Dear Online Commenters, Regarding Sexism & Misogyny (and Gaming)
This post may be mostly about what's happening in gaming culture, but it concerns online conduct in general. Some background: online video blogger, Anita Sarkeesian, started a campaign to fund a series looking at women in gaming. Alyssa Rosenberg from ThinkProgress describes what happened next:
Her YouTube account, in which she explains the project, was flooded with comments equating her to the KKK, calling her a “fucking hypocrite slut,” comparing the project to an act of war, and flagging the video as promoting hatred or violence. Her Wikipedia page was vandalized, her picture replaced with pornographic images, and people tried to [shut down] the Kickstarter proposal Sarkeesian was using to raise money to support the project.
Of course Ms Sarkeesian – who you can punch in the face, if you want – is only one of the many women attacked online. She has been brave enough to display all the hate she has received; most people like her usually remain silent because telling only makes it worse.
In support of Ms Sarkeesian and all women facing sexist attitudes, I want to offer some pointers to my fellow males (and the minority of females). I do not speak for anyone other than myself; these are merely my arguments and suggestions using the best reasoning I can offer. I do not call it definitive or perfect. I apologise for the dogmatic nature of the language but brevity usually means sounding like this.
So, to my fellow males…
1. Learn to listen
Don't tell women how they should've responded to threats, intimidation, and flirtations. Don't tell them the environment, gaming culture, and so on, really isn't as bad as many are making it out to be. Because it is: but we're not the targets of rape-threats, we're not the targets of creepy pervs demanding we remove our clothes (“tits or gtfo”). Most of us are the silent bystanders and that must change (see Point #3: "Be Vocal"). We shouldn't be basing our judgments on ignorance and our lack of being targets of hate.
Let's make this clear: Even one incident is one too many and demands attention. That it happens so often, even if it's only women feeling unnecessarily threatened, is and should be unacceptable (see Point #3: "That's just how it is, bro").
Instead we should be making the environment such that women never need to respond. It should be that such events never happen. Just as if you hate what soldiers do, you shouldn't hate individual army men and women, but be trying to make their jobs obsolete.
Secondly, obviously all the raised attention sexism and misogyny is getting can make it seem like the incidents are occurring more than they actually do. Perhaps it does "seem" or "feel" like everyone is talking as though it happens all the time - but that's completely irrelevant to what we should be doing to try minimize, as much as possible, such horrible events from occurring at all (Events such as Sarkeesian's and all the comments she received, or this one, or this one.)
2. If you don’t care, don’t comment
If you don't like all the attention sexism in gaming and ‘nerd culture’ is getting, I recommend you don't comment. You make matters worse by saying "I think everyone should just calm down". Then, you're derailing the point.
We're trying to figure this out; we're concerned. If you aren't interested, fine: the best thing you can do, then, is to remove yourself from the conversation. Otherwise, you're a stranger wading into a heated conversation between colleagues telling them "This bores me! Let's talk about something else!" No one likes that person. Don't be that person. Go somewhere else and have a good time, but leave us to talk. No one is forcing you to be here.
3. If you do care, be vocal and intolerant of intolerance
Obviously we, as a species, tend to remember worse incidents, bitter stupidity, rather than the benign, friendly ones. Obviously a few idiot men undermine the whole environment for normal or gentlemanly ones. How many women are willing to reveal their sex during multiplayer games now, because when they do, they get hit on, threatened and so on? How many are even willing to comment publicly, online, in writing about their experience? How many will see what happened with such a benign goal as Ms Sarkeesian’s and decide they want no part of a ‘culture’ that can’t even tolerate the discussion, because a woman is involved?
This should not be happening and we must be vocal about our hatred of it.
3.1 If we’re not vocal, there’s a great danger our silence will be perceived as cover and safety and endorsement of sexism or misogyny.
3.2. Perpetuators of such intolerance or loud-mouthed misogynists will claim a free speech violation, because they don't understand free speech.
No one is stopping them from writing incomprehensible blogposts or making loud noises in their forums. But - just as with any place, anywhere - there are guidelines and rules of conduct in gaming, nerd culture, etc., we should be defending and upholding. Consider: we don't go naked to work (unless you're a pornstar or stripper and even then, not everyone in the studio), we don't defecate in the middle of our office floor, we don't break windows for fun, and so on. We’re acting selfishly since we’re ignoring our actions negatively impact the lives of others.
Yes, in many of these instances, there are legal prohibitions but most sane people simply don't need to be told not to use their desk as toilets. Furthermore, I struggle to find a reasonable argument that you are being “censored” or “restricted” because someone stops you from doing these things (in that case, it’s probably similar to claiming police are “censoring” thieves.)
We should be intolerant of sexism, racism and all kinds of unjustified hatred (you can hate many people, like child rapists and so on, so there is such as a thing as “justified hatred” in my view).
3.3. This doesn't mean we gamers should be silent in our frustrations, that gamers can't curse, that we're being prudes in our online conduct.
This, more generally, is obviously a difficult area, but we can at least set - as our baseline - not tolerating sexist or racist remarks. If someone stops you from defecating into your office desk, writing obscenity on the walls of the street, we're not stopping you from doing that elsewhere. It's simply is not appropriate here nor does anyone else want it there.
To repeat, it's the selfish nature of acting this way that is also troubling: not recognizing that your conduct affects others, not recognizing them as persons with interests and concerns. There are others involved. We shouldn’t be selfish and arrogant, thinking everyone is merely there to serve as tools for our entertainment, instead of fellow passengers on this particular ride.
A compromise might be that you can create specific places online where people will deliberately be rude, antagonistic, open, 4channish. I have no problem with that, myself (as long as the users aren't boring in their personal attacks and only make sexist remarks. If you're going to be insulting, don't be boring, since then it makes it obvious you are being specific in your hatred and have a bone to pick.) Furthermore, everyone will know this is an area where people can go if that's what they're looking for. It shouldn't, however, be the default scenario when someone joins conversations, logs on to play a game, requests to make a video series about women in games, etc. (See Point #4: "That's just how it is, bro")
4. "That's Just How it Is, Bro!"
I've encountered this exact line from people many times, when arguing about this. Two points (and ignoring that I'm clearly not your 'bro'):
4.1. We're not arguing about how the world is - though that is something that needs careful deliberation. I've noticed though that in the same breath, after people claim we're overblowing the extent of sexism, they will also say "that's just how it is, man!". Well, which is it? Overblown or an accurate portrayal? It can't be both, since the former claims embellishment, while the latter indicates reality.
4.2. It's still irrelevant since we want to change "how it is, bro!" We do not want an environment which the better sex thinks is filled with immature, hormonal teenage misogynists. Sure, I think that perhaps most men are not like this and indeed are civil and respectful. Civil men are like all the chefs that put correct ingredients into a pot; but all you need is one guy to piss in it to make it distasteful for everyone. Sure, most of us didn't piss in it, but I'm still not willing to present it as inviting for people - regardless of sex - to wade in.
4.3. Finally, imagine someone telling Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela that they should just accept the racist laws and environment of their countries: "That's just how it is, bro!" -- do you think anyone is helped with that attitude? Do you think a person bleeding out should be told, “that's just how it is, bro!” No, we fix things, we bandage wounds, we clean up our act, we try constantly to make things better. I’m not claiming we’re in the same league as the Mandelas and Kings of the world: I’m arguing merely that no one should accept the assertion that we must tolerate how things are.
Claiming "that just how it is" is merely a cover for apathy and therefore tolerance for an environment that should change (see Point #3.1.).
It's difficult writing on this, being male and not subject to the abuse my female friends have experienced for being female and a gamer. I am regularly attacked personally online, because of my views on infant euthanasia/infanticide, incest, and other subjects. But I expect it, since these are topics people feel deeply about and it does actually affect life and death decisions. I understand it.
I hate that it happens and occasionally, after months of a constant barrage of people telling me to kill myself and claiming my parents are horrible, I might need to meditate or buy another stress-ball. But this should not be the norm for us ordinary gamers just trying to have fun online. I'm not claiming I'm stronger than anyone - indeed, I'm just as affected by online hatred as anyone, but it still shouldn't happen in an otherwise ordinary, non-threatening space like games or online discussion.
It should not be the norm for a woman involved in gaming or 'nerd' culture to face rape threats because she's concerned about sexism and the portrayal of women in games. She could be completely wrong, but we can criticize her evidence, her data, and her arguments, not her or her sex. You're only proving her point, there, Sherlock, assuming she thinks females are portrayed and treated badly in games and gaming culture.
It seems to me that many people don't know how to respond to criticisms of things they love or cherish dearly: from the view that life is sacred to mere gaming (gamers, in particular, since they're constantly faced with criticisms that it's “childish” to still play with make-believe men who shoot lightning). So when you tell them that they're responding in an immature fashion, that they shouldn't be saying those things, they'll claim they're being “censored”: what they're trying to do, poorly, is defend the thing they love. They’re probably defending in the only way they know how. They are probably not bad people, just poor at communication and naïve about how criticisms and disagreements work.
Hateful gamers don't realize that by attacking people like Ms Sarkeesian and her personal life, they are also not building up a proper, solid defense of what they’re defending! Indeed, they're destroying it faster than critics ever could. If the only way to defend your belief that something is important is through attacking or silencing opponents, how strong or good do you think your belief can be for outsiders? It’s like defending fragile glass by smashing it against a thief: sure, they now can’t take it from you, but no one will want to.
Important link: fatuglyorslutty.com - Collects incidents of sexism and misogyny from online interactions. This tumblr should NOT exist but I'm glad it does. That is the overarching goal.
You can help support Ms Sarkeesian's work by donating here.
Image Credit: CREATISTA/Shutterstock
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.