Free Speech, Lauren Southern, and Stefan Molyneux: A Short Comment


Auckland Mayor Phil Goff was recently involved controversy around the cancellation of an event booked at the Bruce Mason Centre involving the Canadian far-right speakers, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. He tweeted:

Elsewhere he elaborated, “I’m not going to aid and abet people who spout racist nonsense by providing them with a venue.” And, “I find it offensive that they attack people on the basis of their faith and ethnicity and they set out deliberately to provoke them.” That is, the duo’s platform tends to target vulnerable, non-white groups, in expressing such as opposition to Islam and immigration.

As Hazim Arafeh, president of the New Zealand Federation of Islam Associations, has said, “I’m talking on behalf of 50,000 to 60,000 Muslims in New Zealand who are going to face a very hard time by all the comments she is going to make.” Indeed, Arafeh’s comments are not without ground, and they should remind us of the rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the UK following Brexit. Similarly, hate crimes on the basis of race or ethnicity have risen in the US since Trump’s election. As Auckland Peace Action contends,

We must not let racist hate speech be normalised in our society, or foster an environment where the views of white supremacists are part of the mainstream discourse. In doing so, we will plant the seeds of division, hate and violence in Aotearoa, that flourish in America under Trump.

And Saziah Bashir has recalled in regard to the duo’s plans to come to NZ,

Of the handful of racist incidents my family has encountered since migrating here, one that stands out in my mind is a man approaching my mother, a visibly Muslim woman wearing hijab, and towering over her tiny 5’2 frame to say “we don’t need your kind here, go back to where you came from”.

We were in a West Auckland supermarket and this was not long after 9/11. How many incendiary YouTube videos or speeches by alt-right mouthpieces like Southern would that man have needed to watch to embolden him enough to have perhaps taken it a step further: next time maybe pull off my mother’s hijab (as is happening in parts of the US) or assault her?

Meanwhile, here it is claimed that Goff was not involved in the cancellation at all. Auckland Live provided an alternative rationale for the cancellation:

This “security concerns” are allegedly due to a statement from Auckland Peace Action: “We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in Aotearoa who are opposing these fascists. If they come here, we will confront them on the streets. If they come, we will blockade entry to their speaking venue.” Because of the opposition, the NZ part of the duo’s tour has been cancelled, as they have been unable to book an alternative venue in time.

Who are They?

Molyneux and Southern, following one of their recent speaking appointments [source].
Lauren Southern is a far-right political activist who identifies as a libertarian and ran for parliament in Canada. She made news last year when she was involved with actions of Génération identitare, an anti-immigration group, in obstructing asylum seekers off the coast of Italy. Saziah Bashir puts it rightly when she says that “Southern believes – and was acting on her belief – that women and children fleeing a war should drown at sea rather than be allowed to set foot in a Western country.” Southern’s 2016 book is entitled, Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My GenerationEarlier this year she was barred from entering the UK on the grounds that her presence there would not be “conducive to the public good.” Specifically, Southern claimed that her being denied entry was due to her involvement in displaying fliers in Luton, England, in February, with slogans such as “Allah is a gay god.” And while I think it’s important to hold conversations about discrimination of LGBT+ people in any community, seen in the context of Southern’s wider anti-Islam, anti-feminist, and anti-LGBT+ platform, her actions were clearly intended to stir up hate for Muslims. This is all the more clear in that Southern did not seek out working alongside Muslims who are already working for change within their communities.

Stefan Molyneux is also a far-right figure who has been involved in radio and writing. Jessica Roy recalls his 2014 statements on the relationship between women and violence:

Molyneux said that because 90% of a child’s brain is formed by the experiences it has before the age of 5, and women have “an almost universal control over childhood,” violence exists in the world because of the way women treat children.

“If we could just get people to be nice to their babies for five years straight, that would be it for war, drug abuse, addiction, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases,” he said. “Almost all would be completely eliminated, because they all arise from dysfunctional early childhood experiences, which are all run by women.”

According to Stuart Hayashi, Molyneux has also been subject to allegations in regard to his cult-like operations: “Despite later denials to the contrary, online videos document Molyneux telling these fans that if their parents do not support anarchy, it means that their parents do not love them and ought to be disowned completely. A number of young fans have followed this advice and joined Molyneux’s cause, pledging their lives and money to him” [links original, two dead now]. Hayashi continues, noting Molyneux’s later further descent into racist pseudoscience, where “what race you are strongly influences your IQ number, and your IQ number strongly influences how economically successful or criminally violent you are.” Molyneux proceeds to rank the “races” according to their IQs, later speaking of the “low-IQ, rapey people from north Africa.” See the rest of Hayashi’s post for the pseudoscientific nature of these claims. Not only are they pseudoscientific though, but comments like these provide an apparently rational ground for state and public hate, discrimination, and violence.

In the interests of the public good, the council rightly denied the two speaking at one of their venues. People who want to hear them will find their own way to do so anyway. As the following will demonstrate, this is hardly an issue of free speech.

Free Hypocspeechy

Interestingly, decrying the cancellation of the duo’s speaking night in Auckland overlooks their own complicity in rejecting freedom of expression. As Brian Rudman points out,

[The] promoter, Axiomatic Media Pty Ltd “reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone.” Then to make doubly sure only like-minded groupies attend, it adds “if someone is deemed to be a risk or disturbance and is asked to leave who has already entered the event, they shall not be entitled to any refund.”

In other words, even for organiser, Australian Christian fundamentalist, Dave Pellowe, who is now calling for lovers of free speech “to stand up and fight back, before it is taken away for ever,” such rights are not absolute. Not when he’s hiring the hall for his Alt-Right circus act at any rate.

So that’s what “healthy debate” looks like.

Don Brash, photo from Wikipedia.

Not long after Goff’s tweets, the Free Speech Coalition was formed by Don Brash and raised $50,000 in the space of a day in order to sue Auckland City Council. Brash states, “I think Phil Goff was entirely wrong to say taxpayer or ratepayer funded facilities cannot be used by people whose views he disagrees with.”

But Hayden Donnell has demonstrated the hypocrisy of the Free Speech Coalition, writing,

It’s hard to get people to give money to worthy causes. Climate change. Poverty. Fuel taxes. There are so many issues, and we’re all stretched thin. But this week we’ve found out there’s still one cause that can compel hordes of mostly rich, white people to enthusiastically part with large sums of cash: making sure racists can book council facilities.

Donnell points out that it was Brash, the founder of the Free Speech Coalition, who recently complained of the use of Māori on RNZ, “I’m utterly sick of people talking in Maori on RNZ in what are primarily English-language broadcasts,” Brash said late last year. As Waatea News rightly states in their headline, Māori speech bad, white speech good for Brash. Donnell also points out that in 2006, Brash opposed the publication of Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men, an exposé of the National Party’s 2005 electoral strategies, and even obtained an injuction against it, issued by the High Court.

David Farrer, a right-wing blogger who has voiced support for the coalition, in 2012 opposed funding for the NZ band, Homebrew Crew, on the basis of the political nature of their set: “One of the Homecrew crew [sic] seems to be a bit upset that I said the taxpayer shouldn’t fund events where they get to yell obscenities at the PM. They’re entitled to call him what they want, but I’d rather not have the taxpayer fund it.”

Jordan Williams, a member of the coalition, once launched a defamation case against Conservative Party leader, Colin Craig, a case which is still in process. He also suggested that Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries, return grant money after criticising the government. Donnell provides other examples of the cognitive dissonance upheld by other members of the coalition, such as in opposition to flag-burning or anti-semitism in Muslim communities (again, right question, wrong approach). With these, it should be clear that the Free Speech Coalition was never about free speech per se but connected to fears that the cancellation would set a precedent for obstructing those on the right with less radical views–a slippery slope–or, worse, a general sympathy for the views expressed by the duo. It’s no surprise that in May this year the New Zealand right-wing blog Whale Oil Beef Hooked promoted the duo’s upcoming tour.

Similar sentiments to those of Donnell were expressed by Marama Davidson on Facebook, after she received death and rape threats (so much for freedom of expression) after expressing support for Goff’s decision to cancel the event:

She references Bob Jones’s defamation case against Renae Maihi and another against Leone Pihama. It seems the coalition are chiefly interested in supporting those whose values more closely resemble their own. Importantly, Davidson connects freedom of speech to “freedom to be,” that is, the rights of blacks in the US, transgender people everywhere, and Māori in NZ to be on their own terms, no longer facing state and public discrimination and oppression. In contrast to the coalition, Davidson recognises the inconsistency in supporting an abstract notion of free speech outside of a concretely free society.

Further Reading (Not cited above)

Bryce Edwards, Does freedom of speech extend to far-right voices?

Stuart Moriarty-Patten, Free speech: Rhetoric and reality.

Danyl Mclauchlan, A ferocious debate between three implacable enemies about free speech.

Gender and Sexuality in Skyrim: What Others Have Said

Having written my previous post without having taken the time to read what others might have already written on the subject, I have decided now to provide a quick “literature review” here, in retrospect, of what others have said on gender and sexuality in Skyrim–though one that is in no way exhaustive. In some places I have felt the need to provide critical comment. Sorted alphabetically by author/alias:

The Dichotomy of Civilisation and Nature in Skyrim

Skyrim’s Eldergleam Tree, The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Alex Duncan, “Savage Beasts: The Spatial Conflict between Civilization and Nature in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” at First Person Scholar, reflects on the relationship between civilisation and nature in Skyrim. He writes,

In Skyrim the game world is segmented into cities and the areas between them, creating a more or less rigid division with civilization/urbanity marked as distinct from nature/wilderness. The non-urban is portrayed as a threatening space that must be overcome by the heroic player-character, and by doing so the player is able to dominate this virtual environment, represented by game elements like “clearing” dungeons and the ability to “fast travel.”

This is not unrelated to concerns of gender and other features:

As ecofeminist thinkers like Val Plumwood have stressed, the binary division between civilization and nature is part of the conceptual structure justifying race- and gender-based oppression: those aligned with nature and wilderness are different and inferior, and so can be denied full rights and subsequently colonized (p. 43). The environment depicted in Skyrim is a virtual one, but the paradigm that it both reflects and reinforces is one with dire consequences for all things deemed “natural.”

Duncan treats this in greater detail in the essay and I recommend reading the whole thing. He is another significant quote:

Certain places “discovered” by the player are things like forts, ruins, barrows, tombs, and caves, which function as interiors within the exterior. These exterior-interiors are some of the most dangerous sites in the game where powerful enemies like the blind and disfigured Falmer and the zombie-like draugr present a feared inverse order that is irrational and subhuman. Marking those outside patriarchal Western norms as subhuman or as “closer to the animal and the body” is a tool for the subjugation of these groups through “racism, colonialism and sexism” (Plumwood p. 4). These beings and their social order are monstrous, dangerous, and threatening to ordered society, justifying its invasion, appropriation, and destruction.

The “Misogynistic Nightmare” That is Skyrim’s Modding Community

Amy Josuweit, “Has Skyrim’s Modding Community Become a Misogynistic Nightmare?” at The Mary Sue, begins with the premise that modding is known for its oddities. “What you might not be expecting, however, is the troubled current state of modding culture. The modding scene is getting frighteningly misogynistic, and it only takes a cursory glance at the Nexus to see it,” the Nexus having been “the center for Skyrim modding for some years now.” Whereas in the past the Nexus has filtered out mods containing adult content–mods that have been made available elsewhere online–Josuweit notes that recently (post was written 20 November 2017) adult content has been slipping in unmoderated. “Adult content is all well and good…. The problem here is that this content notably focuses on adult themes with a misogynistic lean–women followers with comically sized butts and breasts, followers that are either dressed in almost nothing or are nude,” etc. Some of the mods are up-front about this, but others slip sexually explicit, misogynist material into otherwise neutral mods, “like this otherwise innocuous hair replacement mod that uses a model of a sexualized young girl.” In this world, most mods focus on adjusting female characters and bodies in the game while hardly attending to their male counterparts at all. Followers, a major aspect of Skyrim, become “glorified blow-up dolls.” The significance of this is not lost on Josuweit. “Suddenly, the implications of those sexed-up teenage followers are pretty clear.” Finally, Josuweit draws attention to the fact that this sudden influx is pushing mods of higher quality out so that the Nexus is looking a lot different to what it used to be.

Modding and Social Constructs

Ariane Arsenault, Tyra Baltram, Wesley Clarke, Lauren Hamilton, and Maria Mon, “Modding: The Alteration of Social Constructs and Aesthetics in Skyrim,” at Games and/as Literature, look at the intersection between modding and social constructs. They write of the mods available at the Nexus,

It cannot be denied that a lot of these mods fit into preconceived notions of beauty and masculinity, and sometimes exacerbate these notions to an uncomfortable degree. There are mods that alter the female walk animation to make it more attractive, as well as a vast quantity of skimpy armor mods (up to 400 at and mods that modify the female body shape.

On the other hand, mods such as “Practical Female Armors” head in the opposite direction:

Practical Female Armors.

As the authors note of vanilla Skyrim, “Like many other RPG games, Skyrim features two separate armor designs for each piece that can be equipped in game: one for male models and one for female. Consistently the female versions show more skin, are less practical, and exaggerate and emphasize female bodies.” And this extends to character animations. They point to the “Simple Female Running Animation” mod, writing, “The default run features a conspicuous hip swaying which is off putting to many players, and further makes a suggestion that the female avatar is a sexual figure to be watched.” The mod offers a more realistic substitute. The authors also highlight the common complaint that the race and gender of the player’s character barely affect gameplay at all. They suggest that a mod addressing this “could be an extremely valuable dimension for a player to connect with their avatars in a new and meaningful way,” though they also notes the potentially huge nature of such a task. Moving on, the authors proceed to comment on two “prostitution” mods popular on the Nexus and LoversLabs:

Both allow male and female characters to talk to any random humanoid character in the game, remove their clothing, and engage in sexual activity with them with no hesitation or resistance. These mods imply that sex does not require the permission of a sexual partner to engage in, promoting the pervasiveness of misogyny and rape.

Clothing and Gender Roles

The same Tavern Clothes on male and female characters, The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Eniko, “Bethesda’s Obsession with Heteronormativity,” at Kitsune Games, examines Skyrim in the context of other Bethseda games, discovering an odd tendency for the same clothing items to appear differently depending on the gender of the character wearing them. “I felt like the game designer was standing behind me in spirit, clucking his or her tongue and going ‘oh no dear, you don’t want to wear that, you want to wear a skirt, because girls wear skirts!'” Basically, the problem with this is that it upholds stereotypes about gender roles and the ways that different genders (here cis men and women) should present themselves. The author relates this to her own experience of being disliked for her assertiveness and being butch, which seemed to many around her as a transgression of her role as a young woman.

Daedric Princes and Gender

The Daedric Prince, Nocturnal. The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Evolution Kills in a forum post at The Thinking Atheist, highlights something that I haven’t been able to verify yet but would be interested in hearing from others on: “My use of gender neutral pronouns [for Daedra] is purposeful, because Daedra are genderless. While some may prefer a male avatar (Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal) or a female avatar (Azura, Nocturnal), others are more than happy to be either as needed or desired (Boethia, Mephala), while others eschew a humanoid avatar entirely (Peryite, Hermaeus Mora).” The significance of this comment is in relation to Nocturnal’s “suggestive” clothing: “Given the Daedra’s penchant for toying with mortal affairs for their own enjoyment, if Nocturnal is choosing to manifest as a suggestively clad woman, it is for its own benefit. Nocturnal is operating from a position of power, and it sets the terms of the player’s limited interaction with it.” I’m not completely convinced though because although this is a possible interpretation, it does not take into account game design that is clearly sexist in other areas. Evolution Kills’s comments on certain women in Skyrim, namely Jarl Elisif, Karliah, Aela, Serena, and Haelga are also noteworthy.

Skyrim as Milestone for LGBT Representation

Jason Beck, “On the Maturation of Queer Representation: Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim,” at BoardGameGeek, begins with the premise that “queer representation in video games has, of late, matured.” Writing in 2012, he is referring to the then recently released Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim. Of Skyrim he observes,

My character (a dude) could propose marriage and get hitched to a dude without any discussion of its strangeness, without having to jump through extra hoops, without getting treated any differently by anything at all.

This is the correct way to approach queer inclusivity: by treating it as normal (because, for us, it is- as normal as your heterosexuality is to you); by not treating it like something outlandish, freakish, bizarre; by not calling attention to it.

Beck is sceptical of the possibility that this was a market-driven decision on Bethseda’s part. I’m not so convinced that it’s that easy to make such judgements. Virtually everything is market-driven and both inclusivity (in the current climate) and controversy can be profitable. You will also note that Beck does not address the heteronormativity of the wider world of Skyrim. This might be addressed in the 44 comments on the post though, which I haven’t read.

Gender Representation and Flaming Breasts

Jillian, “Of Atronachs & Hagravens: The Problem With Women in ‘Skyrim’,” at FemHype, attends to the representation of women in Skyrim. She writes of one of the first characters the player meets in the game:

If you venture to the next village after the siege, you’ll meet Camilla Valerius in Riverwood, a beautiful woman stifled under her brother’s control and pitted between two sleazy men with nothing better to do than vie for her affections like she’s a limited edition Amiibo. I’m still disappointed there wasn’t an option to toss both men into the river.

Jillian proceeds to comment on the Flame Atronach, “Really? Flaming breasts were an absolute gameplay necessity? The frost atronach should have had ice balls, then.”

Flame Atronach, The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Jillian also notes that Skyrim constructs a dichotomy between virginal, desirable women who can be controlled, such as the Flame Atronach, and the “whore,” the undesirable and uncontrollable woman: “In direct contrast, the hagravens represent the aging, decrepit form of the typical witch stereotype. You can’t control them in-game because they control themselves — after having sold their humanity in order to possess such power.” Finally, Jillian highlights the lack of supportive friendships between female characters, in contrast to those of male characters in the game: “Ulfric has the ever-faithful Galmar and Balgruuf has the admittedly short-sighted Hrongar. General Tullius, at least, has Legate to balance him, but no other woman in sight.” One of the comments in the relation to Jillian’s piece is also of note, from Empress M: “Just wanted to point out, in support of this, that there are two pages worth of named female characters and four pages of males. So basically Skyrim has double the number of important males in it…which is insanely ridiculous.”

Skyrim and Life as a Transgender Woman

skill tree
Summary of the Skill Tree in Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

K. Danielle, “Gender is Like Skyrim,” at Dude, I’m a Chick, employs Skyrim as a metaphor for life as a transgender woman. Unlike World of Warcraft, players in Skyrim are not bound to a particular class (mage, warrior, rogue) or faction. “Let’s say you make an Imperial woman named Fera.  That’s it.  You’re done.  So, what are you?  Are you a rogue, warrior, or mage?  Are you aligned with the bandits or knights or thieves?  You don’t know yet, because you will figure all of that out while playing the game.” Moreover, throughout the game if you get bored of going in a particular direction, like using the sword and shield, you can switch to magic and even be skilled in both, etc. “You’re not playing a class; you’re playing YOUR character.” If you haven’t picked up on what K. Danielle is getting at yet, she spells it out for you:

In our society, we sort of look at gender the same way.  Men are expected to have dominant nature, muscular strength, hairy bodies, penises, the ability to impregnate, paternal attitude, and are generally independent.  Women are expected to have submissive nature, curvy bodies, soft skin, vaginas, the ability to get pregnant, maternal attitude, and are generally dependent.  In a game like WoW, a Priest would be made fun of and have a very hard time playing the role of a Warrior, and vice versa.  Similarly, a man would be made fun of and have a very hard time playing the role of a woman, and vice versa.  The traditional RPG class system has a lot in common with our society’s standard gender roles, doesn’t it?

Whereas “society wants you to decide” on a particular gender, or WoW on a particular class, the example from Skyrim demonstrates that this is not always as clear-cut:

You don’t fit in the system.  You are so complex and strange, that the world’s classification system does not apply to you.  Your character in Skyrim could never exist in a game like WoW.  Furthermore, you’re making a bold argument that the classes in WoW are somewhat disappointing because you’re constantly feeling the urge to wear armor or weapons that you simply aren’t allowed to.  How many men want to cook, but don’t out of fear of being made fun of?  How many women want to lift weights so they can be muscular, but don’t because their friends will think they look ugly in a dress with big muscle arms.  How many people will be forcibly categorized as male/female when they’d rather not be either?  I don’t look at things that way.

Nor does this simply apply to trans people, K. Danielle concludes. Everyone needs to realise that they cannot be slotted into simple categories.

LGBT Characters in the Elder Scrolls Series

ladynerevar, “LGBTQ in the Elder Scrolls,” at The Provisional House, has provided a brief overview of LGBT characters in and aspects of different games in the Elder Scrolls series. Concerning Skyrim, only the player and their potential partners through marriage, alongside Bjorrnolf and Hrodulf in the Dragonborn DLC are noted. Significantly, it seems that since the release of Elder Scrolls Online, the series has given a lot more attention to this, with ladynerevar listing 22 possible examples. A less comprehensive, similar post, though with more detail in areas, is offered by Jack Maher at RAINBO.

Gamer Poop and Subverting the Heteronormative Norm

Screenshot from mans1ay3r’s first Skyrim video.

Lawrence May and Fraser McKissak, “Queering Stories and Selves: Gamer Poop and
Subversive Narrative Emergence,” Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media 9 (2017) — discuss mans1ay3r’s YouTube channel, GamerPoop. Even before modding and other forms of adjusting games, games already have a “latent potential” (3) for queer representation. For example, in the context of Skyrim, “the emphasis on the bodies and musculature of hypermasculine warriors might invite comparisons to the homoerotic interpretations of Conan the Barbarian or Fabio’s game art for Iron Swords II” (4). Regardless of the developers’ intentions, material from the game can be queered by players for their own sakes. But perhaps the authors are too generous in their definition of queering, writing, “The very act of modding a game can be understood as a queer practice. It is a queering of the game text because it involves radically rewriting, or queering, the intended meanings of the video game” (5). I wonder if there is some cognitive dissonance as to how this relates to explicit queerphobia, misogyny, and racism in the modding community. So it is that “the mods available for games such as Skyrim and Fallout 3 would hardly be considered overtly ‘queer’ in nature, as they predominantly focus on heterosexual fantasies involving female character models and ways to improve the graphical features of environments to make them more realistic” (6). Nonetheless, “Even though the content of the mods might be ‘straight’, the practice itself is consistent with the way we can understand ‘queering’ as an act of deconstruction” (6). This kind of argumentation does make me wonder. How quickly does it become indistinguishable from the following?:

On the article, see Elliot Swain, “How to Win Feminist Research Awards While Bootlicking the Pentagon.”

Moving on, the authors proceed to apply this concept of queering to mans1ay3r’s videos. The YouTuber goes beyond the latent tendencies in the games: “The Gamer Poop videos are, ultimately, very deliberately constructed, involving various degrees of effort by mans1ay3r in terms of planning, scripting, customising and applying game mods, video editing, audio-manipulation, and voice-over work” (7). Thus,

The queer reconstructions of Gamer Poop’s videos game content are queered in ways that would be impossible within the fixity of the gameworld as played by gamers. Mans1ay3r engages with queer affordances within the game engine, rather than the game’s narrative or ludic potentials. The user therefore exposes the heterosexual assumptions that govern these gameworlds. Latent queer content exists in the games, but mans1ay3r must stop playing them to engage with it…. The videos of Gamer Poop take their queer engagement one step further by queering the infrastructures of the gameworld itself (7).

In contrast to Skyrim’s “desexualised” nature–no sex takes place in the world and sex is rarely talked about (while mostly agreeing, I would point the authors to such as Haelga and the Lover’s Comfort)–mans1ay3r’s videos present quite the opposite: “The sexual content in mans1ay3r’s videos—particularly in their continual references to pussies, cocks and sexual acts—sex an otherwise desexualised world, so that heterosexual assumptions of the sexed body can be more readily queered” (8). But the authors appear to be wholly positive about mans1ay3r’s “queering” of Skyrim. A little further we read:

In the emergent narratives of Gamer Poop, heteronormative gameworlds are subverted into queer lifeworlds where queer performances and identities can exist openly and sporadically to such an extent that to be seen as straight, or to watch the videos as straight, is to become the outsider (11).

This may be true and a fair point to an extent. But, I wonder, what is the nature of this queernormativity and an almost heterophobia? I don’t think that mans1ay3r’s “playfulness,” a term the authors use throughout, should be so readily implied as a celebration of queer sexualities. As the authors later acknowledge, “At times the Gamer Poop channel’s humour is counter-productive and veers towards mockery. But what mans1ay3r does show is the emergent potential for queer storytelling and identification: plausible, logical and seemingly sustainable alternate versions of these video games’ worlds can be created, and they can be queer” (14). And further, “This is not to say that
mans1ay3r is attuned to the political nature of queer theory, or that their channel’s queer content is progressive (for the most part it is definitely not). Even if the objective is simply to elicit audience laughter at the videos’ representational absurdities, a rejection of heterosexual norms and heterosexual narratives is evident” (15). I don’t find this line of argument wholly convincing. Surely it is queer people who themselves know how to tell their own stories? Consider the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a good example of why not to go in this direction.

Race and Gender in Skyrim vs. Realism

Matt F., “Race and Gender in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” offers some comments on race and gender in Skyrim. On race, he notes how Skyrim attempts to tackle this issue, but does not extend racial limitations to the player (apart from differences in beginning skill-sets): “It does however, fail to make the player character subject to the trials and tribulations of other races. For example, a Khajiit player character is allowed to go freely in and out of the cities, whilst the computer controlled Khajiit must stay outside of the city.” Notably, “Gender in Skyrim is handled much worse than race is. Gender in Skyrim has no effect on the player character aside from looks” (this is mostly true, but see, for example, the Allure perk, among other minor things). Matt then suggests that Skyrim might be improved by having NPCs interact differently with the player according to their chosen race. Thus, “The game could be modified in way that makes Khajiit unable to enter cities without first performing tasks in order to gain the trust of the cities,” among other suggestions. In regard to gender, Matt makes the interesting proposal: “Clothing and armor would have to be available in both male and female sets, allowing female players to dress as males and vice versa.” As with race, he suggests that different NPCs interact with the character in different ways on the basis of their gender. Matt concludes by arguing that Skyrim’s attempt at racial and gender equality undermines its realism.

Skyrim and the Dollhouse


SarahBeck, “Exploring Gender Roles in the Virtual Dollhouse of Skyrim,” at Women in Game Studies, offers a look at gender in Skyrim by way of the field of dollhouse analysis. “Dollhouses have been historically used as interpretive play spaces where the user can explore social constructs. The goal of this essay is to merge the analysis of dollhouses, originating from the 16th century concept of miniatures and deconstruct gendered social norms in virtual spaces.” To be honest, I didn’t really follow the significance of the connection, but SarahBeck does make some other interesting points. She notes the traditionally masculine domain of property ownership, something available to the player through the Hearthfire DLC. “For example, until the early 1900s women were not allowed to own property independently, and the right was first granted to married women exclusively.” The player thus takes up the role that is traditionally masculine, which can also be seen in their income far exceeding that of their spouse’s. Moreover, traditionally feminine tasks are those “the player can engage in or opt-out of, such as cooking and child rearing.” SarahBeck also attends to Skyrim’s “market economy” where “the prices of the homes and land are arbitrarily decided by the Jarl of the hold.” Significantly, a class system accompanies this:

A good example of these ideologies can be seen in Elisif the Fair, Nord Jarl of Solitude. She is the widow of High King Torygg and thus has a claim to the throne of Skyrim…. This depicts acquiring the position of Nord Jarl not because of her skills, but marriage. Also, it is relevant to point out the gender disparity in politics in the world of Skyrim. Of the nine starting Jarls of Skyrim only two are female and neither Elisif the Fair, who is defined by her beauty, and Laila Law-Giver, known for her ignorance surrounding the thieves guild, are representing women being competent at holding power.

All of this leads SarahBeck to the evaluation that:

These observations show that although Skyrim allows you to play as any gender that the writing and development of the game is still rooted in a heteronormative and sexist ideal of the home, family and property. Especially when compared to other societal structures such as North American indigenous knowledge paradigms where the community cumulatively owns land. This highlights the Eurocentric themes of the games and exposes the subtle bias towards patriarchal and colonialist beliefs.

And further: “By rewarding players with free stat bonuses, gold, and food for marrying Skyrim is also concluding that these things are deserved rewards teaching the player that in marriage one’s spouse is supposed to serve them and offer them free labour.”

Gender Representation in Marketing and Gameplay

Sophie Prell, “Studying sexism with Skyrim — Fus Ro Va! Gina!” at Destructoid, combines a narrative of her gameplay from her character’s perspective with comments on sexist tendencies in Skyrim. She introduces her analysis with a comment from Tom Bissell in his review of Skyrim, a comment that no doubt evoked some pushback: “If you have no idea what the Elder Scrolls franchise is, you are probably either (a) an adult woman, or (b) the sort of person who once beat up the sort of person who likes the Elder Scrolls franchise.” Prell replies, “It’s an attitude equivalent to a ‘No Girls Allowed’ club, and if I can let you into my life as a child for a moment, I confess I never really had a fondness for those, either.” Other problems with Skyrim’s playership also quickly emerge: “The most popular Skyrim mod on Curse right now is for nude females. By a 5 to 1 margin it beats out the better performance mod, meaning the subculture you and I belong to would rather see tits than see a game run better.” Prell proceeds to the game itself. Like countless others before it, it lacks adequate female representation. This extends to the marketing of the game. “Whenever a game is released that features the ability to customize a character’s gender, the prominent presence associated with its ad campaign is almost universally the male one.” This was no less true for Skyrim. Prell continues on to the gameplay. In both the Thieves Guild and Companions questlines, important women like Karliah and Aela ultimately end up standing aside:

Merrillia [Prell’s character] saves the day, assisted by a strong female, who at the last minute is bafflingly shoved aside to make way for a male or Merrillia herself to take power. I understand player empowerment, but there comes a point where a sense of progress is impeded by the game handing heaps of praise and awe onto my character without reasonable justification. It forces characters whom I once viewed favorably, such as Aela and Karliah, to act out of character; they must suddenly be disempowered so that I may take their place. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to fall back to gender stereotypes, i.e. sexism.

Nor can this be explained away with reference to Skyrim’s fictional world: “I would wager the same thing happened with Skyrim that happens with most fiction writing: they didn’t even consider strong, respectable female roles as a possibility in the first place. I wouldn’t blame them. They’d be traversing largely unexplored territory.” Prell ends with a call for gamers to engage developers and ask for better representation in gaming.

Misogynistic Questlines

The necromancer, Arondil. The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Stephanie Weaver, “Skyrim & the Unequal Application of Bigotry Pt. 1,” at Speculative Rhetoric, begins by noting that the player’s gender does not affect their gameplay. One problem with though is that the player’s gender is set, so that their pronouns are consistent throughout the game and whatever clothing or armour they pick up automatically adjusts to suit their gender. “In short, Skyrim doesn’t permit any genderbending or nongendered characters. And while the playable character may marry men or women regardless of gender, they seem to be the only queer character in the entire country, since all other couples you run into are cisgendered and heterosexual.” Weaver proceeds to address the “misogyny [which] is widespread in Skyrim.”:

One of the most disturbing quests is recovering a necromancer’s journals from Yngvild Barrow. The barrow is filled with ghostly women, and reading the journals reveals that Altermeri necromancer Arondil, after being shunned by the attractive young women of Dawnstar, retreated to the barrow to continue his experiments. After reanimating a number of female corpses to obey his orders, Arondil found their company agreeable, with heavy overtones that the relationships became sexual, and when a live women was captured by his reanimated slaves, he tried a different kind of experiment to create these spectral beings that, when touch, produce “a sensation unlike any other, as if her essence were invigorating [his] very soul, connecting with [him] on a level no woman of flesh and blood could do” (Arondil’s Journal #4).

Weaver highlights a similar storyline in the quest Blood on the Ice. She goes on to provide some critical comment on the quest Caught Red Handed, in which the player is tasked with hunting down tokens that a woman, Haelga, gives to her different lovers and subsequently confronting her. “That’s right, people, it’s Slut Shaming: The Quest.” Weaver observes that one of the lovers, Bolli, accuses Haelga of having slipped something into his drink. Weaver comments on the disappointing lack of options to engage this accusation:

1. If Haelga did in fact slip something in Bolli’s drink, that should have been treated as more serious. There should have been an option to investigate the claim and a stricter punishment than just embarrassing her.

2. If Haelga did not in fact slip something in Bolli’s drink, that claim should not have been made by Bolli or he should have been chastised or punished for the claim. The way this plays out just further reinforces a damaging narrative that people lie about being raped and therefore we should not take rape claims (especially rape claims made by men about women) seriously.

Interestingly, Weaver comments on the issue of religious freedom. If Haelga’s exploits are part of her religion, as she and others in the questline claim, then the player’s acts against her and the hushed nature of them suggest that this is not merely a case of slut-shaming but of religious persecution as well. Finally, Weaver admits that she is in two minds on how to go about remedying this: “If, for instance, misogyny were equally applied, players would be punished for choosing a female character, and that’s not a good thing. On the other hand, this kind of unequal application may allow male players of women characters to further ignore the misogyny around them because it doesn’t affect them.” I am not up with the newest RPG games but I think these types of questions will become increasingly relevant as we see developers continue to grapple with the needs of their audiences. (Note also that this post is labelled part 1, posted on 29 July, 2017. Weaver intended to do a second post but as of yet it has not appeared).

Inside the Sex Modding Community

whip cane
An item from Turbosnowy’s Fetish Collection

Steven Messner, “Inside the Skyrim sex modding community where almost no taboo is off limits,” at PC Gamer, provides a look at the “Skyrim sex modding community.” Skyrim’s potential for modding allows for a much vaster player experience. This is especially the case with mods dealing with sexual content, where the community “hasn’t left many stones unturned.” Messner begins with Ashal, the owner of LoversLab, which provides many modders with the tools and materials for adding sexually explicit content to the game:

LoversLab and its roughly 1.5 million members are responsible for thousands of mods that meticulously cover every aspect of sexuality. It’s such a massive community that even on a Monday morning there are over 1,700 active users. The mod Schlongs of Skyrim, to take one example, provides an exhaustive suite of options for tailoring every aspect of a character’s penis to make it look justright. And then there are mods like Devious Devices, an incredibly in-depth series of BDSM mods that give players every bondage or domination tool they could dream of.

This quote from Kimy, who works for Devious Devices, is also worth repeating:

I don’t want to see sex scenes for the sake of seeing sex. I want them embedded in a meaningful story or setting. A lot of [LoversLab] mods actually provide just that, which to me is their main benefit over [porn]. My specific focus—bondage—isn’t even necessarily pornographic in nature. Bondage play can involve or result in sex, but doesn’t have to.

Messner proceeds to comment on some of the other content available, such as mods that allow players to engage in necrophilia, bestiality, or rape. “Other[ mods] simulate sexual assault to a troubling degree, including victims exhibiting emotional trauma by crying after their assault is over.” Indeed, on the modding site, “the only thing that is strictly off limits is anything involving children.” This leads Messner beyond the world of gaming into that of sex therapy and psychology, finding that there is no scientific basis for a correlation between rape fantasy and committing rape or sexual assault in reality (this article, for example). Even in regard to perpetrators, other factors play a much larger role. “Violent media serves a very small part” (quoting Dr. David Ley). Messner does not address the notion of rape culture, however, which many of these mods surely perpetuate.

Misogyny in the Modding Community and its YouTube Coverage

thefeministgamer99, “Sexism in modding and MxR Mods,” at The Feminist Gamer, writes about sexism in the modding community, using videos by the YouTuber, MxR Mods, as an example (“This is not to incite any hatred against MxR Mods personally, he is just one of many male gamers who does this kind of crap and I am sorry for singling him out”). She begins by noting that the thumbnails on his videos display scantily-clad women from various mods. She then proceeds to a mod that the YouTuber covers in which players receive a lair from a Daedric Lord in which you torture women in different ways:

I found this video particularly disturbing for the casual response to this kind of level of violence against women. In the comments in fact, no one had any problem with this mod being called “kinky”. If these were men, we know that this would not be dubbed “kinky” and would instead be “gruesome”. The fact that no one appears to find this mod disturbing and in fact, this mod has been endorsed hugely, is alarming to say the least.

The YouTuber expresses dissatisfaction in a joking manner over a mod in which the player needs to constantly give a female companion gold in order to win her affection, stating, “Why the fuck do I want a gold digger as a follower? I guess it is kind of immersive because girls kind of are gold diggers.” thefeministgamer99 proceeds to note that the YouTuber is likely young and that this kind of misogyny has a structural aspect. But, she continues, this does not mean that we shouldn’t be critical. One of her main concerns is that modders and YouTubers might be unaware of women in their audience, perpetuating sexist tropes, which turns people like her away from potentially interesting content.

Skyrim’s Subtle Nods to the Patriarchy

The Bard, Mikael. The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Tinyorc, “imagining gender equality: the case of Skyrim,” at massive hassle, questions the oft-expressed sentiment that Skyrim “does not discriminate based on gender.” She responds, “Despite the fact that there are ostensibly strong women everywhere in Skyrim, I’ve always had a nagging sense that this world still doesn’t really belong to them.” Tinyorc proceeds to give numerous examples, such as:

Riverwood is intended to be the first town the player visits. In Riverwood, you can help resolve a love triangle in which two men are trying to win a woman’s affections by deceiving her. Men competing with each other for a woman’s hand with no actual input from the woman in question is part of patriarchy. As you move on to the city of Whiterun, you will encounter Carlotta Valentina, who is being harassed by the bard Mikael. Mikael, it transpires, is the author of A Gentleman’s Guide to Whiterun, which is essentially a pick-up artist’s guide to the women of Whiterun, rating them by attractiveness and discussing risks and considerations for getting them into bed. Mikael views women as objects to be evaluated and acquired – how did he develop such a misogynistic perspective in a purportedly egalitarian society?

Examples such as these lead Tinyorc to conclude, “Skyrim is a colossal imaginative undertaking, but when it comes to gender equality, it falls at the first hurdle: it fails to imagine a world where the power relations between men and women are fundamentally different to what we know and accept in the real world.” The same is true of Skyrim’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, which, as Tinyorc notes, finds no corresponding examples in the wider world of Skyrim. Finally, she comments on the potential for high fantasy gaming to actually challenge patriarchy. I especially like the way she puts this: “Forget dragons and wizards and ancient artefacts of indescribable power; a world built on gender equality from the bottom up? Now that would be something truly fantastic.”

And Others in Short

baratron at Live Journal registers a brief complaint about LGBT representation in Skyrim. “The only overt same-sex couple are both dead,” she writes of Hrodulf and Bjornolfr. Eunseob Lee and others at Prezi provide a short, interactive presentation on gender equality in Skyrim, highlighting those aspects which they believe demonstrate its egalitarian nature. Jeff Venancio at Geeks New England writes of being male and playing as female characters, using the example of Skyrim. John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun wrote in 2011 of the then forthcoming Skyrim and same-sex marriage, contrasting it BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. LA RYTER at F-BOM comments on the ups and downs of gender representation in Skyrim. Meghan Burrows at Women & Cyberdrama is wholly positive about Skyrim’s features that concern gender and sexuality, though her placing of it in the context of Gamergate and the events surrounding Anita Sarkeesian may be of interest to some readers. piercestream at Play the Gay Away briefly comments on Skyrim’s LGBT representation and then demonstrates some of the homophobic coverage that this occasioned, following the hashtag #skyrimjobs. POWERXCIV in a forum post as GameFAQs  makes a plea for better gay representation in the Elder Scrolls series. Sam Dercon at Sex, etc. offers a teenager’s perspective, praising Skyrim because it “break[s] barriers not only in the graphics and game play departments but also in its representation of sexuality, specifically gender roles and sexual orientation.”

The Antinomies of Gender and Sexuality in Skyrim

I still enjoy playing vanilla Skyrim. Actually, I’ve never even played the DLC, and have only used Steam intermittently so that I’ve missed any chances of getting it on the cheap (I can’t seem to find it at all any more, and I think you can only buy the Legendary Edition, which already includes the DLC but which I haven’t bought). So if you can still tolerate me, allow me to share some thoughts on gender and sexuality in Skyrim, based on my having played only this side of the game, and also not having played any other games in the Elder Scrolls series. This also means that readers more knowledgeable in Elder Scrolls lore will be able to correct me where correction is due.

Skyrim as High Fantasy

What requirements does the world of Skyrim have to meet for it to be considered genuine? Firstly, in terms of genre, Skyrim is a fantasy game, specifically high fantasy (compare). That is, it is not our world (real life–RL) with some minor modifications (that would be low fantasy) but takes place in quite a different world, though it is related in many respects. On the one hand, the world of Skyrim takes much from RL, with much of its animals, forests, mountains, rivers, climates, foods, weaponry, towns and villages, social structures, calendar, etc. closely resembling that of medieval Europe, and pre-Christian Norway (compare). On the other hand, Skyrim also departs from RL in many ways, though much of this is taken from RL religion and mythology: so draugr, dragons, Sovengarde, the Aedra and the Daedra, magic, shouts, alchemy, Dwemer technology, the different humanoid races, the land of Skyrim as a part of Tamriel and that as a part of Nirn–an entirely different planet to that of Earth.

Where Skyrim does depart from RL it is in its being a world where the creatures and gods of myth are real, and can be experienced as such by the player. The world the player inhabits is an enchanted one at almost every turn. But there are also other differences between Skyrim and RL that are not satisfactorily accounted for by its high fantasy genre. Indeed, they have more to do with accepted (to some extent) conventions in fantasy gaming and the medium of gaming itself. In this post I want to argue that the fantasy world of Skyrim sacrifices internal consistency for the sake of player experience.

The Medium of Gaming and the Departure from RL

There are a number of ways in which Skyrim asks for the player’s suspension of disbelief, for the sake of gameplay. A number of these have been illustrated by “Skyrim logic” memes:


Food can be used to heal the player, and can be digested while the game is paused
Hostile NPCs rarely retreat, even when they have just seen the player defeat a dragon

Other features, there to enhance the player’s gameplay, might include the absurdly huge carrying capacity available to the player or the battle mechanics. As one commenter on Quora puts it:

I haven’t seen a medieval-based video game which would be practically accurate. Realistic fighting is not about long, exhausting battles where you gradually bring down your opponent’s health. It’s about killing or seriously hurting your opponent with one successful hit within the first 3 seconds of the duel and watching him bleed out or take the opportunity to make sure he doesn’t survive.

And don’t get me started on the food. Skyrim includes tomatoes and potatoes, both of which in RL only came to Europe from the Americas in the sixteenth century. Tolkien himself was guilty of this crime. Basically, these features in particular are either included to enhance gameplay, such as the battle interface, or have not been thought through, the food possibly being an example of this. They have little, if anything, to do with the high fantasy genre and much more to do with its medium–here gaming.

The unrealistic features that are not accounted for by the high fantasy genre but the medium of gaming most of the time inhabit relatively neutral territory, though it should be noted that many players have sought a more–keyword–“immersive” experience, that (often) is, a more realistic experience that bypasses these suspensions of disbelief. Various mods have helped them achieve this. But we step into not-so neutral territory when we begin to address gender and sexuality in Skyrim. This is because the representations of gender and sexuality in Skyrim, for better or worse, correspond to or depart from the structures of gender and sexuality in RL. (Contrast Skyrim’s treatment of race, which, while I’m sure there is still much room for improvement, is a lot less superficial than its approach to gender and sexuality: see Nord discrimination of different Elvish races, Argonians, and the Khajitt; the plight of the Forsworn/Reachmen; the mild exclusivism of the Orsimer; Dwemer enslavement of Snow Elves; etc.).

Boob Armour and Modesty Conventions

To take one example that has received much attention, consider the infamous “boob armour.” Early on in the game, the player might encounter Uthgerd the Unbroken:

Image from The Elder Scrolls Wiki

There are many treatments of the relationship between boob armour and RL history available on the internet (here Skyrim specific, sometimes heated). But I have found the following video particularly helpful:

Quick sum: 1. We aren’t aware of any historical precedents for boob armour (at least that which might be used in combat–see comments here). 2. If boob armour were actually employed in combat historically, rather than protecting the wearer it would instead make them more vulnerable to injury and death.

This might mean, then, if we interpret this as sympathetically as we can, that the women of Skyrim have an entirely different body-type to those in RL, so that boob armour actually does do its job and somehow affords them the same armour-rating as men who wear that armour. But this sympathetic interpretation is highly speculative and does not rest on evidence that the world itself provides. The simplest explanation is that Skyrim’s designers were either following convention or–whether consciously or not–attending to their own tastes and those of their hetero male playership.

In relation to this, Skyrim modesty conventions dictate that male humanoids can be topless but females must at least have their nipples covered. One exception is the goddess of beauty and love, Dibella, who is bare-breasted in a some depictions, with even the vulva–or place where the vulva might be–being semi-visible:

Image taken from The Elder Scrolls Wiki. See also here and here, as well the related but more “modest” depiction of Nocturnal.

Apart from this, female humanoids universally wear what looks like a cloth bra (I’m unaware of any exceptions):

Taken from here. In most cases, NPCs do not run around in their underwear. In this case, the player had maxed out their Pickpocket skill which allows a perk for pickpocketting equipped items, including clothing. Underwear is not an item in Skyrim and can never be “removed” without a mod.

Interestingly, male NPCs also have different bottom-half undies:

Taken from the same place.

Finally, before offering critical comment, note that there is virtually no variation in body size in Skyrim. All humanoids appear to be sleek and muscular, apart from children.

Skyrim’s modesty conventions, then, seem strangely in line with North American mainstream consumer culture, though not so strange if you consider the playership. The sexualisation of breasts requires both that they be accentuated in boob armour and that they be covered up. Cf. here the cognitive dissonance of Facebook’s policy on nipples. This is further exacerbated by the universal, exclusively ideal body-type that Skyrim offers, suggesting that upholding North American attractiveness conventions is more important than variety or realism (also this video if you haven’t seen it yet). Just how contemporary the beauty conventions of Skyrim actually are, moreover, can be seen in the fact surprising lack of variation for female headdresses (also here), apart from say circlets, which are worn by males too anyway. Even the depictions of Dibella, though following in the tradition of artistic depictions of the female form, are potentially problematic when considered in this context (see also).

Marriage and Sexual Orientation

Another odd interplay between realism or internal coherence, on the one hand, and player sensibilities on the other, can be seen in player marriage in Skyrim. Here Skyrim gives the impression that its world was formed to reflect an intentionally idealised version of RL. Thus, where the non-heterosexual, non-male player might still run into obstacles on the basis of their sexuality and gender in RL, virtually none of these are to be found in Skyrim. For example, players playing as male characters can marry other male NPCs and female characters female NPCs (no NPC will object on the basis of gender). If we are thinking about this in terms of the world itself and not just a fancy open to the player, then every marriable NPC is thus already bisexual, or, their sexual orientation is determined to match the player’s gender from the outset of the game. This is further complicated by a perk available in the Speech skill which affords “10% better prices with the opposite sex” when buying or selling wares. Every merchant is then already hetero- or bisexual. This may all be relatively acceptable, but the problem finally becomes clear when the player realises that there are no other, non-hetero, romantic relationships in the world of Skyrim, besides that available to the player and one in the DLC (lengthy video treatment that I have not watched, here).

The only other non-hetero relationship in Skyrim is not even a part of the original game and clearly an afterthought. Does this not mean that the world of Skyrim is basically heteronormative? If so, oddly, no hostility is shown the player for their apparently unconventional choice of marital partner. This all leads very quickly to the conclusion that Skyrim includes the option to provide a more inclusive or expansive (or both) player experience, without really having thought through the implications this might have for the internal consistency of its world. Obviously there would be considerable problems with creating a world that emulates the discrimination its non-hetero players would face in RL. Of course, literature, film, and other art forms from the LGBT community have already done this. To do so in gaming, then, is no more problematic, though, that being said, the unique nature of the medium needs to be taken into account. Nor can I offer any suggestions of what this might look like, being myself a cis hetero male. It should be noted, nonetheless, that here Skyrim seems to be tending towards inclusivity rather than allying itself with existing stations of power, as in its use of boob armour. There is a catch, though. Rather than make a unique contribution to the conversation or challenge its more socially conservative playership, such as in an alternative world with a much more liberal and diverse approach to gender, sexual orientation, and sexuality, Skyrim only includes a hushed, token acknowledgement of non-hetero orientations by offering the player the opportunity to marry someone of the same gender, an act that is an absolute anomaly in the context of its wider world.

Gender Roles

Societies in Skyrim appear to be largely egalitarian. You have male and female royalty, jarls, and warriors, and, as far as I can tell, women almost always not being excluded from any role or type of work on the basis of their gender. There are a few exceptions, though. All hold guards are male, for example, apart from Stormcloak guards. Orsimer society is structured around a stronghold supporting a single tribe and run by a male chieftain, the latter being the only member of the tribe permitted to marry (see for example). Finally, the Forsworn Briarhearts, likely playing an important and prestigious role in Forsworn society, are all male (conversely, Hagravens are only ever female), though one anonymous contributor to the wiki speculates: “There are no female Briarhearts. This may be an oversight or maybe due to censorship, as the hole with the briarheart flower inside is always on the chest, and if the briarheart was a female, then the breasts would be exposed. Hence, no female Briarhearts.”

A Forsworn Briarheart. Image from The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Other clues as to gender roles in Skyrim can be found in NPC dialogue. The famous line, “What’s the matter? You can’t stand the sight of a strong Nord woman?” uttered by various female Nord NPCs (and now the title of a Bachelors thesis on Nord culture in Skyrim, albeit in Swedish) seems to suggest that woman’s physical strength is something of an anomaly in Skyrim, though an anomaly that particular Nord woman demonstrate exceptions to. Ahlam’s dialogue is more to the point: “Men are all alike, from Skyrim to Hammerfell. They care only for war and politics, and treat their women like cattle.” But this may have more to do with her unhappy marriage to Nazeem than it does provide an accurate depiction of gender relations across Skyrim. Again, it seems as if Skyrim attempts a kind of token embrace of egalitarian gender roles (with a few exceptions), in order to be more inclusive, though without providing an internal rationale for doing so. I’d be interested if anyone has any differing intepretations.

One particularly interesting aspect of gender roles in Skyrim is to be found in the cult of Dibella, the goddess of love and beauty. As far as I know, the cult typically only admits female adherents. This is one case in which dialogue to the player differs depending on the player’s gender. In midst of the quest, The Heart of Dibella (see also), the priestess Hamal can inform the player:

“You, my dear, can earn the Blessing of Dibella. You’ll find men to be more pliable in the future… or more vulnerable.”

OR, if the player’s character is male: “Have you heard of the Blessing of Dibella? It can help you with the wooing of women, if that’s your aim. Or give you strength if you happen to offend one. Typically we avoid bestowing it upon men, but for the Sybil’s escort, we could make an exception.”

On completing The Heart of Dibella, the player gains the Agent of Dibella ability, which allows them to do 10% more damage to the opposite sex (again assuming a universal hetero- or bisexuality), something less than is implied in the priestess Hamal’s dialogue. What is hinted at in the depictions of Dibella, though, and in the dialogue with Hamal, becomes explicit in the quest, Caught Red Handed. Haelga, who runs a “bunkhouse” for workers, is also a follower of Dibella. This entails a particular kind of devotion. Check out this note from one of her lovers:

Allow me to bring the trout. Image from The Elder Scrolls.

And Haelga’s conversation with her niece, Svana:

Svana: “Aunt Haelga, why do you…demean yourself with these people you barely know? They show no real love for you.”
Haelga: “Its only a bit of fun. You’re a lovely young thing, you should try it sometime.”
Svana: “No! I’m saving myself for someone special. Someone who loves me dearly.”

Finally, one contributor to the wiki has the following to note:

Her reputation is further justified with contextual evidence from her bedroom: a bed with shackles, a shelf full of stamina potions, a horker tusk and leather strips underneath her bed, a jar of honey and more leather strips on the dresser, The Lusty Argonian Maid Vol 1 and Vol 2, a bottle of Falmer Blood Elixir (which Brynjolf says will allow one to “make love like a sabre cat”)…

Apart from the player joining Svana to slut-shame her aunt, Haelga’s exploits and those of the cult of Dibella suggest a potentially sex-positive side of Skyrim. This is especially the case if Skyrim society is largely egalitarian and the encounters are consensual. But I’m not yet convinced that Skyrim has thought deeply enough about gender relations to make this claim. As argued above, it is instead simply an attempt at a tokenistic inclusivity. And in the context of boob armour, etc., the potential sex positivity of the cult of Dibella quickly becomes just another way of appealing to the hetero male playership.


This post grew from a paragraph or two introducing a post that was intially intended to address religion in Skyrim, the latter which, at the time of writing this, has not yet been written. I have worked from my own experience of playing Skyrim and have not taken the time to read other treatments of gender and sexuality in Skyrim. If you are aware of any quality ones, please let me know in the comments. I have read Sophie Prell’s piece, which focusses on different features of the gameplay as well as problematic aspects outside of the game in its marketing and playership.


Conjunction agreement after neither/nor and weder/noch clauses in English and German

I have been doing some translating recently and have been having difficulty rendering sentences like this in English:

Weder die Historie, die beweist, daß Jesu tatsächlich gelebt hat, noch die Tradition der Kirche, die solches immer schon gelehrt hat, kann und soll dieses Paradox einsichtig machen.

I tend to settle with something like this:

Neither the history that proves that Jesus has actually lived nor the tradition of the church that has taught this all along can or should make this paradox comprehensible.

That is, where the German uses an und to coordinate the conjunctions following the weder/noch clause, I think this is best rendered in English with an or, rather than an and, the latter being the most common and obvious translation in pretty much all instances.

As far as I can tell, in English an or is required to coordinate verbs that have their subject in a preceding neither/nor clause. Though I have not been able to find information about this on the internet, it seems that translators have already noticed this. Take this sentence from Barth:

Wie wir selbst keine Fähigkeit zur Gemeinschaft mit Gott haben, und also keine Fähigkeit, Gott anzuschauen und zu begreifen, ihm gegenüber wahrhaftig Empfangende und Schaffende und also Subjekt jener Erkenntnis zu sein, so gibt es an sich weder eine Notwendigkeit noch auch nur eine Möglichkeit, daß Gott zur Stelle sein müßte und könnte als Gegenstand unseres Anschauens und Begreifens.

Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 2/II (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1980), 231-32.

This is translated as follows:

Just as we ourselves have no capacity for fellowship with God and therefore no capacity to view and conceive God, and, in relation to Him, to be true receivers and creators and therefore subjects of this knowledge, so there is in itself neither a necessity nor even a possibility that God must or can be present as the object of our viewing and conceiving.

Karl Barth, The Church Dogmatics, 2/II, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. by T. H. L. Parker, et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 206.

And another:

Indem Mann und Frau miteinander und in ihrem Gegenüber Menschen sind, ist dafür gesorgt, daß weder er noch sie sich an ihrer Geschlechtlichkeit einfach genügen lassen und je ihre besonderen, mit ihrem Geschlecht gesetzten Fähigkeiten, Bedürfnisse, Interessen, Tendenzen, Freuden und Nöte besinnungslos ausleben können.

Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik, 3/IV (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1980), 186.

Translated as:

As man and woman are human in their co-existence and mutual confrontation, neither the one nor the other can be content with his own sexuality or heedlessly work out his sexually conditioned capacities, needs, interests, tendencies, joys and sorrows.

Karl Barth, The Church Dogmatics, 3/IV, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. by A. T. Mackay, et al. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961), 167.

I can’t yet say that these two examples of translation settle the problem. But I find it interesting that my translation instincts were confirmed when I searched for what others had done. The reason I chose Barth is because the Digital Karl Barth Library has a great search function in which you can look for multiple words that appear together in the same sentence, without them being paragraphs apart. I chose to search in English using neither, nor, can, and or, and then compared these in German. I chose can as a common verb, and one that I had come across myself in Moltmann (the example used at the beginning of this post). I found no instances where an und used like it is in the examples above is translated as an and. It is translated as an and though, in many similar constructions that are not to be confused with the one under discussion here:

  • We and our colleagues can’t and shouldn’t apply
  • Neither we or our colleagues can apply, and/but we shouldn’t either
  • Because we can’t and we shouldn’t, neither we nor our colleagues will apply
  • BUT: Neither we nor our colleagues can or should apply

With the last example, surely there are instances where people will nonetheless use an and. After all, there it is not ungrammatical. What I am arguing for, however, is what is natural. My guess is that this convention arose through allowing the preceding neither/nor clause to do too much work. It’s role was extended to other clauses that it was not related to, because it had already made its impression on the speaker or writer’s mind. Of course, this not wrong. Indeed, it is probably “right” now as regards style because of widespread usage. Finally, note that my speculation on the origin is just guesswork and I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has looked into this in greater detail. Also, if anyone has any more translation examples, especially those that differ from the general rule I am advocating here, I would love to see them.

Declension of “Dieser”

I haven’t been able to find a good table on Google images for the declension of dieser so I thought I’d make one. Here is both a copiable text one and an image with colour coding. The declension is the same whether dieser is used as a pronoun or a determiner.

  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative dieser diese dieses diese
Accusative diesen diese dieses diese
Genitive dieses dieser dieses dieser
Dative diesem dieser diesem diesen


Eating Fish in a Resurrected Body: A Problem for Christian Vegetarianism?

Jan Brueghel’s Earth, 1621, Wikimedia Commons

When I was studying for my undergraduate in theology, one of my lecturers suggested that the story of the resurrected Jesus eating fish with the disciples was a problem for Christian arguments for vegetarianism/veganism. The basic logic is that Jesus’ body is a new creation and one on which ours will be based when we are made new (a theme throughout the NT, but for some snippets, see Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; Phil 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). But if Jesus as a new creation participates in eating fish, then the claim of some theologians, that eating meat* is part of the old creation and will be done away with in the new, runs into a significant problem. (*I am using meat here in the broad sense of sentience, so it includes fish):

He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them. (Luke 24:38-43 CEB).

In the following I will assume Luke’s account to be accurate. A quick Google search suggests that whether or not Jesus actually ate the fish, whether on the basis of the non-historicity of the the post-resurrection accounts or on the potentially symbolic meaning of this account, is a point of contention for some people. For me, whether or not Luke gets all the details right, and whether or not the resurrected Jesus actually ate fish, is moot, as I have no problem accepting either as possibilities.

There are, however, a number of things to be taken into consideration. The first is that Jesus in his earthly body eating fish should pose no problem for those who advocate vegetarianism or veganism on the basis of Scripture. Without having eaten meat in its history, it is unlikely that humanity would be here today. Good, some will say, which is fine, but then you have the problem of other dominant species eating meat in the history of evolution. All such killings can be lamented, I think, but they cannot be straightforwardly understood in terms of right and wrong, especially terms that have developed relatively recently in human history. Jesus, then, in becoming human, participates in the real history of human beings, such as the fisherman with whom he spent considerable during his ministry. Some might claim that there are plenty aspects of Jesus’ historical context that he opposed and was in conflict with. “We don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin” (Heb 4:15). Indeed, texts such as Gen 9:1-3, which implies that Edenic humanity was vegetarian or vegan, and Isaiah 11:6-8, which looks to an Edenic future in which the animals no longer eat each other either, both suggest that vegetarianism/veganism, if not a concrete reality, could at least be imagined by some ancient Israelites. Nonetheless, our best testimonies are the gospels and, as far as I can tell, they suggest that the historical Jesus had no problems at least with eating fish (e.g., Mark 6:41; 8:7; Matt 7:10; 13:47-48; 17:27; Luke 5:1-10; John 21:1-13).

If the earthly Jesus had no problems eating fish, why would the resurrected Jesus have problems? It might be claimed that Jesus, in rising from the dead, also gained a new perspective on the world. Indeed, the earthly Jesus “matured in wisdom and years” (Luke 2:52), he didn’t know who touched his robe (Mark 5:30), and he didn’t know the time or hour of his coming in glory (Mark 13:32; though, on these, contrast the christology of the Fourth Gospel). On top of this, there is the theological consideration that God’s complete knowledge cannot exist in any real, let alone safe (!), way within an earthly human being if that human being really is to be a human being. One possibility is that whatever limitations of knowledge that Jesus experienced in his earthly body were overcome in his resurrection (limitations only insofar as the divine Son voluntarily became human and submitted himself to them; these were certainly sometimes circumvented by special knowledge through the Holy Spirit, and as already mentioned a completely different perspective is given by John). All of this is to say, however, that if any kind of changes in knowledge took place for Jesus in his resurrection, there is no reason to think that these related also to a sudden knowledge that eating fish was suddenly evil. If that were the case then Jesus had sinned in his earthly body. But the resurrected Jesus can still take part in eating meat because the whole of creation has not yet become new. He has become new but he still also participates in creation that is still in need of redemption. Moreover, not all things that belong to the old creation are bad. Marriage, for example, is good (1 Cor 7:28; 1 Tim 4:3-4), yet “when people rise from the dead, they won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like God’s angels” (Mark 12:25). We can perhaps say the same for eating meat. It is a non-sinful feature of the old creation that will be completely done away with in the new.

I have not here provided a basis for Christian vegetarianism or veganism. My goal has only been to show how the resurrected Jesus eating meat might be compatible with the claim that we will not do so in the new creation. What does this mean for our practice in the present? It means neither a legalism that condemns those who eat meat or animal products, nor an indifference that sees vegetarianism as a merely eschatological reality with no connection to present practice. As it is becoming increasingly possible to live on a healthy, affordable, and enjoyable vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as being something that the world needs to consider in light of climate change, it is certainly something that churches and individual Christians might consider participating in and having open, honest discussions about. Of course, meat and animal products can be culturally significant, and people might lack education for cooking, finances for buying, or just, in general, access to viable alternatives, among many other things. And this is why we are also reminded that Jesus, too, participated in this history of eating meat.

Transcript: Jürgen Moltmann with Miroslav Volf

Here are two transcripts for the Moltmann and Volf videos I have embedded below. The first video is a shorter excerpt from the second.

Here is a suggested citation: Dion Forster, Yale Divinity School, “Who is God for you? (Jürgen Moltmann with Miroslav Volf),” YouTube video, 4:15, posted 14 August 2014,, transcript accessible at ***.

Volf: Who is God for you?

Moltmann: Jesus Christ is the human face of God. Without Jesus Christ I would not believe in God. Looking at the catastrophes of nature and the human catastrophes of history, I would not come on the idea that a God exists. And this God is love. This was unthinkable for me. [Unclear] Jesus Christ and his message and his suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the cross, my feeling that God is present in the midst of suffering is a firm trust of my heart.

Volf: So you’re not speaking right now simply as a theologian–you’re speaking from personal experience of discovering or being discovered by God?

Moltmann: Yeah.

Volf: Can you say more about this experience, which was experience of anxiety, aftermath of terror, a place where joy normally would not find its entrance?

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, I was drafted to the German army in 1943, and experienced the destruction of my hometown, Hamburg. In the midst of Hamburg there was an anti-aircraft battery and we schoolboys had to serve in this battery. The operation called by the British was the “Operation Gomorrah,” the destruction of the sinful city of Hamburg. And I was in the midst of it. At that time I cried out to God for the first time. And later, I was in a prison camp in Scotland. There I read with consciousness for the firs time the Gospel of Mark. And when I came to the cry with which Jesus died, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” I felt that there is a divine brother who feels the same as my feeling was at that time. This saved me from self-destruction and desperation. So I came up with hope on a place where there was no expectation to come home soon. The imprisonment lasted for three years.

* * *

This is the second video:

Here is a suggested citation: Yale Divinity School, “Theology of Joy: Jürgen Moltmann & Miroslav Volf,” YouTube video, 25:43, posted 14 August 2014,, transcription available at ***.

Volf: I’m sitting here with Jürgen Moltmann, one of the foremost theologians in the world today. We’re in Tübingen where he used to teach for many years. We have just finished a small consultation on joy, and that’s the occasion why we are talking together. Jürgen, if I may, you have written a book about joy some forty years ago. What have you learned in the meantime about joy?

Moltmann: Forty years ago it was the time of the protest movement against the Vietnam War and the student unrest everywhere in the world. At that time I was thinking about “How can I sing the Lord’s song in an alien land?” [Psalm 137:4] Forty years after I want to understand how to sing the Lord’s song in the broad place of his presence [cf. Psalm 31:8; Job 36:16]. So from the dialectic to the affirmation. Hope is for me anticipated joy, as anxiety is anticipated terror. Today, at least in Germany, we live more by anxiety and terror than by hope and joy.

Volf: So in anxiety and terror, how does one find [the] way to joy?

Moltmann: Whenever I feel the presence of God, my heart is lifted up and I see more positive into the future of the coming of God. Thus hope is awakened in me.

Volf: Who is God for you?

Moltmann: Jesus Christ is the human face of God. Without Jesus Christ I would not believe in God. Looking at the catastrophes of nature and the human catastrophes of history, I would not come on the idea that a God exists. And this God is love. This was unthinkable for me. [Unclear] Jesus Christ and his message and his suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the cross, my feeling that God is present in the midst of suffering is a firm trust of my heart.

Volf: So you’re not speaking right now simply as a theologian–you’re speaking from personal experience of discovering or being discovered by God?

Moltmann: Yeah.

Volf: Can you say more about this experience, which was experience of anxiety, aftermath of terror, a place where joy normally would not find its entrance?

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, I was drafted to the German army in 1943, and experienced the destruction of my hometown, Hamburg. In the midst of Hamburg there was an anti-aircraft battery and we schoolboys had to serve in this battery. The operation called by the British was the “Operation Gomorrah,” the destruction of the sinful city of Hamburg. And I was in the midst of it. At that time I cried out to God for the first time. And later, I was in a prison camp in Scotland. There I read with consciousness for the firs time the Gospel of Mark. And when I came to the cry with which Jesus died, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” I felt that there is a divine brother who feels the same as my feeling was at that time. This saved me from self-destruction and desperation. So I came up with hope on a place where there was no expectation to come home soon. The imprisonment lasted for three years.

Volf: You have later written a book that I’ve heard you say you consider to be the most important book that you’ve written, namely The Crucified God. And at the heart of that book, in a sense, is this cry of dereliction. How is that book related to the book on hope? [Moltmann laughs] How is a cry of dereliction, of pain, related to the joy of jubilation, of resurrection?

Moltmann: Well, I started with hope and the resurrection of Christ, with the ground of hopeful expectation of the coming of Christ and the coming of the kingdom of God. When I experienced in the US that they took this as a reinforcement of the normally American pursuit of happiness and the American optimism, I said I when I would return I would only speak of the other side of Christ on the cross. And so I came from the side of the resurrection to the side of the crucifixion. There are two sides of the presence of Christ.

Volf: You wrote in the paper that was read by the participants of the consultation on joy that Christian faith is a unique religion of joy. And you tied that to the key moments in the Christ story–death, resurrection, and then also coming of the Spirit. Can you say more about this uniqueness? In what ways and why is Christian faith uniquely [a] religion of joy?

Moltmann: At the centre of Judaism is the Torah. At the centre of Christianity is the euangelion, the Gospel. And this is good news. And this is the news that God has raised the crucified Christ to be the Lord of the world. Therefore Christianity is unique in this sense–that it is a religion of joy. Christmas carols and Easter laughter and the awakening of Pentecost feelings–this is unique in Christianity. I don’t mean that Christianity is absolute. But it is unique in this way. Compare this with Judaism and the [sic] Islam and Buddhism. They are all unique in their centre. But the centre of the resurrection is unique in Christianity.

Volf: You’ve earlier contrasted [the] pursuit of happiness, a certain form of optimism–also in your paper, you spoke about Spaßgesellschaft, fun society–and contrasted all these–pursuit of happiness, optimism, fun–to joy. How are they different?

Moltmann: Fun is a superficial feeling, which must be repeated again and again to last, while joy is a deeper feeling of the whole existence. You can have fun at the side, but you can experience joy only with your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your energies. Therefore Schiller thought that joy is divine. It comes from outside into our life in a surprise, in a turning from sadness to goodness, from sickness to health, and from loneliness to communion. And this turning point awakens joy.

Volf: So joy isn’t, then, kind of simply a feeling. Joy is a response to certain states of affairs that have been changed, created, to which there is a particular of responding. Would that be a way to express it?

Moltmann: You cannot make yourself joyful. This would be self-satisfaction. But you are always outside of yourself, watching yourself: Am I being happy or not? And this would never lead to joy. Something unexpected must happen. So, falling in love, for example, to take it from natural life, or sudden success, or, in political life, the unification of Germany or the coming of Nelson Mandela out of thirty years of prison in Robben Island. He came and everybody expected civil war. Nothing happened. Nelson Mandela came. This is a reason for surprise and joy.

Volf: So, in a sense, it’s not a natural course of events that we expect to happen. It comes to us, almost, as a gift, as a gratuity from outside. I think of great events that you were describing. And maybe I can give an example as a contrasting one also, something much more quiet that may be a source of joy. Let’s say a child is born. That may be like the event of the Exodus[?], that may be like the event of something completely new comes, and there is joy and there is rejoicing in it. But the child is growing and there’s kind of a quieter joy that attends to relationship to something that’s there but that it’s also always experienced as gift. Or one falls in love but then love matures and every morning it’s a kind of new. So there may be exhilarating joy and there may be kind of quieter joy. Does that make sense?

Moltmann: Yes, of course. I think the intention of love is the happiness of the beloved. So love’s intention is not to own the beloved but to have the beloved happy. And therefore love sometimes supports the beloved and sometimes taking oneself back to let the beloved in freedom. So both actions are actions of love. We are not loved because we are so beautiful and good but we are beautiful and good because we are loved [Luther]. This is true for interpersonal relationships and also true with the relationship of God who is love, as we say with the New Testament [1 John 4:16]. He wants to see his beloved children on earth happy and joyful.

Volf: And, in a sense, the contrast that you made–we are not loved because we’re beautiful; we are beautiful because we’re loved–it kind of breaks a cause and effect relationship. If I’m beautiful and [then?] loved, my beauty kind of elicits the love and it’s expected. But if I’m not, the loved comes to me always as a gift, as a surprise, and lifts me up precisely in those terms, and then is a cause of joy. So do see a connection between joy and gratitude?

Moltmann: Yes, of course. Every child knows this at Christmas [both laugh].

Volf: [Unclear] of perceiving oneself as having been blessed and therefore grateful–in other words, it’s not enough for a child to get the present, right? They have to receive that present as a gift and be grateful for it for joy to occur. They may be dissatisfied because they didn’t get quite the present they wanted and then joy’s gone, right? But when it works well, the present, gratitude and joy form kind of an axis.

Moltmann: But every child and every person knows that anticipated joy is the best joy–

Volf: But if you always anticipate only [laughs]–

Moltmann: There’s a certain melancholy of the second day of Christmas. If you get what you anticipated–

Volf: But if you never get what you anticipate, if you only anticipate, right? So it’s a kind of dialectic between the two. At one point you have also connected kind of the character of the God, as Christian faith embraces or believes in, a God who is love but God who is [a] kind of passionate God, God who is engaged with the world, with the issue of joy, so that the passion of God becomes the foundation of joy.

Moltmann: Yes, and I feel at one with Abraham Heschel from Judaism who spoke of the pathos of God. A passionate God is on every page of the Hebrew Bible–or the Old Testament, as we say–but we in the Christian tradition have still to wrestle with the absolute God of the Greek metaphysics who is apathetic by nature. God doesn’t feel joy. God doesn’t feel pain. He is above pain and joy. So the apathetic God makes man apathetic too. This is the sovereignty of the soul which is above feelings of joy and pain. And the pathos of God, or the passion of God, makes the believers compassionate. They participate in the suffering of others and participate in the joy of others. Sometimes it seems to me that compassion with the suffering of others is easier than compassion with the joy of others. We feel so good if we can have mercy with somebody else. And we feel some envy if somebody else feel[s] joy and success, at least in the academic world. This is the case.

Volf: The rest of the world is spared from that temptation, I’m sure [Moltmann laughs]. The joy of God, it’s almost like a revolutionary idea, right? The God, the Creator of all that is, would rejoice, at least against the backdrop of Greek philosophical thinking, and much of the Christian tradition too.

Moltmann: How can we speak of the love of God if we don’t dare to speak of the joy of God? Because God loves somebody, joy, and participates in the joy of his creation [sentence unclear]. In the New Testament we have Luke 15 where there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents over ninety-nine just people, which is not true according to the parables given in this chapter because the lost coin could not repent and the lost sheep could only make noise but not repent. Only the prodigal son repented. But the father was not interested in his confession of sin. He loved him as soon as he saw him. So it’s God’s finder-joy in these parables.

Volf: You have–I think yesterday, if I listened to you rightly–you have connected joy of God with love of God–or love of God with joy–but you’ve also connected love of God with wrath of God so that joy and wrath and love would go together.

Moltmann: I interpret the wrath of God as God’s wounded love. If you feel the wrath of another person, you feel also the interest of another person in you. Only if that person turns away and turns their back to you, then you feel indifference. And this is the most terrible thing we can experience of God, that he has turned his countenance away from us. The Jews call this hester panim, the dark face of God, the contrary of the opposition to the shining countenance of God from where the blessing comes, according to the Aaronite blessing, Let shine your blessing over us and give us peace [Numbers 6:24-27].

Volf: But joy is more lasting and stronger than wrath.

Moltmann: Yeah, we have certain testimonies of this, even in the Old Testament. “My wrath is only for a moment and my grace is everlasting” [e.g., Psalm 30:5].

Volf: So joy, in the end, wins.

Moltmann: Yeah, I’m convinced of that.

Volf: Thank you Jürgen.

Transcript: “An interview with Jürgen Moltmann by Selina Palm VLOG 63”

This is a transcription of “An interview with Jürgen Moltmann by Selina Palm VLOG 63,” embedded here:

Here is a recommended citation: Dion Forster, “An interview with Jürgen Moltmann by Selina Palm VLOG 63,” YouTube video, 37:40, posted 5 April 2017,, transcript accessible at

Here is my transcript. Please comment below for corrections:

Selina Palm: We’re very privileged that he has stopped by our university on the way to receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Pretoria. We have managed to catch him on his way, journeying through, and we are very grateful for that. The Professor arrived yesterday…? [Moltmann nods]. And he’s still settling in.

I don’t think that Professor Jürgen Moltmann needs any introduction. He’s renowned for his theology of hope, his image of the crucifed God, and his development, alongside others, of a new, liberating political theology from below. So I want to start with a slightly provocative anecdote. As you know, Professor Moltmann, our country has been gripped over the last few years by student protests, much like your earlier times in 1968. Many universities have been calling for the decolonisation of education. I was not particularly surprised, then, when your visit was announced, to see a black, African, feminist student friend of mine commenting on Facebook. She said, and I quote, “I’m always tired of male, white, European theologians coming to tell us how to do transformation in Africa. But,” she said, “I want to make an exception for this one [laughter], Jürgen Moltmann. I’m really looking forward to him.” She pointed to two things that you have said. One, your insistence that all theology is and must be contextual–and, I would add, political, as we heard yesterday. Secondly, your ongoing belief, which has shaped your life and your theology, that it is hope that can make us resist and struggle against the injustices of present, in the name of a different, possible future.

So [unclear] to you an exceptional skills visa, to come and visit South Africa’s soil. And we welcome you as a comrade in our diverse, complicated, intersectional struggle, for human dignity for all–black, white, rich, poor, male, and female. Welcome to the conversation [applause]. In this particular session, situated as part of the launch of the–can I use the f-word?–feminist gender unity, here, at Stellenbosch University, at the theological faculty, we want to honour and remember feminist theologian, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, your fellow theologian, friend, life-partner, and wife, for over sixty years, who died last year. We do not expect you to speak on behalf of your wife–that would be a very unfeminist thing to do–but we hope over the next half an hour or so you will share through your own memories. There are no abstract humans, as you constantly remind us. We are concrete, relational beings, and we look forward to hearing you talk[?] about this relationship.

To keep on this reflection, I’m going to read a sentence from your earlier autobiography, A Broad Place, which tells us something about your earlier relationship with Elisabeth. This is from Jürgen Moltmann’s biography, 2008. “Elisabeth and I met more and more often and with more and more pleasure. We walked through the Hainberg, cycled the countryside, attended seminars and lectures together, and went to films. Slowly, my inward imprisonment, which I had hidden behind Kierkegaard’s motto ‘desparing yet consoled’, dissolved. My soul expanded and I became lighthearted again. At the end of February 1950 we exchanged the first kiss [Moltmann laughs, audience claps] and rejoiced in each other” [BP, 48]. [Unclear] captured your heart.

Moltmann: [To the audience] You see before you only half a Moltmann. The other half is Elisabeth. And we shared one hundred percent love, one hundred percent respect, and a lifelong friendship and a [unclear]. When I first met her she was already a doctoral student. In order to come nearer to her, I asked her professor whether he would accept me as a doctoral student [laughter]. And, so, she was responsible for my theological career. I would not have thought of a doctorate in my head[?] before knowing her.

Palm: And she graduated six months before you, I understand, with her PhD?

Moltmann: Yes, the first virgo doctissima in Göttingen–because I started later. I was released from Bristish prisoner-of-war camps only in April of ’48. So I started later than her. And I followed her half a year later with a doctorate and an examination beginning in two weeks[?]. This was too much for both of us. She was born in [unclear; NOTE: Moltmann-Wendel was born in Herne and soon moved to Potsdam] in Potsdam. At that time [unclear] to Germany [unclear] and I came from Hamburg [unclear]. We wanted to go into the socialist country of Germany with the Christian faith. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to enter the GDR because I was not a national[? unclear] but a resident[?], British resident[?], so I was suspicious–I was a suspect. So, finally, our walk ended up in the little village near Bremen, Wasserhorst, where I served for five years. I was a pastor in a Reformed congregation. There was twelve [unclear], only one dyke[?], and every four hundred metres a farmhouse. And Elisabeth, she came [unclear] all the time [laughter]. Our first child died at birth, and we had two girls later in Wasserhorst, which was [unclear] whole congregation[?]. Last year we celebrated a feast of friendship[?] in Bremen, and all my doctoral students, from Korea and Greece and the United States, came and I preached in the little church of Wasserhorst. One of the farmers stood up and spoke to me in [unclear]–which is near the Netherlands language– and revealed himself as the first confirmant[?] of mine, after sixty-five years.

Palm: It says[?] also here, Professor Moltmann, that your wife in her autobiography, starts to speak of the divergence of your experiences, man and woman. She says, “We studied theology, we started as partners, in equal status and equal birth … [‘(we) enriched each other,’] he with philosophical knowledge and I with political views …. We began a shared life” [Moltmann-Wendel, Autobiography, xi, quoted somewhat freely]–but, while you were able to become a pastor, while she married you she was not also able to train for the ministry. She was only able to become at that time [unclear] system[?].

Moltmann: She didn’t want to be a pastor. She liked to be a teacher.

Palm: She was a good teacher.

Moltmann: Yeah, and it happened in 1973, on a trip through the United States, when she discovered the feminist movement and feminist theology. In our German tradition, we liked the woman to [unclear]. We liked the woman to be the nurse and the mother. And Elisabeth discovered human rights for woman. With this message she founded–co-founded–the feminist movement in Germany: Human rights for woman.

Palm: Thank you. She speaks in her autobiography about a turning-point, Uppsala in 1968, I think, where they talk about man with his divinely willed human rights. She speaks about being quite upset about that and thinking, What about human rights for woman? So it’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about her reading. [Unclear] take us on from feminist theology and your wife’s feminist journey, I’m going to read from one of of your books, Experiences in Theology, the chapter entitled, “Feminist Theology Today,” where you say, “I did not come to feminist theology. It came to me through the discoveries of my wife, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel. I was drawn into it, and then experience astonishing changes in myself. Out of respect for her independence, I have never claimed to be a ‘feminist theologian’ …. But from 1972 onwards, feminist theology became an important part of our conversation as man and wife, and in the family, and — whether consciously or unconsciously — it influenced me deeply” [ExpTh, 268]. Could you maybe share a little bit more about this journey for you?

Moltmann: I loved her discoveries in the Bible [unclear] and the interpretation of the Bible. For example, Miriam next to Moses, and Maria Magdalene next to Jesus, and the women around Jesus, are his friends[?]. I often served for her typical male thinking [laughter].

Palm: You objected to her experiments on how men think?

Moltmann: And she forced me to think and express as I believe. As a person in Germany, we used to tell the truth objectively [laughter]. And we refused [unclear] and lecturing, “I see that way”–to take into account the subjective perspective. I discovered a contextual, German theology, very limited in academic, and far from the public and far from the church.

Palm: So we actually have your wife to thank for your turn to the contextual? We’re very appreciative, as second-generation feminist theologians for that turn. I’ve really enjoyed reading some of the work that you and Elisabeth did together, writing together and speaking together, in [unclear]. And this was often shaped around the theme of becoming human in new community, the subject of one of your books. In your wife’s autobiography, she quotes a journalist who comments on you–I didn’t tell you that I was going to read this quote–in her autobiography this journalist quotes, “His wife has, we may assume, always prevented her husband from coming to grief on that rock on which so many patriarchal men of God come to grief, namely male self-righteousness. Jürgen Moltmann has not only practised the next new, honourable community of women and men in the church in his more than forty years of marriage to the theologian Elisabeth, but has also urged it on academic theology, a male domain” [Autobiography, 142]. Can you tell us a little bit more about this idea of modelling something different, of becoming human in new community together, and of finishing with[?] friendship? [Unclear].

Moltmann: In 1981, [unclear; NOTE: probably a speaker at the June 1981 WCC Consultation on the Community of Women and Men in the Church] shared a lecture in Sheffield [unclear] and the new community between men and women. We worked hard[? took part?] of it. We took days’ and nights’ discussion and I was caught up in a new conversation with Elisabeth that man–educated in a human way[?]–that man must be strong and hard and violent, aggressive, at least in the old German education tradition. So I formulated the sentence: “The lord in man has died so that the friend could be born.” [Unclear]. Friendship is the highest form of communicating [unclear from 20:10 to 20:33, though picking up on words “affliction,” “husband” and “trust”].

Palm: And what about the issue[?] of freedom in that quote that “the lord in man has died so that the friend might be born”? I think [unclear] theologian of freedom and that’s been a characteristic, maybe, of your theology. Tell a little bit more what that was like, your own experience as a man? The notion[?] of the lord in man died so that the friend could be born. Was that a hard journey? You speak about a concrete theology of male liberation as a journey that needs to be taken by men to accompany the feminist journey of women. Could you maybe share what that was like for you?

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, I was drafted into the German army, and I was educated as a soldier to kill and be killed.

Palm: Aged just sixteen.

Moltmann: With [unclear], I was released from [unclear] in ’48.

Palm: Did you serve three years, I think–two and a half years as a prisoner-of-war in a British…?

Moltmann: Two years in [unclear] and three years in [unclear].

Palm: So experience as a soldier and as a prisoner in those very formative[?] years of being a young man?

Moltmann: This was a special situation and this was not atypical for my generation. We survived.

Palm: Thank you. One of the things I liked most, quite a lot about this book, I Am My Body, by Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, focussing on a theology of embodiment–and maybe this has been a dimension particularly important for feminist theology that you brought to men, the idea that we’re not just talking heads but we are embodied creatures. How was that journey for you, to step outside this very famous [unclear]?

Moltmann: I [unclear] for this book in my book, God in Creation. The traditional picture was: the body is a container for the soul. And everything which comes effects the soul. But all the ways of God end in the body, in the incarnation and in the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh. So I referred the exchange of Apostolic Creed the resurrection of the flesh, which means all life, not only human life, not only bodily life, but all life. We wait[? write?] now in the resurrection of the dead, which means only human beings.

Palm: So the idea[?] that all flesh is resurrected, all creation [unclear] the body, in the sense that God has [unclear]. Thank you.

Moltmann: And this idea was not only the body as container of the soul but as [unclear, something about Protestant?]. The body has to serve morals and ethics that we pursue. We have to be in command of the body in all circumstances.

Palm: Now [unclear] to ask a theologian, but, as you speak about this shift from lordship–relating to masculinity [unclear], command over the body, command over the earth, the military metaphors, the notion of lordship… How long has this for you reshaped your understanding of how you commit[? relate?] to God?

Moltmann: When we read, “God created man and woman in the image of God,” so there is equality and [unclear] between man and woman to be the image of God, to correspond to God’s love and God’s beauty. I developed a–Elisabeth too[?]–creation anthropology. First, when I published the book on the social doctrine of the Trinity, she was disgusted [laughter] in the spot[?] of speculation of the beyond. And, finally, she understood the relation of God in the Trinity. One of my doctoral students discovered in the [unclear] of Count Zinzendorf, the motherhood of the Holy Spirit, which he proclaimed in [unclear] in Pennsylvania in 1741, the motherhood of the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit comforts one as a mother and we are reborn out of the Holy Spirit, who must be a mother. Later, Count Zinzendorf told[?], the essentia[?] of community must have proclaimed the motherhood of the Holy Spirit, not I, not me, as a man.

Palm: And I loved [unclear] your shift from this almighty, lonely, patriarchal God to this notion of a relational God. And I know the last few decades you engaged much more strongly with the Pentecostal church, and the notion of the church as a charismatic community. What do you think you’d have me, for our churches here in South Africa, if you were to embrace this model of the church as open friendship, fellowship, community, as opposed to a [unclear] hierarchy of lordship? [Unclear] you[? view?], your ethical texts?

Moltmann: [Unclear] Ubuntu…?

Palm: We do have an Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Moltmann: And this corresponds to our [unclear] of friendship–open friendship, not closed friendship.

Palm: And I understand you’re going to be meeting Desmond Tutu later this week? I feel that’s going to be a fascinating conversation. I’m sure there’s many of them because I can ask people I’m aware of having been people in the room who have many questions they would like to ask you in [unclear] session later, four o’clock. But an opportunity, maybe if there’s one or two questions from the floor. So people can put hands up so I can have a bit of a sense and then I can [unclear] people.

Questioner 1: I really wonder if one can ask you a question that[? about?] South Africa as it is today. [Unclear] has wept until now. There is no [unclear] now. They are now making[?] what they have wept. How can you advise them? Because now they weep, we give them a [unclear]. But now, [unclear]. Because we [unclear], we have the constitution which is democratic now[?], but there is no [unclear] now.

Palm: [Unclear, something about Moltmann arriving?] in South Africa about twenty-four hours ago.

Moltmann: I would like, to my white brothers and sisters, say: Come, [unclear], and listen to others. To the other I would recommend: Get out of [unclear] and rest your voices [applause].

Palm: Do we have any other questions?

Questioner 2: Professor, my question is about friendship, which was stated quite clearly earlier on. The Dutch call friendship [unclear, something like hass-vrij?], the freedom of things[?]. Within the reality of the churches worldwide with homosexuality we [unclear]. Can friendship really work as a tool to cross the borders of same-sex relationships in giving our brothers and sisters the rights and the responsibilities to be fully members within our churches? Can friendship be harnessed[?] in a model to create more diversity within our churches?

Moltmann: Diversity is the sign of a rich church. And uniformity is a sign of a sect [laughter and applause]. As much as we can integrate different people, of different opinion, of different social standards, the more we become the community of Jesus.

Palm: I know in your wife’s book on friendship–somebody was telling me yesterday–she speaks–and I believe you also speak–about friendship as a sacrament that we live in a world with resolve[?] to make marriage into the ultimate sacrament, and that maybe there’s a need to rediscover the model of friendship between diverse peoples, as a sacrament in our Christian tradition.

Moltmann: There was one mystical tradition [i.e., Joachim of Fiore] with talk of relationship between God a[? of?] servant and Lord, of children of God and the Father, and of the Spirit of the friendship of God. God[?] becomes powerful and we pray as friends of God. We are not beggars, are not children, but grown-up friends of God. It was in [unclear] of that according to all[?] wisdom, which is fragmentary all the time. We respect the freedom of God to fulfil our prayer or not. This is the sign of friendship with God, to respect his freedom and trust his love.

Palm: So I think we’re gonna come to a close for this moment. On that note, the idea moving away from being slaves to a normal God, or even being children to a patriarchal parent God, to the notion of an egalitarian model of friendship*. Not only in our relationship to God but in our relationship to one another. And that signifies Jürgen Moltmann, I think, the friendship we have in community which you tried to live and worked towards. So, as you continue on in your journey with us, we thank you for spending the time to come and speak to us.

Moltmann: [Unclear] a Gospel word: Ich bin gut, ganz und schön.

Palm: That’s your wife’s words, isn’t it? I am good, whole and beautiful.

Moltmann: … Because I’m loved as a daughter of God. So this is the jubilation of the justified person.

Palm: What lovely words to end on: I am good, whole and beautiful. Thank you, Jürgen Moltmann, and for the gift of bringing your wife’s presence to us today. And I have a gift [applause].

*NOTE: This comment of Palm’s does not represent Moltmann’s earlier exposition of Joachim’s three kingdoms. “The freedom of servants, the freedom of children and the free­dom of God’s friends correspond to the history of the kingdom of God. They are stages on a road, as it were, but without being stages in a continuous development. Freedom is defined qualita­tively here, not quantitatively. Consequently it is misleading to date these stages on the road, either chronologically or in salvation history, as Joachim admittedly did. It is better to think of strata in the concept of freedom. Then these transitions are present in every experience of freedom. In the experience of freedom, we experience ourselves as God’s servants, as his children, and as his friends; and in this way we perceive the stages for ourselves. To be God’s servant therefore remains just as much a dimension of freedom as being God’s child, even if friendship with God goes beyond both.” — TKG, 221.