After receiving hundreds of nominations for our Feminist You Should Know contest, the Feminist Campus team was able to sift through them, sit down, knock our heads together, and decide on ten finalists! This was no easy task: every single nominee was the most amazing person we’d ever met so far in our lives. No lie. Our awe-inspiring crew come from a diversity of backgrounds, universities, regions, and perspectives in the feminist movement – and it’s just not possible for us to choose a winner alone. And that’s where you come in! Over the next week, we’ll be posting blog posts written by each of our stellar finalists; on Monday, we’ll launch an online voting form where members of our community – that’s you! – cast a vote for who moved you deeply, inspires you most, or simply has your favorite haircut.
To be on this list is just about one of the most phenomenal things that has happened to me. I am grateful, honored, delighted. When I received the news that I had – by some extraordinarily gracious goings on – ended up a finalist in this contest, I took to sharing the news with my social networks. I began asking my friends and family for their vote. But as I did this, something didn’t feel right.
For the last several years, one of my core foci as a doctoral student and artist has been game design. What I was experiencing as I asked for votes was similar to how I have often felt when deciphering what the “win state” to my games should be. The games I co-create typically engage content that is sobering and faithful to reality. As such, we ask ourselves what winning means in particular circumstances: a loaf of bread, another day with clean water, feeling a sense of community with fellow players, a million dollars…
By soliciting votes in order that one rise above the others, these unbelievably accomplished thinkers and doers have been positioned in competition with one another. Certainly, to be nominated is an honor and the fact is that our stories have now been shared and will cross-pollinate in ways that are likely to be unpredictable and remarkable. But the question needs asking of whether there aren’t other useful models of recognition, models that designate individuals as perfectly on course to becoming even more conscientious, generous, capable. Particularly pressing is this question in context to issues of social justice, where the aspirations are liberatory and inclusive.
Research shows that privilege and poverty tend to beget themselves. The inherent disadvantages of inequality mean that insidious cycles of oppression can be impossible to break. Those that often “win” in life tend to keep winning and those that typically “lose” keep losing. This, in contradiction to popular longstanding narratives in this country about the value of pulling oneself by the bootstraps as well as more contemporaneous ones about grit as an invaluable character trait to improving one’s own circumstances.
In the field of game design we often talk about the affordance games have to allow players to fail safely and therefore to rehearse for success. However, if a game doesn’t question conventional definitions of success and failure, then how could it possibly extend consciousness? “Playing” with these definitions is one way, I believe, that a game can invite a player to reflect upon her own place in the world and its interdependent systems, as well as upon her behavior, assumptions, and societal norms. It is when the possibility to question and redefine success and failure is crafted that games and play can most directly address the power gap between those who experience oppression and those who hold greater social privileges.
I’m touched by this nomination and I’m grateful to learn about the nine outstanding feminists who share this honor; winners all of us, thanks to that one person or to the many who vote/s for us and on whose shoulders we stand.
Susana Ruiz is a PhD candidate in Media arts and Practice at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. She is also co-founder of Take Action Games, a studio whose portfolio is focused on innovative interactive media at the juncture of cinema, games, art, and activism.