I got to where I am right now
So I’d like to take a minute; just sit right there:
I’ll tell you how I got to the set of sociocultural beliefs I’m at right now and why I think it’s important (especially for gamers) to confront sexism/racism/homophobia within our community because minority groups are already not really taken seriously so all of their bad actions reflect on them whereas bad actions of ‘normal’ people just reflect on people which is why things like Steubenville don’t make the majority of our culture say ‘see, I knew football players were no good’ whereas things like this make people say ‘see, I knew gamers were no good’ when really both of them should lead us to the belief that we live in a self-propagating rape culture
…and I did this all after going to high school in a town called Bel-Air?
Where does this story start? Well, I guess it could start early, with my parents, but since they don’t write this blog and I do, I’ll start with my early childhood. You see, I grew up biracial: my mom’s black and her family’s from the South, and my dad’s Swedish. Not ‘my-family’s-been-in-America-for-five-generations-but-I-want-heritage-to-talk-about’ Swedish, ‘came-here-for-grad-school-and-my-kids-have-the-dual-citizenship-to-prove-it’ Swedish. What did that mean? It meant I had white family, black family, and me and my little brother sitting somewhere in the middle where we don’t sunburn, got called ‘the cutest kids I’ve ever seen’ until we hit 18, and for all intents and purposes get read by society as black (or Mexican or Middle Eastern or , most recently, half-asian half-hispanic, but pretty much something brown and not white). It’s really easy to shake off the shackles of race when your mom’s black, your dad’s white, and then you start to think about it and realize that…you aren’t either of the two and it’s a quick downhill slope from there to not believing in race as an objective concept, and instead a sociocultural construct.
Now, if you’re from a fancy liberal arts college, you probably know what the next step is: post-racism/sexism. What exactly is post-racism? It’s the idea that we, as a culture, have moved on past our racist/sexist past, and can as such, enter a truly color-blind society. Sounds nice, right? And for young little me, it was the perfect simple theory to move to. I didn’t know the words, but I was singing the same tune. As far as I knew, homophobia, transphobia, and those pesky aversions Americans had to atheists (and really, non-Christians) were all that remained of the world’s once far-reaching bigotry.
Now, before you chastise me for my naivete, keep in mind that I was growing up in schools in the poshest of posh neighbourhoods in Los Angeles (my school was actually within walking distance of Bel-Air). Now, I knew Los Angeles was liberal, and I knew how easy it was to take an exaggerated opinion of your opponents, so I assumed that the south and midwest weren’t as racist/sexist/homophobic as I had been led to believe. And then I went off to college, and it was more of the same. Everybody was so nice! It didn’t matter where the students were from, they respected me and, for the most part, liked me! And I graduated and went straight into a 40-hour-work-week. And I started to look back at my life and started to really think ‘see, I was right! Racism isn’t a thing anymore, everything’s going great’. Sure, I had a couple of odd moments where my fellow students would drink or smoke pot and I’d feel like this
(EDIT: recently somebody started eating a donut, still intending to pay for it, while I was in Safeway, and my first thought was ‘What the fuck are you doing?’
But for the most part, I never really felt different. It wasn’t until I spent time in the real world that I realized how atypical my life in the bubble had been.
My first boss immediately confused me for Mohamed, another of the new hires. This story would be less sad and more funny if it had been the last time she made that mistake. I had a very nice coworker say that I was surprisingly well-spoken. I had somebody lock their car when I walked by. And the little things just kept adding up.
This might seem like a pretty tame story, but here’s the problem: I had an easy time. I went to a posh high school and a fancy liberal arts college where they hold their pinkies out when they drink tea. Nobody harassed me. I’ve had a few parents act a bit weird that their (white) daughter was dating a (half-) black man, and had the occasional odd comment about how I don’t ‘sound’ black. So of course it’s easy for me to think ‘race isn’t a big deal’. But I know how much of a big deal race can be. I’ve been called “nigger” a grand total of once, and only in passing, from a car. In fact, I’ve heard that word so rarely that I didn’t realize how much it offended me until I heard a friend say it in jest. Even hearing it as a joke, I cringed internally. I KNEW it was a joke. I KNEW it wasn’t meant seriously, and it wasn’t even directed at me. But I heard “nigger” and I thought “OH SHIT! They found me out!” I felt attacked and defensive and offended and angry all at once for a moment before I recovered. How would it affect my mindset if that were a common experience for me? If I knew racists? If I knew people who used casually racist language all of the time, and it wasn’t obviously a joke? I would feel like I didn’t belong. And ultimately, that’s what harassment does. It makes people feel like they don’t belong, and when that happens, people leave communities.
It was then that I realized that racism and sexism and homophobia weren’t just about big, discriminatory acts. We’re so used to thinking about them that way because we just fought our way through the WORST part of our bigotry, culturally. When we think racism, we think slavery and black people having fire hoses and police dogs turned on them. When we think sexism, we think arranged marriages and dowries and the right to vote. And don’t get me wrong, that shit is a big deal. In fact, it’s a bigger deal than the shit we have to deal with as a society right now.
You know when you start cleaning your room, and you start to look around and you realize that you can’t clean because your floor is just completely covered in crap and you don’t even have anywhere to put shit to organize it? That’s how civil rights’ movements start. You can’t even BEGIN to organize your shit because you don’t have anywhere to put it. So first you clean off the floor. That’s your basic rights: not being a slave, being able to own property, being able to vote. And only then, once the floor is cleaned of, can you start sorting your other shit. But when we think of bigotry, we think of cleaning the floor. That’s what people mean when they say ‘racism/sexism isn’t a problem’. They mean ‘the floor is clean’. But your laundry is still undone, there is still leftover food everywhere, you’ve got a pile of books here and a few more over there and you can’t quite figure out where your nice pair of jeans are but you don’t need them right now so it’s ok. So you start sorting shit. Over in one pile you put ‘conditions of economic depression’ and in another pile you put ‘systemic biases’, and if you’re like me, this is where you stop cleaning your room: it’s accessible, you know where everything is, and nothing’s actively getting messier. So what more is there to do? Well, it turns out, a ton.
When your floor is clean but your room is messy, it may take you 20 minutes to find your keys sometime. Sure, you find them eventually, but it’s a hassle. Or maybe you don’t find them, so you leave your door unlocked? Or maybe your clothes are just always wrinkled and you can never find a pair of matching socks or you forget to pay a bill because it’s in your pile of bills, and of course you feel awkward having guests over. And eventually those little things add up and you decide ‘fuck it, time to clean my room again’. Sure, you could leave your room messy, it’s not a huge deal to have to find your keys, or wear non-matching socks, but it’s the sort of thing that just adds up over time.
With that in mind, let’s look at gaming. Gaming is a weird community. Basically, you’ve got a bunch of geeks (often sci-fi/fantasy geeks) and a bunch of competitors. And they bring their own independent biases to things. If these geeks are anything like I was before college, they don’t exactly have much experience with women (hey, speaking of assumptions, notice how I said ‘geeks’, but meant ‘male geeks’? Notice how in an article about how women are passively excluded from gaming, I excluded women from the category ‘geek’ linguistically? This is how big a problem this shit is). We can talk on-end about problems of racism and sexism in science fiction and fantasy in general (and in fact, much talk about ‘gamer girls’ vs ‘girl gamers’ could just as easily be applied to ‘geek girls’ vs ‘girl geeks’, but let’s focus on this one in particular. So you end up with half of the guys feeling incredibly nervous around her and being all around awkward, and the other half applying their resentment of past rejections to this women, and you have a perfect recipe for a self-propagating problem. The latter group is going to look for reasons to reject this person, and frankly, that’s easy. If you take any subculture, nobody truly ‘fits’ it.
You want a perfect example? I’m considered an EXTREME geek. I write about competitive computer games, I’ve designed my own language, and I think bow ties are cool because of Bill Nye, not Matt Smith. And yet how many episodes of Star Trek do you think I’ve watched ever? Probably ten. I didn’t watch Doctor Who until…2010 or so? David Tennant was almost on his way out by then (although he is my preferred Doctor). How many comic books have I read ever? Zero (some graphic novels). Cartoons? Barely watched any. When did I first read more of Game of Thrones than the first quarter of Book 1? 2007 (so I can still claim hipster cred on the show :p). How many extended universe Star Wars books have I read (not counting young adults novels)? Zero. How many RPGs did I play before college? Two. But nobody considers me ‘not a true geek’ or ‘not a true gamer’. Why? Because of profiling. I fit the type.
What is the type? I’m male, awkward, introverted, short, glasses-wearing, out of shape (and extremely skinny or overweight), single, pale, and of course, white or asian. Except the latter half of those aren’t even true. It doesn’t matter because once I hit ‘male’ and professed to being a geek, people stopped asking questions. Why? Because I fit the profile. Maybe if I were white or asian, it would be a bit easier. I’ve occasionally had people confused that I was at a Magic: The Gathering tournament, or explain rules to me for no reason. Is this because I’m ‘black’? I don’t know that for sure, but most white male friends I have don’t get rules explained to them (and I’m PRETTY good at magic). But this pales in comparison to the treatment women face at these venues, with patrons often ignoring them, assuming they are there ‘for a boyfriend’, or assuming they don’t know how to play (not to mention awkwardly hitting on them when they’re there for the same reason a male gamer is, to PLAY MAGIC*).
When people DON’T fit the profile, we look for any reason that they don’t belong:
But when people DO fit the profile, we give them the benefit of the doubt:
This isn’t just about typical minorities, it’s about anything you don’t see clearly. It’s a result of confirmation bias. Basically, if somebody fucks up, they get harassed. This is obviously not a good climate, but it pales in comparison to the following: if somebody female messes up, they get harassed for being female. One may not think that there’s a huge difference between being called ‘a fucking noob’ and ‘a fucking bitch’, but there’s a huge distinction between having something you did (made a mistake) criticized and having something you are (female) criticized. There’s also a huge difference between a man being called ‘a fucking bitch’ and a woman being called ‘a fucking bitch’. But what’s interesting about that word is the following. A man who is called a bitch is being insulted for being feminine. A woman who is called a bitch is being insulted for being a women. In both cases, the insult is basically ‘lol, ur a woman!’ If you don’t believe me, here’s a study. Data OP.
There are other things too. The ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes. The rape jokes and the domestic abuse jokes. The fact that almost every female character in any thing sci-fi/fantasy ever is eye candy. Any given of those things might not have the effect they do on their own. But they add up over time, and they make women feel unwelcome in the community, so they leave. And once they leave, well, with fewer women meeting with such harassment, it becomes more of a community standard, because the offended parties are gone, and that higher level of harassment deters more people and so on. And those women who do remain? They’ll be predominantly the ones ok with all of that. So it’s not that all female gamers are just seeking attention, it’s that women who ARE just seeking attention are much more likely to be in the communities at all, because regardless of their desires, they will get attention: harassment and creepy flirtation alike.
In the aftermath of the Daniel Tosh rape joke, one of the comedians to come to Tosh’s defense was Patton Oswalt, a comedian who has since articulated the problems with his previous position. It’s a worthwhile read.
*Sidenote: This is not to say that you can’t flirt with somebody or ask them out at a venue. In fact, that’s a great place, you have a common interest! But consider the context. Do it in a way that isn’t entirely random, and watch their body language (if somebody’s hunched, they’re probably not looking to meet people. If they’re reading a book, probably not looking to meet people. Wandering tables and watching games? Maybe looking to meet people, maybe scouting the competition. Seated at an empty table chatting with people they didn’t come here with? Probably being social) and all sorts of things that should be horribly obvious. This isn’t a site about how to approach women, and I don’t want to make it one, so let’s leave it as ‘read body language and you’ll probably know if somebody wants you to talk to them or not and there are more subtleties to it but that’s so off-topic it’s not even funny’.