My friend Laura Kelly recently posted an article about the sexism faced by elite female Magic the Gathering players. It reminded me of similar abuse leveled at female competitive video game players on the Capcom reality show Cross Assault, and after I got done sighing and shaking my head I got to thinking.
There are two big takeaways for me from both of these incidents. One: Sexism and misogyny are still a big part of gaming and geek culture. Elevate these things to a competitive level and the sexism and misogyny are similarly magnified. There are many reasons for this, part of it is fear that the previously inpenetrable He-Man Woman Haters clubhouse will be overrun by the unfamiliar female who they still have trouble recognizing as fellow humans and part of it is the permissiveness of the culture itself.
In a culture where women are still, more often than not, portrayed largely as sex objects, comments that sexual harassment is “part of the culture” can’t really be that surprising. Yes, things are getting better for videogames, the popularity of FemShep and a new, more down to earth Lara Croft are strong steps in the right direction, but we’ve still got a long way to go. While I will allow that trash-talking and frank language can be an integral part of any competitive activity (Exhibit A – Rick playing Risk Legacy), when those comments include musings on a woman’s bra size or calling for her rape, things have officially veered into very inappropriate territory. Saying otherwise is wildly naive and harmful. I mean, how do you know she hasn’t been raped? With statistics like 1 in 4 women in North America, isn’t it better to hold your tongue?
Which brings me to my other takeaway. Two: Sexist geeks need to learn when to shut up. In the Penny Arcade Report story on the Cross Assault controversy, the most vocal defender of sexually harassing language was also the worst perpetrator of such, and even took it upon himself to speak for the woman on his team when she tried to make the point that it was hurtful. This is something I’ve noticed in many people who say racist, sexist or otherwise abusive things. Without ever having been the victim of such abuse, they somehow claim to know whether or not racist or speech is harmful. It’s part of the “intention argument”. “I didn’t mean it in a sexist way…” Well, that’s great, but regardless of your intentions, the very language you are using belittles and mocks a specific segment of the population. Therefore, it is sexist.
End. Of. Story.
So, what do we do about this? Well, writing articles like this is a step in the right direction. Whether we like it or not, when sexist nerds air their views in public a) they are making themselves spokespeople for the culture, but, b) the rest of us have the same freedom of speech they do. If nerds don’t want to be taken to task for making sexist, bullying remarks, then they shouldn’t do so in public. That includes reality shows and Twitter feeds. And if we, as geeks and gamers, don’t agree with these self-appointed ambassadors, we should stand up as ambassadors ourselves. Call them out on their behaviour and their language. Make it clear that they don’t represent “our” culture.
And finally, don’t be afraid to participate. As top MtG player Jackie Lee said, “…as more women enter the tournament scene, women who play will finally be regarded as the norm, and we can all stop fussing about it.”
Then again, maybe we should just ask the guys what size bra they wear…