Persona 5: Almost impossible to put down

As I probably made obvious in the title of this post, I am absolutely gaga for Atlus’s fifth entry into the Megami Tensei spin-off Persona series. Persona 4: Golden was undeniably a masterpiece, and I have been looking forward to P5 ever since it was confirmed to be coming to PS4 in addition to PS3. In fact, I faithfully awaited the launch through a series of multiple delays. Also, gotta say it was a bit mean to JRPG fans that they were going to launch on Valentine’s day.

Now that I’ve had it downloaded and loved for a reasonable amount of time I wanted to share some thoughts regarding thematics and overall structure of the game. While it should be noted that I am not quite through my first play through (what can I say, finals) I feel I am currently facing a confusing set of emotions that should be articulated at this moment.

I plan to write more once I am done with the game, and my feelings and impressions will likely change as a result. But really I must say that while this is undoubtedly one of the best video games I have ever played, mechanically, stylistically, and by story it still has some parts that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Let us be fair, there are a lot of issues with social representation throughout almost all media, and in video games particularly. By these admittedly low standards, the Persona series has always been a few steps ahead of the curve where social progress is concerned. I’d look at the open-minded view they take in exploring the dungeon themed around the undefined sexuality and sexual preferences of Persona 4‘s Kanji.

Persona 5 has some similarity deep themes in the very first dungeon of Kamoshida’s castle where his abuse of his students is displayed. Given that the physical and sexual abuse is with two members of your party, Yosuke and Ann respectively, this isn’t some issue presented in the abstract, but an actual act of defiance where the victims are pursuing justice. Maybe a lesser game wouldn’t nudge me towards criticism of minutia, but Personais downright hypocritical.

This first criticism I feel I am wading into dangerous territory, but I promise I have logic if you see the argument to the end. I am very bothered by the games continued hyper-sexualization of its young female subjects, and Ann in particular.

I understand that many feel the sexualization of people considered underage in America and other Western nations. I understand that the age of consent is lower in Japan. I really don’t want to be an imperialist who tries to impose my standards onto others, but this is a piece of media that was made for myself and my market and I feel my criticism is valid. That said, P5 seems to at least somewhat agree that this is a way of depicting young women that is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character of either gender, that is kind of at the heart of any visual storytelling. I’m not going to write anything about Black Widow’s appearance being sexual because that is kind of the point and power of the character. She uses her sexuality as an a person fully capable of making her own informed decisions to manipulate the more basic parts of humans and the male gender in particular.

The problem is that the of the game seems to agree that the way the girls are depicted and treated is fundamentally wrong. The first quest is centered around stopping the “pervy” teacher who is pressuring underage girls into sexual activity. In the final boss fight, King Kamoshida drinks from a cup of lust where he literally consumes the mostly-nude bodies of young girls.

With this evidence, I think it is undeniable that the game considers Kamoshida’s view of high school girls as wrong as I would. Whether that is right or imperialistic is a discourse for another day. Now, accepting this condition, it stands to reason that Kamoshida’s distorted worldview includes a sexualized Ann in a bikini.

By cultural standards, especially those in the West, a young woman in a bikini is downright tame; however, it is hammered home that coach Kamoshida is doing something wrong by viewing Ann as a sex object. So, what does the game do? Repeatedly and heavily treat Ann as a sex object.

There is a pattern of making moments where the male characters of the Persona franchise awkwardly encounter their female counterparts in bathing suits. Personally, I find these moments at least charming, if a bit awkward. P5 is no exception to this trend. While these swimming scenes are low hanging fruits for examples, there are repeated instances where Ann is sexualized….. because.

Though I would say Ryuji is the worst explicit offender, there are multiple instances where they just stare at her or else make strange remarks. This would be fine in isolation, but it just keeps happening and I keep feeling weird. Take for instance the drive to Futaba’s pyramid. Obviously things are hot in the desert and they are trying to keep as cool as possible, but every guy in the back seat can’t help but stare down Ann’s shirt. Not subtly, they make a point of showing both Ann not being upset by this and the men not seeming to care.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Ann is an attractive young blond who is a part-time model as the result of her rich parents being fashion designers. It would have been easy to treat Ann as just an object of attraction. Persona 5 does not do that.

Ann is a romance option, and while her specific story missions do involve some work to become a better and/or more successful model, that is far from the point. She is doing it for herself so she can feel accomplishment through work and ultimately finds greater self value by side-lining modeling again. I can say all of that because she was the romance option I pursued.

Persona 5 does an exceptional job of making well rounded female characters. They are intelligent, complex, and a great sign of progress in an unfortunately misogynistic medium. While I applaud Atlus’s two steps forward, we must also acknowledge there one step back.

Post traumatic love

It’s hard to deal with mental problems. It’s harder to learn to live in a way that I can heal. Hardest of all is seeing how it affects the people I love.

There is more than one way in which I can feel guilty for this, I think the best people who can best exemplify this are my parents and my girlfriend.

As I’ve previously written, I’ve become increasingly independent recently but that’s not our of nowhere. I’ve always been painfully aware that I am the oldest child of 5. My parents never did anything to pressure or shame me in any way, but was always reminded that I had to set a strong example for my siblings.

No one ever told me I was at risk of being actively shamed, and like most young men I wanted nothing more than to make my dad proud, but I’ve had to find a somewhat unconventional way about it.

My dad is the kind of man America has long taken pride in. As a hard-working man in the construction industry, my personality as an anxious book worm was never wonderfully compatible. Meanwhile, my mom was the apple pie dream as the impossibly supportive woman every young person deserves to have. With a strong foundation, it wouldn’t make sense to have a son that is virtually. But I’m not.

I’m human. I make mistakes. I do the best I can. But everything that happens to me negatively, no matter how large or small, feels like I’m bringing shame to the family. As long as I do my best, they don’t care, but sometimes my best doesn’t feel like enough. I know what my best can be. My best wouldn’t cause me pain, and bring my parents stress. So, even if it is not my fault, I can’t tell them anything, even if they could help. And I know that hurts the people who love me. To find out that someone you love wouldn’t let you help them is almost worse than having something wrong with you. So I want to tell the people who care about me, but I don’t want to make anyone embarrassed to be associated with me, or else cause them pain.

That leads to my girlfriend. I love her. I lover her and I am so lucky to be in a committed relationship with here. I don’t actually like calling her my girlfriend because I feel like that doesn’t adequately express the strength of my feelings for her. I’m grateful for her love and support, but I need it from her for the worst reasons.

With my history, I can’t help but have some rough moments triggered. Trusting is hard. Vulnerability is scary. It isn’t easy to open up, but I really can’t help myself with her. She’s the reason I understand the term “falling in love.” It’s scary and fast and sudden and you can’t stop it, but I really don’t want to anyway.

There is so much for me to share with her, and sometimes I can’t control when it comes out. A simple text, a touch of the hand, or just a bit of post traumatic stress can break me to tears, or go off about the horrible things that have happened to me as an explanation of why I’m so messed up and hard to love.

But she sticks around. I may not be a smart man, but I know I’m lucky to be loved. Maybe that’s what’s really so wonderful about love. Deep down, we’re all scared and a feeling little bit unworthy. Regardless, we choose to love. We choose to care for each other. That’s kind of the most amazing thing I can think of.

So maybe I have some problems, and maybe I will make things hard or sad for the people I love and who love me. But that’s why we’re all stuck on this big mud ball.

Volante Fall 2016

SD legislative sessions too short (9/6/2016)

You don’t need to fear me, but you probably should (9/11/2016)

Virtual reality may be the next art form (9/18/2016)

Swipe right for feelings (9/26/2016)

Students have options to consider outside the two-party system (10/2/2016)

School Rivalries (10/10/16)

Domestic violence display reinforces silence for male victims (10/17/2016)

Cell phone plan prices are unreasonable (10/24/2016)

USD should provide greater outreach for male rape survivors (10/30/2016)

Printing is Outdated and Expensive (11/7/2016)

Virtual assistants need an update (11/14/2016)

Check before you share (12/6/2016)

Speakig Out: My Sexual Assault

(Hey, I also wrote an article about this for the Volante, so read that too.)

You guys remember how I went public about my depression about two years ago on here? I’ve decided to open up about something else, because I have lost too much sleep over this. A lot of people reading this won’t believe me. Others will feel shame in me. I don’t particularly care. Okay, maybe I do. I’d much prefer my family not disown me, but the pain is greater than the fear. It’s a scar. You can take me or leave me.

Hello, my name is Jordan Smith and I am a survivor of female-on-male rape.

A few years ago I also wrote a post about under-represented male issues, and in there I brought up the frequent skepticism that men can be raped, so I won’t talk about it too much. Suffice it to say I can count the number of people I’ve previously told on one hand.

Here’s the hardest part of this, in spite of the mass proliferation of information and support with the internet, there really aren’t many resources out there. Go ahead, do a Google (or Yahoo if you’re weird) search for male rape support. You’ll find a couple general purpose things, but the vast majority of results are for those who suffered from another man or just redirect you to general results for rape support, which would be fine, but it is heavily catered to women.

I’m not saying it isn’t understandable. Most victims of rape are women, and most perpetrators are men. Numerically, it makes sense that there would be more information for those individuals, but it doesn’t mean materials for people like me shouldn’t be more widely available. But that doesn’t excuse popular conception from questioning if it can even happen. Not just the usual victim blaming of people arguing whatever crap comes to mind, but a basic question if it is possible.

Remember when Shia LaBeouf was in the middle of a performance art piece and was violently raped and everyone was convinced it couldn’t happen because they didn’t think that could happen to a man who was unwilling? I do, and, quick note, that’s not how biology works. Why was that even a question? Maybe because this stigma is so widespread that even the FBI defnition limits rape to a man forcing penetration? There’s this insistence because of how awful traditional masculinity is men are universally seen as perpetrators and women are victims.

It is impossible to describe the loneliness that comes from this survival. Of course there’s scarce a survivor of any gender who doesn’t suffer from some form of trauma. Maybe I’m wrong.  I can’t know what being anything but a heterosexual man feels like, so I apologize for any misunderstanding. But at least there is some amount of support structure available. There’s certainly challenges for women to find people to believe them and a stigma attached with something that isn’t your fault. Beyond the trauma, the societal reaction to women after assault is deplorable. Still, if nothing else everyone’s first personal advisory, Google, will bring useful results without much digging. Regardless, I feel like it’s different for men.

Many probably noticed earlier that I described masculinity as “toxic.” I stand by that. Men are supposed to be unfailingly strong pillars, not allowed to, or even capable of being, vulnerable. We are supposed to want sex at any given moment with any woman whose pants we can wiggle into. To admit that you had sex against your infinite masculine willpower and in spite of your limitless sex drive is preposterous. To not have another conquest to add to your list would be preposterous. And how can a man be overcome by a woman? I’ll tell you.

Rape doesn’t necessitate physical force. It can also just be a threat or manipulation through other means. I was coerced and manipulated as if I wasn’t human. I’m not going to share many details. Why? I don’t have to. I’m not pressing charges, I’m just trying to heal myself and, if I’m lucky, help others. If you don’t think I provide enough detail, sorry, I don’t feel like hurting myself like that again. Do you know how hard that is? Or just the pain that comes from being a survivor too scared to say anything? If you do, I’m sorry, and please get in touch with me. Not just so I can help you, but I think that talking is the best way to recover. Everyone else, just understand that it is the most emotionally scaring thing you (or at least I) can imagine.

That’s the worst part of rape, it’s a crime against who you are as a human being. What makes us human? Most philosophers and religions would agree that it is our ability to act as rational beings capable of choosing our own path and ruling over our bodies and the world surrounding them.That’s what separates us from beasts. Of course, just asking someone to do something isn’t any remarkable evil, but I work hard to make sure I don’t force anyone to do anything, no matter how small. I never want to violate another person’s sovereignty.

We talk about the objectification of human beings through the media (particularly women, because the male gaze sucks). I see rape as the logical, perverted conclusion of objectification. It’s not just bad because of the manipulation and pain, it’s the blatant disregard for your humanity. You are literally a tool. Not a person. Just a means of satisfying an urge. That’s the part that keeps me up at night. Not the memories of coercion and force but the demeaning nature of it all. The seizure of my control has haunted me ever since.

When you have trouble getting someone to even consider the possibility that you could be treated that way, it can feel like you’re having your heart ripped right out of your chest. I remember sitting at my eighth grade lunch table, when I was still figuring out what sex was, and being surrounded by a conversation about how men couldn’t be raped. I remember the abstinence oriented youth conference I attended in Chicago. I remember every time rape and sexual assault ever came up in the news or school and there was never a man who had suffered. I internalized that. All of it. It’s what kept me quiet for so long.

Now I don’t even know if I can trust what I think. You know that logic experiment from Descartes that concludes with “I think, therefor I am.” I used to find a beauty in that simplicity, but it isn’t that simple any more. If we are the sum of our experiences, then what happens from the traumas? We might want to move past those experiences, and return to our natural state, but how? How do we return to a portion of a natural state that we can’t remember. I don’t know how I would feel about sex and women without that experience in my past, so how can I know who I really am? Was I ever something special?

It’s not all so bad. There is an evolving climate. As feminism continues to enter the mainstream it isn’t just empowering women, it is also becoming more acceptable for men to be vulnerable. Furthermore, by making femininity not inherently associated with weakness, it is becoming okay for men to do female things, both positive and negative. I should also mention that my girlfriend knows, and she has been nothing but supportive of me. This blog wouldn’t exist without her giving me the emotional support to write my pain out.

I’m rambling, but, once again, I don’t really care. This is stream of consciousness. This is what’s haunted me for too long. During my orientation at Mines, we had an absolutely incredible speaker, Angela Rose with PAVE who ran our Title IX training and I started counseling to get to the point where I was strong enough to open up. This is an act of courage on my part. This is terrifying. When I opened up about depression, I knew people would believe me, the worst that could happen was a stigma. I have no doubt at least one person will read this and laugh, thinking I’m making this up for attention. My pastor could see this and think I’m now bound for hell. If anyone finds out that I was hurt and stop loving me, maybe I’m better off. If anyone doesn’t want me around because I was hurt, then I’d really rather not be around.

John Wayne, the picture of masculinity, once said, “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” Well, I’m sure scared. So, here we go. Riding right into the storm with the hope that it will be less painful for other people to follow. If courage is manly, then I now know that I am truly a man.. A man, and a survivor. To all my brothers, you don’t need to say anything. More than anything, I just wanted to tell you that you aren’t alone. For me, this is seizing back my humanity. She no longer controls my body, or my voice.

Equal Means Equal

Recently, I came across the image below on Facebook, shared by a friend of mine.
Seem Reasonable?
The two of us have discussed women’s rights in the past, and almost unilaterally agree. As many of you know by now, I consider myself a male feminist. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there are certain injustices toward men deal with that women don’t receive. I want equal rights for both genders. As far as I’m concerned, if both are going to have equal rights, then there should be the maximum amount of rights possible. The sort of with us or against us mentality that seems to dictate neo-feminism is something that should not be allowed to continue.
Gender differences in society are not like race differences in society. In America, seemingly every statistic is in favor of the white majority. Speaking as someone in almost every majority, I am not worried about police brutality because of my race, I don’t lose sleep worrying how my community will react to my faith. However, I do worry about what would happen if I ever had to fight for my child in court. Gender is a different story from race.
Let me clarify something. In my humble opinion, there does need to be more progress for women’s rights. The point of everything I’m saying within this is that both men and women need progress for their rights. Though there are more difficulties facing women, but that does not mean that men should be ignored.
Let me examine a bit of precedent behind that statement. Specifically I want to look at Karen DeCrow, who passed away last year. At one point DeCrow was the President of the National Organization for Women. As an attorney, she was able to win many court cases in favor of feminism, and was considered a major leader of the feminist cause in the 1970s and 1980s. That wasn’t all she did, though. Not seeing feminism and masculanism as mutually exclusive, DeCrow actually argued some major cases in favor of men’s rights. For instance, she argued that if a woman has the right to opt out of parenthood through an abortion, then a man should have the right to opt out as well, and leave the process. This incited a large amount of backlash from feminists claiming she was supporting the stereotype of the cruel seductress using her feminine whiles to trick a man into becoming her husband. In reality, DeCrow simply believed that men are no given advantages in every aspect of society. I agree with her. It’s not that there aren’t gender differences that negatively affect women, it’s that there are things that negatively affect men and women.
Marriage is something that is cited as putting women at a disadvantage; however, marriage is a broad thing that has effects on many parts of life. The idea often goes that after being married more work is expected of married women than men, so despite the fact that women and men both have jobs, women do more work on the whole. That is not true. On average men in 2011 spent an average of 47 hours between work and household duties while women spent 39. While it is true that women are far more likely to be stay at home mom’s, I have one myself, that is largely because there is a societal perception that men can’t or shouldn’t be stay at home fathers. When a family starts, many fathers want to stay at home and help the mother of their child raise their child. Unfortunately, the University of Oregon found that only 10-15% of men have that option. Is this a worse harm to men, than the glass ceiling is to women? No. No it is not. That doesn’t mean this should be changed for men.
Let’s look beyond successful relationships though. Crumbling marriages are surprisingly harmful to men. First, let’s look back to the children. Child custody battles do not go well for men. The Census Bureau stated in 2011 that less than 20% of custodial parents are fathers. Anecdotally, when a relative of mine entered a custody battle, one of the first things his attorney told him was that he was unlikely to win because few judges will grant custody to men. There’s no reason to assume that mothers are better than fathers. In fact, Texas A&M found that father’s are very important to childhood development. While a child being able to have both parents is obviously preferable, there is no reason to grant women preference. It is a horrible to think that there are good men who can’t get custody of their children because of gender.

Men can also be called on to do further service to their country than women. It took a ridiculously long time for women to be able to serve in combat areas in the US military. It is insulting to assert that women aren’t capable of things that men are. In all seriousness, I truly believe most women are more suited than me to serve in combat scenarios. So, why don’t they sign up for selective service? While women can opt in to the selective service, it should be mandatory. Men and women ought to have unilaterally equal rights. Rights come with responsibilities. The draft is a necessary evil and if men have the responsibility of defending their country, then so do women.
Something I hate is the portrayal of women in many forms of media. People have learned that sex sells, and so female characters are often portrayed as being there just for visual appeal, or else as only a love interest. That’s not only sexist, but also poor writing. Want to know what else I hate? The portrayal of men in media. Starting at the beginning let’s think of children’s television. There’s a family with three children, two of whom are boys. One is smart and unpopular, the other cuts class to hang out with his numerous friends. Sound familiar? How many shows can you think of where the coolest person/protagonist on the show is a dumb boy? While this problem can certainly extend to women, I can think of very few male characters who are portrayed as intelligent as well as broadly liked, and that is a problem I still have. Just look at the 90’s TV hit Friends. You have three main guys. Two are intelligent. Ross is portrayed as socially challenged because he’s intelligent. The second half of that set is Chandler. Chandler doesn’t win many points socially so he has to resort to humor to get support. Finally, there is Joey. Joey is not smart, but he fares all the better for it usually. He is better looking, gets more girls with less effort, and is generally liked. Regardless of age, we all have an innate desire for acceptance, and we will follow the models set forth to get it. That can translate to problems down the road.
Education is more important for success than ever before. Since 1994, both men and women of all races have become more likely to attend college, a great thing for the progress of our country; however, Pew Research found disparity of gender enrollments has grown. In 1994 women led men in enrollment by a whopping 2%. Small enough that I would call it negligible. That number is up to 13%. College is not for everybody, man or woman. But presuming men and women will want similar jobs at similar rates, there should not be nearly so large a gap. I’m not saying that media portrayal is the only cause of this disparity. Other potential sources cited by Pew include disciplinary disparity towards boys and girls in schools, as well as barrier of entry to the work force, but if every character a boy or man can identify with is unmotivated toward success, what more can you really expect?
Finally, let me address one of the most hot button issues I can. Sexual and relationship violence are monstrosities. The idea of having humanity stripped on such a basic level is horrifying to me. In my mind, rapists are some of the lowliest human beings on the planet because of the way they treat another human being, and I don’t feel sorry for saying that. Anyone harmed in such a way deserves every support they can get. So, why don’t men? If you are reading this and thinking that I’m going off on a tangent about something that isn’t a real problem, then you’re part of the problem. Sorry, now let me explain.
Men get raped. Shocking? Men can be raped by both other men as well as women. In fact, the National Crime Victimization Survey found that roughly 38% of rapes take place against men, which was confirmed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s no paltry amount of victims. So, why is the perception that only women get raped? It’s because men are less likely to report being raped. The idea is that men always want to get laid, so why would they ever say no? Many men won’t even realize they have been raped, thinking they somehow gave consent without realizing it. According to Brown University, men are unlikely to report being raped because there is the societal perception that men need to be able to protect themselves at all times from anything.

It is not a man’s fault that he is raped anymore than it is a woman’s fault. Victim blaming has no productivity. That’s not the way the problem is handled, unfortunately. As highlighted by House of Cards, rape is a major problem in the military. In fact, military statistics show that over half of the victims are male, and 38 men are raped daily in the military. In interviews with GQ some men opened up about their experiences. I admire their courage for speaking out. A man formerly in the Navy named Steve Stovey was bound, blindfolded, and sodomized by three men the day before his father would come to ride on the ship with Stovey. He didn’t say anything for fear of shaming his father. Had Stovey reported the incident, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of the time would not only have had his attackers kicked out of the military, but also Stovey himself. Trent Smith allowed was scared to fight back because his assailant was a ranking officer, and he feared reprimand. And those who report are, like civilian men, met with skepticism. A man going by the name Neal reported being raped to his doctor. The doctor responded “Son, men don’t get raped.” For more accounts, follow the link to the GQ article. This perception is wrong.

LeBeouf wore a paper bag for the project.

Want a high profile example? Look at Shia LeBeouf. If you didn’t hear, Shia LeBeouf was raped during a performance art project called “#IAMSORRY.” Viewers got to see LeBeouf in a room in private with Shia. LeBeouf has opened up about the experience with the magazine Dazed. LeBeouf stated that a woman came in and whipped him for ten minutes, and then proceeded to rape him. The most insulting part? People are questioning whether he was raped at all. Evidence shows that what he says is true, but that doesn’t stop people from saying that he couldn’t be raped. In fact, CNN newscaster Piers Morgan wrote a series of Tweets victim-shaming tweets toward LeBeouf. Morgan said “Shia LeBeouf’s claim to have been raped is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man.” If being whipped, stripped, and forced to have sex isn’t a real rape, then what is? If a woman had this happen to her, it wouldn’t be a question if she had been raped. I know the threat of sexual assault is greater for women. I’m not challenging that. What I’m saying is that the fact that this is even a question is an insult.
The societal perception of masculinity needs to change. Men can be raped. Men are not always strong. Men don’t are just as important can be smart and likable. Fathers are just as important as mothers.
As I said at the beginning of this, I truly believe that women have more social rights issues than men. I think to say that men are dealt the worse hand would be ridiculous. My problem is the asssertation that men do not face any damages to our rights. My problem is the idea that if you support the rights of men, then you must be a misogynist. I’m not. I just support human rights. If we are to support equal rights, then we need to remember that equal means equal, and the rights of one should not be prioritized over the rights of another. If you are bothered by the societal harms to men, and thus are a feminist, I encourage you to also be a masculinist.

For more information on anything I talked about, follow the links scattered throughout. If you have any thoughts, leave a comment below.