cw: assault, rape, sexism, mental health
I’ve never publicly acknowledged or addressed being a victim of sexual assault, and it has been something that I minimized and refused to accept for a long time, while suffering a lot internally.
And putting those experiences far out of my mind for such a long time, it came to me suddenly as I was recently triggered after seeing men play a video game with extremely sexualized images of women.
This is a topic that hits home for me largely because as a child the first time I was greeted with a video-game portrayal of a female protagonist fighter-character was Lara Croft.
This had certainly made a mark on me in some way (although not in a sexual capacity and albeit video game technology in the late 90s hardly depicted the female body from a tree trunk), but that I wanted to be just like the badass female that was Lara Croft when I grew up.
Fast-forward to me now, an adult woman, I previously never felt personally stigmatized by seeing these images, and perhaps because I was aware but not directly exposed to it. But when I saw such vivid objectifying depictions of women with unrealistic body proportions (and added looked upon by the male gaze), I felt immediately triggered to a feeling I had at the time of my assault.
It’s a complicated issue and especially because these virtual women are created largely in part by men. And it is that fact that men only want to see/care about the sexual organs of women that the feeling objectification arises; because the entire authority of the woman as a whole is removed.
The hyper-sexualization or objectification in the portrayal of women, in all media, is already known to be detrimental to the mental health of women. What’s less talked about is the effect it has on sexual assault survivors and the perpetuation of rape culture.
What I realized more after I got triggered, is all the instances that I had been triggered before are all linked to the male gaze.
- “The male gaze is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.
- The male gaze consists of three perspectives:
- that of the person behind the camera,
- that of the characters within the representation or film itself, and
- that of the spectator.” [Wikipedia]
My problem does not and never lies with the actual appearance and presence of female figures, but with the presence of the on-looking male.
When women in real life want to dress a certain way, I never have and will not have problems with this and it is always this point that people make to draw a line between real life women and hyper-sexualization. The problem here is that these caricatures of women do not look like real life women.
And I was always aware of the difference in the portrayal and representation of women versus men in media & games, but the major issue here is that is it usually men who are the ones portraying these women this way. Thus, catering to and perpetuating the rape culture phenomenon that is the male gaze.
As put by the author of the Reel Girl blog, people might argue that ‘it doesn’t matter because they’re just cartoons or caricatures, and men don’t look like that either.’ This point has no real foundation because these men aren’t being sexually depicted and misrepresented.
Whether or not men are in their minds undressing and sexualizing that female, the summary point is the difference of my reaction to the sexualized imagery before and after being sexually assaulted, where I felt the second-hand objectification and was triggered to a time when I was objectified.
After being triggered I scoured the internet for the keywords “hypersexualization in video-games,” “triggers,” and “sexual assault.” Before I finally realized that the entire problem boiled down to the male gaze and objectification. Many papers have been written on the male gaze in film and commercials, but I would like to see more research on video games and assault survivors.
My reasons for sharing this with you all:
I know this is all a jumble of thoughts that loosely had to do with sexism in video games at some point, but the real message I wanted to share was the lack of recorded experience on the internet regarding sexual assault survivors’ accounts of the male gaze.
And if you are reading this now because you also made a google search looking for answers, I wanted to tell you that yes, your experiences and your reactions are valid, and you are not alone.
One can also make the terrible argument that these virtual women are there for objectifying because they aren’t real. However, that opinion only reinforces the ideas of a rape culture where women are here for your pleasure.
Yes, the male gaze whether or not it be happening in real life, or at an imaginary woman, is indeed triggering for some sexual assault survivors. Because the objectifying of any woman is still objectifying.
Featured image by Lauren YS