In last week’s conversation about the fact that Lara Croft will be threatened with sexual assault in the latest release of Tomb Raider, commenter Yitzhak Ben-Moshe wondered “One wonders how many sick puppies will let it go and watch the rape happen. Disgusting.” No sooner had he said that than two people showed up in the feed to validate his fears. “As long as you get to watch Lara Croft get raped uncensored, I’ll pre-order the special edition right now,” wrote Jordan Cunningham. “I been wanting to see that foe nearly a decade.” And Eric Ericsson chimed in “Rape in my tomb raider? Oh boy, I cannot wait to raid her tomb.” This letter is to them.
Dear Jordan and Eric,
I have a lot of questions for both of you, but let’s start with this one: why do you want to see Lara Croft get raped?
I ask because I’d be willing to bet it’s something you hadn’t considered much before Ron Rosenberg and company laid out the scenario (one they’re now walking back) for the new Tomb Raider game that will give Lara Croft a backstory. And once you heard that Lara Croft was going to be at risk of rape in the new game, you jumped on the idea. But I still want to know why. It’d be one thing if you wanted to see the character have fairly explicit consensual sex—Lara Croft has been marketed to us as a hot, adventurous woman for years, and all manner of non-exploitative fantasies can come out of the way she’s been sold in-game and on-screen. But no, what Jordan wants is to see her get “raped uncensored,” and Eric wants the chance to do it himself.
So, in all seriousness, why do you want to see Lara Croft get raped?
Do you think she has an obligation to be sexually available, if not to you in real life, to someone else in-game, and if she violates that obligation, that it should be enforced upon her? One of the hard, immutable truths of adulthood is that no one owes you, and there is no mechanism to guarantee that everyone gets some mysteriously-allotted fair share of happiness and sexual satisfaction. I get that there’s this fantasy of a time before feminism when women were more broadly sexually available to men, when some men think they would have experienced less of that pain of loneliness and that fear of rejection that is baked into modern life. But I’d bet if you think about it carefully, you’ll acknowledge to yourself that it’s not really true, that participation in that fantasy was limited to certain very powerful and wealthy men, that it probably wouldn’t have served you as well as you think it would, that then, as now, you would have been required to exercise persuasion and charm and negotiation to get what you wanted. This fantasy of yours, it’s a fantasy. And nothing, not pretending you’re owed something, not seeing a video game character get raped, is ever going to bring it back.
So if it’s not that, is it entertaining to you to see this powerful woman reduced in some way, made vulnerable to something whether you’re the person enforcing her powerlessness or not? Because if that’s the case, really, what are you so frightened of? Lara Croft is not some sort of proof that men have been replaced as adventurers, or that men are unnecessary. To paraphrase Orson Scott Card’s Piggies talking about their desire to participate in the full life of the universe alongside humanity, feminism is not about being there first, about rendering men irrelevant. It’s about being there, too. I’d think that needing to see Lara Croft, or any other strong woman, made vulnerable isn’t pushback against misandry, the unicorn of oppressions. It’s evidence of fear, proof of John Scalzi’s theory that relying on patriarchy is really playing the game of life on the easiest setting rather than being willing to collaborate, and in some cases compete. If that’s what you really want, to be spared the presence of women in your lives because you find us threatening and upsetting, you may be able to find a way to do that, for a little while longer. But I don’t think it’s going to last. You can’t put all of us in whatever it is you perceive to be our places. There are too many of us. And whether you want to acknowledge it or not, there are a lot of men who will tell you that having women is a value add to their lives, not a painful surrendering of territory. You can fight for whatever barren rock you want to make your last stand on. But why not check out what men and women are building together? If you like what you see, then welcome.
Or are you at that point in your life where you think there’s something inherently exciting about violating norms, and so the fact that women are upset about the prospect of seeing Lara Croft get assaulted lights up some part of your brain and makes you want not so much to see it happen as to see them upset? I sort of suspect that this is where you are, that you aren’t so much deeply angry or afraid as amused by the idea of eliciting a reaction from people like me and from guys like Yitzhak. And to a certain extent, I get that impulse. There’s a lot of censuriousness in our society today, particularly around video games. I’m as much a fan of anyone as picking apart hollow moralism and self-righteousness. But it’s a mistake to assume that just because some things are specious that nothing means anything. And wandering around smashing things indiscriminately doesn’t make you smart, or clever, or brave. It just makes you a blank shield, without cause or metaphorical country. That sounds more lonely than liberated.
Honestly, I don’t feel particularly threatened by your comments, because they’re so predictable. But I do feel profoundly sad that you would leave them in the first place, and that you’d leave them under your own name, in a form that means those tossed-off, ugly sentiments show up in your Facebook stream. Maybe you assume that the only people reading them are on your same wavelength, that this is a joke you can share on the uptight feminist blogger. But you may be wrong. There may be someone reading your comments, someone you love and who you wouldn’t want to hurt, who has been raped or sexually assaulted or harassed, who you may be wounding all over again without you even knowing it. There may be someone out there in your future who will stumble across these comments, someone you’ve gotten close to and come to care about, who will read these words and have their sense of you rearranged in an instant.
I don’t really care if you don’t care about hurting me. But I suspect that there are people in your lives that you don’t want to hurt, whose respect you’d like to maintain. And if you don’t care about doing damage to other people, I’d hope you’d at least care about doing damage to yourself. There’s a world out there you’re cutting yourself off from by saying things like this, perhaps without ever having seen or experienced it. Having some basic respect for women, being revolted rather than gleeful about rape culture, these things won’t automatically make life easy. But they’re a precondition for certain opportunities, a whole range of conversations and interactions. Publicly embracing patriarchy isn’t just playing the game on the easiest difficulty setting. It’s committing yourself to not playing all the way through the game.