A conversation on twitter today between friends made me start thinking more seriously about being a woman and being a geek and gamer – and also being an academic. Recently, I’ve seen a spate of articles on “fake geek girls” as though that’s an actual thing, posts and articles about male legislators attempting to illegalize abortion or mandating vaginal ultrasounds, rape culture in general, and discussions of sexual assault and rape and whether they can be “prevented” by the victims.
Because this blog is about gaming, I’m not going to launch into my opinions on most of that, but I am going to talk about how all of this is related to girl gamers and the gaming community. Namely, the idea that women are somehow “asking” for the treatment they receive at the hands and controllers of their male compatriots. I also want to note, before I get started, that this is also true of ethnic, religious, and other minorities, of queer folk, and of others marginalized by mainstream Western society. But as a female, that’s the aspect that impacts me most, and so that’s the lens through which I’m approaching the problem.
One of the most frequent pieces of advice “people” tend to give female gamers who complain about harassment is “don’t turn on your mic,” “play a different game,” “only play with friends,” or some other form of “well, you’re just asking for it”-style victim-blaming. If only we women didn’t speak on public channels, post on forums, or interact publicly with male gamers, none of this would be a problem. If only we didn’t wear short skirts or go out in public without a male escort… You get the idea. It’s a much-toned-down version of the same victim-blaming that happens with sexual assault.
Here’s a personal story. I read a piece this morning about a woman assaulted on the New York subway who did nothing, got to work, and had to… clean up after her assailant. She wasn’t raped, per se. She was “rubbed.” And she said nothing about it during the assault because – well, because what DO you say when that happens to you on a crowded train? I don’t know, because I didn’t know what to say when it happened to me. Like her, I dismissed it as a disgusting incident (mine was less disgusting as it involved no “clean-up”), got angry, and moved on with my life. I didn’t consider it assault, not really, because I’d been trained by my society to dismiss such things as “icky stuff that happens sometimes to women.” Just as we dismiss verbal assault and mockery online as “stuff that happens sometimes to female gamers.”
We shouldn’t. We should never dismiss such behavior as something that “just happens sometimes,” whether to us or to others who are playing with us. We shouldn’t have to worry about “what will happen if I say something on this channel?” or “I need to pick an avatar that isn’t obviously female.” We shouldn’t have to mitigate our own (appropriate) behavior to account for the inappropriate behavior of others.
And the kind of culture that tells us – as women, as gamers, as queer folk, as minorities – to “just stop playing” or “get over it, it’s just trash talk” or “it’s just harmless – guys do that” perpetuates the kind of culture that not only allows, but condones and even encourages further sexism and oppression. It’s the kind of culture that produces incidents like the one Slaus Caldwell describes, but it’s also the culture that made his teammate not speak up until the end – because she “knew better” than to expose herself to it. (More here.) I’m not saying she should have spoken up earlier, but that she shouldn’t have been made to feel as though she couldn’t because of her gender (and yes, I’m assuming that is the case, although it might not be).
By tacitly permitting this culture of victim-shaming (because it’s not simply “blame”), we’re making even potential victims feel accountable for mitigating their risk, and thereby holding them responsible for being even potential victims. We’re forcing them out of society without ever actively attacking them by putting them in the position of having to defend themselves from the possibility of being victimized. And that’s much, much worse.