Feminism, misogyny, and the issue of men writing about video game sexism / by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Misogyny

Today, I tweeted the following:

It's a statement following the completely ludicrous response to a video created by Anita Sarkeezian, a woman who has a video series called "Feminist Frequency" about the portrayal of women in video games. What should happen is that people either make reasoned arguments for or against her points or they should just ignore it. But no, instead they literally sent death threats. To hear so-called "gamers" talk about it, she's basically the second coming of Hitler. It's pathetic and horrific on so many levels, and it makes me ashamed of video games as a medium because they've allowed themselves to be boxed into this horribly sexist place where the violently vocal minority, again, literally sends death threats to women because they're women.

And that's kind of the point of Sarkeezian's series. It's at least forty-seven kinds of ironic, because every single poorly-worded non-response calling Sarkeezian a hack or a thief instead of actually accepting the fundamental merits of her argument proves her goddamn point. It's kind of the worst.

But I don't want to write about it, because I don't feel qualified to do so. This blog exists primarily for two reasons:

  1. To let me write about whatever I darn well please.
  2. To let me write specifically about the thought processes behind my writing.

The latter is the reason my "Greatest Hits" series isn't just a bunch of repostings. I want to talk about why stories are the way they are. I find that kind of stuff interesting, and you're free to ignore it or not. It's my website. Whatever. That's not the point. The point is that I don't write about feminism or women's issues or anything like that, specifically because I'm not a woman.

There was an article on The Daily Beast last Friday about misogyny in video games. It's an interesting article, though it misses some things. It's an issue that I've considered pitching to the Beast on multiple occasions. I've even written out that pitch a couple of times, but I've never sent it. Why? Because I'm not a woman.

Even writing this feels like some sort of hack job, because I can only comment as an outsider looking in. The #Yesallwomen movement earlier this year was proof of that fact. I don't know what it's like to be a woman, and I can't pretend to understand what it's like to literally receive death threats for being one.

The reality is that Anita Sarkeezian isn't the point, nor was Zoe Quinn (who has been publicly shamed for things that are entirely irrelevant to her place in the gaming community). These people have shady pasts and aren't the best role models, but that doesn't inherently invalidate their arguments. And even if certain aspects of any given argument don't hold up scrutiny, it still doesn't matter, because it's not the goddamn point. The reactions to these things are the point. The visceral intensity with which "gamers" react to anybody daring to question their medium-of-choice (especially a woman) is over-the-top to the point of being actually ludicrous.

On Continue-Play, one of our female writers wrote up something about Sarkeezian's latest video, which looks at the idea that women in peril are too often used as background in video games as shorthand for evil or horror. As editor, I pushed her to make the story more personal, because it's going to affect her differently than it would affect me or any guy who watches it. I wanted to hear her opinion. I have my own opinions about the video, but they don't matter. (But if you're curious: I think for the most part it's well reasoned and it absolutely makes a point worthy of serious consideration.)

When it posted, we all braced ourselves for impact, knowing full well that it would receive a negative response. Sure enough, the first comment on the story had nothing to do with the story and was entirely offensive:

I will not give that scam artist views or attention. The industry is fine the way it is. if she doesn't like then she can go somewhere else. Also glad I am using adblocker and not giving you any ad revenue for promoting this fool.

I will also be flagging this website for a ban from my resident news site to prevent you from getting any further hits as we have 0 tolerance for this sort of manipulation following the latest "5 guys scandal".

Bullshit.

The "5 guys scandal" is the aforementioned irrelevant Zoe Quinn story and will see no further mention. But the two sentences that really matter are the second and third. "The industry is fine the way it is. if she doesn't like then she can go somewhere else."

That first one is worthy of its own discussion, but the second is a perfect example of the misogyny. What would compel a human being to say that? When did video games become a boy's club? Maybe now that women outnumber adolescent boys in the gaming community they're all scared that they're a dying breed. Like Men's Rights Activists, they're lashing out because of some deep-seated pathetic fear. Video games are not above criticism. Hell, for the most part they're below criticism, which is, again, something that deserves its own separate article.

But being the same gender as that guy (it's definitely a guy) puts me in an awkward position: I'm not that stupid, but I'm not going to pretend to speak for women either. I will say, "I support X and Y" but I can't bring myself to make definitive statements because I feel like a fool doing so. Many men will make those arguments, and I can't fault them for doing so. Men are far more prevalent in the game criticism community as well, so by default they'll be the majority of voices on any given issue. But as someone outside of that position, I don't feel right. By acting like I'm qualified to speak for people I'm not (basically anyone who isn't a straight, white male), I'm perpetuating the problem. This isn't the "patriarchy" or other such nonsense, but it is fundamentally odd.

And perhaps that's its own issue. Maybe by not speaking out, I'm letting people get away with it. As a male, all I can say is that I'm ashamed of a particular subset of my gender, and I can call them out and tell them to stop being so pathetic. That might have some value, but that's not the same thing. That isn't really an argument about misogyny. It's calling out horrific behavior, but it's not from the perspective of women. And that I'm absolutely willing to do. I will call out disgusting behavior, because that has to stop.

But I'd rather encourage women to share their experiences. Again I turn to #yesallwomen. The point of that was to get men to shut up for just one second and listen. To pay attention to the plight of other people. And here we're in the same position we were then. We need to shut up and listen. We need to understand what's being said and only then can we try to understand. We can't call women who rightly criticize games "feminazis" and all the other slurs, because that does nothing to push our medium forward. And the guy who commented on that story was dead wrong: The industry is absolutely not fine the way it is. The industry is sick, and it needs to change.

But even though I can (and will) cheer from the crowd, I can't be the one making the grand speeches. That can only come from the people who have been truly affected by the hate. The million man march couldn't have been organized by a white person. And no gaming revolution for the acceptance and understanding of women can be led by a man.