Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ask them "why".

In the last week, I have come across more open discussion of the verbal abuse and threats that women - both as a sex/gender and as an individual - experience in online communities, largely to do with gaming.

We all know the "Get back into the kitchen" jibes that women get from pathetic little boys (and little men) who can't bear the thought that someone has beaten them in a game on Xbox Live. If it's not a woman, then they'll pick on their name, accent, sexual orientation or race.
However, the articles in question discuss the more sinister and darker side of online banter. Rape threats, death threats, vandalism of online identities, systematic intimidation and abuse and general extreme unpleasantness. The first results purely from having a female voice, the second because a female wanted to critique the tropes that video games keep reusing. Whilst a few of the comments make the point that males are tropes too, I do not think they quite realise what tropes are and why they should be looked at in a while. In fact, sometimes, there's nothing wrong with a trope, provided it's done properly. But then I guess it wouldn't be a classic trope... anyway, I continue with my questioning.

The responses to these articles have been pretty unvaried:

From the women:
  1. I too have been on the receiving end - whilst I can handle this crap, it is very off-putting to those who'd rather just play the game in peace.
  2. That is awful. 
  3. It's not just women - everyone gets abuse.
  4. It's sad that women can't discuss things from a feminist POV where games are concerned.
From the men:
  1. Everyone gets abuse. Just learn to put up with it.
  2. It's not sexism - it's just sexist-themed abuse because you have boobs and beat them at the game.
  3. It's not that bad, my brothers wind people up all the time just to see how long it takes before they're put on mute. It's harmless.
  4. It's like when I went into the sea once and complained it was wet.
The last two from the men (an almost exact quote) are what pissed me off. First of all, what his younger brothers have been doing is just childish behaviour that most 12-15 year olds go through, even at school. It's the same crap they'd spout in the classroom and even then that is not acceptable behaviour, which we hope they grow out of. 
What the articles were detailing was far worse - had these people started yelling at a girl in a gamer t-shirt "I'll rape you myself" or "I hope you get raped for being out of the kitchen" or "go and die, whore" in the street, and there was a policeman or security guard near by, they would at minimum get a ban from the shop or a caution for disorderly behaviour or abuse of another member of the public.

It's emotional cyber bullying, intending to intimidate in a way their physical presence is unable to. They either get ignored or they succeed in putting an individual off the community or online gaming experience. There is a lot more to hate speech than just immature baiting.

Second of all, the sea analogy is just the apathetic rubbish that people always spout when things are bad but they don't have any good ideas.

In both instances, the threats and abuse were being trivialised - either by blatant down-play or an acceptance of what has been "normal" behaviour.

So I have been asking the same damn question all week, and received no answer: 
Why is it acceptable behaviour, and why should we expect that?

After all, it used to be expected and normal to go into Mississippi and to see black communities being treated like diseased vermin, but that did not make it ok.
 When I spoke out and said that it was this exact apathetic attitude that paved the way for victim-blaming, rape culture, and the continued acceptance of homophobic, sexist, racist and religious discriminatory behaviour, I was disagreed with and "downvoted" on the website that I was commenting on. A very common  occurrence where over 70% of its users and actually incredibly sexist and misogynist.
It's equally sad that pretty much everyone gets online abuse - yes, even the white men - but apparently it's not ok to be unaccepting of it.

Once again, I spoke out because of the second article linked above (click on "an individual")  was posted and this quote:

I am certainly not the first woman to suffer this kind of harassment and sadly, I won’t be the last. But I’d just like to reiterate that this is not a trivial issue. It can not and should not be brushed off by saying, “oh well that’s YouTube for you“, “trolls will be trolls” or “it’s to be expected on the internet”. These are serious threats of violence, harassment and slander across many online platforms meant to intimidate and silence. And its not okay. 

had resonated with me, because I had argued the exact same thing last week. Again, I have been disagreed with. Whilst everyone is in agreement that what has happened to Anita Sarkeesian is 100% disgusting, her individual experience should not in anyway result in the  the behaviour of others towards her sex in general being dealt with.

The more I asked "why though", the more apologist the responses became. Apparently, my expectations of people's behaviour are too great. I am limiting free speech (which, in another topic, I pointed out has limitations in set cases - cases which actually are displayed in the treatment of Anita Sarkeesian, and this time I was "upvoted") and I am being "facist" in my social views.

My "social" views are these:

  • Everybody should be treated with respect - unless there is a good reason that this respect has not been earned. Simply being online and a particular sex, gender, body type, race or creed is NOT a good reason. I have very little respect for those that spout abuse at people for these reasons - they've proven to me that they are not worth an iota of my time. I'd try to remain civil, but that is all.
  • That equality among sexes should be practised in both online and offline communities.
  • That people should not be intimidated and abused just because what they are saying is a new point of view. As a feminist pro-choice atheist I do not silence or intimidate anti-choice/pro-lifers, misogynists or theists. They can say what they like. I do not agree with them. I will offer a counter argument or point out where I think they're being unfair to others, but I won't tell them that I wish rape, cancer, death, bludgeoning, or any other form of natural or man-delivered vengeance.

    Fortunately it is possible to say that generally, it is religious extremists and violent women/gay/minority-hating people that exercise these intimidation techniques, and even go so far as to active terrorism - be it threatening to blow up the studio of the creators of South Park or murdering an abortion practitioner. We have yet to hear of people with my thinking of actively destroying buildings and lives because of something a classic case bigot has said - online or in print.
  • That forms of bullying - cyber, physical, emotional, mental - and intimidation should not be tolerated anywhere. I firmly believe that the more people that stand up now and say "I won't stand for your bullshit behaviour" (maybe not those exact words at school) the more people will find the courage to stand up themselves. The feminist movement was about changing perceptions and behaviour of men towards women through winning civil rights and challenging their perceptions and behaviour. And haven't women come far? They're not at true equality yet. Maybe we won't be. But feminism isn't just about gender equality. It's about fairness and humility and humanity. That no people should be discriminated against for things beyond their control. 

Feminism and racial/sexuality equality movements have all done the same thing: They have questioned and challenged what is considered "normal behaviour" in communities and changed them. Black people can now go on the same beaches, use the same toilets and even sit at the front of the bus now. It wasn't "normal" in 1940.

Why should online behaviour and "ettiquette" (or lack of, in my opinion) be as unchallenged? Just because nearly everyone involved is anonymous? Not good enough.

When you hear people explaining away a social injustice as something "to be expected" or in some way acceptable behaviour, I charge you to ask them why.
If they can honestly come up with an acceptable answer as to why it's expected and therefore acceptable, then you should let me know or shout from the rooftops 'Hallelujah', cause I can almost guarantee that they won't.

Just now I tried to think of an example where it is an acceptable expectation, and I couldn't.


Additions/further reading:

A good related post on the white privileged male's defence of sexism in gaming - often sexism in the game itself and the sexism of its players go hand in hand, whether they know it or not.

The key quote that links in well with what I have just been saying is this:
It opened my eyes, to use a cliché. I couldn't stop noticing how much was made for me. Everything. Movies, TV shows, books, and especially video games and commercials. All for the straight white male, and it had never even occurred to me. I was ashamed for a little while that I hadn't noticed before, but I got over it. Suddenly, I realised that the attitude of "What's the problem?" was a far greater issue than I had thought.
Sexism, racism and homophobia are not the domain of extremists such as the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK and the 50s. These are ongoing issues, and they affect everyone, and most people are guilty of perpetuating the negatives, whether they realise it or not.

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