So Felicia Day, an actress and producer who does a lot of work in what most people would consider “geek” media, wrote a touching and thoughtful Tumblr post on Gamergate (still tinkering with the spelling). In it, she talked about the way these screaming haters are distorting a hobby she loves.*
So seeing another gamer on the street used to be an auto-smile opportunity, or an entry into a conversation starting with, “Hey, dude! I love that game too!” Me and that stranger automatically had something in common: A love for something unconventional. Outsiders in arms. We had an auto-stepping stone to hurtle over human-introduction-awkwardness, into talking about something we loved together. Instant connection!
But for the first time maybe in my life, on that Saturday afternoon, I walked towards that pair of gamers and I didn’t smile. I didn’t say hello. In fact, I crossed the street so I wouldn’t walk by them. Because after all the years of gamer love and inclusiveness, something had changed in me. A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that those guys and I might not be comrades after all. That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.
I went home and was totally, utterly depressed.
I like video games and have gotten obsessed at times with one or another before drifting away again, but it’s not a constant in my life like it is for someone like Day, who is an out-and-out gamer. But still, I recognize exactly the phenomenon she’s talking about and it happens to a lot of women who have interests in stuff outside the female ghettos of fashion and domestic arts. (Mine would definitely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be music fandom.) The desire for camaraderie with your fellow hobbyists outweighs nagging doubts you have that many of the men in your world think you don’t belong or that you deserve to be put in a second class position, forever having to defend your right to be treated like an expert compared to men who are simply assumed to belong. You decide those men are outliers or, if they are relatively quiet about their beliefs, you convince yourself that you’re being paranoid. Hell, if you worry about it out loud, you may even be told you’re paranoid. Often by other women who, like you, are so eager to believe that men welcome your presence that you may overlook evidence that suggests otherwise.
And then one day something happens that strips the illusion away. Or maybe it’s a series of events, but it becomes increasingly clear that your nagging doubts were right and no, they don’t want you there. Or, if they do, it’s only on the condition that you accept second class status and don’t try to step on the male prerogative to believe they’re automatically more knowledgeable and deserving than you are, simply because of gender. (The Gamergate mascot, Vivian James, is a stunningly literal example of this mentality. They literally made up a cartoon character to show what a “good” woman in gaming should be like—sexy and compliant, duh—to bully women who err, in their eyes, by demanding equality.) My example would be hearing from men, over and over again, their “theories” about how women are just inherently never going to be as good as men at what-the-fuck-ever aspect of music and the fandom they felt territorial over. I’ve heard about how women can’t rap, women don’t have the personalities to be obsessive music collectors, women don’t have the oomph to be great guitarists, women don’t have the animal instincts to be great drummers, etc. and etc. There’s also the grumbling and sexual harassment that followed women who played onstage, especially if they insisted on being treated as artists instead of just banging a tambourine in a miniskirt.
At a certain point, you have to admit you’re in a hostile territory. It may not be most men—though it’s unfortunately, especially when you’re young, way more than you’d like to believe—but it’s enough. And women are often not your friends because they are afraid of being kicked out of a hobby they love by being ganged up on by the men,** and so they placate and soothe instead of stand up for women. Plus, it sometimes feels good, you have to admit, to be called the Cool Girl. It’s only after you start to realize that’s praising you for submission that you start to feel icky about it.
And Day is right. It’s depressing. As she makes clear in her Tumblr post, these aren’t new observations at all, but, being female, she’s been authenticity-policed from the first day of her career by men who simply refuse to accept a woman could be as, if not more, knowledgeable than they are. And while you know those guys are wrong and you “should” let it roll off your back, the fact of the matter is that it’s not that simple. That’s because your hobby is a community and therefore the prevailing values of the community make a substantive, material difference in whether or not you get to enjoy your hobby to the fullest. Going to shows and gabbing with people between sets isn’t as fun if everyone assumes your job is to stand there and look pretty and so they ignore you if you try to engage in the conversation. With Gamergate, it’s even worse, because there’s an element of fear, as Day explains:
I have been terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline. I did one simple @ reply to one of the main victims several weeks back, and got a flood of things I simply couldn’t stand to read directed at me. I had to log offline for a few days until it went away. I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words “Gamer Gate”. I have had stalkers and restraining orders issued in the past, I have had people show up on my doorstep when my personal information was HARD to get. To have my location revealed to the world would give a entry point for a few mentally ill people who have fixated on me, and allow them to show up and make good on the kind of threats I’ve received that make me paranoid to walk around a convention alone. I haven’t been able to stomach the risk of being afraid to get out of my car in my own driveway because I’ve expressed an opinion that someone on the internet didn’t agree with.
It’s not fair and being treated unfairly in this way is, in fact, depressing. For women in these male-dominated communities, you often feel like you’ve been put in a permanent probationary period, and you have to walk around on eggshells all the time. Men can spout off and say all sorts of things, even really offensive or just plain stupid things, without much real fear of being drummed out of the community, but a woman is often afraid to say something as simple as asserting women’s equality without being harassed until she wished she had never said anything at all.
That this is not paranoia was immediately proved, of course, when Felicia Day was doxxed in retaliation for making this statement.
But there is reason to hope. The reason there’s such aggressive silencing and harassment of feminists is because sexists know we have good arguments. Day talks about this by talking about how she’s spent her career focusing on positive images of female gamers, showing that they do exist, they are diverse, and they have a greater role to play than compliant companions for the “real” (read: male) gamers. Standing your ground does work, ladies! In the nearly two decades*** I’ve been a hardcore music fan, I’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way women occupy those community spaces, from record stores to indie clubs to the stage itself. Much less sexual harassment, to start with. But also a reduction in men who don’t exactly harass you so much as treat it like it’s some kind of novelty that you share their enthusiasms. A dramatic reduction in being treated like you’re a pretender, though a lot of that might just be my personal experience and age. A lot more press coverage of female musicians and a real shift away from focusing on their personal lives in a way that doesn’t happen with men. Hell, just even more women working the counter at record stores.
Most of my gaming is phone-based these days (Marvel Puzzle Quest FTW), but one thing I do know well is these kinds of social dynamics around gender. I’ve seen this all before, and I know, in my bones, that if women hang in, they will win in the end.
*Because she’s female, I have zero doubts people are calling her credibility as a gamer into question. Or will in the comments of this post. For those who don’t know who she is, I recommend starting with her YouTube channel or her surprisingly funny online web series about, what else, people who are obsessed with a fictionalized version of World of Warcraft.
**Which is what the “fake geek girl” bullshit is about: Policing women and telling them they aren’t authentic as a pretext for kicking them out to preserve male dominance over these spaces.