Are we quite finished with this?

2 Jul

I’m aware that this blog has somewhat unintentionally turned feminist – it was never my intention for the majority of posts here to be concerned with issues of gender and sexism (or any other form of bigotry) in the gaming community. That is not because I don’t think the issue is important, it’s more because (as I’ve said, repeatedly) recent events and threads online have taken me in that direction.

Feminist Frequency just put up this post, introducing a whole new level of misogyny to the conversation here. I haven’t spent a lot of time discussing visual imagery in media and videogames because it was never really my intention to add to what is already being done quite well (including by Anita Sarkeesian at FemFreq).

While I’m familiar with the commonality of using images in memes online (especially on Fark and Reddit), and while I’m also aware that those images are also not infrequently lewd and borderline offensive, I was generally under the impression that those images were not typically being used to target specific individuals. Yes, I know that media icons and pop stars are often photoshopped in rude and offensive ways. No, the fact that they are in the public eye does not make it acceptable behavior. However, I also know that most of the time the crude humor evinced in theses memes is simply non-specific crude humor.

Yes, a lot of it is misogynist, homophobic, racist, and otherwise bigoted. But a lot of it also involves cats. In essence, there are photoshop memes out there that are not offensive, and I like to think that there are more LOLCats than there are rudely doctored images of Sarkeesian.

However, as the post on FemFreq illustrates, these photoshop memes have introduced in recent years a whole new level of harmful behavior. This is not new in content, but it does appear to be new in scope. It’s threatening, demeaning, and diminishes the gaming community as a whole. For a group of people who have largely been marginalized and dismissed for most of their lives by their peers, such treatment of another person within their community is astounding. The violence of the images Sarkeesian describes is gender-specific and profoundly personal, and attempts to victimize her – and other women who agree with her – on a level that is visceral and deeply disturbing.

This is not how adult human beings behave to one another offline. We do not do this to each other at our places of work (or we get fired) and we do not do this to each other in our family homes. That adult (presumably) men feel that this is an acceptable way to comment on Sarkeesian’s project indicates that feminism is not “dead” and that equality has not been reached. A veneer of it has been painted over the surface of our public lives, but has emerged through the relative anonymity of the internet.

And it’s a big problem. There are a lot of men who apparently feel that women should not speak up, should not be encouraged to participate critically or creatively in the production of media, and – by extension – should not be allowed to be full human beings. As a woman in a position of relative privilege, I have not had to face what many women have had to endure (in the US or on a global scale), but I am aware of many negative assumptions made about me, my abilities, my intelligence, and my strength based solely on my gender. I have been insulted, abused verbally, and dismissed, and I am one of the luckier ones.

Recently, I have been made both ashamed and proud of the fact that I am a gamer. Ashamed that society affiliates the attitudes of trolls with a community of which I consider myself a part. Proud to be a female gamer when other women are willing to stand up and speak out against the implicit misogyny in games and forums… and now, who are willing to keep slogging on despite the explicit harassment they have to endure. I haven’t been a victim of the latter, but I respect the hell out of Sarkeesian for putting up with it and continuing to do what it is she set out to do.