I’m going to write this letter as though you’re a friend, because that’s how I used to think of Penny Arcade—people on the Internet who got what it was to be a gamer and a misfit geek. Who got what it was like to be me. People I wanted to hang out with. My cool Internet friends. And stuff that has happened over the last few years has made me not want to be your friend anymore.
I don’t hate you. The things you do and say often hurt me and I’m often sick and afraid to think of all the young people who listen to your words and emulate your actions, and yeah, often that pain and fear manifests in anger. Anger and hate are not the same things, and most of us expressing anger about what you said at PAX are not expressing hate. (I understand that you have been the target of hateful speech, and I understand that even a little hate can seem like an avalanche. I do not condone that behavior.) Most of us are expressing anger that is borne from disappointment, sadness, pain, and a fear that you don’t understand the power your words have over others.
Since we’re friends, you’re aware that I’ve worked in the games industry for about 25 years, and that I’m a woman. You probably also know about my history of sexual abuse and rape, or maybe you don’t and this is the first time I’m letting you in on it. I’m not going to go into detail, but it’s a part of my history and when people make light of it, especially people who I thought were my friends (people like me, people who get me) it really hurts.
For many years I said nothing when friends made rape jokes or used rape as an analogy for a bad beatdown in a game. I’d discovered years ago that my discomfort with group behavior would be met with ridicule at worst or dismissal at best, and I wasn’t really in touch with my feelings about it anyway. And then I learned about triggers and I realized what it was that was happening to me—that thing I kept having to swallow down on every time people joked about rape or tossed the word around like it meant nothing, the shoving down keeping those feelings distant. And I found out that I have a very mild reaction to these things compared to people who experience everything from panic attacks to being mentally transported back to their rape. And I stopped being silent about it because there is a cost to such things.
In your response today, you acknowledged causing pain and said that you regret it. Then you stood by your statement without really explaining how continuing to sell t-shirts mocking rape survivors belonged in a list of “mistakes” which included things like making the follow-up strip and creating the merch in the first place. Then you pointed out that both you and Robert Khoo had given an emphatic “No!” in response to a fan yelling “bring it back!” None of this adds up for me. I do the math, and the result I get is that you still don’t understand the damage that merchandise did if you don’t understand that continuing to sell it would have compounded the problem. Taking those t-shirts off the market was the only thing you guys did right in this timeline up until today when you really, truly acknowledged—for the first time I’m aware of—all those other mistakes and the pain you caused. But you still don’t seem to have acknowledged the cost vs. whether it’s “worth it” to exercise the right to use rape in your humor or what the cost would have been to continue to sell those terrible t-shirts or what the cost will be now, in the aftermath of that PAX Q&A.
And you once again played the reluctant role-model. This is the part I really hope gets through to you because while you are just one person, your words reach so many, and so many of the people you reach are young and/or otherwise impressionable and look to you for cues as to how to respond to criticism, how to deal with conflict, and how to treat people. Your actions three years ago didn’t just hurt rape survivors—they spawned a little pro-rape movement that still surfaces now and then to troll survivors. Many of us have been working to change the industry—to make it a place where everyone is accepted, respected, and represented. With #1ReasonWhy, #1ReasonToBe, and #1ReasonMentors, we were making progress. PAX was making progress. And by taking to the stage at PAX and saying that PA’s mistake with Dickwolves was not selling t-shirts, you set us back years when it comes to those for whom you are the Cool Kid. And as for women who do the things I like to do—game and write on the Internet—who are treated as though we’re “asking for it” every time we open our mouths? You just told the types of people who thought Team Rape was a good idea—the kind of people who troll us—that they were right. Whether you meant to or not, that’s the message they got. That was the applause you heard, and believe me, in the dark, wet recesses of the Internet, that applause continues to echo.
You may not want to be a role-model. You may not like being a role-model. You may wish fervently that you didn’t have to be a role-model. But you are a role-model whether you like it or not, and as long as you sit at the helm of Penny Arcade, you will be one. You are a major industry influencer and you are doing harm in the industry you love and to the brand you love and to the people you claim to care about. And reading your words today, I believe you when you say you don’t want that. I believed you the last time you said it, too.
So I’m asking you to make this one of those times when you change it up a little. Instead of a) stepping in it, b) apologizing, and c) pretending it never happened until the next time, I’m calling on you to take some real action to counter the message you sent three years ago and the message you just sent again this past weekend. Think about ways you can reach those young people who listen to your voice and help them understand the things you’ve learned from this. (And learn more, please, because you still seem to be missing some important pieces of the puzzle where this issue is concerned.) Do some interviews or better yet, scripted PSAs. Maybe meet with some of us to discuss solutions. Acknowledge the damage and do some real work to counter it, and then your apology will really mean something.
I want us to be friends again, but I need you to be a better friend to people like me (who are also people like you). We need you to be a better role model for young gamers, and we need you to help repair the damage you’ve done. I think you can be the superhero you seem to want to be, but only if you use your powers for good. I really hope you’ll try.
- “Resolutions”: Penny Arcade rewrites history in its latest “Dickwolves” apologia (Media Darlings)
- Sorry, Not Sorry: Penny Arcade and the Deeper Roots of Apology (Alex Lifschitz)
- With Great Power Comes Dickwolves: Penny Arcade Trips Again (Dorkadia)
- Bullies, Dickwolves and Apologies (Or: The Problem with Penny-Arcade) (Paging Dr. Nerdlove)
- Moving Forward With PAX (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- Gabe: We Made a Mistake Removing Dickwolves Merch (makemeasammich.org)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
For anyone who thought that Penny Arcade and their lovable firebrand Gabe had learned anything from Dickwolves, Tentacle Bento, Gabe’s most recent outburst, or anything ever at all, news out of PAX yesterday should set you straight. In a Q&A, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik said he believed the company made a mistake in removing the “Dickwolves” merchandise they created not only to celebrate a rape joke but to ridicule critics (many of whom are rape survivors). If this is all new to you, you can read the whole sad, sorry timeline and catch up. The kicker? This time it wasn’t just Gabe talking out his ass. PA’s business manager backed him up.
Here’s yesterday’s entry from the Dickwolves Debacle timeline (emphasis mine):
On stage at PAX, Mike Krahulik (Gabe) says he regrets removing the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store. Robert Khoo, Penny Arcade’s business manager, agrees that those who were offended by it should have been ignored rather than engaged.
There’s video if you have the stomach for it. So far, I do not.
And from Alex Hern at The New Statesman this morning:
Today, that excuse is not available. These ideas have been mainstreamed to the extent that Krahulik and Holkins cannot get away with pretending that it’s only a vocal minority who see problems with using rape as a punchline which don’t extend to problems with using murder in the same way. But the last three years have not seen the pair toning down the rhetoric. From Holkins writing about the “censorship” of criticising a game’s exaggerated female characters to Krahulik being dismissive of trans people (leading to a $20,000 donation to the Trevor project), there have been no end of sub-dickwolves controversies, causing one prominent indie developer to pull out of their shows entirely. The Financial Post’s Daniel Kaszor summed them up in an article titled “Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem“.
I’m going to say this again for anyone who didn’t hear me the first couple of times: Penny Arcade and Gabe/Tycho are major game industry influencers and as such, they have a responsibility to Not Be Dicks about stuff that affects a large portion of their audience and their community. In Gabe’s last apology for being an ignorant ass, he said he was going to keep his mouth shut to avoid doing any more damage to the PA/PAX brand. Apparently he forgot to do that. Now he’s doubled-down on his rape-apologist bullshit, and his BUSINESS MANAGER BACKED HIM UP. And I imagine Tycho is doing his ostrich act as usual.
Please don’t tell me this is “just Gabe,” and that “Penny Arcade does Childsplay” or “look, Tycho defended a rape victim the other day!” because none of that matters in this context. You don’t get to do Bad Things and get off the hook because you also do Good Things. Gabe just told a room full of fanboys (like the ones who supported PA’s original rape joke by dubbing themselves “Team Rape”) that Penny Arcade’s mistake when it came to the Dickwolves Debacle was NOT SELLING T-SHIRTS. If you’re still willing to give him a pass–to give Penny Arcade and PAX a pass–then please at least examine and acknowledge the fact that you are doing so despite the fact that they repeatedly shit on rape survivors and anyone else who calls them out on their shit.
I understand that some of my friends have to go to PAX for work. I get that some people feel that they don’t have a choice. I’m not judging them. I’m judging Mike Krahulik, Robert Khoo, and Penny Arcade and finding them rape apologists with no remorse. And considering how many people are rape survivors, they are apologizing for the perpetrators of rapes committed against a significant percentage of their audience and the games industry/community at large.
I’m not launching a campaign–not today, anyway. I’m just asking each of you to really stop and think about this if you’re in any doubt–about costs and benefits and consequences and influence. I’m asking you to speak up about this. Talk to your friends and colleagues. Have a conversation about how industry influencers who spread the message that rape is funny and rape survivors need to “get a sense of humor” are doing damage to our society. How rape culture is a real thing and Penny Arcade are currently its standard-bearers in the games industry. And then let’s come up with a way to either counter that influence or get them to once-and-for-all denounce all this bullshit and take steps to make it right.
Clever closing here. I’m just so sick of this shit. I’ll leave you with another line from Alex Hern’s piece in The New Statesmen (emphasis mine):
But by reopening the wound that first suggested that all was not well at Penny Arcade, Krahulik has also firmly reopened the debate about whether the pair can be trusted with the power they have in gaming.
Update: Because I wasn’t there and haven’t watched the video, I was not aware that the audience cheered these remarks. I am just sick.
Update 2 (9/4): I just learned about this. From what I understand, a member of their Enforcer staff accused another of repeated incidents of sexual harassment, they quietly got rid of the guy, and PA mods shut down the forum thread where people were discussing the incident/issue, offering support and corroborating stories of harassment. I don’t know about you, but I feel kinda like putting another tick in the “Ways Penny Arcade Perpetuates Rape Culture” column.
Update 3 (9/5): Gabe has published a response to the Internet response to his comments at the Q&A. I think he has a lot of good things to say, but I do not think he has adequately explained why he thinks continuing to sell the shirts would have been a good idea. He has listed it among several other “mistakes” that fueled the fire, when the only fire removing the merch fueled (that I know of) was that of Team Rape’s entitled rage. He is still saying that NOT selling t-shirts that ridiculed survivors was a mistake. And that tells me that even though he’s sorry he hurt people on some level, on another level he still doesn’t get how selling those shirts would have hurt–and kept on hurting–those very same people. What do you think?
Update 4 (9/5): Here is my response.
- “Resolutions”: Penny Arcade rewrites history in its latest “Dickwolves” apologia (Media Darlings)
- Dear Gabe: I Don’t Hate You, but We Need to Talk (makemeasammich)
- Moving Forward With PAX (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- How PAX Broke My Heart (Video Games Quality Snark)
- Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo (Wired)
DO NOTENGAGE: Dickwolves, Again. (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- I Can’t Go Back, or Why I’m So Bent Out of Shape About Penny Arcade (A Dream Come True)
- Pax, You’ve Gone And Done It: An Open Letter (Shoshana Kessock)
- Why I’m Quitting PAX (Lillian Cohen-Moore)
- An open letter to Jerry Holkins (Love Conquers All Games)
- Penny Arcade and the Slow Murder of Satire (Mammon Machine)
- Download Code: Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem (Financial Post)
- Penny Arcade reopens the “dickwolves” controversy (The New Statesman)
- Quit Fucking Going To PAX Already, What Is Wrong With You (ElizabethSampat)
- Penny Arcade Artist: Pulling Dickwolves Merchandise ‘Was a Mistake’ (kotaku.com)
- Penny Arcade’s Gabe is Willfuly Ignorant (Again) (makemeasammich)
- No Sacred Cows (makemeasammich)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
“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)
[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)
Guest post by Zachary Jernigan
I asked Zack for a post in response to recent kerfuffles, debacles, and all-out flame-wars in the science fiction community. For background, read Chuck Wendig’s series (links to third post, where you’ll find links to 1 & 2), “Calling for the Expulsion of Theodore Beale” on Amal El-Mohtar’s blog, and “The Readercon Thing” at Under the Beret.
Hi. My name is Zack, and I’m a science fiction and fantasy (sf&f) geek.
To be clear, I’m the particular kind of geek who only really cares about sf&f literature (novels and short stories, in other words). Movies, comic books, video and tabletop games: I think they’re neat on a theoretical level, but I have no practical interest. Nonetheless, I know a lot about them because I associate with other geeks, most of whom are enthusiastic partakers of all forms of media.
lf there’s one thing that’s true about being a geek, it’s that one can’t escape being inundated with information about all of geekdom.
Most of the time, this situation produces awesome results. I get to see what other geeks are crazy excited about, what they hate, and what arouses their disdain. I love passionate people and their strongly-held opinions, and geeks are among the most passionately opinionated people you’ll find in this world.
Of course, I said “most of the time” for a reason.
It stops being awesome when geeks open their mouths to espouse hate.
It’s happened a lot lately, which is why I’m writing this now.
Before I go on, one thing:
There are no links in the following post for a couple reasons.
One, I’m fairly sure this blog’s (amazingly cool) owner Rosie is going to provide a few, from which point you’ll be able to ping-pong around to a whole slew of other links, many of which will anger and inspire you by turns.
Two, if you’re really interested in the subject I’d encourage you to do a little experiment in order to see just how pervasive the problem that I’ll be discussing has become. Just type in “science fiction sexism” into your Google machine and see how many hits you get. You’ll end up in many of the same places that Rosie’s links took you, and a whole lot more besides.
Why do I endorse this activity? Because I think it’s important to see just how simple it is to be informed about the happenings in a scene — a scene you may never have thought twice about. If you’re inspired to look a little further into (the mostly) wonderful and welcoming world of sf&f fandom, so much the better.
You know when you’re at a gathering of extended family — let’s say it’s a 4th of July barbecue — and you overhear a conversation you wish you hadn’t? Someone, an uncle or aunt maybe, says the word “nigger?” Or “cunt?” (Or whatever other words you associate with prejudice?)
And you’re like, Whoa, whoa, whoa… WHOA. Hold up. We’re not that kind of family.
That’s how I’ve felt lately, over and over again.
Now, in all fairness I was only adopted into the sf&f community recently — around 2010, three years before the publication of my first book — but I’ve grown to love the folks in it. To say they’ve welcomed me with open arms is to do them a great disservice: they have, so often it shocks me, been my advocates in trying to get my career off the ground. People who are as different from me as one could imagine have offered heartfelt congratulations on my small accomplishments, debated me with civility, and forgiven my occasional trespasses.
My experience, in other words, has been overwhelmingly positive.
And so it hurts — it angers to white-hot flame — to see how vociferously the men (clarification: mostly men) of my newfound and much-beloved community have behaved of late. The defense of a way of life, of a mindset so retrogressive and thoroughly lacking in compassion, makes me afraid for people.
I was at Readercon last year, when Genvieve Valentine was harassed repeatedly. I didn’t know about it at the time, but you can bet I was horrified to hear of it. And then I watched in even more horror when the convention’s board gave her harasser a slap on the wrist in direct contradiction of its own harassment policy. Hardly an encouraging development for women who want to attend the convention this year.
(Just so you know, the organizers did eventually do the right thing. I’ll be at the convention again this year, in part to see if the controversy produces a positive result.)
Anita Sarkeesian? She’s receiving rape threats. Why? For simply challenging the video game industry on its portrayal of women. Trolls line up to tell her what an insufferable bitch she is, to tell her what she needs is a good cocking. They are, point in fact, an almost neverending legion — which I suppose is not surprising: Yesterday it was reported that a Microsoft employee made a rape joke while playing a new game in front of thousands of people at the recent E3 conference.
These are just two examples among many, more of which are being reported all the time.
Of course, I’m not just afraid for people (though that is obviously the most pressing concern).
I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to be associated with any scene, no matter how tangentially I’m related to parts of it, that produces and endorses the kind of mindsets recently on display. I hate how it misrepresents the rest of us, how it warps perceptions of what is overall a very well-intentioned group of people.
I want better for my adopted community than to be relegated to the status we are increasingly in danger of being relegated to.
In order to avoid this marginalization, we need voices shouting in opposition.
We need people — men just as much as women, all of us unafraid of stepping on toes (I don’t kid myself that this isn’t riskier for women; it always is, and will continue to be until the situation changes) — insisting that equality is not a subjective matter.
It is not open for debate, the issue of prejudice, of undeserved privilege. I’m tired of hearing that it is.
It is not a matter of free speech. You are not being censored. I’m tired of hearing that there is a force telling you that you cannot be you.
You, Mister (or Misses) Bigot, will still be free to be as fucking stupid as your atrophied heart desires, but you will not be free to have a voice everywhere. If you espouse a hateful rhetoric, one that objectifies women and encourages violence against them, you will be shouted down by our culture, by our collective weight of Objective Rightness. You will not be allowed to act on your hate publicly and push others down. You will not be able to get away with pinching asses, putting your arm around the shoulders of complete strangers, making unwelcome suggestive comments.
You will find yourself increasingly marginalized by your baseless judgments and entitlement, pushed ever further into the corner.
You will be put on Time Out until you can behave like a rational adult. Sometimes, you won’t be forgiven at all, because it’s too risky to trust you again.
It would be easy to say goodbye to all this, to quit thinking about The Problem of Being a Geek and go live in some virtual land free of idiots. I don’t need to concern myself with this crap. As I said, I haven’t been in the community for long. I could be like the respected author Nick Mamatas, who early this month announced his retirement from the sf&f community over some of the very issues I’ve outlined — and it would be easier for me than for him, being that I’m a relative noob.
And yet I won’t do that.*
I love how sf&f causes the reader (viewer, and/or participant) to look at the world in new ways. I love what I’ve already accomplished in the genre, and the potential I have to accomplish more. I love my friends, and the potential they have to do great things — as authors, as commentators, as people simply taking inspiration from what they read (view, and/or participate in). I love so, so much about the community that continues to bolster me.
More than anything, I love that I see change happening. The confidence I displayed above, when I used all those “You will…” statements? That doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from seeing more and more people stepping out and asserting what is right. It comes from seeing our enemy on the ropes, throwing weaker and wilder and ever more desperate punches at us.
This is a war, and we’re winning.
The sf&f community, of course, can be a metaphor. For anyone not in the thick of it, it’s perhaps best viewed this way. All communities, large and small, meatworld and virtual, have their problems. Sexism (and its even more disgusting neighbor, misogyny) is a normative throughout all of the world. It’s a universal problem, and perhaps always has been.
It’s important, for those of us who would have the problem solved for good, to take courage from developments. To not feel too much despair.
All those rape threats Anita Sarkeesian is getting?
They’re proof that she’s struck a nerve, that she’s aroused a defensive reaction from her attackers. They’re proof that the bigot’s bluster is just that — a pretense, a façade of confidence to cover what they really feel, which is fear.
Oh, yes: the fact that such men (in my particular community, but also throughout civilization) are frightened, desperately trying to hold onto what they have, is obvious to anyone with a brain. They’re scared of living in a world where they don’t have that one unearned thing that makes them automatically higher on the ladder than the “other” half the population. They’re petrified by the thought that they won’t continue to be listened to — coddled and made comfortable — simply because of that Y chromosome. They’re worried to death that someone, somewhere, is going to call them out, and that the voice will have hundreds of thousands behind it, a clear moral weight.
They’re afraid that the sun has already set on their unearned privilege.
And you know what?
Their fear is justified.
*This isn’t said in criticism of Mamatas. I respect his decision to leave the sf&f community. I think it’s a gutsy, principled move, and I applaud him for it.
Author Note, for those even more invested in this subject:
It may seem odd that I haven’t touched upon the recent SFWA controversy (which has been one of the most recent spurs to conversation on the matter of sexism and misogyny in sf&f), and I understand that. I chose not to comment on it for a few reasons.
One, I don’t want more people to make the following leap of ill logic: “The SFWA Bulletin had sexist stuff in it, thus SFWA must be an awful organization.” This is hardly the case.
Two, I wanted to concentrate on more obvious examples of aggression towards women. As much as I disagree with some of the SFWA Bulletin’s content recently, it is mild compared to some of the reactions it has inspired, many of which are in my not-so-humble opinion bordering on the kind of behavior toward women I talk about above.
Three, I had no intention of politicizing this post. The SFWA debate has become very politicized, and though I stand firmly on the left side (as I very nearly always do) I recognize that it is false to assume that encampment signifies actual conviction. The more politicized an issue becomes, the harder it is to convince would-be allies — those who’ve fallen on “the other side” of the debate because others of their political stripe did so before them — of your position. I’m speaking to anyone who cares about equality in the sf&f community, not simply to those individuals who are likely to agree with me on all fronts.
- SFFragette: Moving SF/F into the 21st Century (makemeasammich.org)
- Reconciliation: A Response To Theodore Beale (fozmeadows.wordpress.com)
- We’re Watching (sffragette.wordpress.com)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Seriously, it’s time to stop pretending he gives a shit.
Gabe gives a shit: Here’s what I think is a lot closer to a real apology for “being an asshole.” Your thoughts are welcome (but insults and telling me to shut up aren’t, so don’t bother).
Also, The Fullbright Company pulls out of PAX.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
This week I saw this dress on Facebook and I LOVED it. LOVED the image, the fact the dress exists, that the woman wearing it probably made it herself, the fact that I could possibly own such a thing or make something that clever or cool. I shared it with my beloved Geek Girls Book Club* (GGBC) because I knew everyone there (male and female) would love it as much as I did.
It never occurred to me (and never would to anyone in GGBC) to shame this woman for her size. But I’m lucky that way–I hang out with a better class of people than the ones you’re about to meet. (Also, I think she’s gorgeous.)
Unfortunately, we all know they’re out there. And as this awesome blog post on The Teresa Jusino Experience articulates so eloquently, when it comes to these sorts of Internet “critics,” women find themselves between a rock and a hard place:
Apparently, a woman cosplaying at ALL, no matter what she looks like, is risking some kind of backlash. If she’s thin (and thus, “hot”), she’s criticized for being “fake.” If she’s overweight, she’s criticized for not being “hot” enough. It seems that women in the geek community just can’t win.
The article’s overall thrust goes deeper, though–to the core of one of society’s most stubborn prejudices: fat-shaming. Male or female, people who exceed our collective, unspoken, ever-evolving body-size limit can expect us to treat them as somehow undeserving of our respect simply because of the extra weight they (we) carry around.
I am overweight by medical and societal standards. Men have called me “fat bitch” or “fat ass” on the street (or in my back yard). I’m not obese (by the above standards), so women don’t usually get in on the act (though it’s always hilarious to have a thin friend sit across from me at a restaurant and talk about how fat she is–I don’t take it personally because it’s not about me). But I grew up with a father who disdained fat, shamed my mother if he thought she’d gained weight while he was away on one of his trips, made crude comments about “fat girls,” and started shaming me when I was a teenager as soon as my body began displaying some curves. Between that and what I saw in the media, it was always clear to me that I didn’t measure up. And for people larger than I am, the problem goes from a voice on the inside saying “I’m not good enough” to people saying “You’re not good enough” in so many ways both literally and by treating “fat” people like they’re somehow failing at life.
I’ve been guilty of making stupid assumptions about all sorts of people, including “fat” people. But I learned as a child the difference between cruelty and kindness, and as an adult I learned about tolerance, and acknowledging privilege, and that mistakes are part of learning and I can grow and be a better person. What I haven’t learned is how to reach people like the ones above who still think it’s ok to shame someone for any reason because, like with so many people who make asshole comments like this, it seems that anyone who calls them out on it simply has “no sense of humor.”
That’s all I’ve got in me for today, friends. Sorry for the sporadic nature of my posts of late, but in addition to everything else, my old dog left me this week and I’m trying to keep up with work and life one day at a time. I’ll get it back together sometime soon. Meanwhile, thanks for sticking with me. It’s good to know you’re out there.
These three videos really sum up the past two weeks for me. Each provides its own perspective on the issue of sexism in geekdom, and each one is ultimately hopeful and inspiring. We need more of that in this discussion.
Angelina LB on the Tony Harris FGG screed and the phenomenon in general. Fabulous.
Sessler’s Something on #1ReasonWhy
Anita Sarkeesian @ TEDxWomen
The pop culture critic and creator of Feminist Frequency explores the gamification of Internet harassment as she saw it in the hate campaign against her. Fascinating.
Something’s afoot, people. I hear whispers from all over about meetings and events, missives and plans hatching…. The geek community is making 2012 the year we put our collective feet down with a resounding THUD! the ripples from which are making themselves felt and will continue to spread into 2013 and into the brave new world beyond. Welcome to the future, my friends. We have cake.
Guest post by Sid
Before I start, I want you to pretend with me for a minute. Pretend that you haven’t had a wave of shitty words thrown over you in the last 24 hours, even after you took down your defense. Pretend that you didn’t have to turn off the computer just to get a few hours of peace—so you didn’t have to keep looking at words like “asshole,” “misogynist,” or “sack of shit.” Pretend for just a minute that that never happened and that the internet consists of only you and me.
Now that we’re alone, let’s talk.
I do not want to call you names or imply that you meant to hurt anyone. I won’t do that because I know that wasn’t your intention. I’m not angry with you, because I understand that you honestly might not have a handle on what all the fuss was about—and not in a “willful ignorance” kind of way. In a “no, seriously, I can’t make this make sense” kind of way.
I want to sit with you, calmly and respectfully, and try to unpack what all this backlash is really about.
Wait, wait, wait…don’t close the window yet. I know—you’ve been hearing it in 140-character chunks all day long. People have said it to you over and over again. But the thing is, most of those responses were angry and hurt, and many used hateful words. No one listens once hateful words are leveled at them. That’s just science. So here, in our little pretend world where none of those words were said and you and I are alone, I’m hoping you’ll give me a chance to explain what the problem really is.
Lots of inappropriate things are funny, including many of the things you listed. So why isn’t rape funny? Or rather—since you never claimed that rape was funny and I don’t want to put words in your mouth—why isn’t it funny to compare activities that aren’t rape to rape?
The word rape brings with it a lot of imagery. It is the forceful and unwanted invasion of a person’s body. Every day more and more people experience it. You can say the word—you can—but by using it to describe an everyday task, like refreshing a web page, it takes some of the meaning away from the word. It gives the word a little less potency, which makes it easier for friends, employers, and juries to write it off as “not a big deal.” (This gradual impotence of meaning is what people are referring to when they say “rape culture,” because it leads slowly to acceptance of rape as “norm.”)
So why is it okay to joke about other offensive things?
Because being offended is different from being hurt. If you want to fight the “people get offended too easily” fight, I will walk beside you and fly the flag, but this is something different. A lot of people—women in particular—are actually hurt when they see the hell that they experienced made into something small. They relive the experience of having their bodies invaded.
Let’s, for just a moment, liken it to the n-word. I imagine this is a word I would never see in your comic, because this word hurts people. It directly targets one specific group of people and tells them they are less. I completely understand that this was not ever your intention, but when you joke about rape, you tell survivors that it’s no big deal, that we can joke about it. It targets them as a group and tells them that they are less because they weren’t even worth thinking about.
As I mentioned, I know you’ve taken down even the defense of the joke, but I suspect you may have done that because you were tired of the hateful words (which would be totally fair). Please note that I am not saying your apology was insincere. I believe that you really meant the apology. My honest goal here is to try to help you understand—not to condescend to you and not to treat you like some kind of monster, but to come to you with a sincere explanation of a sincere issue. I hope I’ve done that.
If you would like to respond to any of my points, have questions about any of my examples, or would otherwise like to continue in respectful discourse, my Twitter is @SeeSidWrite—just DM me with your interest (and whether you prefer Matt or Matthew) and I will DM you back with my personal email address. I would be more than happy to continue this conversation.
All the best,
I AM SO RELIEVED TO SEE THIS.
Update: I removed the final panel to my last comic, as well as my “defense” of it.Both were fucking stupid. Sorry if I upset anyone
— Matthew Inman (@Oatmeal) December 4, 2012
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Matthew Inman.
I logged on to Twitter this morning just in time to see this.
In case you didn’t see the original comic, it’s pretty well described above. It’s about repeatedly “raping” your F5 key to get a page to load. I saw it on Twitter yesterday and thought, “Ew,” but I missed the attribution. It matters that this comes from someone who a) is respected by many and b) has gotten it wrong before and thinks he’s entitled to do so without consequence. My good friend Sid is working on an open letter to Mr. Oatmeal even as I type which will go into more detail and be less “scathing” than the one I would have written (update: her letter). But let me say these things for the record:
- Daniel Tosh didn’t start rape culture or make rape jokes unfunny. He just happened to be well-known enough to bring the issue to the forefront. Rape jokes were never funny–and always painful–to rape survivors.
- Giving money to a women’s shelter doesn’t absolve you of all future crimes and misdemeanors. We all screw up now and then. Own it. REALLY own it.
- No one censored The Oatmeal. Enough people called to his attention his contribution to rape culture that he felt he needed to pull it down. The Oatmeal has, at last count, nearly half a million readers so that means A LOT OF PEOPLE chimed in about this. Dear Mr. Oatmeal: Censorship is when the government silences you. Free speech comes with consequences. You should know that by now. If you won’t learn something from this, you may as well join the Penny Arcade Rape Culture Denial Club and Bowling League.
Look for Sid’s missive here.
WTF is this whole #1ReasonWhy thing? Why are a bunch of angry women tweeting that ALL MEN ARE PIGS AND SHOULD BE GATHERED UP AND SHOT?? Is this whole thing a RADICAL FEMINIST PLOT? And why should game companies care what girls think anyway? Everyone knows that the target demographic for games is males aged 18-25! All the tweeting in the world won’t change the fact that sex sells. Girls don’t even play REAL games except to get guys to like them. And if all these lady game industry types were any good at their jobs, their gender wouldn’t matter, would it? Why are they whining about sexism on Twitter instead of DOING something about it? Why don’t they all just go find an island somewhere and make girly games in a girl-friendly environment? Plus, men have to put up with name-calling in the workplace, so why shouldn’t women? And my ex-girlfriend treated me like shit, and the women I’m attracted to aren’t attracted to me, so they’re all cold-hearted bitches–why shouldn’t I treat them like shit? All I’m saying is that women should STFU and learn to deal with the fact that games are made for and by boys and men and if they can’t stand the heat, get back in the kitchen! HAR! HAR!
I Don’t Get It
You really, really don’t. #1ReasonWhy isn’t about you. It’s not an accusation–but if it sounds like one to you, you might want to take a look at how you treat women in games or in your workplace. It came about in response to a question. If only a few dozen people had taken up the cry, you could write it off as a small problem. But thousands did, and they’re still showing up a week later. This is an epidemic that a) has gotten worse, not better, in the 25 years I’ve been in the industry, and b) until now, we have quietly accepted as being just the way things are.
As for your misapprehensions re: gamer girls and demographics, I cheerfully direct you to this article, which debunks them (with sources!) quite handily. You’re welcome.
On to the rest.
Yes, sex sells. You will sell more copies of your game if you feature a giant pair of tits on the cover than if you feature, say, a race car or an army man. But we make choices, don’t we? We decide, when we go into business, whether we are going to make products that contribute to societal disease or ones that do not. There was a time very recently when it was hard to find a triple-A MMO featuring female armor likely to protect the character in battle. Today I’m playing Guild Wars 2, and not only is my character fully armored, but her breasts don’t animate when she’s standing still. Way to go, ArenaNet!
Most game developers have, since I started working in the industry back in the late 80’s, stopped sprinkling “humorous” racial slurs into their games like the ones I lobbied (unsuccessfully) to get removed from the games I worked on way back then. As a society–and as an industry–we decided that we were above that. And once, I thought we were above sexism, too. But as I said, it seems only to have become more prevalent. I think that’s why #1ReasonWhy hurts so much–it’s a confirmation of something many of us have known for a long time but have been unwilling or unable to talk about in mixed company because it just wasn’t safe socially, professionally, psychologically. And not saying it out loud meant leaving it unconfirmed much of the time. It meant accepting the status-quo.
This week, all that changed. Women and men came together to talk about the issue–even as people like you, dear IDGI, peppered us with your troll wisdom and lulz–and some of us were comforted while others had their eyes opened and pledged to make things better. The national press covered the discussion–even as you berated us relentlessly for wasting our time (though you didn’t seem to have anything better to do with yours)–and helped to shine an even brighter light on the issue, bringing more supporters in from all over the world to speak on #1ReasonToBe and #1ReasonMentors about next steps.
This is why, IDGI. And though you don’t get it, so many more do today than did six days ago. While #1ReasonWhy is difficult (and even infuriating, at times) to read, to me it is a symbol of hope and a sign of progress. This is how we do it. A spark becomes a flame, and a flame catches the world on fire.
Burn, baby, burn.
I backed this new comic on Kickstarter because it features a teen girl superhero bucking traditional stereotypes. Now the first issue is out, so I thought I’d share. Here’s a teaser from the preview:
Let me know what you think, especially if you decide to buy the comic. I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses.
Yesterday Wil Wheaton told the Internet what he wanted for his birthday, which is today. In case you missed it:
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) July 28, 2012
This immediately made me do that “I coulda had a V8” thing because duh, why didn’t we think of that before? I guess there’s a time and a season for everything, and ladies and gentlemen, what better time for the very first Don’t Be a Dick Day to occur? It’s as if fate herself looked down and said “Rosie, it’s been an intense couple of days what with all the seriousness. I think we should lighten up a bit, but let’s not forget this week’s theme, shall we? I know just the guy to talk to.” And she sent @wilw a DM and he was like “Holy Shit, why didn’t I think of that before?” (I’m speculating, but it sounds strangely plausible, doesn’t it?)
Your friend Wil was also inspired to create this handy flow chart to help people not be dicks. It’s a work of GENIUS:
Of course, the idea is not a single day upon which to practice not being a dick. Rather, it’s a day to raise awareness of the very real issue that faces us today. That issue, in case you haven’t guessed by now, is Being a Dick, and it’s epidemic not only in the US but around the world. Don’t Be a Dick Day is a day to celebrate not being a dick if you’re not one, and to help people who are dicks to see the error of their ways. Also, to help other people who aren’t dicks who know people who are dicks to help the dicks they know. As a friend of mine said today:
Remember don’t just don’t be a dick on Don’t be a Dick Day, don’t be a dick on all the other days, too! Thanks, Wil Wheaton!
With that, I’d like to ask you to join me in song. Here’s how:
- Play the amazing MC Frontalot anthem (first to Wil and his four-word philosophy, now to the day we spread that philosophy far and wide) Your Friend Wil.
- Open the lyrics page.
- Come back when you’re finished. Ready? Go!
Awesome, right? Just what you needed to get all fired up for the rest of the day. Now go forth and spread the Good News. Tell all the dicks, “Hey Dicks! You don’t have to be dicks anymore! You can be cool like us!” Show them Wil’s new website, and sing the song with them. Print out the handy flow-chart so they can keep it next to them when they type words on the Internets or fold it up and stick it in their wallets when they go out into the world. Being a Dick is everyone’s problem. But you can help.
Happy Don’t Be a Dick Day, everyone. You know what to do. And what not to do.