i always see advice to artists from abled guys thats like “draw every day even on the days where you feel totally uninspired and like you cant even pick up a pencil” and i actually think that advice sucks and is terrible because some of us will spiral out of control into horrible depressive episodes if we force ourselves to draw on days where we feel terrible and end up with something less than spectacular so my advice to artists is “take breaks and love yourselves”
The Routine Harassment of Women in Male Dominated Spaces
What this whole “#gamergate” thing is really about depends a lot on who you’re asking. If you ask someone who writes about games for a living, or someone who keeps in touch with what’s happening with indie game devs (lots of other indie game devs, for instance), they’ll all give you the same answer. It’s a massive, loosely organized campaign, spurred on by a pack of angry angry kids formerly from 4chan, now from 8chan, bent on utterly destroying the lives of an ever-growing list of women, starting with Zoë Quinn, and added to any time a woman publicly calls them out for it.
If you ask the people who show up if you mention #gamergate in a tweet, or look at 8chan.co/gg/ or various youtube videos, you’ll get a different answer every week or two, as each answer they come up with is firmly debunked, and they scramble to find a new one. Even then though, if you pull the thread long enough, they’ll always toss out the name of SOME woman involved in gaming at some level who is the root of some perceived evil.
Now, obviously not everyone who flies the banner of #gamergate actively seeks to destroy women on principle, nor does every single one descend on every single woman whose name is thrown out to them. And there’s a fair number of women flying that banner who are also having their lives pretty thoroughly trashed, either by standing too close to the gears of a terrible engine of destruction, or by the people trying to take that engine apart.
Really though, all of this is really just part of a much bigger, much older problem that for some reason people just don’t ever seem to be willing to talk about. On some subconscious level, in aggregate, people on the internet are just constantly looking for an excuse to attack women. Especially, for whatever reason, women with any sort of involvement in games.
I’m not going to sit here and pull theories out of my butt on what exactly causes this to be the case. That’s not what I’m here for, and as with basically any large scale social problem, it’s probably a way more nuanced issue than can easily be summed up, and any theory I put forth will really infuriate someone or other. What I am here to do is try and get us all to admit this problem even exists, and start trying to do something about it.
I’ve been collecting stories from a variety of women for the last couple of weeks. Women who have been dealing with some really horrifying harassment. Almost none of these stories are things any of these women are willing to discuss publicly, because they know a sobering truth. The sort of harassment I’m about to get into never goes away, for anyone. It just dies down for a while. Like a horde of zombies, attackers will doggedly come after a target, absolutely relentlessly, until something else manages to grab their attention, and the target can slip away to hide. But the horde is always still out there. Make any more noise, and they’ll remember what they were doing, and start their attack again with renewed vigor.
For a lot of people I tried to talk to about this, anonymity wasn’t enough. They believed, and probably rightly so, that even if I didn’t use their names, the details of what they had to say would be specific enough to rekindle their personal attacks. There are several women who didn’t even want me to ask them in the first place, because even the act of asking would draw more attention to them than they are willing to risk. Now I already know what a lot of you are thinking. “What kind of a wimp do you have to be to be afraid to talk about how people were mean to you?” That sort of thinking is part of the problem. The question you really should be asking is “What sort of horrible ordeal have you been through that years later you still don’t want to risk it happening again by even admitting it ever happened?” That is, contrary to what you might be thinking, not an unanswerable question.
On that note, before I get into any of these specific cases, I need to make something very clear. This stuff I am going to get into, generally speaking, does not happen to men. There are phrases I am going to use which are going to sound like things you regularly experience, but trust me, you don’t. For example, I’m going to talk a lot about receiving death threats. An awful lot of people think they routinely receive death threats. I’ve seen it said pretty commonly that “everyone gets death threats on the internet all the time.” No. Those aren’t what I mean when I say death threats. You’re thinking of things like these, right?
"Drop dead!" "I hope you choke on a pretzel and die!" "If I ever get the chance, I am going to chop off your head and crap down the stump of your neck!"
Those aren’t death threats as I’m using the term. That’s all just smack talk. This is a death threat.
"Your name is Jane Smith. Your husband John leaves for work every day at 8 o’clock, from your white house with the crappy yellow curtains at 123 Road St. I have a long-handled sledgehammer in the back seat of my car, and when you come back from buying groceries tomorrow, I’m going to use it to bash in your skull, then use the other end to…"
I don’t have to actually finish that sentence to get the point across I hope. Now, once again, I’m fairly sure I can read your mind. “Anyone who actually says something like that would never possibly act on it! If someone really wanted to do that sort of thing, they’d just do it without any warning!” Right? Well, there’s two problems with that. First off, anyone who would actually do something like that would have to be in an incredibly dark and messed up state of mind, the likes of which you’ve never been in, so don’t pretend you know how you’d act if you were. Second, the whole idea behind this sort of threat is to scare the ever-loving hell out of someone, and it works pretty well regardless. Either someone is actually a twisted freak planning to murder you, and wants to watch you panic first. Or someone just wants to see how much they can make you panic as an exercise in controlling another person. Either way the goal is basically the same, and either way the person calling in the threat has to be seriously messed up in the head, so even if you figure there’s only a 1 in 10 chance they’re serious, those odds are high enough to loose sleep over.
Having set the stage with that, here’s some numbers on who I successfully polled. While my general call for stories garnered well over a hundred retweets, a whole lot of “thank you for doing this” messages, and pretty healthy number of confiding conversations, the number of women who absolutely greenlit me passing their stories along just barely reached double digits. These women aren’t celebrities, or influential, or notoriously argumentative. None of them have special nicknames like “Literally Who” (although she welcomed me to pick over her twitter feed). Half of them have nothing in the slightest to do with video games. Just random women working in other fields. Performing on stage, software development, working behind the scenes in the world of print media. One just tosses up an LP now and then. Most of the rest are indie developers I hadn’t heard of before, and while I know every woman in games journalism has at least one nasty story to tell, they were almost all reluctant to share them.
While compiling this information, I was made aware of at least eight different women, six of them independent game developers, who have been forced to flee their homes due to death threats, and in more than one of those cases, someone showed enough commitment to show up at the target’s home, presumably with intent to make good on it. Only two of those women agreed to share stories. Only three of these threats have really been at all publicized, and it is only due to some combination of irresponsible reporting and astounding bravery that anyone is aware of the other three. In the rest of these cases, these women are doing everything in their power to distance themselves from these situations, specifically requesting not to be reported on or talked about, so as to hopefully calm those calling for their death. This has the effect of somehow simultaneously allowing people to deny the threats against those who aren’t under threat (“Oh yeah? What are these people’s names?”) and discredit those who are known (“They’re just faking it for attention!”).
Some of these women who responded are primarily concerned with particular, specific stalkers. The pattern here is fairly universal. A random stranger will form a fixation on a target, and bombard her with distressing messages. These start off sexual, and quickly turn violent. Calls for suicide, promises of violence, increasingly specific information. When contact is completely cut off, these stalkers branch out, recruiting others to send messages to their targets, and or fall back on the distressing ease with which one can set up dozens of new accounts on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter with almost no effort, evading each block as it comes, and simply making a new account if fully shut down.
Most respondents have faced large-scale public harassment. Now, again, I am using harassment in a very different sense than you are likely thinking. Generally, when one takes offense to something a man says, they pick a fight over it. The target is directly confronted, yelled at, likely insulted in various generic ways (accusations of homosexuality, low IQ, etc.), and maybe treated to some empty threats. Maybe someone will pass the offending comment along to some friends, who might then join in if they agree.
It’s different for women. Let’s just talk volume for a moment. One of my respondents tossed out a number- “500 tweets an hour” when her incident peaked. That’s not an exaggeration, nor unusual. Every woman dealing with more than a single stalker has seen this. Such an impossible volume of angry comments not only is it impossible to read them all, it will crash their computer just receiving them. The content also differs. What slight provoked the harassment is inconsequential. Most people responding won’t even know what they’re responding to. They aren’t attacking the message, like they do with men, but the messenger. And it’s always in a sexual context. Invariably, when a woman is being harassed, hundreds of messages pour in about how people would never have sex with her. Hundreds more explaining the details of how they would. Comments about being fat, ugly, a prude, a whore. Horrible ethnic slurs, most likely not even aimed at her actual ethnic background, just whatever ethnicity the commenter pulls out of a hat. Jewish seems to be a rather popular choice. Exceedingly graphic and disgusting comments about their vaginas. Every woman who has ever done anything is always, always accused of only getting where they are by sleeping with someone. Have a good job? You slept with the boss. Made a cool project? No you didn’t, some man did and gave you the credit in exchange for a blowjob.
But even that isn’t really what I mean when I talk about the harassment women face. It gets really really personal. If anyone can find nude photos of a woman somewhere, they are spread far and wide. If you don’t, someone will just find someone who kinda looks like you and spread their nudes around. If people can find a woman’s home address or phone number, creepy stalking will commence immediately, as, inevitably, will threats of rape and death, with the sort of specificity I already mentioned.
And if you happen to be trans*, there’s this whole extra level of dehumanization and violence added in. One of the women I contacted really wasn’t up for a conversation, but directed me to an absolute mountain of horrific hate speech. So many calls for “it to kill itself” mixed in with pornographic imagery, misinformation, horrible horrible slurs, open hate speech about extermination, and attempts to uncover pre-transition identities.
Now, again, I don’t want to play psychologist if I can help it, but there’s a common thread in all the stories I’ve had from respondents that suggests why women get it so much worse like this. An exceptionally common thread in all of these stories is perceived credibility. For whatever reason, as women, many don’t believe us capable of any expertise. I’m actually in a rather unique position to personally comment on this. Given my name and appearance, most people think I am a man. If I speak out about any given topic, I find people quite often take me to be an expert, even when I have no credentials at all. In situations where I am perceived as female, such as this blog, the associated twitter, and various online games, the vast majority assume I’m some ignorant little girl who can’t possibly know anything about anything. One of the more extreme examples is an old online RPG, where a character of mine once had earned a special title for topping an in-game leader board, which should have labeled me a clear expert on how things functioned. Instead, a rumor sprang up that clearly I had, somehow, traded sexual favors for this title, and was summarily ignored when explaining mechanics, in favor of men half my level who were still making rookie mistakes.
Take this article for another example:
This was written by Maddy Myers, someone I’d happily list as one of the three most astute and knowledgeable people I know of who make a living writing about video games, and plenty would agree. The “journalism uniform” she describes is one she has to wear to even participate in a conversation about games. To deviate from it and dress in a classier fashion (or to switch the jeans out for a skirt) would cause anyone she tried to speak to at a trade show to immediately dismiss her as a random model or spokeswoman who has never played a game in her life. As is, her years of experience and decades spent gaming are still denied her in the public perception, as is the case for all women in the field. I have yet to meet a woman who professionally writes about games and hasn’t been playing them since before the release of the NES, nor one who doesn’t regularly have to explain to condescending teenagers that she knows what an FPS is. This isn’t just the case for games, either. I’ve seen people try to explain the plots of books to their own authors, and basic programming notions to women who write their own operating systems. That we even have the term “fake geek girl” proves how widespread this notion is that women can’t ever have any expertise.
And this is always the root of this sort of harassment. “How dare this woman, who clearly knows nothing, speak about this game/novel/news story/situation like she has any sort of clue? Let’s put her in her place and shut her up!” I doubt it’s ever a conscious decision. It’s just a natural reaction to shut people up when they’re talking out of their ass after all. The problem is, as a society, we seem to have this weird collective misconception of where a woman’s larynx is located.
Again, this is a much bigger, much older problem than #gamergate. It’s been around for years if not forever. Women in certain fields just plain can’t speak if any given man in earshot disagrees with what they have to say. They will call in friends to “educate” and for whatever screwed up psychological reason, they will never let it go. This sort of harassment women face? It never fully goes away. The harassers can’t ever really call it a day and move on. Again, they’re like zombies. Eventually, maybe months down the line, that woman, who can’t know anything, will act like she does again, and they dutifully resume their attack.
The spark that first attracts this harassment is also, routinely, the most inconsequential and petty thing imaginable. Of those who responded to me, most brought on harassment by making single factually accurate corrections to uninformed inaccurate statements. Some refused to date creeps, often because they were married. One did date a creep, and broke it off. Or gave a game a 9 in some review subscore and not a 10. Many I wished would respond but passed did even less. It’s never anything any reasonable person can blame on the victim, or anything she could really take steps to avoid. At some point, if you are a woman who shares her opinion on games publicly (or to only slightly lesser extent, any other male dominated field), it is inevitable that you will make some innocent statement or other is going to set someone off, and they will recruit a massive hoard of angry young men out for your blood. It’s something we’ve all just come to accept as a grim reality.
So how do we stop this?
For starters, quit assuming women don’t know anything! If a woman is present and conversing about something, try to remember she has as much right to be there and speak as you do. Really make a concentrated effort.
Then, when you see a woman being harassed over this sort of minor crap, chew out her harasser. Don’t be quite out of politeness. Don’t be afraid of cause a scene or a “drama moment.” Do maintain a civil tone and explain things clearly. Don’t let the matter drop without an apology. If they’re totally unrepentant, you can laugh them out of the room for even bringing it up. Don’t let some other person take on that burden alone. Everyone in the room should shame someone for this sort of behavior. Now obviously, that can be taken to too much of an extreme, so let me paraphrase an actual example from my favorite forums for civil discourse. This discussion isn’t quite on topic, but it should give you an idea of the proper tone.
A- “Does the author know a trans in real life? I knew they would inevitably hook up, but I still think these other two should still do the nasty together lol”
C- “If you’re going to continue post here, you should be aware there’s several transwomen around, and a transman or two. We try to maintain a very friendly atmosphere where everyone is comfortable, so please don’t take such a disrespectful tone.”
D- “Trans” is an adjective, and referring to people with adjectives is always
disrespectful. You wouldn’t say “a black” or “a gay” or “a female” so the same should apply here. Saying “a transwoman” or “a trans person” would be the way to go.
A- “I’m sorry. I should have said “does the author know someone like this character.” I realize I worded that very poorly, and won’t make that mistake again.”
Then once the dust settles, change the subject and be sure to engage the woman who was under attack. And not just with sympathy, get the conversation back on track and talk to her like she’s a normal human being with opinions worth hearing. The example above picked right back up from where it left off after an apology was issued, with all of the same people still involved.
Having said all of this, it’s possible that I will revisit this topic in the future, including actual testimonials gathered from various women. Some had some very powerful words to share, but I didn’t quite hit the sample size needed to be sure no one can be identified from those statements. If you’d like to take part in that, should I write it, send stories to me at email@example.com please. I’d prefer you didn’t include any visual aids, simply because I don’t want to be overwhelmed filing them all away. I should also not that The New York Times is, as of my posting this, also collecting stories about what women in gaming face. I know I have plenty I’ll be sharing with them, and I’d encourage any woman reading this to do the same. People need to learn how common this treatment is if we ever want it to stop:
fun statistics for adults!
“when I was a kid, I had no help with college tuition, I was hardworking and paid it all myself”
-Annual tuition for Yale, 1970: $2,550
-Annual tuition for Yale, 2014: $45,800
-Minimum Wage, 1970: $1.45
-Minimum Wage, 2014: $7.25
-Daily hours at minimum wage needed to pay for tuition in 1970: 4.8
-Daily hours at minimum wage needed to pay for tuition in 2014: 17.3
Wands Wander | Gobelins