Reel Women: How Misogyny in Gamer Culture Hurts All of Us
One of the biggest issues in the news this week has been the ongoing rampant misogyny and outright terrorism in gamer culture, specifically the attacks on Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn and feminist media commentator Anita Sarkeesian -- both of whom have suffered exceedingly personal attacks and threats on their lives (including the horrible one in the graphic above, which was sent to Sarkeesian via Twitter). The former for merely talking sexual agency as an independent, adult woman, and the latter for criticizing the industry's treatment of women in its games. What do these issues have to do with the rest of geek culture? Well .... everything. Misogyny in gamer culture is a symptom of a larger, systemic issue. And something needs to be done about it. Now.
I am not steeped in gamer culture, but I can tell you that what I've learned over the last week about the treatment of Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn has horrified me (you can read a great primer here from Andrew Todd at Badass Digest). This isn't casual sexism -- these are women who are being tormented and terrorized because they are women. And the men who are responsible for crusading against them are fighting against people they've labeled "Social Justice Warriors" -- a derogatory term they've coined to insinuate that anyone who supports social justice and equality is limiting them and holding them down. These are men who were born with every right handed to them; the only struggle is the one they're imposing upon themselves by fighting to repress women.
Sometimes it feels like there is nowhere safe for us to exist.
What Zoe Quinn did or did not do doesn't matter. That Anita Sarkeesian has opinions that these men do not agree with does not matter. Nothing -- nothing -- makes the actions of these men and their crusade justifiable. Nothing justifies releasing the personal information of another person on the internet. Nothing justifies making threats to their personal safety and the safety of their loved ones to the point where they have to leave their own home. These men will never know what it feels like to be a woman on this planet, to fear for your safety and your well-being just for having a totally sane opinion and speaking up about it -- and the idea that women should be treated equally and with respect shouldn't even be an opinion; it should be an accepted reality, something we just acknowledge is right, that we do every day without even having to stop and consider whether it's right.
This misogyny isn't just endemic to gaming culture -- it's rampant in all geek culture, including movie fanboyism. There's this sinister notion of ownership, that men have more claim over geek properties than women do, that's been ingrained from childhood. We have toys for boys and toys for girls. Video games, comic books, and superheroes are all for little boys, while princesses and romance and hearts and flowers are for girls. When I -- like many women I know -- was growing up, this wasn't the case. My Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters were mixed in with my Barbies in one giant toy box, and I played video games with the little boys on my street without them calling me a "dumb bitch" or a "whore."
It's all fun and games until you get older and you start having serious opinions about these properties. A woman who likes video games or comic books and superheroes is a novelty until she has something to say about it. These properties aren't just for men; they're for everyone. Women make up half of the movie-going public. Almost half of the comic-reading population is made up of women. 48% (almost half) of gamers are women. We exist. We matter.
And yet, the moment a woman has an opinion on the internet about misogyny in geek culture -- whether it's the prevalence of violence against women in video games to the objectification of women in comics or the lack of equal representation of women in film and TV -- the reaction from our male peers is territorial. We are hit with gendered slurs like "bitch," "slut," and "whore," and basically told to get off of their turf. We enjoy all of the same things that you do and the only thing we want is for those geeky things we love to not normalize the very behavior that you are exhibiting toward us. Sometimes it feels like there is nowhere safe for us to exist. This entire situation feels so nightmarish and endless.
What can be done?
It's a start, and it gave me an idea. This misogyny in geek culture is so deeply ingrained and so rampant -- and it doesn't feel like these guys will listen to any one voice of reason. It's not as if Joss Whedon can raise a flag and put an end to it all. And it's not as if there will be some collective spiritual awakening overnight. It will take a lot more than that.
We need the game developers to recognize what is happening in their industry and say something. We need the guys at Marvel to do more than just make Thor a woman, and actually address their readers directly. We need the people in superhero costumes and the guys in suits at movie studios. We need authority figures. We need a new "We Are the World." (It sounds corny, but hear me out!)
If all of these people with power, whose voices carry weight, got together and addressed misogynist geek culture with an "It Gets Better"-type campaign, imagine the response. These guys would have to listen, right? And if they didn't listen, imagine the reaction. Imagine the outcry. Imagine the outrage. Imagine the exposure.
You have all these famous faces making a commitment to treat women equally and with more respect, saying, "Hey, treating women like this is not okay. We will no longer stand for misogyny and terrorism in geek culture." And at the end of these videos there could be a website where people can reach out for support or report horrendous sexism. We need a system in place. We need to let these people know that this is not acceptable.
I don't know what goes through the minds of these men as they sit behind their computers. I just can't comprehend how someone believes that violence against women is okay, or that a woman deserves to be publicly humiliated and violently threatened for having an opinion. I don't understand how someone could possibly believe that women do not deserve to have the same rights as men. It's beyond unconscionable -- it's horrific and depressing. It's not a world I want to live in, and it's not one where I feel safe. We should all feel angry about this.