This is a very personal post. If you’re unaware of the events around gamergate or lack feminism’s 101, you won’t be educated by me here.
After an intense discussion of the events around gamergate for an upcoming CMP round-table, I got talking some more about the internet mob and general hostility directed at women like Anita Sarkeesian with the excellent Roger and Sean. The comment that really kicked this off was Roger pointing out how Sarkeesian never actually condemns anyone for enjoying the games she’s covering; neither does she claim you’re a horrible person nor does she ask developers to stop creating violent content full stop. What she does for the most part, is pointing out how carelessly most of the violence against women is included in games and how it differs from violent imagery in general.
So why is this woman met, no stalked with such extreme aggression? Why can we observe similar irrational, emotional responses all the time when the topic is representation in games or a feminist concern? Some gaming press articles lately have identified a sub-group of “socially inept male gamers with female resentments” that are panicking at the prospect of the industry changing, as the main driving force behind the attacks on Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn. While I have known few such individuals myself firsthand, it doesn’t explain why so many gamers from much more diverse backgrounds and areas of life are allying themselves with the gamergate or notyourshield tags. I’ve witnessed similar hostility to reasonable feminist concerns from some of the best people I know, so it’s clearly not just a few left-overs from 80ies gaming culture that like to sneer and spit when confronted with uncomfortable questions.
Everyone wants to be a good guy
I grew up in a very sexist family. Like most in similar situations, I didn’t realize this until much later in my life. My family was what I knew, what was normal. I knew my mother wasn’t in any way on equal footing with my father but I had never heard of the term feminism, only of emancipation in more negative terms every now and then. There was much that I hated about my past when I finally moved out at 20 but I had no name yet for the natural oppression of the women in our family context. I only felt acutely that we didn’t deserve to be treated like second class citizens.
I was also for a large portion of my life what I liked to call a tomboy. I preferred the company of boys – they shared my interests, they were easier to get along. I kinda deluded myself that I was part of certain clubs when I really wasn’t. Much worse however, is that I actively perpetuated my state of “not getting along with women”. I didn’t know why I had no female friends and in my book none of that was my fault. It was cool too, who needs women, right? Oh god.
The moment that first bubble burst was really painful; when I realized how I never really had a voice in my own family, how I didn’t stand up for myself or other women, how society treated me differently from men in many areas of life. The system is rigged against me. And men too in some ways. I had felt it hundreds of times like Neo in the Matrix but I hadn’t grasped the overwhelming picture up to the point when I started educating myself. I was angry, I was defensive. There was no way all of it could be true. But once you’ve become sensitive to these matters and you start going back, analyzing situations and becoming more aware of how people are treated around you on a daily basis, you can’t deny sexism any longer. Not the one targeted at you and not the one perpetuated by yourself. It’s a horrible feeling and difficult to face.
My second bubble burst a lot later, the question of why I don’t have female friends. I should probably add that I do have a very close female friend since childhood, but in many ways she’s a copy of me and I never managed to connect to another woman until I was 30, internet buddies aside (you are all awesome and I do owe you). The truth is I did want to have women as friends but I wouldn’t admit my own inadequacy. How can you not get along with 50% of all people? Around 30, things changed when I met a co-worker from Vancouver who I really connected with. It was scary as hell but it got me taking a hard look at myself and how I still treat women differently from men when by now, I should know better. And I’m not alone – I keep watching my female co-workers cheer on guys for being assertive while attacking women for the same traits, I witness jealousy, unsupportiveness and double standards that don’t apply to male colleagues and it makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t want to be like this.
It’s so hard to disconnect yourself from the culture you are taught by your parents and society around you, the one that is never questioned. It’s hard to accept that you’re part of a system and part of the problem. It’s much easier to get defensive and spiteful, to blame others or deny the truth. Growing pains.
Everyone likes to think of themselves as the good guy. [R.D. Precht, German Philosopher]
Nobody likes to hear that they’re part of an unjust system or that they’ve got privileges they do not deserve. Men and women struggle with the idea of sexism because they’re both complicit one way or another, before making conscious effort to question the status quo. Some take great offense at being called profiteers of the system, others take equal offense at the suggestion they might be systematically slighted, because they consider themselves strong enough and not part of “those other, weak women”.
Now, Anita Sarkeesian’s videos might not be condemning games or gamers but they constantly rattle the matrix. They force you to question what’s given and consider your own role and motivations. That path inevitably leads to bursting bubbles. It’s uncomfortable and painful – so much easier to unleash wrath upon the source of all that discomfort. The irrational hate directed at Sarkeesian is fueled by kicking and screaming fear. There’s no denying it: once you’ve opened that door, it truly is the end of the world as you knew it.
The Crusade against the SJWs
There is a waxing resentment being nurtured by gamergate and notyourshield exponents against so-called “social justice warriors” (and white knights). If you consider this briefly, it is a pretty horrible state to be in, to fight against social progress or those that speak for more inclusion and equality. How can anyone be against that?
This too, begs for a brief digression. I was for a period of my life a vegetarian for several reasons. I am not any more although meat is still a rare commodity in my diet. Anyone who thinks we eat animals for any better reason than because we can, is likely to get my eyebrow together with a link to Eating Animals. However, I was never a confrontational or preachy vegetarian. It was a personal choice and I wanted to be left alone just as much as I ignored others. I wasn’t complicated either, I’d eat whatever was left minus the meat when invited to friends. Despite all of that, my vegetarianism became the most unexpected and eye-opening social experiment for all the unprovoked hostility it exposed me to. I had people mock me, question my motives and trying to drag me into discussions of explaining myself. Some became instantly apologetic or embarrassed. My mere presence at some social gatherings was an issue, I was a spoilsport for no better reason than ordering ‘without the meat’.
I had never been aware of the deeply rooted, sacred ritual of eating meat/food together in our culture until I disturbed said ritual. I had become a point of vexation to some, like a silent reminder of all the questions they did not want to ask about their own consumerism. I didn’t mean to hold a mirror to anyone but it happened anyway. Genuine disdain was directed at me simply because I refused to be “complicit in eating meat”. I don’t know how many times I had someone tell me “you know, you’re not better than me” or “it doesn’t change a thing anyway”.
And that’s what “social justice warriors”, aka people who give a shit, do: inadvertently or not, they hold a mirror to anyone that chooses lazy complacency. They remind others that there are injustices yet to be fought right under their nose. Defensiveness and aggression are a typical reaction to feeling blame or guilt. Mocking those that care more than you do is a fine diversionary tactic.
No hatred more passionate than the hatred for a truth that hurts.
Change isn’t comfortable. You can hide behind tone arguments but at the end of the day, if you’re at all committed to matters of social progress or equality, you have to accept that bubbles will burst. You have to accept pain and confusion on an existential level. And you will need to be brave.
The moments when you feel like screaming and kicking those who have caused your discomfort, are most likely the ones where you get to learn the most about yourself.