I'm telling you, I think the internet finally went too far this past week. Well, okay, I know not really...but it seems like, for once, people are actually paying attention to online harrassment and what a detrimental and unpleasant pall it casts on geek culture. Obviously it's focused on games right now, but you could apply it to anything where women create/discuss something and guys become frothing mad bullies about it.
I'll freely admit that I don't understand the impulse to troll, just like I don't understand the impulse to bully. Both are unintelligent, nasty, demeaning, and pointless, other than to make their target feel like crap. I personally think they're interchangeable words for the same/similar activity, except trolling is more online exclusive and can be just stupid instead of nasty. However, trolling does seem to be catching on in real life to a worrying degree. See anything regarding women's health or our current political "debates" for reference.
I don't get it, not because I'm some kind of amazing person, but because I am able to both sympathize and empathize with others. And because, since I also make things, I would be pretty ashamed of myself if I attacked someone else for doing so, even if whatever they do isn't my cup of tea. There's also a world of difference between a thoughtful critique of a work, which if you put it out there you are opening yourself up to, and heaping abuse on someone just because you don't like something they made/did/said. It would kind of be like if I walked up to people on the street and started screaming in their faces because I don't like their pants. Their pants are not my problem, I'm fully capable of going about my day without making a comment about them. The only time I might confront someone about their pants is if they're, like, attacking other people & strangling them, on fire, or missing altogether in a public place.
Of course, online anonymity makes this a lot easier for some people. I use handles myself but I don't use them as an excuse to be an asshole. If I say something I own it. And I personally believe in courtesy, even if the exchange is happening in a comments section on a website with strangers. That doesn't mean I don't get passionate or snarky from time to time. But I don't, for instance, call people names, threaten them with violence, or otherwise behave like the internet is my own personal, private, shit show. The fact that some people just go straight to that baffles me.
I'm sure people can (and have) argued that this is "just how the internet is". And most of us who spend any time here know that a certain amount of crap comes with it. However. That doesn't make rape/death threats okay, nor does it mean that we can't work towards making spaces better, and calling out awful when we see it. To me, very few things have ever changed by ignoring them. Which is not to say you should engage with every online troll you run across, that would take forever. But sometimes engaging can be important and you should do it when and if you feel safe to.
This brings me to the two instances this last week that really brought the this whole issue of Being a Woman on the Internet front and center for a lot of people. Since I'm an active feminist I've seen many versions of this already. Blogging While Female, Blogging While Feminist, Men Call Me Things, Crap Email From a Dude, and other examples of what women face (many daily) when they discuss gender politics (or just politics) and/or are just female and do stuff online. You don't have to be doing anything divisive or political or activism-y to warrant it.
So, there's this awesome Kickstarter project, Women vs Tropes: Video Games. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games
It's a project by Anita Sarkeesian, who does videos criticizing pop culture media with a feminist bent. They're all awesome and you should check them out. You can check out the one the Kickstarter is for here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8I0Wy58adM.
The shitstorm basically happened when that same Youtube video was trolled like whoa, with some of the most disgustingly misogynist comments, threats, and ugliness I've ever seen. You can check it out, she's left them all up to make a point about why this is such a problem. Beyond that, her Wikipedia page was basically defaced with a porn shot and liberal use of the word "cunt", and I suspect her email inbox was flooded with additional crap. Whether you agree with her premise or project is beside the point. Wanting to discuss tropes and issues in video games shouldn't result in rape threats. But then, in an industry that thinks giving Lara Croft a rapey backstory gives her "depth" and weirdly paternalistic "sexiness", it just shows how necessary the project is.
I'm happy to say that not only is Sarkeesian standing up and talking about this, her project is funded, and has raised a whopping $155k+. That's a goodly amount more than the original $6 thousand goal. So, kudos internet trolls, you just made sure she'll be making a LOT more of these, and opened up a massive can of worms that no one who isn't a giant asshole is going to defend.
Finally, we have Felicia Day. Who had the apparent audacity to write, produce, sing, and make a video of a charming little country western song about a gamer girl and a country boy. It's sweet and fun and I'm not even a country music person. It also made the trolls come out in force, mostly with weird accusations about "gamer girls" who aren't real gamers and just play them to get attention...and other assorted stupidity. I watched the video and...the point, they missed it. By a bajillion miles. Yeah, sure, her "character" dresses up in cos-play. I was not aware that dressing up as characters you like means you're not really a geek. Someone should tell all those authentic Stormtroopers they don't really like Star Wars, they just want attention. I'll wait.
Anyway, Day wrote a very thoughtful blog post about it (http://feliciaday.com/blog) and it's pretty clear that sexism played a major role in the kind of comments she got. Since she's a visible geek (who is also a woman), and a successful one who needn't prove herself to anyone, she bore the brunt of what looks like a lot of petty jealousy and girl-hate. Whether you like the stuff that Day does or not, there's no doubt that she works hard and cares about what she's doing. And she has the brass ovaries to put it out there, knowing some people won't like it, and for that she gets a troll storm.
Whatever. I'd really like to see any one of those commenters do even a third of the things she does. It's always people who do nothing but have a lot of opinions that seem to feel the most entitled to crap on anything anyone else does in the least intelligent manner possible. I'll eat my shoes if a single one of them is a legitimate writer/musician/math degree wielding/geek/gamer/actor, who produces their own successful web series, site, and book club. Not to mention comic book writer and assorted other stuff, like going to a ton of conventions and doing charity work. But let's totes yell at her, you guys! Sheesh, you'd think she was ACCOMPLISHING something.
The point of all this is that when women do things, there's a certain sort of person who wants to put them down and silence them. Not because what they're doing is bad or wrong, but because they're daring to do it at all. Sometimes it's because they're discussing sexism directly and working towards better awareness of how it pervades the culture. Other times it's because they're making things in fields men feel entitled to be the arbiters of, and their sheer presence neatly undermines a lot of common sexist stereotypes people don't appreciate being made to re-think. Bonus if they have the audacity to be accomplished and good at it, too. Whoops. That's a big old no-no, apparently.
But I think this latest blow up kind of put in sharp relief just how wrong and off this all is. The Women vs. Tropes Kickstarter funding is one way that's indicated. The amount of people coming out in defense of Day is another. But even more, maybe, are the sheer number of articles and blogs dedicated to discussing this all as a real problem within gaming culture, and the culture at large. There're only so many times you can see this kind of thing and not start seeing how it's all connected. Unless you're really obtuse, in which case, whatevs, life is going to be difficult for you.
And the thing is, some people will say "well, whatever, this isn't a REAL problem" like they do with pretty much any issue that effects Not Them. That's happens with literally every problem that effects women no matter how big or "important" it actually is. Curiously, something else is always "worse". But I think the real problem is that people don't understand that it's all interconnected. How you treat women online who say things you don't like is directly related to how you view women in general. It also relates to how you view female characters and what kind of backstory gives them "depth". It relates to the casual use of rape threats to try and silence uncomfortable discussion about gender in media. Which then relates to the problem with our rape culture, where 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted. Which can then be viewed by how in some places in the world women are raped as a form of genocide. That is then related to the fact that we're currently seeing some of the most regressive reproductive health laws/bills in the U.S., and being told that "women don't care about it", they care about the economy, only we were just denied equal pay, again. Then there's how women's economic power is directly related to issues of poverty, and that the more economic growth women have, the better the world wide economy is, not to mention improvement in education and children's welfare.
So, sure, I guess you can dismiss this stuff as "silly" if you really want to. But the reality is that if you treat women as "things" to any degree, you're part of the larger problem. And I'm pretty sure women in general are really sick of it.