Thursday, April 3, 2014

The 101 Problem

“And it took a little out of me too, let me tell you.  And after that little effort, I tangled with a fella who knew a little something about fencing.  And after that, I spent a few happy moments grappling with a giant.  And after that, I had to outfake a Sicilian to death when any mistake meant it was a knife in the throat for you.  And after that I’ve run my lungs out a couple of hours.  And after that I was pushed two hundred feet down a rock ravine.  I’m tired, Buttercup; do you understand tired?  I’ve put in a night, is what I’m trying to get through to you.”'
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman, 1973

I'm going to take a brief break from my roleplay guide to discuss something that's been bothering me for a long while now, and after yet another controversy in the Blizzard community centered around sexism, I feel now is the best time to address it.  This is going to get a little ranty, so bear with me because, as I said, this is stuff that's been percolating in my head for a few months.

It starts the same every time.  In one community or another, a social justice/feminist issue arises.  Feminists and/or those who experience marginalization related to whatever the issue is begin to talk about it and express anger, disappointment, concern, or all three.  For the majority of people involved, it's not the first time this issue has come up and it (sadly) isn't likely to be the last.  Most of people involved are well versed in the issue and the problems and history surrounding it.  A conversation starts and those involved use the discussion to vent and to try and discover ways to address the issue so it doesn't happen again.  Yet, they never get very far before outsiders, usually those who are privileged and never experience the prejudice being discussed, barrel into the conversation.  The outsiders start asking questions.  What is this problem?  Why is this a problem?  Then, no matter what answers the outsiders get, they start demanding evidence and asking more questions, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.  The outsiders then appoint themselves as arbiters of What Truly Matters(TM), declare there's not a problem and that everyone should just move on, and then they gleefully pat themselves on the back for being Rational and Logical while telling the other party they're Hypersensitive and Overly Emotional.  If the outsiders can't see the problem, then clearly there is none.

After that, the conversation dwindles to nothing because the originators are effectively silenced and virtually everyone involved is angry, hurt, and/or exhausted.  A few days or weeks later, the same issue (or another, similar issue) crops up and folks in the social justice/feminist circles strike up a conversation.  Outsiders jump into the discussion and start making demands.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Every single time someone at Blizzard (or another entity not necessarily related to a game company) steps in a pile of sexist shit, this happens.  Every single time feminists try to talk about the issue, demands are made of us to educate everyone on the very basics of feminism and social justice and then we're also tasked with bringing up every piece of evidence that has ever been collected on the matter.  Then, as if that's not enough, we must do all this while practicing complete emotional detachment lest we be accused of being angry or mean or toxic.  After all, our lived experience is only validated so long as we don't get all emotional and touchy-feelly about it.

I've seen people lament that the community is sluggish and resistant to change, and that's true.  There has been change, little bits here and there, but overall progress has been virtually non-existent in certain key areas as yesterday's response to the WoWInsider post about Blizzard's horrible draenei April Fool's joke showed us.  I spent a little time yesterday delving into the very basics of feminism on Twitter and saw, yet again, feminists having to educate others on why the "joke" was problematic and why many women were upset by it.  I saw the same, tired requests to "be nice" and reminders that "it's just a game."  I saw accusations from one set of feminists calling another set toxic because they believed they were being treated awfully for saying the joke didn't bother them.  By the end of it, people were unfollowed or blocked on Twitter, and there were a lot of hurt feelings and aggravation because, hey, didn't we just have this same conversation a few weeks ago about something else?

I've come to believe part of the reason the Blizzard community (among others) has been so resistant to change is because we are constantly bogged down in Social Justice 101 lessons.  We can't have a nuanced conversation that addresses the crux of the problem due to this constant need to remind everyone that, yes, sexism and misogyny does exist in gaming and is a very real problem.  Nothing is ever going to change if we must stop every time to take privileged folks by the hand and educate them as to the whos, whats, wheres, and hows of social justice.  To demand oppressed people educate their oppressors is asinine, and yet we constantly do it.  The reason it feels like we're repeating ourselves is because we are, over and over and over.

To quote Westley from the novel version of The Princess Bride, I'm tired, Buttercup.

Personally I'm ready to move beyond the 101.  I've been here for years and, quite frankly, I'm sick of waiting for everyone else to catch up.  If a person can't come into the conversation accepting the very basic premise that sexism is real (as are racism, homophobia, and transphobia), then I don't have time for them.  If a privileged party can't engage in discourse without knowing why it's offensive to request marginalized people not express anger or emotions in general while discussing emotionally charged subject matter, then they don't belong in the conversation.  If a person demands I educate them on very basic tenets of feminism despite the numerous resources available and can't be bothered to do a simple Google search, then I'm going to ignore them.

Furthermore, it's time to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we have to play nice.  I don't mean we have free license to be assholes; however, we don't have to be friends with everyone.  We talk about these things like they're important because they are important.  Sexism and misogyny aren't just restricted to the games we play or the movies we watch, they're a truth of our everyday experience in the real world.  We live this, so yes, some of us are going to be angry when we talk about it.  We're especially going to be angry if you're rude enough to approach this as a hypothetical and not accept it as real.  Kudos to you if you only have to experience sexism as a theory.  It's not a theory for me and me not being Emily Post and offering you tea and crumpets in the face of you trying to invalidate me doesn't change that.  Oppression exists independent of the emotional state of the oppressed person.

For other feminists we need to remember that we are, each of us, human and that means we all come to the table with different experiences and interests.  Within our own group we aren't free from the racism, transphobia, or even the sexism and misogyny we fight against and some of us have our own privileges we must be aware of.  Feminists are not required to agree on every single topic, and it'd be a bad thing if we did agree 100% of the time otherwise nothing would ever change.  Just because you don't view something as problematic doesn't mean the other feminists who do are "toxic" or bullying you.  (And please, please, please take note that saying "I'm a woman/feminist and [issue] doesn't bother me," can be viewed as a silencing tactic.  Either don't engage or simply explain why you don't think it's an issue and try to understand why the other party thinks differently or know that their lived experience might differ greatly from yours.)  No one is a gatekeeper and no one gets to decide which matter is more important for the whole.

Finally, to the people who identify themselves as allies, or who want to be allies, when you join in a conversation please try to remember it's not about you.  A huge part about being an ally is learning when it's time to speak up and when it's better to, in the immortal words of MC Hammer Vanilla Ice (oh geeze, of all the things to screw up), stop, collaborate, and listen.  Take the initiative and educate yourself.  Read, read, and when you're done reading, read some more.  Ask questions if you must, but don't interrupt a conversation or ask a question unrelated to the subject being discussed.  And, for the love of fluffy kittens and pudgy puppies, accept that you don't get to tell people what is or isn't offensive.

Meaningful and respectful discourse can't occur if one party insists the problem isn't real.  Change isn't going to happen so long as we are required to play the part of the educator and are never allowed to move beyond the 101 level.  We never get around to addressing and fixing the problems in our community because we can't even get to the conversation about how to solve it.  Our words never reach the ears of the people who need to hear them because they never escape our circle and the ones trying to silence us make it look like it's unimportant and childish bickering.  I'm done with holding 101 lessons for people who obviously don't care to go to the next level and don't want there to be any change.  This is my line in the sand and I'm telling you to come to the conversation prepared or pack your bags and go home because I've heard it all before and I'm ready for something new.

I'm going to end this with a list of links to blog posts you need to read all of which encapsulate the many problems that flared up yesterday and anytime there's a new "controversy" in the WoW community.

Further Reading:

Tzufit - Rules of Engagement: A Primer for Discussing Sexism in WoW - Excellent post specific to the WoW community, yet full of helpful links, terms, and advice for navigating conversations regarding social justice matters.

Apple Cider Mage - Feminists All the Way Down - ACM talks about internalized sexism and misogyny in women and her personal journey to feminism.  There's been quite a bit of internalized sexism happening of late.

The Gender Bender Blog - Another 101 Fact: There is no such thing as reverse sexism. - For all the ones who say "Men have it just as bad!" or "You're being sexist against men!"  Additionally, Racialicious's "Reverse Oppression: A Fad that Needs to End" breaks down the problem with "reverse bigotry."

Shakesville - #IAskedPolitely and the accompanying Twitter responses (WARNING: Some of the tweets are inappropriate, gross, and/or miss the point of the hashtag entirely.) - People on twitter shared personal experiences to demonstrate why being nice and polite often isn't enough.

Derailing for Dummies - A Guide to Derailing Conversations - A satirical guide covering the common ways people derail conversations regarding marginalization and oppression.  (In case I have to spell it out, this is NOT a how-to guide, unless you intend to be an asshole.)

Geek Feminism Wiki - Privilege - Many people fail to understand what feminists mean when we say privilege.  If someone says you benefit from privilege, they don't mean your life was easy or that you never experienced tragedy, they are specifically referring to ways in which your skin color, gender, or sexual orientation benefit you in our society.

Lipmag - Broadening Feminism[s]: Intersectionality 101 - An important read and reminder that it's possible to experience both oppression and privilege, and why it is that one group might see marginalization while another doesn't.


  1. Wow lots a of words with no meaning.

  2. Very solid article and good reference links, sad to say it remains especially relevant today (given the Pardo debacle).

    Thank you