Just when you think things are settling down…

Recent weeks have had me thinking that perhaps all of the online (and offline) discussion of misogyny and gamer culture perhaps had led to something – some improvement in behavior, online attitude, something. And then this story hit my twitter feed: a female blogger was assaulted while attending a Minecraft-related (but not official) party during PAX Prime (the party, it should be noted, is also not affiliated with PAX in any way). She tells her story here.

In short, she was sitting by herself, was approached by a man who made small talk, then showed her pictures of breasts, then not only placed her hand on his clothed penis, but took his penis out of his pants. She left immediately after informing him that “You can’t do that!”, and attempted to tell security, whose response was “What do you expect me to do?”

She prefaces the whole post with the following:

Everyone: I’m seeing a lot of comments on twitter and elsewhere blaming PAX for this incident and the security guard’s reaction. This party was NOT held by PAX, it was not even in the same venue, hell it wasn’t even on the same street. It was not affiliated with, sponsored by or organized by PAX. The only things it had in common were being gaming related and being the same weekend in the same city.  I’m even seeing some blaming Mojang. The ONLY person who should be held accountable for what happened is the asshole himself. And if you’re going to get mad about security, blame that guard. Also this post isn’t about nerd or gamer culture or blaming those cultures at all, this could happen in any community, at any party, to anyone.

I tend to think she’s probably right about most of this. Neither Mojang nor PAX hosted the party, first of all, but even if they had, they certainly did not ask the man in question to do what he did nor did they condone such behavior.

What I find particularly interesting is that she wants to remove the incident from gamer culture in general. Guest poster Scott Madin argues the following concerning this on The Border House blog:

Perhaps predictably, I disagree with Ky that this has nothing to do with PAX or with nerd/gamer culture. She is obviously the final authority on her own experience, and just as obviously the man who attacked her is the only one who bears direct (let alone legal) responsibility for that crime. But from my perspective, one shouldn’t be too quick to discount cultural and environmental factors that make predators feel they’re free to operate in a given situation — and that make bystanders more likely to shrug, to see the warning signs of predatory behavior as “normal”.

He acknowledges the point that these things can and do happen in other situations that do not involve gamers in any way, shape, or form (the T in Boston springs to mind as one of them), but I think his point is also valid. The atmosphere of the gaming community – which is not reflective of, I would argue, most gamers, male or female – is such that it tacitly permits such behavior and produces the attitude evinced by the guard: “What do you want me to do about it?” In other words, “these are gamers, lady, they’re creeps.”

Now, the guard didn’t say that last bit and I may be projecting a little, but the woman did everything right here. She left the situation, she told him his behavior was unacceptable, and she tried to gain support from someone who should do something about it. And the security guard dismissed her, which is unacceptable under any circumstances short of ongoing homicide, natural disaster, or apocalypse.

Madin suggests that gamer culture – “booth babes,” “dickwolves,” etc. – and PAX culture permit this kind of behavior. They insinuate in a variety of non-obvious and obvious ways that women are interlopers, sex objects, and eye-candy, rather than fully-articulate agents and human beings. But, he says, they do so in such a way that people don’t even notice – “Rape culture teaches men that they’re entitled to sexual gratification from women, whether visual, verbal, or physical; hiring models to ‘mingle’ with partygoers declares the same thing explicitly.”

What really concerns Madin, and should concern all of is, is that aside from an online tongue-lashing, “there will be no lasting consequences.” In short, the culture as a whole will click its collective tongue and say – as Madin points out, like the security guard – “What do you expect me to do?”

He closes with at attitude that I’m starting to see more and more often – one that says “I don’t know anymore.” An attitude I’ve seen from victims of repeated assault, from women struggling to change current legislation only to be told they have no voice, from people talking about the fact that a Michigan senator can’t say “vagina” while discussing birth-control laws. One I’ve had myself. Something has to change, but I don’t have any easy answers for how to make that happen.

That seems like a harsh way to close, but I don’t know what else to say. A lot of people have been patient and polite about this for a great many years, and the results have been rather underwhelming. Nerd culture resists change, and perceives efforts to bring change as attacks, no matter how moderate, no matter how careful the phrasing. I think the best hope is to work to make explicit what it is the pillars of the subculture support: to label their behavior indelibly as sexism, and to finally attach some modicum of shame to behaviors that should always have been seen as shameful. Challenge harmful structures, don’t support them. Don’t let praise for misogynist companies and institutions go unquestioned. make all but the most committedly sexist nerds uncomfortable voicing their boy’s-club attitudes, and make it socially unacceptable for the majority to associate with the hardcore misogynists.

Any culture, not just nerd culture, “resists change,” and in order to make it happen we have to wage a war of attrition. Sooner or later, enough words, enough objections, enough protests will eventually make a difference. Hopefully sooner, so that incidents like this one become less commonplace.