Last year I sent a slightly snarky email to Paizo in response to their virtual Christmas card mailing, which was a picture of the Pathfinder RPG iconic character Seoni[1. Not that I recognised her as Seoni at the time, not being familiar enough with PFRPG then. Granted, I still wouldn't know if not for that post, and I don't know any other PF iconic's name.] done up as a sexy Santa. As an afterthought I turned the email into a post because hey, why not get double duty out of that text I spent time writing?
Unsurprisingly in retrospect, but completely taking me by surprise at the time, that turned into a huge mess when the post was linked to on the Paizo forums.
I hesitated to write a follow-up post for a long time. When the next Christmas came around I considered writing something but ultimately skipped it just because it still left a foul taste just thinking about it. Even now I'm not really interested in analysing it, but a recent experience trying to explain male privilege to a friend and the resulting sensation of banging my head against a wall reminded me of that post and my undischarged duty to a commentor on it. That I've been reading the excellent Border House Blog that bankuei recently blogged about probably has a lot to do with it too.
When I wrote that post, one of the first comments was from Ravyn of Exchange of Realities, asking that I post a follow-up should Paizo respond to the email. They never did so I never did, but I did (eventually, when my anger with the invaders had cooled) go and read through the entire long Paizo forum thread that discussed my post.
The male privilege and cluelessness about same was predictably rampant, but there was a surprising number of eloquent people arguing my point to the rest of the forumers,[2. roguerouge in this post and cappadocius in this post are particularly fine examples.] which was great to see. Most of them were more gentle and better-written than I was, but that sadly didn't seem to change any more minds than my angry arguing in the comments of my post did.
There were some very disappointing posts in that thread, and the most disappointing were the ones from the Paizo staff. So Ravyn, here's your answer:
—Erik Mona, Publisher #
All I have to say since I ordered the Holiday Pin-Up Seoni is I LIKE IT and "pin-up" was in the art order description!
—Sarah Robinson, Art Director #
I don't think that Christmas Seoni is "bad" or sexist or anything of the sort. I think Paizo's done a great job at being open-minded and getting all sorts of genders, races, sexual orientations, beliefs, and all that good stuff out there in a non-discriminatory way. In other words, the only thing I discriminate against is bad writing, I guess.
—James Jacob, Pathfinder Editor-In-Chief #
The only thing to say about Erik Mona's response is that if the head publisher of a company is going to respond at all I would expect more of them. He could have said nothing at all, but he chose to respond and chose that to respond with? It seemed to be much more a response for the sake of the bulk of the forumers—"don't worry, I'm not taking this seriously either"—than for me or any of the forumers who brought up criticism of Paizo's representation of women.
The art director's answer is just tiring. That she asked for it doesn't mean it wasn't sexist. If she'd said, "I asked for a black slave naked except for Rudolph antlers and nose, with a white man's Santa-style boot on her back," that would have been plainly wrong.[4. This is not to compare sexism and racism, which are different yet related in complicated ways. It's an over-the-top example that I would hope the majority agree clearly demonstrates the irrelevance of an art director defending a piece with, "but it's what I asked for!" when the resulting art is inappropriate. Despite that intent, if using that example is offensive in a way that I—in my white privilege—have failed to see, I hope you feel welcome enough to say so and allow me to make amends.] It is the content of the art direction that matters, not whether or not it was asked for or even whether or not the art director happens to be female. Women can absorb and transmit oppressive cultural values just as easily as men can, because having the right bits in the pants doesn't provide magical brain-immunity to the culture that we're soaked in.
James Jacob's response I cared less about and I included it for the completeness of Paizo's response, paltry as it was. (Unlike the others though, he participated in the thread conversation beyond this response.) Still, it's annoyingly self-congratulatory. If the detractors are ignored and you make a point of stating your point of view over theirs, then you're selecting for self-congratulatory feedback. It's entirely possible to have done a great job on diversity and still have a lot of room to improve, and it's so much easier to overlook an area where there's a huge lack of improvement when you simply assert that there's no problem.
And of course, there were Sean K Reynold's self-serving responses in the comments of the original post, but the less said about those, the better.
So that's it.[9. Dammit. I just can't write a short post. I could have been working on my conversion of Shaintar to Burning Wheel.] The people at Paizo don't take concerns about sexism in their art seriously because they think their art is already not sexist.
Edit to add: Now that there have been a few comments in the moderation queue, I can see that this post is going to attract some of the same Champions of Men that the last did. I have only a little bit of interest in arguing with people who don't know—and more to the point, don't care—about the fundamental concepts that a conversation about inequality starts from. If your comment ladles a big helping of male-privilege condescension on top of the cluelessness I'm not going to approve it.
Yes, I'm going to police the comments.[5. Criers of "censorship!" are welcome to educate themselves about freedom of speech on their own time. The short version is: No, I don't have an obligation to give anyone a soapbox here; Yes, you are free to write in your own blog instead.] You might really want to add your opinion to the comments, but opinions saying that there's no problem are pennies a gallon and they get old fast. I'd rather keep the thread welcoming to all, no just the ones who ironically and loudly insist that there's nothing to talk about.[7. There's a quote of Lady Macbeth that applies here.] That said, you're welcome to add vitriolic comment to the original thread, where it would be in fellow company with all the other white men saying that they don't see what the problem is.
Otherwise, I'm happy to converse with people who are genuinely curious and make an effort to be respectful (not to me, but to women and PoC who are in the audience). I'm not setting the bar high—the least indication of having thought about it and being willing to keep thinking about it is all that's necessary.