Dealing with harassment isn't that easy

I recently stumbled across a post called Cuppy, aka the anti-feminist, which was written in response to Brinstar’s I Reject the ‘Big Boys’ post. There’s actually a lot in it that I disagree on, but I’m going to focus on just one of her arguments.

One of the things that Cuppycake argues is as follows:

When you play in a video game, no one cares what gender or race you are except the immature idiots who you wouldn’t want to associate or group with anyway. Learn to avoid the immaturity and the disrespectful people and familiarize yourself with the ignore button and the fact that you can always meet new friends. Quit lumping all the men into this stereotype of “asshole, hardassed, disrespectful, immature, condescending jerks” and instead find yourself embracing the differences in people in the gaming culture. Just like the real world, you have people you need to avoid and distance yourself from and others that you will want to become closer to. The glory of current MMO’s is the ability to talk in private chats, to use ignore features, to join guilds, to pick and choose who you group with, to use chat profanity filters. We really can make gaming an enjoyable experience if we choose to and put a bit of effort into it.

I think that there are too many over-simplifications in her argument, starting with the way that she represents the opposing view and ending with the way she presents personal action as the solution to the problem of harassment.

I. If you’re not the problem, you’re not the problem. But some men are.

Quit lumping all the men into this stereotype of “asshole, hardassed, disrespectful, immature, condescending jerks” and instead find yourself embracing the differences in people in the gaming culture.

No one is “lumping all the men” into that stereotype, but rather commenting on the general attitude of many men who populate the gaming community. An attitude of which the prevalence can be backed up by various sources, including personal accounts, reading the comments at mainstream sites such as Kotaku and Destructoid, and logging into heavily male-dominated games like World of Warcraft and listening to the general chat channels. Jade Reporting has a Harassment category for a reason, blog posts like Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities didn’t happen without the contribution of many gamers who happened to be male, and studies like Sexism in World of Warcraft aren’t telling female gamers anything we haven’t experienced ourselves.

Harassment is a real problem in the gaming blogsphere, and the vast majority of it is perpetrated by men. While you can argue about the potential reasons behind this (men are the majority of players in games and communities in which harassment occurs, men are taught to be harassers, etc), the fact remains that there is ample evidence to back up generalizations about men and harassment and so telling people to “[q]uit lumping all the men into this stereotype” isn’t a useful argument to make in the least.

II. It’s your job to spot the assholes!

Learn to avoid the immaturity and the disrespectful people and familiarize yourself with the ignore button and the fact that you can always meet new friends.

Cuppycake also puts the onus on the player being harassed to change — basically telling us to get a better people sense. The first problem with this is that it assumes that the harassers are only confined to the clearly immature and annoying people, but the experience of women who get harassed generally find it to come primarily from people who are otherwise mature. Which means that you can have plenty of interesting and mature conversations with someone, and then something changes — it could be anything from them finding out that you aren’t actually male to the topic of a particular discussion — and then wham you’re suddenly being bombarded by sexism/homophobia/racism/etc. and the only way to get out of it is to 1) agree with the bigotry to make the guy shut up, 2) say nothing and hope he stops, 3) try to argue with him and perhaps escalate the situation (bonus points for if this is on Vent or guildchat, because then you’ll likely have guildmembers jumping to his defense and calling you “oversensitive”), or 3) ignore him and write off someone who was previously your friend (if it’s in guildchat, it might involve a /gquit too).

And it’s not just about it being one, or two, or three people. It’s one thing to not like the general sexism in the game and to use chat filters, but how do you deal with the guildmate, who others apparently like, that starts making DV jokes in chat? Or who finds out that you’re a woman and starts all that “a/s/l” shit? What happens when you realize the guild you’ve spent so much time in supports that line of thinking, as do most other guilds on your server? What happens when you’re made to feel that you’re “oversensitive” because you try to start a dialogue about homophobia and sexism? And what happens when this becomes not just an outside incident, but something that occurs over and over and over again?

There are people who, as Cuppycake suggests, use chat filters, ignore people, and join guilds. But, you see, the vast majority of guilds that these people have to join are the very same women-only guilds that she looks down her nose at in the beginning of her article. Why? Because women-friendly guilds, at least in games where they’re sorely needed, that are co-ed are few and far between. So, really, it’s a catch-22. (If you’re in the market for women-friendly guilds, I’d recommend browsing the MMORPGs: games, servers, and guilds thread at Iris.)

III. Making games fun: stopgap versus solution

The glory of current MMO’s is the ability to talk in private chats, to use ignore features, to join guilds, to pick and choose who you group with, to use chat profanity filters. We really can make gaming an enjoyable experience if we choose to and put a bit of effort into it.

Even the most careful filtering and ignore-using won’t guarantee a fun game. Like I’ve said before, one of the reasons that I got turned off of WoW was because every time I logged onto the RP server I played (for some reason this didn’t happen on the PVP one) I would get another random stranger sending me an invasive tell and/or using the “/kiss” emote and whatever. Yes, I /ignored them but there was always another one to take their place. And that made my life none too fun.

It would be so nice to believe that we could make games fun simply through our own personal efforts, but for many of us it simply isn’t enough. I don’t want games to be fun despite harassment or sexism or homophobia or what-have-you, I want them to be fun because games are supposed to be fun. And, unfortunately, because of that the solution does not, and cannot, lie simply in personal action.

Am I saying that we shouldn’t take personal action to combat this? No, I think it’s necessary at the moment to do so, and the functions that MMOs give to players to control how they deal with their personal communities are very important. But personal action is merely a stopgap measure, something to try to help us have fun playing games while a better solution is found.

But, see, focusing on personal action to the exclusion of examining the underlying causes only lets harassers continue harassing without consequences. If it were just a handful of clearly immature players, there wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s not. It’s a whole community of players, both mature and immature, who have been taught that harassment is normal and who never have to face the consequences of their harassment. Without ever seeing that their actions have consequences, there will never be an incentive for them to stop. In fact, it might also act as an incentive for them to escalate their behaviour because it gets reinforced and encouraged by seeing others get away with it, too.

IV. Conclusion

Saying that we shouldn’t place blame on harassers because it makes it seem like we’re blaming all men, despite the reality of the situation, isn’t a solution; it’s a way to enable the problem. And, as needed as personal action is, the facts are is that it’s a way to avoid the issue, not deal with it.

The reason people like Brinstar and I write about harassment is because we think it needs to stop. We don’t think anyone — female or male — should have to put up with being called a “pussy”, “bitch”, “fag”, “ho”, that people should have to hear the word “raped” thrown around like it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve seen how harassment escalates in communities where it’s not called out, where it’s a bunch of people — primarily men — who egg each other on, each post being more hateful and violent than the last. And, I know that I’ve tried the methods that Cuppycake has outlined and found them wanting. They didn’t make my time in WoW anymore fun; all they did was end up being yet another chore to maintain.

This is not to say that people who choose to rely solely on personal issue are wrong, or bad; everyone needs to deal with these issues in a way that works for them. But my point is that it’s not their job — or anyone else’s — to tell us that we shouldn’t be more proactive about the problem.

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By tekanji on June 15, 2007 · Posted in Feminism, Masculinities, Video Games

19 Comments | Post Comment

darrenl says:

“No one is “lumping all the men” into that stereotype, but rather commenting on the general attitude of many men who populate the gaming community.”

It’s a short jump from “commenting on a general attitude” to “lumping”.

Posted on June 15th, 2007

tekanji says:

It’s a short jump from “commenting on a general attitude” to “lumping”.

Uh… huh. And that statement refutes the part about “many men” and the evidence I have to back up my statement how?

If you have a problem with potentially being implicated as a harasser because you’re a gamer who is male, then maybe instead of debating semantics with me here your time would be better served trying to change the culture that fosters such a generalization.

Or do you just enjoy being one short jump away from being a Nitpick Troll?

Posted on June 15th, 2007

brent says:

oy

Posted on June 15th, 2007

Sara says:

When I was playing my friends kept trying to get me to join guilds — “you’ll level faster,” “it’s more fun,” etc. — but I’ve sat through enough Vent-directed raids to know that I’d just as soon stay away from the majority of players.

And even then, that doesn’t prevent male toons from approaching and harassing my female toons with /kiss and /flirt emotes. It’s not griefing by any means, but it gets very old, very fast.

Posted on June 15th, 2007

Avelyn says:

Tekanji is completely right, darrenl. The way women are treated in an online environment is often less than respectful, and this treatment has been experienced enough that we can assume that it’s not just a coincidence that many of the perpetrators are male.
I never go into a conversation with anyone expecting them to talk to me like that, but if I am talked to in that manner, I can usually rest assured that the person talking to me is a guy.

Posted on June 16th, 2007

darrenl says:

You know Tek….usually civilized people can engage in reasonable discourse without name calling.

Regardless, I’m not disagreeing with your post…just adding a word of caution to it.

Posted on June 17th, 2007

Jade Reporting » June 17 says:

[...] Dealing with harassment isn’t that easy [...]

Posted on June 17th, 2007

tekanji says:

You know, darrenl, we have a rule about condescension here and you are one step away from breaking it. Throwing your own words back at you and pointing out that what you posted was exactly what Nitpick Trolls do isn’t name calling, it was a warning.

This is your second one: if you want to post here, you need to be civilized. I don’t have any patience for dealing with people who believe that I owe them some “civility” when their original post, and the one that followed it, was snarky, condescending, and anything but civilized.

Posted on June 17th, 2007

darrenl says:

There are many instances in history in which generalizations due to bad examples (immature brats for the MMO example you put up…which is a problem btw) within a population led to a “lumping” of all of individuals within that population. Jews in WWII, blacks since colonization, gays, women etc.

My original comment was far from uncivilized…it was simply a call for caution when you look a subgroup of people and make generalizations about them. Surely as a feminists, you know this. Me thinks you see demons around every corner.

…and yes, unless my real name is “Nitpick Troll” (which it isn’t), what you said was name calling and reasonable discourse is not based on that kind of thing last I checked.

We can go back and forth all you want on this point. Again, I don’t disagree with the premise of your argument…I’m just adding a word of caution so that a whole group of people don’t get labeled incorrectly.

Cheers…

Posted on June 17th, 2007

darrenl says:

…and just call me Darren :)

Posted on June 17th, 2007

Morgardin says:

The thing about language is… everyone needs to be careful how it’s used. I don’t see darren’s point as being “snarky”… I see it as a perfectly reasonable word of caution. It *is* very easy to go from “commenting” to “lumping”…. people all of faiths, walks and sexes have done it for the millennia that has been human history to date. It can be on social viewpoints, as the slavery movement was back in the late 17′th century in America; “Slaves are not human, because their skin is a different color than the majority of us and believe different things”. Note that I am *NOT* saying I believe that in any way, however for millions of people, that was a truth they believed in; more than likely what started out as the “social commentary” of a few “enlightened people of the age” turned into a core belief that lumped all slaves into the same category. What was the “social commentary on the Jewish faith” in Germany prior to WWII turned into the Holocaust. the “general commentary” of a few people turned into a belief that lumped all Jews into the category of “Non-Aryans who are responsible for all our problems and must be destroyed”.

Now am I saying that these atrocities equal in any way the commentary at hand and the subjects it is discussing? Of course not. the very idea is ludicrous. However, the point(s) do bring up a very clear picture of our history, and of how easily “commenting on a general attitude” turns into “lumping”… often with horrific consequences.

Posted on June 17th, 2007

Sara says:

My original comment was far from uncivilized…it was simply a call for caution when you look a subgroup of people and make generalizations about them. Surely as a feminists, you know this.

Darren, if you believe that feminists already understand this precept, why did you feel it was necessary to reiterate it?

Posted on June 18th, 2007

tekanji says:

I’m only going to say this once, so pay attention: Although I have published the above comments, discussion on the semantics of “lumping” versus “generalizing” is closed. It is off-topic and taking away from the discussion of the actual point of my post. Any further comments I get on the issue will not be published. I also recommend for those new to this blog that you read the discussion rules before trying to post here in the future, as I will no longer allow borderline cases on this thread.

…and yes, unless my real name is “Nitpick Troll” (which it isn’t), what you said was name calling and reasonable discourse is not based on that kind of thing last I checked.

Don’t be disingenuous; your argument doesn’t even work grammatically with what I said, because I used the term being which automatically refers to the concept behind the term rather than using it as a term of address. Accurately labeling behaviour that is in line with what a Nitpick Troll does isn’t “name calling” it’s telling you that the comment you wrote was one step away from trolling.

If you don’t know what a Nitpick Troll is, it’s someone who picks up on a tiny “problem spot” in the post which is only tangential to the point, treating as if it somehow invalidates the post (which, given the lack of context in your first comment it sure looked like you were doing), and derailing the thread with conversation on the tangential point — which, congratulations!, you just did.

Anyway, you can feel however you want to feel about this conversation, but perhaps next time if you don’t want a snarky response you should be more polite in your initial comments. If you had simply said something along the lines of, “I see your point, but I would just like to say that, in terms of semantics, there’s a fine line between ‘generalizing’ and ‘lumping’ that I think could use a little airtime. [Insert your opinion on the matter.]” the response would have been much different, and most likely much more on topic.

Posted on June 18th, 2007

Voice Chat Blues | Random Battle says:

[...] been a lot of discussion recently about the hostility of online environments for female players. I get annoyed when I think the [...]

Posted on June 19th, 2007

Mickle says:

You know Tek….usually civilized people can engage in reasonable discourse without name calling.

Having recently gotten into a big flame war where someone repeatedly accused me of being uncivil and the like – all the while callling me “mickles”, may I just say that the irony of that statement is just astounding.

(and I know the topic is closed but)

Dear God – the post itself included the words

If you’re not the problem, you’re not the problem. But some men are…….No one is “lumping all the men” into that stereotype, but rather commenting on the general attitude of many men who populate the gaming community.

Calling him a Nitpick Troll was being overly generous.

(back to the topic)

But, see, focusing on personal action to the exclusion of examining the underlying causes only lets harassers continue harassing without consequences

Yup. Not that Real Life has done this completely and always successfully, but this would be, after all, why my managers have to go through special training about sexual harassment, etc. Even when speaking up “works” it’s doesn’t work nearly as well as reminding people to be respectful in the first place. In large part because it gives people who do want to speak up a certain amount of safety in doing so. Not that all such training are equally good, but it’s still much better than just expecting the people with less power to bear the full burden of being the whistleblowers.

Posted on June 20th, 2007

tekanji says:

Mickle: You made me hold your comment for moderation because you sneaked discussion on the derailing subject into your post :P

But, seriously, y’all, no more deraling! The next one that I get, even if it has other points that are on-topic, won’t make it through. Period.

Having recently gotten into a big flame war where someone repeatedly accused me of being uncivil and the like – all the while callling me “mickles”, may I just say that the irony of that statement is just astounding.

You know, funny thing is that the only people who ever get on my case about being “civil” are the ones who are first timers who I’ve never seen before being snarky in their first post here in a way that totally ignores the golden rule concerning this blog being like my house. I had no obligation to be nice to the gf of a friend who started fights over politics with guests at my birthday party, and I sure as hell have no obligation to be nice to guests on this blog who don’t bother to give me, and more importantly my point, the baseline of respect.

Not that all such training are equally good, but it’s still much better than just expecting the people with less power to bear the full burden of being the whistleblowers.

Exactly. It’s one thing to make the personal decision to speak up (or not), but the burden should not be placed on the people who are being harassed, but rather we should (as a collective society) be trying to stop the harassment in the first place.

Posted on June 21st, 2007

Sara says:

Not that Real Life has done this completely and always successfully, but this would be, after all, why my managers have to go through special training about sexual harassment, etc. Even when speaking up “works” it’s doesn’t work nearly as well as reminding people to be respectful in the first place. In large part because it gives people who do want to speak up a certain amount of safety in doing so. Not that all such training are equally good, but it’s still much better than just expecting the people with less power to bear the full burden of being the whistleblowers.

True. I have to add though, that I think that demonstrates a greater disconnect between virtual environments and realtime environments; while there is less consequence for harrassment in-game, there is also less consequence for speaking out against harrassment in-game. The worst that happens is that the game is no longer fun to play, and you move on to a new one. It’s sad, but not the end of the world.

In life, though, the consequences could be as grave as needing to find a new job — even though most companies have policies in place to prevent retaliation, that’s not going to stop your fellow employees from thinking poorly of you, and the subtle shift in attitude in and of itself probably doesn’t constitute “retaliation.” So it’s a lot harder to speak out in real life.

All that (tangent) says to me, though, is that we need to work harder on that ounce of prevention in the first place.

Posted on June 21st, 2007

bellatrys says:

Cuppycake is just showing how uncritical a thinker she is (which you could kind of gather from her oh-so-cutesy handle [/snark] [/snark] [/snark] nevermind) – because since when has ignoring any kind of a problem small or large, personal or societywide, ever made the problem go away? Pretending that abusers aren’t abusing just emboldens them to keep on, just like ignoring a biting horse or food-stealing dog doesn’t make them give up biting or snatching.

And I’m sorry, but if my choices in a social space – be it online, or “IRL” where it has quite frequently happened to me – are between me silently eating shit and smiling about it, so as not to make the bullies and their enablers feel uncomfortable, or going away quietly so as not to make the Privilegeboys feel uncomfortable, well, that’s not much of a choice now, is it? And why should I and people shaped like me always be the ones to be made to feel uncomfortable and more than that, unwelcome and dehumanized? Where is this moral obligation to be the societal punching bag and never a brick wall, because of my plumbing, eh?

And guys who feel uncomfortable having sexist guys called out for their sexism – well, either you’re actively part of the problem, or you’re passively part of the problem – like the guy I still won’t go out with, over fifteen years after the offense, because he pretended not to see it – or me – when his gaming buds were harrassing me in the hallways, but wanted to be friends and more than just friends, when they weren’t around to make fun of him for liking the school pariah…

(and no, I’m not actually angry at him – any more; I just have no respect for him as a human being and since I know what his character is worth, and his chivalry, I have nothing to say to him any more, nor anything I want to hear from him.)

The solution to feeling uncomfortable about being made aware of how one’s own privilege (male/white/straight/whatever) is part of the problem is not to make the oppressed shut up and go away to spare your feelings, but rather to start working to end the privileged/disempowered situation. Lots of guys are doing this, already, and not either whining about how unappreciated they are, or expecting cookies for it, either!

Posted on June 21st, 2007

tekanji says:

Bellatrys: I appreciate that this is a touchy subject for you, however attacking people on this blog is not allowed. Deconstructing the argument as uncritical is fine, but accusing Cuppycake of being an “uncritical thinker” makes it an ad hominem attack.

The solution to feeling uncomfortable about being made aware of how one’s own privilege (male/white/straight/whatever) is part of the problem is not to make the oppressed shut up and go away to spare your feelings, but rather to start working to end the privileged/disempowered situation.

Well said.

Posted on June 22nd, 2007