Note: I want to start this post by saying that this is by no means the only article out there, or the only opinion, about the culture of misogyny in the gaming/geek world. This is one post in hundreds of thousands, shouted from the rooftops and put out into the internet world for all to see. There are good people out there doing good work to counteract these horrible actions that have othered women in places across the internet and across the planet. And the talk about misogyny isn’t just one to be done within the gaming or geek world. But that’s the subculture in which I party, so that’s where I do my talking. With all that in mind, read on.
This past week I had a phone call from a friend, John, who talked to me about misogyny in the geek world. He sounded startled about stories he’d heard, things that had happened, issues that had come up in the geek and game design community. He sounded surprised that stories that might be considered sensational were true and happened to people he knew. I was, sadly, not surprised. I was weary when I said, “No John. That’s true. That happened to someone I know. It’s not an urban legend. That happened to a girl I know.” The worst one I didn’t mention was, “That kind of thing happened to me.”
See, John had a stellar last Sunday in which he got confronted with some craziness in the gaming world that happens to womenfolk. And he blogged extremely eloquently about it here. And then he asked me to boost the signal. So I am. And on top of that, I’m not just boosting. I’m adding my piece too.
The gaming world for a long time had a culture of silence. Nay, I’ll say, the geek world. Lots of different fandoms and geek corners of the globe had a cone of weirdness up when it came to talking about the way women were sometimes being treated. About boundaries that were being crossed from the ‘hey, people might be socially awkward’ into the downright criminal. You’d bring up the issue of something that happened to you, or to a friend, and you’d get a shrug and a ‘what can you do?’ Why? Because gamers and geeks and their ‘subculture’ are seen as laden with folks who don’t know boundaries, who have social issues, and the community is seen as a place where these are just a part of life. What comes with that is a place where people can be themselves in a welcoming atmosphere. What also comes with that is those that push the limits of social awkwardness into impropriety and downright disturbing activity.
And for a long time, it was a ‘what can you do?’ response. Because I believe people were afraid that if the community started policing its own for bad behavior, then the beautiful utopia where geeks could come together away from persecution or whatever it is that we’re supposed to be fleeing would dissolve. I hate to say this, folks, but this issue was tackled by a critical list called the Five Geek Social Fallacies that I love to look back on. And what are these fallacies that geeks often fall back on, in short?
- Ostracizers are Evil
- Friends Accept Me As I Am
- Friendship Before All
- Friendship Is Transitive
- Friends Do Everything Together
We’re going to focus on the first two as the dangerous ones in terms of bad behavior. Fandom theory (which I’m studying this semester, so bear with me) came in a few waves and the first age of fandom basically thought of “Fandom as Utopia”, where outcasts came together to gather and create utopias that their lives could not be like. This theory of fan culture creation and subculture creation was disproven after they were big in the 60’s and 70’s (think Star Trek era) because these societies created ARE NOT UTOPIAS. People within subcultures are still mean, or petty, or aggressive. They still break rules. They still harass. And this is where those fallacies come in and where the culture of silence, I believe, held reign for so long. And still kind of does. Because a lot of folks come to subcultures, and to gaming and geekdom, because of wanting to feel included, then they feel uncomfortable by the notion of ostracizing anyone. They believe that friends ought to accept them for whoever they are, however they are, unreservedly.
In a perfect world, that would be fine. In a world where people still harass, manipulate, bully, demean and molest? Nope. Utopia does not exist. Sad to say it, folks but true.
So when people threw up their hands in the past and said ‘what can you do?’ when stories would come up about girls harassed at conventions, about women who had to walk the ‘casting couch’ to get work as a game designer, or who put up with sexual harassment at work just for the sake of working on a project, or were gas-lighted by menfolk they worked with when they spoke up, it wasn’t a case of ‘what can you do’? It’s a case of what aren’t you doing.
The last few years have given me hope. The internet has exploded with posts by brave wonderful people, both men and women, who are standing up and shouting that ‘we can do something’. That the geek fallacies are FALSE and that people who break the rules about treatment of the opposite gender, who sexually harass and use the geek community to do it will be called out and will be prosecuted. I use that term: prosecuted, not persecuted. This isn’t about persecuting and making witch hunts but prosecuting actual criminal behavior, or enforcing guidelines against socially unacceptable behavior in public and communal atmospheres. And it does not just have to do with women, as has often been pointed out to me: there is plenty of bad behavior from women, enacted upon men in the community, that goes unspoken about and ignored. But there are people speaking out.
There are also people standing up. When they see bad behavior being done, they are working to correct where they can. If a company chooses not to employ women and the issue comes up, as it has, about the lack of women in the gaming industry (such as during the conversation of #1reasonwhy), companies who stand for equality have stood to offer more work for women. They make known their beliefs through their actions to correct the situation by bringing what equilibrium they can, and to them I always say thank you. And there are those who stand up to act to create new spaces, such as the Different Games conference that is being organized, to give people who have been marginalized a place to represent. There are those who act in small ways, by offering support and care to those who have been on the receiving end of bad treatment. These are the folks you probably never see. They deserve credit. They stand up.
John’s post this week was full of outrage, and mine would be too – if I wasn’t so intimately familiar with the problem. I’m a woman, I’m a geek, I’ve been at this for years. So long I think that sometimes I run out of rage and instead fall into cynicism. But I’ve had opportunities instead lately to take that cynicism and turn it into action and turn it into a voice for support. And I’m going to keep doing that because that’s the way we combat fallacy, and combat those who believe they can hide their horrid and even criminal behavior behind a community I love.
To them I say, sorry, buddy or lady. It’s no longer ‘what can you do?’ or ‘well, y’know, it’s just that…’ It’s now ‘this is our community too, and you’ve got no place to hide from eyes that are attached to people empowered to act, and speak, and enact change. Your sandbox was never just yours. It’s all of ours. And we don’t want it to be a place of harassment and inequality and shame.
And hate to say it, but the new way’s here to stay.