Jon Anne Willow

Princess Peach, Sparrow and the new no-holds barred gender equality

By - Apr 16th, 2009 12:01 am
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee

SparrowIt’s spring break at my house and I’m trying to work more from home this week to maximize face time with the youngsters. It’s been kind of hit and run so far, but it’s still nice.

Today I took a break in the afternoon to hang out in the family room with my 11 and 12-year old boys. As it was cold and gloomy, they were enjoying some rare daytime Wii play, which they chose to spend with a dubious game Michael had picked out as an Easter gift for the younger. It’s called Facebreaker K.O. Party, selected over my protest of its T rating. “Comic Mischief and Violence?” scoffed Michael. “Really, how could it be worse than Super Smash Brothers Brawl?”


The latter is a game that features major characters from all the Nintendo games throughout time. It’s a wacky romp through amusement park-type scenes where the object of the game is to knock other cartoon characters off the screen using such amazing powers as being sucked in by Yoshi’s super-long tongue and pooped out as an egg. I acquiesced to Facebreaker under the pressures of a tight shopping schedule and a mounting household campaign against my perceived over-protection of the kids.


I came bearing popcorn and juice and took a seat on the sofa. I was just in time – the boys were setting up for a fresh match of Punch-o-matic, where their characters were chosen randomly for them. Harry’s was a thick man called Steve, a video game freak with pecs (and belly) the size of Rhode Island. Jesse, the one more fearful of being labeled “soft” in any way, drew Sparrow, a very buff but extremely feminine (and sexy) pugilist with wispy blonde hair and a surprisingly long reach. “No fair!” exclaimed Harry. “You always get Sparrow!”

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

“It’s not on purpose,” retorted Jesse, “and besides, you’re pretty good. You might still be able to beat me.”

This was a little unexpected, so I sat up straighter and gave the screen my full attention. The boys were ruthless. Harry threw Steve’s considerable weight behind every punch, while Jesse had Sparrow hang back until Steve was winded. Then she came in for the kill, jabbing fast and hard. Though it made me a little sick to my stomach to see the glaze of bloodlust in the boys’ eyes, I have to admit I was rooting for Sparrow just a little. After all, Steve was a huge dumb guy and Sparrow was like a cross between Lara Croft and Cat Woman. Who can resist that?

In the end, though, Harry’s superior skill won out. With a two-punch move, Steve lofted Sparrow across the ring. She hit the mat hard and as soon as she staggered to her feet Steve finished her off, messing up her face for good measure. The boys were strangely gleeful, delighting in Sparrow’s purple bruises and split lip, shown in close-up as Sparrow panted, head down but eyes looking up in defiance. I made them turn it off and go play Legos in the basement.

I stayed on the sofa, a little stunned. I’ll say it: I was really bothered by the boys’ delight in beating up a girl. Have I dated myself enough? Or is it even a generational gender bias that’s got my stomach tied up in knots? Why didn’t it bother me when Princess Peach knocked Wario off the iceberg, or even when Lego Darth Maul downed Lego Princess Leia with his double light saber? What was more visceral about this? Was it Sparrow’s darkly bruised face? Or was it the look in her eyes?

It got me thinking about the nature of war and the invisible threads that hold civilized society together. Distilled all the way down to its essence, countries go to war for three reasons: Land, gold and women. Ultimately, the three represent one idea: the hunger for resources that create wealth and ensure propagation. Growing up in the mid/late 20th century, I observed by example (and much to the dismay of Gloria Steinem followers) that women seemed especially suited for such cultural roles as peace maker, upholder of family tradition, moral compass and unflinching ally of friends and family members. It’s an amazing amount of responsibility, but there’s a sanctity to it that can be deeply satisfying for all, if not abused by any.

So what happens when women become kick-ass brawlers, fair game for a sound beat-down?

When the soldier fighting beside you in Fallujah is named Jessica and she just saved your ass from getting shot off, are you as inclined to have mercy on the woman crouching in the corner when you break down the next door? How do you know she’s not just pretending to be terrified while she waits for an opening to slit your throat? What about the old man cowering beside her, or the two adolescent children crouching behind her?

It all comes back to a question that’s been a central theme of my ever-evolving adult perspective: How much “equality” is too much, and what lines need to remain in place? If there is no consideration of gender in defining societal mores, what can we replace it with that resonates so close to the core of our beings? What if nobody idolizes his grandmother, holds the door for his sweetheart or discourages her guy from fighting at the bar? What will hold the world together? And don’t speculate that general self-restraint is an option – history is rife with examples of how things work out when we rely primarily on self-determination. The latest global economic meltdown comes immediately to mind.

I’m not convinced that I’m just rapidly developing a bad case of fossilitis. “Women and children first” is an ageless adage, one that has long guided the morality of nations, in peace and at war. And while it is no more acceptable to entertain the idea of banning women from equal opportunity than it is to racially segregate schools, I fear for what all this might mean. I’m still puzzling it out myself, and I welcome your thoughts.

Ed Note: DJ Hostettler responds.

Categories: Up All Night

0 thoughts on “Princess Peach, Sparrow and the new no-holds barred gender equality”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ms. Willow: you’re from Ioway. Me too. With the recent overturn of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage(equal opportunity), need we fret over whether or not grandma is idolized? Afterall, grandma had to bend her back plenty to move women forward.

  2. Anonymous says:

    With all due respect, Ms. Moriarty, I believe you’re over-simplifying my concerns. I’m not fretting over whether we idolize women as domestic goddesses, but rather what stays our hand if we lose some innate restraints. Shifting gender roles and their societal implications is just one of many factors rapidly changing the landscape of civilized behavior.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, but I’m not too sure that gender roles have done a great job of “holding the world together” over the course of human history. Centuries of strict ideas about women and men haven’t stopped soldiers from raping civilians, husbands from beating wives, mothers from castrating their daughters or traffickers from selling children and teenage girls into sexual slavery.

    Maybe that’s taking your question a bridge too far, but I don’t see any persuasive correlation between changing cultural ideas about masculinity, femininity, family structures and sexual identities and mass societal chaos.

    Human cultures and societies are naturally dynamic; there are no constants, besides the discombobulation that tends to come with rapid change. But even in the 20th century – 100 years of tremendous upheaval – the world didn’t fall apart. In fact, the world is looking like a nicer place to be than it pretty much ever has.

    “Women and children first” isn’t an ageless adage at all; it’s a Victorian phrase, coined sometime during the 1850s, a time when women were still expected to spend their lives in subservience and children were working 15 hour days in factories.

    I guess I’m not sure what you’re afraid is going to happen, or what “restraints” you are afraid we are losing. I don’t really see the point of romanticizing about a “civilized” time when men held the door for women; I will take my personal freedom to be who I am and do what I want at any price, including the death of chivalry and some graphic video games. It’s no contest.

    As for the fate of the world, which, against all odds, tends to stay put together, I think all we can depend on (or hope for) is human decency and perpetual flux.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Do you think that the females in video games should always be the ones waiting to be rescued, tied up by Donkey Kong while the heroic man jumps over barrels to save the poor defenseless woman? Your kids would be just as excited if both fighters were male. Or even if the characters on the screen were playing basketball instead of fighting. It’s the competition that’s inspiring this excitement, and if you don’t want to expose them to comic mischief and violence, don’t buy them those video games. This situation had nothing to do with gender, and your views on the subject are depressingly antiquated and backward.

    What are you doing writing editorials for a website, anyway? Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hey, everyone, Cat Fight!!!

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    If a guy’s opinion is welcome here, I’d like to suggest that with equality, there are tradeoffs.

    “Women and children first” may not be timeless but our traditionally paternalistic society has given special protections (if not opportunities) to women.

    So if we all agree that women and men ought to be treated equally, in most cases, then that means equal opportunities as well as equal consequences.

    Of course, we still recognize special protections for children and their caregivers and as long as moms are doing most childcare we’ll probably continue to offer special protections to moms.

    But if, in combat, a woman threatens to blow my head off with an AK-47 (or detonate an explosive of some kind) forgive me for lacking chivalry if I dispatch her with extreme prejudice.

    Now back in the real world (at least as far as I’m concerned), gender neutral policies should not result in a loss of civility.

    I would gladly allow a woman to hold a door for me if I am carrying groceries and I would do the same for her.

    More significantly, I’d like to think employers should allow parents of both genders to attend teacher conferences, take time off to care for sick children, and the like rather than expecting moms to always do it.

    I do believe we’ve made tremendous progress in racial, gender and sexual preference equality in the last couple of decades but our work isn’t done quite yet.

    Legislative and judicial actions may be helpful but the most important advances will be made by parents raising thoughtful and compassionate children.

    And that’s a conservative value we can all embrace.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey Andrew F.,

    I was afraid some people would read this as superficially as you have and take away – somehow – that girls shouldn’t kick ass. I know you don’t know me, but I am the very poster child for gender neutrality and everything it encompasses, as well as the benefits it provides to everyone – not just women.

    What I was sharing was a visceral reaction to the blood lust (not the boy/girl dynamic, but the violence in general) I saw in my elementary school-aged children, and a subsequent fear about moral boundaries in general. Your sniffy dismissal of the larger question means that I should probably work on making my editorials shorter so people like you will read all the way to the end.

  7. Anonymous says:

    And that my friends, is a real life Sparrow’s hard kick in Andrew F’s face, knocking his teeth off. How’s that for gender neutrality/equality?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Wow, an equally childish reply to the childish comment. Yes, we’re truly in the presence of intellectual greatness. Look Andrew, she pointed out that you must just not be SMART ENOUGH TO GET IT.

    Truly a master debater, I’m so glad you’re breeding, lady.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well, “Mehrdad,” it actually wasn’t an argument at all, and most certainly not anything akin to a kick in the teeth. It was more like a flurry of tiny fists slapping at you ineffectually. Isn’t that just like a woman?

    Best leave the heavy lifting to the boys, Miss Willow, you are obviously ill-equipped for true intellectual discourse. We wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.

  10. Anonymous says:

    My favorite part of all of this is that the writer was merely examining the role of her gender in a rapidly changing world, as well as the equally fluid morals of that world’s population, and the point was lost on everyone but Ted. Sadly, that says a lot about why things are the way they are, and why no one is quite clear of his or her place in the new world we’ve created.

    I’m sure that in Davis Tenden’s West Allis apartment complex, the roles are clearly defined, so life is simple. I’d like to believe that the blog stalking Mr. Tenden (2 posts in a little over 30 minutes…pssst, get a girlfriend, Davis!) is only using this approach to a writer’s legitimate concerns to “stir the pot” and get some great discourse going. But sadly, I’ll bet you two tickets to a NASCAR race that he is serious.

    And that just might be the problem. People with attitudes like this are what forced the roles to change in the way that they did, with no one knowing exactly where they fit. Because every time progress has been made, another Davis Tenden has popped up and thrown stupid into the pot.

    Davis needs to get back to the Craigslist Rants & Raves board to complain about all the black people in his neighborhood, so that the grownups can continue their discussion.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dissecting every sentence you wrote would be excessive, so I wrote a quick summary. I said that the video game stuff had nothing to do with gender, and then you agreed:

    “What I was sharing was a visceral reaction to the blood lust (not the boy/girl dynamic, but the violence in general) I saw in my elementary school-aged children, and a subsequent fear about moral boundaries in general.”

    Did you even read my comment to the end? Why is this about gender at all? Why didn’t you write about violence in the media and children’s exposure to it? You made it about gender, and then you complain when I make a related comment.

    Here is my general reaction: how can you, a female entrepreneur, think that women had it better back when they were “respected,” had doors held for them, etc? You could not have the independent life you have today forty years ago. You want to trade that in for politeness?

    Your article read like a swift dismissal of a couple decades of women’s rights advances for the sake of nostalgia. If you think you’re the poster child for gender neutrality, you should probably grab a dictionary and see what those words mean.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Also, I’m not going to reply again because you clearly don’t care about what any of us illiterate yokels have to say about the matter.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Can there ever be “too much” equality?

  14. Anonymous says:

    To Andrew F: I was rude to insult your intelligence, just as you were rude to suggest I head for the kitchen.

    The good news is that there’s plenty of room in the world for differing opinions and it’s those differences that spur the meaningful dialogs that effect great change. I should have respected yours, even though you got under my skin with your parting shot. I took the bait, and for that I’m sorry. I should have let your comment sit unanswered – even self-styled provocateurs lend color to any conversation.

    I do maintain that I dismissed nothing. I worry in general about what I perceive as the modern emotional disconnect between people and the social constructs that keep us civilized. Cartoon violence in general – and in this case, specifically, against women – is just one manifestation of that disconnect.

    Your easy willingness to dismiss my consternation – and the questions it raised for me – as narrow traditionalism, falls into the same category. It’s not all black and white – a point I attempted to make and that you started to assert before you sank to insult. On that point I think we agree.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I love that she does not reply to anything pointing out the weakness of her argument. I’m sure she tells her friends it’s because she’s not “stooping to their level” when in reality it’s because she is nowhere near their level.

    I loved the insightful responses to this incredibly dumb article. Reading over Jon’s other postings, I see this isn’t an isolated incident. Further proof that the internet gives any common idiot a voice (preparing for her expert burn in re: that last statement, which she will undoubtedly relay to her friends in a gleeful voice at her local mombar).

  16. Anonymous says:

    I said I wouldn’t reply again, but to avoid my looking like a dick, please understand my kitchen comment was 100% ironic. I thought that would be clear in the context of my message. If you were insulted on behalf of your gender, that was the opposite of my intent.

    Encouraging discussion among readers and then insulting them when they disagree with you isn’t a particularly good way to develop a following as a columnist, fyi.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Not on behalf of my gender, on behalf of myself. Seems the root of the conflict here is that I’m NOT representing my gender as a whole, so naturally I took the comment personally. My bad.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I don’t ever, ever blog… I just read Jon Anne’s commentary as she has been a distance friend for years as our children have played together. Just my way of keeping up with her.
    But I’m frustrated as hell that we FIGHT over everything. We fight in play, we teach our childrent to fight. We buy them games so they can fight. We allow both men and women to fight in war. The gender meld in practices in violence is just another step into an ever deeper abyss of destruction. Yes, history if rift with war but also peace. I get so tired of this war focus. I think we need to change this and question where we really stand on the issue of our human fate. This really isn’t about gender; it’s about our humaniness. Men and women, humans, we all have moral compass. The true question is what is your’s? How do you walk this walk; what choices do you make daily. I don’t believe you can argue your way to peace; I think you have to practice it. I did see that happen in the latest of the blogs… without forgiveness we’d all be alone. Peace.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I agree kmac, it’s not about gender. But if it’s not about gender, why did Jon Anne title her post “the new no-holds barred gender equality?” And clearly, to Jon Anne, it’s not about violence, because she is the one who bought her kids the video game. Saying she bought it because of a “mounting household campaign against [her] perceived over-protection of the kids” is a cop-out, and does not obscure the fact that she is the one who made the purchase.

    Really, I can’t figure out WHAT this post is about. I read it all the way to the end, twice, and I read the comments, and her argument still makes no sense to me. Perhaps Jon Anne should have had your colleague Amy Elliott look this over before publishing– judging from Amy’s post, her comments could have helped Jon Anne see the way this article would be received BEFORE it offended TCD readers.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I’m not so sure there’s much to worry about. The mechanics of change have been the same, more or less, throughout history and even though it can be messy at times we generally find our way to a point of equilibrium.

    I agree that there are conventions that make some aspects of civil behavior more predictable. I think what’s bothering you isn’t that the boundaries will disappear and there will be chaos, but that we have to figure out a new way to interact and it’s not so easy to see what shape it will take.

    I think we’ll be fine though if this thread is any indication. Andrew (who really doesn’t get it and got bitch slapped to boot)wanted to make sure he didn’t look like a dick. And even Ted wanted to make sure his male opinion was welcome before offering it up.


  21. Anonymous says:

    For the record, Davis is my girlfriend. And we live downtown, she’s working on a masters, and we both found this offensive when it was forwarded to it.

    Still waiting for our bitchslaps, please dispatch. Or maybe Amy should dispense them, as she seems both most qualified and better informed.

  22. Anonymous says:

    And, Guy Who Opens Doors (who, judging by intellect, is probably Jon herself), the absolute worst type of ad-hominem attack is “you live in (this place)” or “get a life.” Didn’t your Community College have a Public Speaking course? (See what I did there?)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Allen: What don’t I get? The point of the article, which even Jon Anne can’t seem to explain to anyone’s satisfaction?

  24. Anonymous says:

    Okay, I’ll bite.

    The article starts out with panicked mutterings on video games and violence, as if children playing [any type of] games that simulate violence is something new and alarming. It isn’t, and the important thing to realize here is that the violence isn’t the point. It’s the competition. Part of learning to be a human being is learning to compete and cooperate, how to follow the rules, when you can cheat and when you can’t, how to win and how to lose.

    It doesn’t matter what the competition is — “Facesmasher” or Mario Kart, Cops’n’Robbers or Monopoly, a boxing match or a footrace — the drive to accomplish something, to “win” in some way, is a primary human motivator. Exploring this is an important part of every person’s emotional/social development, and it can and should be shaped to some extent by the parents.

    Believing that you see “bloodlust” in the eyes of two kids playing a videogame is melodramatic. Yes, some people might engage in violent games (or non-games) because they truly enjoy violence, but we call those people sociopaths.

    After interpreting what she sees as delight in violence against women (“I love the look of beaten women! I thirst for more!” instead of just “I win, ha ha look at how smashed that imaginary face looks in this game called Facesmasher!”), the author segues into broad thoughts about civilized society. Of course, right off the bat, it’s goofy.

    “Distilled all the way down to its essence, countries go to war for three reasons: Land, gold and women.”

    I’m pretty sure if you distill it all the way down, you get one reason: Power. Break it up into three, and it’s Resources, Religion and Political Influence. Land, gold and women traditionally fell under Resources, I believe. It’s a good thing women weren’t happy with their tradtional role as human property! I wonder how society ever survived that transition…

    Speaking of: somehow, by striving for equality — which I foolishly thought has more to do with equal respect and rights for all human beings than it does with equal amounts of face punching — we may cause the collapse of society as we know it. People will trip children, intentionally drop doors on women, bodyslam their grandmothers, and the broken streets will run red with the blood of those encouraged to fight by the reverted-to-neanderthaloid (but equal!) chicks they picked up for one-nighters at the local cave-bars.


    “What will hold the world together? And don’t speculate that general self-restraint is an option – history is rife with examples of how things work out when we rely primarily on self-determination.”

    Oh, I thought we were talking about traditional values vs. gender equality, not religious vs. secular thought. Oh, what? Same argument?


    By the way, a reply to GuyWhoOpensDoorsForWomen: before you go slinging around implied (or direct) ad hominem, perhaps you ought to take a closer look at your own life… I’m pretty sure you are not in a position to be throwing any stones.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Well, obviously this has evolved (probably the wrong word) into a good, old-fashioned food fight.

    And, as a result, it represents the best and worst of this brave new world of internet communication. One of the things Jon Anne (and I) have written about before is concern over how “mainstream media” appears to be on life support.

    The “Hegelian dialectic” nature of internet communications (thesis – antithesis – synthesis) is loud and messy but really exactly, I believe, what was envisioned by the founding fathers.

    It wasn’t until the 20th century that the ideal of an “objective” news media was seriously advanced. Previously, well-heeled provocateurs printed whatever they wanted and attempted to influence the rabble to support the views and candidates of their choosing.

    Really it was the rise of Sears and Ford, Procter and Gamble and Kraft (and the growth of a middle class and consumerism) that suported the newspaper industry we came to take for granted.

    But, like my immediate predecessor, I digress.

    Heedless was spot on that many of the games of youth are about learning how to compete and explore the risks and benefits of power.

    It is important to point out that “traditional” female power may not be learned through physical play but Barbies teach about winners and losers perhaps even more realistically than GI Joe.

    So I return to my earlier point that “civility” needs to be taught along with “equality” (maybe fairness is a better word).

    While our intellect may be what separates us from other species, we are animals and some kids like to wrestle and some like to play with dolls.

    The litmus test of my youth was “West Side Story.” My friends created a gang (“The Jackknives”) after seeing the movie while I suspect girls bought the album and sang the songs while trying on frilly clothes.

    One of the stranger outcomes of the “liberation” movement is that girls “can” play violent videogames and boys “can” play with dolls and care about what they wear.


  26. Anonymous says:

    Am I the only one having almost as much trouble following what the hell Ted is saying as I do Jon? Put down the thesaurus and just say what you mean instead of trying to make it SOUND intelligent. Jesus.

  27. Anonymous says:

    There’s no sense in violence.

  28. Anonymous says:

    It was “sex,” Gavin. Not “sense.”

    And good lord, does that video explain so much. I don’t think any of us need to post again. If a picture is worth a thousand words, that video spoke volumes and volumes.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I’ve read the original article. I’ve read the responses. GuyWhoOpensDoors, Allen T and Ted had the best thought-out and thoughtful responses, by far.

    Allen’s point that change is hard seems to really be at the core of original article. Even welcome change is hard. I am in my mid-30’s and like Jon Anne, I am a mother. Though I am adamently pro-woman and pro-equal rights, I can not help the fact that I still worry about our sisters serving in active duty in a way that I never worried about our brothers. Is that because I don’t like men? No. Is it because I don’t believe that women are excellent, skilled and loyal soldiers? No. Anyone who chooses to serve their country, to take that risk, has the right to do so. But, still I cringe. I panic. Why? Because change is hard – and when I was growing up women did not serve in active duty roles.

    Ted’s comments about the need for sensitive parenting with regards to these things is spot on. The societal changes happening Right Now require more parental attention to teaching basic civility and community responsibility. I am relieved that society is finally reducing its reliance on gender roles to dictate life path. However, it means that new rules will have to surface to ensure peaceful living for everyone.

    And though GuyWhoHoldsDoors delivered a couple of insults, he clearly understood that Jon Anne was pondering, writing her musings and looking for feedback. Not bitchslapping, but feedback and conversation. Unfortunately, by attackin someone (anyone) who wants is making an honest appeal for opinions, nothing is resolved. Feelings of insult, insecurity or smugness do nothing to further dialog.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the insight, Jon Anne’s sister. Funny how her family is too quick to defend her… yet no one can further expand on what the hell the intent of this post was. And Jon Anne is still conspicuously absent. I suppose she’s comfortable letting her family handle it.

  31. Anonymous says:

    When my children behave as many of these posters have, I dismiss them, literally and figuratively. I send them to their rooms to contemplate their disrespectful behavior while not allowing their behavior to negatively impact my day. The original article and a few people have asked for an intelligent conversation about these issues. When grown-ups can’t simply have a discussion about something complicated without resorting to insults and one-upmanship, I simply dismiss myself from the conversation. It’s too bad, though. It could have been a great discussion on emerging/changing roles and how to find our way through difficult times.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I have weighed in, “GrainOfSalt” (very brave to criticize from behind the curtain, by the way, or should I say “Heedless” of you … or?)

    I stated in an earlier comment:

    “I worry in general about what I perceive as the modern emotional disconnect between people and the social constructs that keep us civilized. Cartoon violence in general – and in this case, specifically, against women – is just one manifestation of that disconnect.”

    How that measures as “conspicuously absent” I’m not sure…

    But I agree with Lucky. This has been one wasted opportunity for some interesting discourse. Thanks to everyone who tried, and sorry for the throat-slitting blog stalkers (some of them frenemies of mine posting “anonymously”) who made it overwhelmingly difficult to move forward.

    Commenting on this piece is now closed, but feel free to email me directly at jwillow at thirdcoastdigest dot com. If you use your real name and wish me to do so, I’ll manually post what you send.

    Until next time…

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us