’ lives, a code to rely upon when the world becomes too terrible or confusing to deal with – especially in a world like Spira where there is the constant threat of being attacked by Sin. The gamer is led through Yuna’s path of contemplation as she breaks down the reasons why it is ultimately better to defy the Church. Unlike in DA2, all of Yuna’s companions come around to her way of thinking and fight to destroy not only Sin, but everything each of them has believed in.

This conclusion seems logical as the question of “right and wrong” is not too difficult to make. The conflict is internal. Coming to terms with the corruption of the Yevon Church is tricky, but actively destroying it is easier for the gamer than the characters.

At the end of the game, Yuna gives a speech to the people in which the Yevon Church is renounced as false and Spira can face a new age. While there is emphasis on ascending from a despairing cycle – there is no reason to feel guilty any more – emotional value is placed on love and friendship; working together.

The final images are flashes of Yuna’s companions from throughout her pilgrimage. There is one shot of when she almost gave into the Church rather than fight against it, before a final, lingering image of the man she fell in love with, Tidus. Ultimately, there is a sense that Yuna has done something wonderful. She is a hero for uncovering Yevon and destroying Sin. Now society can begin anew and join hands to rebuild the world.

The Ending of Final Fantasy X
Yuna’s final stand (and loss) and her speech to Spirian citizens

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The Power of Persuasive Games
Being forced to make decisions and problematise society

DA2DA2’s ending, in comparison to FFX’s, however, is much different. The final feeling at the end of BioWare’s game plays significantly on guilt, justice and the fact that reality is never black and white: sometimes the only options one has in order to progress are both nasty. It is a matter of seeing the bigger picture and picking the lesser of two evils. In DA2 this has a stronger impact on the gamer as the story unfolds from a first person perspective and, as Bogost explains with this kind of roleplaying experience, ‘The object of the persuasion [you] is held accountable, even held hostage for response.’ (2007, p. 318) The gamer must choose the best course of action based on the arguments presented to them, and their decision greatly affects the overall outcome.

The story changes depending on the decisions the protagonist (known as ‘Hawke’ from here on) makes, unlike the third-person narrative in FFX where you will end up at the same resolution no matter what. This forces the player to make controversial or tough decisions that can determine whether key characters, like the revolutionary mage Anders, live or die.

Some background knowledge is required to fully understand the build up to DA2’s theme of religious reformation.

As mentioned before, the Chantry’s main belief is that “Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him” (Transfigurations 1:1-1:5). Mages are watched every minute of the day by the Chantry’s militia to the point of living in constant fear, oppression and unjust punishment if accused of wrong doing. It builds up to where the revolutionary mage Anders literally blows up the Chantry, killing the Grand Cleric and all her priests. Hawke is then caught in the middle of two opposing sides: the militia or the mages.

Artwork by Sandara

Compared to FFX, this is a significantly more violent and direct approach at challenging the laws society is founded upon. Throughout the game the Grand Cleric has been shown as a sympathetic and diplomatic character and the act of murdering her – even if in the name of liberation – is a shock. Anders’ reason for doing this is like the attitude identified in Pullman’s novels where he creates the implication that, ‘people must cooperate, even while preserving their own cultures. The Church does not cooperate; it coerces.’ (2007, p. 8, BURKE)

Anders makes a similar argument: the Chantry is a form of compromise and placation, not a means to improve their culture’s attitude towards mages. He even says, “I removed the chance of compromise, because there is no compromise.” (Act 3, DA2, 2011) What he means is: the lives of people are not things to be compromised on, mage or otherwise. Compromising has not improved the welfare of mages, it has only altered the depravity in which they live.

Ander’s Speech & Forcing Hawke to Make a Choice
Begins at 2:15

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Messages of Religious Reformation
What’s the outcome of these games and what are they trying to tell us?

Isaaru_and_his_aeonIn FFX, when it is suggested that the characters should bring down the Church there is little resistance. It does not take long for all the characters to come to a consensus. The arguments of the opposing side are weak and easy to prove wrong, especially as every character feels betrayed rather than attacked. In DA2, after the Chantry is obliterated along with the Grand Cleric, there is a severe split in opinions within Hawke’s companions.

FFX is an emotional story that focuses on a small group of people. The theme of religious reformation and salvation is achieved through sacrificing ones beliefs and disbanding the Church. It would seem the message is to take action if one sees corruption and understand where ones beliefs come from. In DA2 the solutions are unclear. Anders tries to place greatness in people and mages by taking it from the divine. Without the Chantry to quell both sides of an argument: suppress the mages or free the mages, Hawke is forced to pick and fight for one side instead of hoping the issue will solve itself.

It raises notions like: terrorists are people too, being aware of the world around you is important, religion might be one of the key powers holding us back from ‘purposeful autonomous behaviour’ and, last but not least, is violence ‘OK’ if it is the only way to be heard or instigate change? Unlike FFX, there is no clear answer at the end of the game. All decisions are left up to the gamer. Even the final character to speak in DA2 expresses how disturbed she is to learn of ‘the truth’. As a soldier of the Chantry she believed Anders and Hawke needed to be found, forced to repent and then executed, but once she learns how things escalated into the Grand Cleric’s death, she is no longer sure if she is fighting for the right reasons.

Games Can Change the Way We Think
To conclude…

DragonAge2-2011-03-30-14-47-25-22Overall, it could be argued that these two games tackle religion with different purposes but both put forward the idea that organised religion is flawed. Final Fantasy X is designed to tell a story and Dragon Age II is designed to force its consumer to think and take responsibility for their actions. The medium of game strengthens the impact of both stories and the end result can leave a sense of disquiet within the gamer. Ultimately, to end with a quote from Bogost, these games guide us to at least contemplate religious reformation. ‘Videogames themselves cannot produce events; they are, after all, representations. But they can help members of a situation address a logic that guides it and begin to make movements to improve it.’ (2007, p. 332)

lensography

Discover more of Helluin’s lenses!
Check out her Final Fantasy Lensography.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Dragon Age II, 2011 [videogame]. Lead writer Gaider DAVID. USA: BioWare.

Final Fantasy X, 2001 [videogame]. JAPAN: Square.

Secondary Sources

ANON., 2009. Holy Bible (NIV) New International Version. CHINA: Hodder & Stoughton.

BOER, R., 1998. Ezekiel’s Axl, or anarchism and ecstasy. In: AICHELE, G., & PIPPIN, T., ed., 1998. Violence, Utopia and the Kingdom of God: Fantasy and Ideology in the Bible. NY: Routledge.

BOGOST, I., 2007. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. USA: The MIT Press.

BURKE, R. C., 2007. “‘Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling’: Philip Pullman and the challenge of religious intolerance.” Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table [online], Summer 2007, n.p. Available: Academic OneFile [accessed 10 April 2010]

CALLEJA, G., 2011. In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation. USA: The MIT Press.

MAKINS, M. et al., 1999. Collins Shorter Dictionary and Thesaurus. 5th ed. UK: Omnia Books Limited.

Further Reading

STUDIO BENTSTUFF, ed., 2001. Final Fantasy X Ultimania Omega. JAPAN: DigiCube.

Evangelion Manga Reviews: Apocalypse and Beaches

evangelion_144What are the spin-off mangas like?

Are you a fan of the popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion? Do you want to know what the spin-off mangas are like? Then this review is for you!

I’m a fan of the original series and most of its varing manifestations. I was recently surprised to discover that there are two manga series. They are, for the most part, published fanfiction and not written by Hideaki Anno but this doesn’t mean they are bad.

I’ll be scrutinising use of plot, writing skill and characterisation. The two manga series in question are: The Shinji Ikari Rising Project and Campus Apocalypse

There are no spoilers in these reviews, but they are aimed at people who already know the characters and are aware of the original plot.

NGE_ShinjiIkariV1The Shinji Ikari Raising Project

Volume #1

This particular spin-off manga, by Osamu Takahashi, drags us into an altered universe with gorgeous artwork featuring our favourite leading characters – primarly, Asuka Langley Soryu.

It takes a while for any serious plot to kick in – chapter 6, to be precise. The lives of Asuka, Shinji and Rei are completely mundane and revolve around sexual comedy and romantic angst. In a world where Shinji’s mother is still alive and living in a family unit with Gendo Ikari, the story tries to explore how the chosen three teenagers would compete and interact if dating was their only worry.

We’re led through this alternate universe by Asuka who has been friends with Shinji since the age of four. This childhood bond is threatened when the beautiful Rei Ayanami moves to town – capturing Shinji’s interest – and forces Asuka to consider if she wants to be more than Shinji’s friend.

It’s beautifully drawn but plot points concerning the EVA are jarring and feel out of place in an average world where no one even vaguely mentions the Angels. There is no tension or threat of an imminent attack, which makes the EVA project feel slightly superfluous, like an attempt to create danger where there is none.

The first volume is light hearted compared to the original anime series and takes a somewhat heart-warming look at the dynamics between Rei, Asuka and Shinji. In fact, it acts like a harem in which Rei and Asuka fall over Shinji, and Shinji himself frequently catches glimpses of female underwear; torn between the attractions of two striking young women. So if you’re not a fan of series like Oh! My Goddess this might not be the adaptation for you.

Saying this, Takahashi has done a fantastic job of staying true to the original characters’ personalities and it might be worth giving it a go just to enjoy spending time with Asuka and company. They have been altered to better socialise with each other as there’s an uplifting sense of friendship and love beneath all their pranks and bickering. Even the adults, especially Misato Katsuragi and Gendo, have a cheerful disposition that seems unhampered by dark, NERV secrets.

For those of you hoping for shipping fanservice, Takahashi does a grand job of teasing you with hints at yaoi, yuri and het pairings all around.

It’s a calm and casual approach to Evangelion. The plot is vague and distracted with summer festivals and beach trips, but the characterisation is gripping and makes it worth reading if you want a closer look at ‘what might have been’ had Shinji and Asuka come from a happier environment. Mechs are not promised!

I personally don’t enjoy this kind of manga, so I won’t be buying the rest of the series. For those of you who do like harem-esc manga, this seems like a good one.

  • Fantastic characterisation

  • Beautiful artwork

  • Superfluious plot

campus-apocalypseCampus Apocalypse

Volume #1

Compared to The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Ming Ming’s Campus Apocalypse is an original and thoughtful alternate-reality. Corporation NERV, Shinji’s high school, the Angels and the characters themselves have been shaken up and re-imagined. This one is my favourite of the two.

Mystery arises from the get-go when Shinji spots his classmate running around at night with a Giant Spear (a.k.a. the Lance of Longinus) and an unknown guy. He puts this out of his mind until the next day at school where he attends NERV Foundation, a Catholic high school.

His curiosity is peaked when ‘the unknown guy’ turns out to be a transfer student by the name of Kaworu Nagisa who has a particular interest in Shinji, and a suspicious attitude towards Rei. Little does Shinji know, his curiosity will plunge him into a world of Angels, EVAs, Cores, AT Fields and prophecies – but not as you’d expect.

Compared to the original series, the art style has a more modern, anime feel. Ming has poured his own touch onto the page rather than perfectly mimic Anno’s drawing, which is part of what makes this series stand out.

I wasn’t sure if Ming’s story would be particularly good, as the first “in-class-scene” has a forced tone of humour. It’s more a case of, ‘look, isn’t this FUNNY?‘ than it actually being humorous. I was thrilled to discover that the story takes a compelling turn and has an exciting take on all the tech/techno-babble from the series. The Angels are especially interesting in this adaptation. In fact, it was the appearance of the first ‘Angel’ that hooked my attention.

The mood of storytelling has kept with the original – dreamy, brutal, symbolic (to a sensible degree) – and promises to be an insightful interpretation. The characters are true to themselves, especially Rei, Shinji and Asuka. Like the Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Shinji’s abandonment issues have been toned down but he is a lot truer to his original characterisation with unforgettable, well implemented mantras such as, “I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away!

For those of you who ship Kaworu and Shinji, there are enough intense stairs between the two boys to make fangirls die of giggles.

This is a compelling adaptation with narrative skill and unexpected re-imaginings of the original series. The artwork isn’t quite as mesmerising as Takahashi’s but the plot makes up for it by the book load. I’ll be buying the next volume.

  • Gripping story

  • Unique alternate universe

  • Well written

Are you a big fan of the Evangelion series? Have you read either of these mangas, too?

Fifty Shades of Feminism

This has to be the best “Fifty Shades” marketing pun out there. That’s it, they don’t get better or more tongue in cheek than this. Now stop.

But I’m not posting this to rage about marketing puns, or Fifty Shades of Gray. I want to share with you a new book. A fantastic book. A book that makes me feel solidarity with not just women, but people. If you haven’t heard of Fifty Shades of Feminism edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach, that’s not surprising. It’s a book about feminism, after all. Ech.

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What makes this book special is its informality. This isn’t a preaching book. This isn’t trying to tell you The Rules Of Feminism (because they don’t exist, by the way). Fifty Shades of The F-Word is a book filled with stories, personal struggles, hope and reasons to challenge the equality lie.

It contains three-to-four page entries from fifty women around the world of all ages, sexuality and shades of feminist ideas. I started reading it yesterday and I’m a third of the way through.

So, what I really wanted to do was share with you parts of one story that have resonated with me the most and, I suspect, will resonate with many young women from my generation and younger. It’s an entry by Sharon Haywood, called Owning the F-word. It succinctly puts across the difficulties many people face in a Western world that is entrenched with anti-feminist rhetoric. I hope it reaches women afraid of being ostracized for trying to reclaim a demonised movement.

“I was always a feminist . . . I just didn’t know it.

As a teen and a young woman, I would rattle off misinformed excuses for not owning feminism, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much with up-and-coming generations. Take twenty-two-year-old Taylor Swift, internationally acclaimed pop-country singer, who when asked whether she was a feminist responded, ‘I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.’

It wasn’t until my thirties, when I left my provenance in Canada to explore other cultures, that I came to learn that feminism is not a battle of the sexes, and sometimes working hard simply isn’t enough. It took moving to Argentina, where 15 per cent of cosmetic surgery patients are teenage girls seeking Botox injections, chin implants and lip fillers, for me to become a card-carrying feminist.

By the 1980s, just as I grew old enough to form my own opinion, the backlash aimed at the second wave of feminism was firmly entrenched in popular culture. The media and entertainment industry did (and still do) a fine job of depicting feminists as militant, hairy and angry, strengthening the stereotype that no one I knew wanted to be associated with. I bought into the propaganda that feminists were man-hating, undesirable and humourless, adjectives I most certainly did not want attached to my name.

Although I recognised that many of my basic rights – voting, getting a credit card, attending university and having full reproductive autonomy – came courtesy of earlier generations of feminists, I couldn’t relate to them. A combination of immaturity, widely accepted delegitimizing stereotypes and having never known a real-life feminist shaped my believe that the women’s movement had finished its job.

Even though my core values aligned with feminism, I fervently defended my beliefs in equality by tagging on the disclaimer, ‘Yes, but I’m not a feminist,’ lest I be ostracized from mainstream society. I rejected the F-word when I called out my friends on sexist jokes, when I maintained catcalling is sexual harassment and even when I defended my undergraduate thesis arguing the association between porn and violence against women. The relationship between less obvious forms of oppression in my midst and the work of earlier feminists eluded me.

[. . .]

Since I’ve owned feminism, my life has changed for the better. It has heightened my sensitivity to the different experiences of people as they intersect with various aspects of their identity. It’s improved the quality of my personal relationships with others and myself. And it’s affirmed that a small group of committed people can indeed effect positive change. That said, imagine what our world would look like if feminism wasn’t restricted to the fringe.

Study after study has shown that feminism self-identity lends to greater collective action, thus increasing the likelihood of social change. From Argentina to Australia, the more of who own feminism as part of who we are, the greater our odds of raising consciousness and dissolving the rhetoric that stands in the way of gender equality.

Perhaps with more life experience, celebrity and role models like Taylor Swift and other well-known self-proclaimed non-feminists – actress-director Drew Barrymore, singer-songwriter Björk and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, to name a few – will recognize that they too are in fact feminists, and pave a less-obtrusive path for all women.

Taking ownership of the label doesn’t require abandoning the role of stay-at-home mother, earning a doctorate in gender studies or founding a non-profit organization (and it certainly doesn’t trigger overnight facial hair), but it does mean possessing and wielding out combined potential and power to achieve genuine equality.

Individually, it starts with the assertion. Yes, I am a feminist. Full stop.”

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To read Haywood’s full entry, you should really buy Fifty Shades of Feminism. It’s a great way to tease into a muggy subject; especially if you don’t know how to shape what it means, or if you aren’t sure whether to believe feminists are nuts or not (I advocate not, ta); with fascinating, uplifting, inspiring stories.

Final Fantasy Voice Actors Recast

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already heard about Final Fantasy Still a spin off Final Fantasy series on YouTube; featured by Machinima, written and directed by Christian Sekhanan. It’s an incredible achievement with over 40 voice actors and hundreds of hours poured into animation production.

After the launch of season 2, it went on hiatus, but it’s a pleasure to announce its return! I’m also excited to tell you that I am returning as the voice of Aerith Gainsborough. This both terrifies me and thrills me. It’s not like Aerith is an icon, or anything, right? Talk about pressure.

But I’ve been lucky over the years to work for some truly amazing directors, who are not only patient, give clear direction and are well organised, but also encouraging. No matter how good you think a voice actor is, encouragement is one of the best things you can offer. Every voice actor has at some point doubted their credibility – especially when it seems like they’re doing better than ever before.

So, what I’m trying to say is: thank you, Chris, for casting me and for making me feel like part of the team. Final Fantasy Still is an amazing project to be a part of, and its success is well deserved.

Without further ado, let me share with you some of my favourite demo reels from the FFS cast!

Onion Knight Ingus

Shantotto

Lightning

Tifa Lockhart

Kefka

Jecht

Laguna Loire