Let’s be clear, I’m the hero of this story. I have a wicked step-mother to prove it. I’ve survived adversity. I could tell you stories about my childhood that would make your hair stand on end. And I have prospered. I started with nothing, and I worked my way up to get what I have. I’m not (currently) in therapy. I’m not (currently) on medication. I had a phobia, and you know what? I got rid of it. I am not afraid of anything anymore.
Does this sound familiar? These are all statements about my life, but they could be about your life, or about the lives of many people. These statements of empowerment are what enable us to get through hard times, or just to get through the day. The details vary from person to person, but the message does not. I’m a survivor, says Beyonce. I’m a fighter, says Christina. I am not a victim.
As the comics teach us, however, with great power comes great responsibility. Too often I see people using their power, their non-victimhood that they take so much pride in, carelessly. You worked for this, so guess what? You have a responsibility to use it wisely.
Don’t Shame People You See As Victims
All of us rely on others at some point in our lives. As much as the first paragraph would have you assume that I was raised by wolves and taught myself to read and write, it isn’t true. I relied on people who helped me. I didn’t even thank all of them properly. Perhaps I was ashamed at having “failed” to the point where I needed help. But interdependance isn’t a failing, it’s part of being human. When you see someone struggling, don’t tell them to “get over it.” Don’t tell them to “grow a pair.” Maybe you have been in their shoes, and maybe you just think you have. Maybe, getting up out of bed in the morning was already their greatest triumph. Maybe they are stronger than you think. Or maybe they need someone to help them feel as empowered as you feel. I can guarantee that you won’t empower anyone by making them feel ashamed.
Be Aware of Your Privilege
A lot of people hate this word, privilege. Especially survivors. I don’t like the word much, but I use it, because it is an accurate description of something I have. Privilege is not something you have earned or something you have worked for. It was given to you at birth. It doesn’t matter that your parents were abusive, if they were white, you are privileged. It doesn’t matter that your family was poor, if they were citizens of the country you live in, you are privileged. You have privilege if you can walk, hear, and see without assistance. You have privilege if you were born with a body that matches your gender. It doesn’t matter if you lack privilege in one area, you still have to be aware of the areas that you do have it. Privilege means that society treats you better than it treats other people. You didn’t ask for it. You may not want it. But it still happens. It means you have to be aware of how your opinions have been formed by people treating you differently _for your entire life_. It’s hard. I’m still working on figuring it out, but I’m getting there. But it’s your power, whether you want it or not, so it’s your responsibility to be aware of it and not use it to harm others.
What Does This Have to Do With Gaming?
Rather a lot, really Roleplaying games create a place that we can feel empowered. We are the heroes of our stories. We can overcome great obstacles and survive. For some people, we are playing out a fantasy, but for many people, we are playing out our lives. We are reinforcing our identity as non-victims. This means that, when we game and when we talk about gaming, we have to be even more aware of the two problems that I mentioned above.
The “newbie” phenomenon is well-known to everyone. How a gaming group treats a new player says a lot about the group’s attitude and environment. This goes for both a small tabletop group and a large online group or a convention. Not shaming the victim means giving people the help that they need to succeed. Maybe they don’t know all the rules yet. Maybe their dwarven accent sounds like Sean Connery. Help them out, like someone helped you out when you were a newbie.
What Does This Have to Do With Women?
Women are especially sensitive to being cast as victims, because the world likes to put that label on us. When we rebel against victimhood, we do it with a bang. We are loud, we are powerful, we kick ass. But sometimes, we get pissed off at the women who aren’t rebelling, or maybe aren’t rebelling fast enough. The complainers. The ones who talk about their victimhood all the time. These women are holding us back. They’re making us look weak, right? The girlfriend of the GM who keeps having to ask him what dice to roll. I hate that girl sometimes! I was never that girl! I had to fight to get the respect I have, and that girl is undermining it!
Strength, real strength, means not just picking yourself up. It means picking other people up. It means making space for them at the table. It means cutting them some slack if they are not ready to be as self-empowered as you believe yourself to be. It means understanding where they are coming from, and understanding that they may not share all of your privileges. So be aware of the help you got, whether from friends and family, or from society’s deciding you have the “right” color skin. Be aware that you did not do this alone and that other people may have different burdens to overcome. Don’t make your first reaction one of derision, of contempt, for the person you see as a victim. Because being a survivor is not enough. Strive to be a hero.