Feminist Scholarship: To Label or Not to Label?


Lemme start this blog all feminist-style with a story.

I got some feedback on my work recently that made me question what I’m doing with my dissertation. My diss work is on a theory I made up called procedural ethics (PE). PE, essentially, asks game scholars to start at the code and move backward, to look at the material conditions of the humans that created the game in the first place. Much of game study scholarship (my work at NYMG here also often included in this) focuses on representation in games. However, while we talk about fictional characters we often forget there are real people, real women, behind the scenes. Reminiscent of Lara Croft’s near rape in the recent Tomb Raider, women behind the scenes are being sexually assaulted and discriminated against in shocking numbers.

PE, then, puts these situations into the center of what it means to study games, rather than as solely being the purview of feminist game scholars. However, the feedback I’ve been getting suggests that PE would work much better as being labeled “Feminist Rhetorical Games Studies.” I can only infer the implications of that which I would be happy to share with any of you in a non-recorded form, but it did get me thinking. When almost all of my work is not only labeled feminist but represented proudly in pink colors (like at NYMG), why is it so important to me to have PE be accepted in the mainstream?

I’m not asking idly. I’m trying to work through it. I’m not ashamed of the feminist label. I love that my work may one day be alongside the many feminist scholars who have impacted my life so much. I’m not trying to hide the influence of feminist methodology and feminist game studies work on PE. The material conditions of women in the games industry is always my go-to example to demonstrate the importance of PE. So why am I so irritated at the suggestion I rename PE as a feminist-rhetorical approach to games?

I came to a few conclusions about why I am resisting labeling  this particular project as being “feminist.” I would really like to hear about others’ struggles with this as well.

My knee-jerk (and slightly embarrassing to admit) fears:

1. If it’s labeled “feminist,” the people who need to read it the most probably won’t

I have no “real” evidence to base this on. But I have heard people, time and time again, say things like “well, I’m working with X, not with women, so I don’t need to read that.” I worry that this limits the influence of feminist scholarship, then, because it has a readership that is comprised of those already sympathetic to feminist issues. On the other hand, the gains we get from being part of the feminist community IMHO far outweigh the negative of not being able to reach everyone. So, to me, it’s still well worth it, and it fact it’s crucially important. However, this is still one concern of mine that is influencing my resistance to changing the name of my project. I, of course, want to just say “fuck anyone who wouldn’t read this because it’s feminist.” But I’m not sure how much that solves in the long run.

2. If it’s labeled “feminist,” it will only be used to study issues surrounding women

Now, feminist methodology has recently smashed through this notion and become one of the most respected methodologies currently available for studying anything. It’s true, and vitally important, that one of the biggest aspects of feminist work is that it accounts for/considers/examines women in whatever topic is at hand. If you’re doing feminist work, you cannot skip women. And I love this. However, the inverse of this is not true. Just because it has to account for women, doesn’t mean it can only account for women. Particularly with something like video games that have had such an incredibly troubled history in regards to women, I truly believe that any ethical study of games will at least acknowledge it.

3. By acquiescing to someone else’s conception of my work, I deny the feminist principles that made me write this in the first place

I do not like that I can’t name my own work. If I want to call something “feminist” I will. It’s my shit. Yes, I have a vagina and am talking about conditions of women. And I have a feminist project. Does that mean I have to label it as such? Does it just mean I should so that it gets into the right hands? Like I said above, I love the feminist label, and I utilize it proudly 95% of the time. But I have not labeled PE as a strictly feminist principle because I make the argument that studying the conditions of women is part of any ethical project, not just a feminist one. Can I still do this if it’s labeled feminist? Maybe.

My goal with my entire dissertation is twofold: 1. Influence the way game studies does scholarship so that material conditions and contexts behind the games becomes central and 2. Improve conditions for women in the industry. Yes, it’s about women; it’s all about women. But PE is really about doing better scholarship. Doing ethical scholarship. So now I don’t know what to do. Help! I’m lost!

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Feminist Scholarship: To Label or Not to Label?”

  1. Don says:

    I’m having a similar issue in relation to an article I am working on, and I think your comments speak to a larger problem in Rhet/Comp. I bring in work identified as feminist rhetorics (particularly in PW and computers and writing) to talk about queer rhetorics, and one reviewer seems to think it would be better to use queer theoretical work in another field instead. Comments read as if “this isn’t queer enough.” I draw from the scholarship that I do because I’m hoping the work will be of some use to multiple, specific audiences (and because my methods and goals are more inspired by and in line with the feminist scholars I cite). However, the reviewer may be commenting based on who they think will read the article rather than who I want to read the article.

    I have no easy answers for you, but I do think that if you make some “popular” articles or a book from the diss, you might have less issues later and be able to call your work whatever you want, I guess. The people you’d like to read it wouldn’t be reading the diss itself, right? Also, can you make this a footnote in the diss itself some how?