“Don’t get offended.”
“People are so easily offended.”
“It’s the ‘in thing’ to be offended by something.”
It isn’t about offense. It’s about acknowledgement, disappointment, and standing up for change. Every time you say some version of “don’t get offended,” what you’re really doing is trying to control the conversation. By painting my words with the “offended” brush, you strip them of their worth and value, and often create a straw effigy that looks and speaks like me, but sounds like a whiny child.
I’m onto your game. You cannot control this conversation anymore.
What you so abrasively call offense is often first the acknowledgement of a social issue that needs change. Let’s take a recent example I posted to Twitter.
Posted to forum: “Do you plan to add any non-white characters?” Answer: “No need for it.” Hilarious.
— Sid (@SeeSidWrite) April 22, 2013
This was for a game that I enjoy quite a bit. You have a handful of playable characters, and you can switch them up pretty often, because you usually die a lot. It’s part of the charm of the game. All the playable characters are white. I posted on the forum, not because I hoped to get an insightful answer from the playerbase, but because I like to go on the assumption that things like that aren’t intentional—that they’re oversights.
Now, once I saw a couple of replies to that forum post, I didn’t go back to it, because I know what will be there—scathing remarks about offense, political correctness, and so on. But all I did was acknowledge that the game world does not reflect the real world.
I acknowledged it, I was disappointed, and I stood up for change.
Now, one forum post isn’t a movement, but standing up for change doesn’t have to be a huge gesture. In fact, most of the time, it can’t be. Big gestures (marches, protests, and the like) get a lot of attention and can definitely raise awareness, but without the small gestures—the day-to-day standing up that we can each individually do—the larger ones are meaningless. Change can be inspired on a large scale, but must be implemented piecemeal, bit by bit, as we slowly seed it into the culture around us.
You keep telling me not to get offended, but I’m not. We hear or say “offense” and we think of pearl-clutching and people who say, “Oh, my stars!” and people who can’t hear the word “fuck” without casting a disapproving look. None of those are me. I’m not “taking things too seriously” when I politely wonder why a movie fails the Bechdel test. Rather, I’m acknowledging that a film could not have two named female characters talk to each other about something other than a man, I am disappointed in that, and I am standing up for change.
You can’t strip my words of value just because you would rather I stay quiet. I know how to counter you now. You can keep telling me I’m offended, but you’ll keep being wrong. And if your goal is to make me stop talking, you will fail.
I’m not “one of those people who has to bring race and gender into everything.” I’m one of those people who acknowledges there is a problem, and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m one of those people who is disappointed there still is problem, and I’m not ashamed of that.
I’m one of those people who stands up for change in the small ways that I know how. I will never be ashamed of that.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
There Will Be Sammiches
This Saturday I’m hosting the first-ever Make Me a Sammich Meet-up. It’s going to be a purely social event with no agenda (not even a little one*), just a great view from Seattle’s Jefferson Park, good company, and, of course, sammiches.
I know it’s short notice, but if you live in or around Seattle, I hope you can join me. I’ll have some goodies to give away.
And did I mention sammiches?
[Trigger warning for discussion of rape.]
This article contains spoilers.
Dishonored is a game about choices and the effects of those choices. It’s also a game that had a lot of really visceral horror, which I noticed within the first several minutes as I watched rats murder and completely devour two guards. Holy shit. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it for that (on a personal level, not a larger level), but I came to really enjoy what it brings to the table on the whole. There were two things about the game that really stood out about my playthrough, though—the castration torture we never actually mention and the rape boat.
The former is something that’s super easy to miss. You find someone on your side, Overseer Martin, chained up in the middle of a courtyard. He has clearly been imprisoned for a while, and is guarded by a single smack-talking dude when you find him (why every single guard is male is a discussion for another day). Once you dispense of the watchdog (I believe I set him on fire in one of my playthroughs), you let your target out. As soon as he stands up, you can see that his crotch is bloody. He babbles some quasi-cheerful (for a guy in his position) lines to you, then heads off to your base to meet up with the people who sent you while you go on ahead to incapacitate the high overseer. You can talk to Overseer Martin later, you can talk to other people who know him, you can even aim your creepy magic “I’ll-tell-you-everyone’s-secrets” heart at him, but no one ever talks about it. He just walks around with this bloody crotch, almost casually unaware of it himself. I’ve tried to see it as a trick of the light, as maybe something else—as anything, really—but every time I look at it, I see the same thing. Blood. It’s blood. Whoever imprisoned him castrated him as a form of torture, and the only way to even pull that out of the story is to look. I think that’s great storytelling, but overall, that’s some terrifying visceral shit.
Which leads me to the rape boat.
Or, hey, maybe it’s not really a rape boat. Maybe I just handed an unconscious woman over to a man who tells me that she’ll learn to love him—“after all, she’ll have her whole life”—because he really wants to have totally consensual sex with her. Or maybe he really just wants to get her out of harm’s way and then set her free into the wild. Like a mongoose. As one does. And hey—as my roommate pointed out—maybe she’ll escape!
Let’s set this up. For this mission, you’re to go to a party and dispose of the hostess. (There are three, actually, and you have to figure out which is your target. Also, cool fact: your target changes on multiple playthroughs.) Your assignment here is just to incapacitate her. Nothing fancy. Same with every other target, really. Each target also has two methods of disposal—outright homicide or various no-kill options. The game also has a no-kill achievement, so if you’re after that, you need to figure out how to get her out of this crowded house with no one seeing you.
Luckily, as you talk to party guests, you find a man who would like to help. He knows you’ve been sent to kill her, you see, and he explains his undying love for her. It’s important to him that she live. If you could just bring her unconscious body down to the cellar, he promises that “you will never hear of her again.”
“I won’t harm her, I swear. I’m a man of means. Just bring her to the cellar and I will keep her safe with me. Forever.”
“WHOA”,” was my initial reaction. “That sounds…but you can’t really be asking me to…no way, obviously I misunderstood. This is her boyfriend. He just plans to take her somewhere safe, and is going about it in a fucked-up way.”
Hanging on to this thought is the only thing that makes me feel like I can actually complete this mission. So I do. I deliver her to the basement where he places her in his boat and delivers the line that I’d been dreading. “Don’t worry. She’ll learn to love me. After all, she’ll have her whole life.”
WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. So I have not only just assisted in a kidnapping, I have sent a woman off to…what? He’s obviously planning to keep her full-on against her will. He doesn’t see her as a person so much as a trophy, because you want consent from fully autonomous people. Will she be tied up? Chained up? Merely locked in? Or maybe—and possibly even worse?—he really does want sex to be consensual, so he plans to mentally and emotionally abuse her until she begs for his comfort. I don’t know, but to me, every option sounds like hell.
Now, let’s be clear: torture is featured heavily in the game. I have zero issues with that because it highlights how terrible the world is, and you don’t actually see most of it. You see the effects, and come to realize that this is a horrible, horrible place.
There were so many angles Dishonored could have gone with their (only) female target that include torture, and I wouldn’t be annoyed because torture in general fits the world. But instead, we went with sexual torture—the clichéd and “acceptable” punishment for women who step out of line.
On top of all that? It is just damn lazy writing.
“Wait, Sid, so you’re saying castration is totally cool? Why do you hate men?”
Nooooo…I brought it up because it was one of the two truly horrifying things that really stood out for me. Also, it’s super interesting to me that no one in game ever talks about it. But I didn’t expound on it in this particular article because, while unquestionably horrible, it isn’t a cliché. It isn’t an “accepted” way to handle an out-of-line man in our society. It doesn’t exacerbate an existing viewpoint.
The thing that gets me is this: I’ll bet if you asked the designers why they didn’t subject Lady Boyle to any other kind of torture, they would tell you that made them uncomfortable. The idea of allowing someone to hit or torture a woman in a video game would be in bad taste, but allowing her stalker to rape her (“No, just force her into an unwanted intimate situation!” To-may-to, to-mah-to.) for the rest of her life is totally fine.
Something is deeply wrong with that line of logic.
As soon as the two of them floated away, I reloaded the game and immediately played through this mission again specifically to avoid sending her off in the rape boat.
“Trust me,” I said, killing her in front of hundreds of partygoers. “You’re better off.”
This week, after news broke of yet another sexual harassment incident at a convention, I decided I needed to do something tangible to help solve the sexism, misogyny, and harassment problem in the science fiction and fantasy community.
I’ve been a part of the community since I was 19 and attended Westercon in Portland, Oregon, and I have worked and played in the field ever since (nearly thirty years). It’s home to so many friends and is part of my family life. I have always thought of it as an accepting community, and it is in a lot of ways. There are few places where people can be pretty much whatever or whomever they choose and not feel judged, and SF/F fandom is one of them.
But it was an incident at Norwescon in Seattle a couple of years ago that helped me come to the realization that I had to start talking about feminism. Living it. That I had to stop being a Feminist Butt.
I was on a panel with two men where I was ostensibly the moderator. One of the men very helpfully took over moderation duties, ran the panel, and he and the other guy proceeded to do most of the talking. I gave up trying to do my job or get a word in edgewise at some point about halfway through and just waited (with what I hoped was a patient, not-bitchy look on my face) for it to be over. It wasn’t until I walked out of the room that I allowed myself to get really pissed. Two months later I started this blog.
It wasn’t an isolated incident (and the Internet is currently brimming with women’s stories of sexism, misogyny, harassment, stalking, and assault at SF/F cons), but my decision to come out as a ranty feminist was certainly not a result of my experiences in SF/F alone. And until recently I’ve been pretty focused on the larger culture and the video games community (my other home) where we’ve finally begun talking about these issues in earnest, and haven’t really given a lot of thought to the need for activism within SF/F. Then all hell broke loose, and it broke loose again, and a writer named Kari Sperring coined a hashtag that gave me one of those “Light bulb!” moments:
Okay, men in sff, that’s it. I’m taking away your privileges. #sffragette
— Kari Sperring (@KariSperring) June 28, 2013
The conversation was already hopping on Twitter, so I ran over and created a Facebook page and posted some of the wonderful posts coming across that feed. The idea was to get people all in one place and start talking solutions. And as I thought about solutions, I realized what I wanted to see for starters was a presence at conventions to counter sexual harassment. To that end, I and my ultra-secret partner-in-crime began designing a badge idea to propose to the community as part of a campaign to achieve three goals:
- Provide information on how to report harassers.
- Act as safety liasons (someone you can go to for immediate assistance if security isn’t around).
- Create an awareness among potential harassers that we are watching and reporting harassment.
It soon became apparent that we were going to need a website* and a Twitter account, so that achieved, I’m now engaging members of the community on the design, the slogan, etc. and am really encouraged by the response. I’ve also learned of two groups doing similar work (Nerdiquette 101 and the Backup Ribbon Project) and I’m looking forward to talking with them about what they’ve learned and how we can work together.
All this to say if you’re a reader, writer, or SF/F con-goer and want to help make positive change in that community, join the discussion. Chime in on the blog, Facebook or Twitter, write a blog post telling your story or giving your perspective, and consider participating in the upcoming campaign to be part of the solution at cons you attend. I’d love to have your help making SF/F the accepting, safe community we all want it to be.
*SFFragette.org domain active soon!
- We’re Watching (sffragette.wordpress.com)
- Their Fear is Justified (or Why Speaking Out In Your Community Is Important) (makemeasammich.org)