This is as serene as I get

I have been a semi-regular reader of the blog Feminist Gamers since its conception, but after reading this post I don’t think I’m going to be going back there anytime soon. I admire that Mighty Ponygirl wants to foster a stronger bond between feminists (don’t we all?) but I disagree with her chosen methodology.

If we’re being perfectly honest here, I have to admit that I take her words personally because I’m pretty sure that I was one of those “internet feminists” she was chiding. I say this because she and I exchanged words on a post where I said that I was strongly considering dropping the “feminist” label because I feel that a failure to address privilege in all of its forms is fundamentally incompatible with the feminist quest for equality. If you notice, she pretty clearly references the term “retard”, which was also referenced in the ableism discussion.

Mighty Ponygirl’s attitude is actually a pretty good example of what frustrates me about the mainstream feminist movement. Over the past few months, I would say that the Feminist Gamers blog has become the representative feminist gamer blog to the greater gaming culture. As such, MP has the unique power to influence (to a certain extent) mainstream gamers’ opinions of feminists and female gamers in general. As I see it, she is the gamer version of famous internet feminists such as Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti. Like them, her success is owed to various factors such as being intelligent and witty, passionate, knowledgeable about her subject matter, dedicated to regular/semi-regular posting, and — of course — that ever present element of luck.

However, I would also argue that part of what makes her popular is that she’s a more palatable version of a feminist than, say, I am. As much as I would like to believe myself to be a middle-of-the-road type, I know that I get placed firmly in the “hardcore”/”militant” category because of my steadfast insistence that, while focusing on gender equality is a good thing, it’s not good enough if we don’t also acknowledge and incorporate other anti-oppression movements into our theories and actions. Simply put, someone like me is too scary to be the face of feminism.

Sure, there are times when Mighty Ponygirl can be scary (like when she’s ripping a troll a new one), but that’s a kind of scary that gamers can relate to. The way that she’s scary is the way that they’re scary: ready and willing to lob snark at people who earn their ire. In a lot of ways, she fits in with gamer culture. This is, of course, a good thing; she fits in so people like her, when people like her they listen to her, when they listen to her they begin to understand the fundamentals of feminist thought, and when that happens for enough people feminist thought begins to be normalized.

But when it comes down to it, part of why she’s palatable is because her message doesn’t rock the boat too hard. Although she does help familiarize gamers with the fundamentals of feminist critique (thus giving them the tools to better understand misogyny and sexism and how they operate in gamer culture), ultimately she is asking more for the inclusion of a certain group of women into the clubhouse rather than for gamers to understand oppression and how they (wittingly and unwittingly) contribute to it.

Despite all the words about unity and understanding in the second paragraph of her post, the first paragraph is basically saying that those of us who believe in anti-oppression activism aren’t allowed to express our anger/disappointment over mainstream feminism’s seemingly inability to recognize that women come in more combinations than just straight, white, able-bodied, middle- to upper-class (etc etc). According to her, we should just STFU and accept that some people are assholes and some feminists will only see feminism as a fight for gender equality (which somehow doesn’t include groups like women of color or women with disabilities).

But, you know? I can’t do that. I don’t sit down and shut up like a good little girl when some jackass is spewing misogynist shit in my face, and I’m damned well not going to do it when I see someone who’s supposed to be a feminist contributing to the image of feminism being for rich, cissexual, straight white women only. Women of color? Women. Telling them to take race out of the oppression equation and only focus on gender is like telling them to pretend that they are white and that their experiences as women of color are the same as those of white women (hint: they’re not). Transwomen? Women. Are you really going to tell them that they should keep quiet when some asshole feminist says they shouldn’t be allowed in women’s spaces because they’re really men? What about the woman with a mental disability who has to deal with taunts of “retard”? You gonna tell her that when internet feminist #49058 called an ideological opponent a “retard” it had nothing to do with her?

If it were just one or two assholes, then maybe I could follow MP’s advice. But it’s not. It’s Seal Press and Michfest and how it feels like every month there’s another woman of color being trampled on by some well meaning white feminist who can’t bloody get over her damn self and admit that maybe she was acting from a position of privilege. As long as feminism is “just about gender equality” it will be hurting women. I took on the feminist label to help women, not just to further my own equality.

Maybe I’m just not a very good feminist. But, then, isn’t that the problem?

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This entry was posted in Feminism, Privilege, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to This is as serene as I get

  1. svetlana says:

    I think, in the end, as I’ve observed with many of my friends in the U of M community, this getting stuck on educating each other, this inability to get past it to the people we told ourselves we set out to help (the oppressed, as opposed to the privileged we try to get to go along with us, whom we thought were with us but then we realize hey, whoa, you’ve got to sort some things out personally before you go ’round representing us, making our face) is deeply, deeply embittering. I don’t know how to get past it. The energy I used to be able to take to it has, I know, flagged with time. I hope yours does not, but I’d understand if it did, and I understand your regard of mainstream white abled feminists and how utterly frustrating it is to see well-meaning people enacting the same sorts of social manipulations they thought they were fighting against. Good luck to you.

  2. tekanji says:

    svetlana: Word to the “deeply, deeply embittering” thing. Sometimes I want a LOLCAT macro that says, “Equality: UR DOIN IT WRONG”. Which is completely childish, but I think I’m entitled to have immature feelings sometimes. :P

  3. It’s hard to include, sometimes. I recently was part of a project with 15 men getting up on a stage and telling really personal stories about their lives, and about traditional masculinity and the ways in which it screws men up. Most of these men aren’t performers, and it took a lot for them to share these things. That said, at the end of the night we got complaints that there hadn’t been a sign language interpreter. We got complaints that none of the men explicitly talked about their privilege (though we all implicitly talked about it) as men. We got called out for these things, and it was hard to hear. But you know what? For the next show, the group is looking for a sign language interpreter. And I’d hazard a guess that at least some of the men are going to talk about privilege next time around.

    PonyGirl’s arguments seem pretty empty to me, because she can (obviously) come up with lots of good ways to criticize somebody for their opinion–ways where ‘retard’, for instance, doesn’t have to come into it. People who hold so dear to one set of words as descriptors might want to invest in a thesaurus, or just check one out online.

    (As a side note: I’m also struggling with the label, and with online activism vs. other types of activism. I’m thinking that while writing millions of words about feminism is useful and good, maybe that doesn’t have to be the goal for all of us. We’re lucky to have people like Amanda Marcotte–that doesn’t mean we all need to do that. It’s possible that one good LOLCAT macro that says “Equality: UR DOING IT WRONG” would be just as useful, in some ways, as a hundred Marcotte posts, though I would say we live in a world where both are important.)

  4. I found myself nodding in agreement while reading your post. It’s just impossible to compartmentalize one’s identity, which is exactly why feminism needs to include discussion of ableism, racism and sexuality. This has been the history of the feminist movement and it’s frustrating that it seems that the same issues that have plagued the movement since its conception are still alive today. I think there has been some progress made, but for the most part I can’t help but feel that the movement as a whole, especially the movement as it exists on the internet, falls disappointingly short in ways of being inclusive of women who don’t fit into the dominant, privileged categories of our culture.

  5. tekanji says:

    jeffliveshere: See, that’s the kind of attitude that I would love to see more of. No one’s perfect; everyone makes mistakes. Is hearing criticism, especially on something that you worked really hard on, rough? Yeah. No one likes being told that they aren’t doing good enough, but the way that we make progress is to get past that “why do u hate meeee? ;.;” phase, listen to the criticism, and say, “Okay, now how can I use that to do better?”

    100littledolls: Yeah. The strange thing is that my introduction to online feminism (through Fandom Wank, of all places) was one that took intersectionality for granted. It’s through JournalFen and places like the Feminism and Feminist_Rage LJs that I got introduced to the concept of things like privilege and was forced to examine how I had been contributing to problems such as racism, homophobia, and ableism. I just assumed that’s what modern feminism was. It was like being doused with a bucked of cold water when I realized how far most of the feminist movement hadn’t come.

  6. Eleniel says:

    tekanji, having been introduced to feminism through Feministing and Cerise and your blog here, I held that assumption, too!

  7. FWIW, I wasn’t trying to say “feminists should be allowed to use the word ‘retard.’” Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Ultimately, I feel that we need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. When someone is a feminist and does something like that, I try to assume they do so out of ignorance, and not out of malice, and then I try to convince them why they shouldn’t do that anymore without making them defensive. And if they refuse to get it, I just accept that the person is just not there yet, and may never be there, but that it’s not feminism’s fault that a person can be flawed.

    The point was that it’s easier for us to correct each other and help one another to grow and understand as sisters than it is for us to do so as enemies.

  8. tekanji says:

    Mighty Ponygirl said:

    Ultimately, I feel that we need to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

    But what you’re not seeing is that for a lot of people the “benefit of the doubt” stage is long past. Yes, a lot of the problems do come from ignorance, but it’s not like the ignorance hasn’t — and isn’t continually — pointed out to people. A lot of the frustration comes because this shit is pointed out all the time and is largely met with denial or sometimes even virulent attacks.

    And if they refuse to get it, I just accept that the person is just not there yet, and may never be there, but that it’s not feminism’s fault that a person can be flawed.

    You’re still seeing it as an individual act. Think about it this way — when people deny the sexist treatment of women in video games as individual incidents, do we just accept that and move on? No, sexism is part of a greater pattern; it’s not about one game or one person doing one sexist thing, it’s about a continuing history of objectification, violence, and misogyny that makes the one incident bad.

    The same is true with feminism. It’s not just one person, or one small set of individuals, throwing people under the bus, it’s symptomatic of the movement as a whole. Just as with sexism in gamer culture, there are many ways to deal with the problem. Some people — a brave few — wade into the dens of misogyny and try to combat it there. Others take a middle path, engaging with the mainstream community while still striving to maintain some sort of safe space. Then there are those who say, “Fuck it, this isn’t worth it,” and create their own insular spaces. All of the approaches are valid and all, I would argue, are necessary in the fight against oppression.

    When you chide women for speaking about how they feel feminism has failed them and therefore they don’t want the feminist label, you’re saying that the fact that they were oppressed by their supposed sisters is less important than maintaining some illusion of unity that is, in fact, exclusionary of the disillusioned women. You’re making them and their concerns invalid, which is exactly the problem they have with feminism in the first place.

    What I am saying — and what other feminists are saying — when we say that we are unsure if we want to keep the feminist label is not that we want to make other feminists our enemies, but rather that they have positioned themselves in opposition to being our allies. That the mainstream feminist movement has, through its actions, said, “I am not the movement for you because I am ready and willing to throw you under the bus when it suits me.”

    If you truly want us to help one another, to grow and understand each other, then it needs to start with you. You need to understand why so many anti-oppression activist women feel this way. You need to educate yourself about the history and perceptions of the feminist movement and how it’s consistently failed women who don’t fit into the privileged box. As long as you’re viewing the women being oppressed by mainstream feminism as the ones creating the divisions, there’s no way you can help them/us.

  9. oliemoon says:

    I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion since I’ve already said my piece on this in other spaces, but I gosh, I just keep re-reading this post and squeeing because It. Is. So. Right. Thanks for writing this.

  10. When you chide women for speaking about how they feel feminism has failed them and therefore they don’t want the feminist label, you’re saying that the fact that they were oppressed by their supposed sisters is less important than maintaining some illusion of unity that is, in fact, exclusionary of the disillusioned women. You’re making them and their concerns invalid, which is exactly the problem they have with feminism in the first place.

    No, I’m saying don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    The very first part of my “serenity prayer” was “if someone calls me on my behavior, I have a duty to listen to them seriously.” That is not “If someone calls me on my behavior, I can ignore them because I have feminism to hide behind.”

    Here’s the problem with your analogy regarding gamers.

    If you are a gamer, and you point to GTA, Soul Calibur, and DOA, and say “Gaming has such a serious problem with sexism that I don’t want to be a gamer anymore.” You’re ignoring games that are positive — Portal, Beyond Good & Evil, Half Life etc, so you’re hurting yoursef because now you won’t play those games. You’re taking yourself out of the ranks of feminist gamers, who need your voice to make a difference in the gaming culture so that the people making the decisions do take us seriously, etc.

    You are absolutely right… if someone is sustaining abuse from a “feminist” space that’s more invested in using words that hurt rather than investing in building people up, they don’t have to stick around. There are insular feminist spaces that will not tollerate that and by all means, take yourself there. That’s why I started FG — I wanted an insular space from places like Kotaku, DToid and Joystiq. But I still call myself a gamer. If some internet feminist pops off with a hateful word, I still feel that we all have a duty to try to help that person not be such a tool. And if that help is spurned, then by all means leave! Don’t sit around and take more abuse! It’s not like I hang out at Dtoid trying to “fight the good fight.” What I keep saying is, feminism does not = mind control: we don’t have any control over what people say or do, even if they’re on our side.

    But to say “feminism itself is ______ and that’s why I can’t call myself a feminist anymore” tells all of us who do stick around and try to educate and raise up people in our ranks who are blind to other oppression that either we don’t exist (and I posit that we do — in more numbers than the people who are bigots), or that our attempts will ultimately fail.

  11. oliemoon says:

    No, I’m saying don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Leaving feminism because you’re fed up with the bigotry =/= throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
    Leaving feminism because you’re fed up with the bigotry = refilling the bath with fresh water.

    The very first part of my “serenity prayer” was “if someone calls me on my behavior, I have a duty to listen to them seriously.”

    And yet, from your recent comment on that post, it doesn’t seem like you are taking those who are calling you out on your behavior seriously. That comment read to me as snarky and dismissive toward the people who have a problem with your post and it makes it hard for me to believe that you are operating in good faith, either here or in your prayer.

    Here’s the problem with your analogy regarding gamers.

    If you are a gamer, and you point to GTA, Soul Calibur, and DOA, and say “Gaming has such a serious problem with sexism that I don’t want to be a gamer anymore.” You’re ignoring games that are positive — Portal, Beyond Good & Evil, Half Life etc, so you’re hurting yoursef because now you won’t play those games. You’re taking yourself out of the ranks of feminist gamers, who need your voice to make a difference in the gaming culture so that the people making the decisions do take us seriously, etc.

    Here’s the problem that I see with your understanding of that analogy. Just because someone no longer calls themselves a feminist does not mean that they are no longer doing work that benefits feminist goals. One does not have identify as a “gamer” in order to play games; likewise, one does not have to identify with “feminism” in order to do progressive work that benefits women. Feminism is not the only movement that recognizes gender equality as an imperative goal. Are you really gonna argue that say, womanists, for example, are hurting women and the greater goal for equality because they choose to not identify as feminists?

    If feminist gamers need the voices of the women like tekanji who are becoming increasingly disillusioned by the bigotry that they frequently find within mainstream feminist movements, then it is the responsibility of the feminists to bring them back into the fold, and not the duty of the abused parties to stay and continue to out up with said abuse for the sake of bettering their “sisters.”

    If some internet feminist pops off with a hateful word, I still feel that we all have a duty to try to help that person not be such a tool. And if that help is spurned, then by all means leave! Don’t sit around and take more abuse!

    Dude, it’s not just some “internet feminists” that are causing the abandonment of the feminist label by so many progressive women. Please stop acting like it’s just a bunch of random feminists on the internet acting like jerks that are causing all this. You’re being dismissive of the concerns of women who genuinely feel alienated by feminism by suggesting that they’re just get upset over “some internet feminist.” When one of the biggest feminist sites on the internet and the most well known feminist press do and say dumb racist shit that a whole hell of a lot of feminists either agree with or excuse? That’s good cause for many women to feel like feminism as a whole doesn’t represent their best interests. Just because someone drops the feminist label doesn’t mean they are pointing the finger at every single feminist and calling them a bigot. It means that sufficient numbers from within the ranks of the feminist movement have alienated them to the point that they can’t in good conscience work alongside those people anymore.

    What I keep saying is, feminism does not = mind control: we don’t have any control over what people say or do, even if they’re on our side.

    I think this statement makes it pretty clear what you are missing here. Just because someone identifies as feminist does not mean that they are on our side. When you say things like that, that’s what makes me feel like you’re looking at women as a monolithic whole, all united by our vaginas and that kind of attitude ignores the intersection of oppressions. Sarah Palin is a woman and apparently she identifies as a feminist days and she’s sure as hell not on my side. But that’s an extreme example. Amanda Marcotte is a feminist who does many things that are good to work toward equality for women. But someone who appropriates the work of women of color and is apparently incapable of seeing blatant racism until it’s loudly pointed out to her is not on my side. At best, I will view her with wariness, at worst I will want to disavow myself from her completely. Either way, I don’t consider her my sister or my compatriot in the fight for gender equality.

    To me, she is similar to Palin in that she identifies as feminist and purports to be in favor of equality, but her actions are at odds with her words. And if enough feminists that I encounter are like this, claiming to support equality but actually ignore the oppression of anyone that’s not a straight, white, abled, rich cis woman, then the message that I am going to get is that feminism is not for me. And that is what is happening to a lot of these women who don’t want to identify with feminism anymore. It’s not just one or two individual acts of hatred or stupidity from some random feminists they see online; it’s coming from hundreds upon hundreds of feminists, it’s coming from the big names and trickles down to their supports, it’s coming from popular feminist institutions, it’s coming from everywhere. The women who are drop the label are doing so because practically everywhere they look, they see bigotry in feminism, and every time they try to fight that bigotry they are rebuffed, ridiculed and dismissed.

    But to say “feminism itself is ______ and that’s why I can’t call myself a feminist anymore” tells all of us who do stick around and try to educate and raise up people in our ranks who are blind to other oppression that either we don’t exist (and I posit that we do — in more numbers than the people who are bigots), or that our attempts will ultimately fail.

    No, it doesn’t. I identify as a feminist and have no intention of dropping that label, and yet, when tekanji or other women talk about how they’re not sure if they want to identify as feminist anymore, it doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t make me feel defensive. I know that when they discuss the problems with feminism they’re not talking about me, and just because they no longer wish to do their work from within the feminist movement doesn’t mean that they’re denying the work that I do or implying that I am doomed to failure. It is my choice to remain within the feminist movement despite frequent disappointments and I think my choice in the face of said disappointments is still valid. Likewise, I believe the women who leave the label of feminist behind are equally valid in their decisions. As tekanji said, there are roles for people who want to work within the movement, alongside the movement and outside of it altogether. Why does this bother you so much?

    Honestly? The only reason I can think of is that it makes you feel threatened, because other people saying “Hey, feminism isn’t good enough for me” feels like an attack on you, because you feel like it is still good enough for you. Or maybe it makes you feel defensive because it suggests to you that maybe you need to re-examine your own privileges within the feminist movement and you don’t want to do that because checking our own privilege is hard and we often resist doing it. Or maybe you feel worried because the loss of these good women weaken the feminist movement as a whole and you want to see feminism be the best it can be.

    If it’s the first reason, my response is that others leaving feminism is not an attack on you, anymore than calling the RE5 trailer racist is an attack upon all fans of RE everywhere. If it’s the second reason, that’s your own personal deal and you have to work through your privilege on your own and I can’t help you with that. If it’s the third reason, then I say yes, it is worrisome that many fantastic women are leaving feminism and the solution for those of us who remain is to continue to work to make feminism a more inclusive space, to make it a movement that these women want to come back to. The solution is absolutely not to tell them that they are bad for leaving feminism and that they’re hurting us all so they should just come back. That’s victim-blaming.

    Do you really not see how dismissive you are being here? Your tone and your attitude are exactly why so many women are fed up with feminism–you’re not listening, you’re insisting that you know what’s best for all women (to stick with feminism, that is) and you’re outright denying or minimizing the experiences of others.

    I’ve been reading FG from the start and this isn’t the first time that I’ve felt like you’re letting your privilege cloud you from seeing things that others see, or hearing what others are saying. It’s really disappointing and upsetting to see these kinds of arguments and statements coming from you because I have held FG in high regard and I have been really happy about the success you’ve enjoyed as a games blogger. I wish you the best of luck, but at this point I don’t think I will continue to support your work because even though we may both be feminists, I don’t think we’re on the same side anymore.

  12. Kimiko says:

    So, what you’re saying, MP, is that it’s okay for gamers to get away from other gamers who show racism/sexism/etc., but not for feminists to get away from other feminists who show such behavior?

  13. Delux says:

    How much ‘standing with’ people who are a *part* of your oppression is anyone supposed to really want to do?

  14. Goodness says:

    Yes, because infighting and attacking one another is so going to make the feminist movement stronger.

  15. Eleniel says:

    @Goodness
    Just because someone is a feminist doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from privilege and shouldn’t be called out when they–knowingly or not–act on that privilege.

    Systematic racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, etc., by privileged feminists are what weaken the feminist movement, not ignoring these things for the sake of “solidarity”.

  16. tekanji says:

    Goodness: What El said. Besides, I fail to see how sitting all quiet while feminists oppress me and other feminists makes the movement stronger. What would make the movement stronger would be for feminists to acknowledge that their oppression isn’t the only valid oppression and to, yanno, work for all women’s equality, even when that means checking their privilege and admitting that they were wrong.

  17. oliemoon says:

    @Goodness

    Uh, since when is calling out someone’s privilege tantamount to attacking them?

    This post =/= an attack on Mighty Ponygirl.

    Mighty Ponygirl’s post = an attack on all marginalized people alienated by feminism.

    So I guess your critique is really with MP then, right?

  18. Bagelsan says:

    @Goodness: You’re absolutely right! Infighting is a terrible idea! *Of course* this attack behavior hurts the movement! I can’t believe that people who identify as feminists are giving other women so much grief about not following the party line, and that they are ignoring the concerns and experiences of these women, and acting like jerks when called out–

    Oh, wait, you meant the “infighting” where people *object* to this shitty behavior… Nevermind then.

  19. Pingback: Yes, I Think That’s About Where I Am with It « Off Our Pedestals

  20. Hazel says:

    I am glad that I’m not the only one who felt that way, tekanji. Thanks for posting this. It is imminently reasonable, calm and compelling, and not at all attacking.

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