[Trigger warning for discussions of threats of sexual harassment and rape]
When I talk about privilege and entitlement being a problem in gaming and geekdom as a whole, I often receive pushback from people who want to insist that it’s not really a thing. I’m just being over-sensitive! I’m seeing misogyny where none exists! I have a persecution complex! Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Well, folks, you won’t get a more concrete example of geek entitlement than what happened at this weekend’s Akon-24. A bunch of douchenozzles took to Twitter using the hashtag #gropecrew to threaten to grope, rape, or otherwise sexually assault cosplaying female attendees. Here are two of the most widely circulated tweets:
— Mærty Townsend (@kingtytan) May 31, 2013
— 《 $|4₩ 》(@colesl4w_king) May 31, 2013
(You can look up the hashtag on Twitter to find more examples. I won’t waste space re-hashing them here.)
Geek privilege and entitlement? It doesn’t get any clearer than this. This aggressive posturing – these public threats of harassment and assault meant to silence and intimidate female attendees – is a direct backlash against the recent trend of conventions starting to take a serious look at the problem of sexual harassment and assault at conventions.
Because people have DARED to say that costumes are not the same as consent.
Because they have DARED to proclaim that their bodies are not objects for the gratification of others.
Because they have DARED to say that violating the boundaries of others is not acceptable.
And because they have DARED to say that people who harass and assault other attendees should face consequences for their actions.
In other words, these asshats are threatening to assault women because they feel that it is their God-given right to use women for their sexual pleasure, purely because they are impinging on a space that they feel has been designed for the comfort and enjoyment of men. And the thing that they are fighting so very hard against is the simple notion that women are people. Full stop.
And sure, most everyone will be outraged. You will shake your heads and ask what is wrong with people? You’ll say that you hope these degenerates die in a fire, or get beaten with shovels, or get hit by a meteor. But these proclamations of rage, cathartic as they might be, don’t do anything to address the fact that the people behind #gropecrew are acting this way because they feel that geek culture entitles them to act that way. Because we have given them permission and will continue to give them permission to act this way.
When the overwhelming narrative of games is that men are heroes and women are objects…
When male characters get heroic character arcs while female characters are raped and killed for “shock” value…
When strong female characters are raped to make them “vulnerable”…
When the small number of women who appear in games are nearly universally sexualized and are portrayed as objects of sexual gratification and not people…
When game developers cry “censorship” when people speak out against a title that contains yet another rape of a female character…
When game developers ignore the half of their audience that is female to pander to the increasingly narrow portion of their audience that is white, young, heterosexual, and male…
Is it any surprise that the misogynists behind #gropecrew would feel affirmed in their beliefs that women are things, not people? And is it any surprise that they would feel they could expect not to face any consequences over this? They are acting this way because they are participating in a culture that we have all been complicit in constructing.
So how can we change this? What can we, personally, do to change the culture so that things like this aren’t so incredibly, depressingly, overwhelmingly common?
FIRST: accept that the things you love are problematic, and that this is not an indictment of you as a person.
When a woman says that something you like is sexist (or racist, or homophobic, or transphobic, whatever), don’t tell her that she is wrong. Don’t tell her that she doesn’t “understand” the history of that thing you like. Don’t explain to her why her feelings are not valid. Don’t tell her that she doesn’t “belong” in your hobby and that her opinions don’t count.
Listen and accept that maybe the thing you like isn’t perfect, and that’s okay, and it doesn’t make you a terrible human being for liking it.
SECOND: Listen to women when they speak; don’t attempt to silence them, and support their voices when there are others trying to silence them.
Don’t tell women that they don’t belong in your hobby. Don’t tell women that they are not “real” members of your community. Don’t judge the ways in which they choose to participate in your community.
THIRD: When someone you know says something that is sexist, or racist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or whatever – call that shit out. ESPECIALLY TO YOUR FRIENDS.
Piling on assholes like these #gropecrew low-lifes is easy. What’s not as easy is speaking out to your friends. But if shit like this is going to end, you need to overcome that discomfort. Because even more important than correcting the perceptions of your friend is ending the silence. When someone says something that reinforces sexist attitudes in geekdom and that statement goes unchallenged, it makes the harassing douchcanoes feel comfortable. It confers tacit permission to the scumbags to harass and assault women who venture into your hobby.
Enough is enough. Step up, speak out, and END THE SILENCE.