Misogyny Has No Place In Geek Culture

Or anywhere, for that matter.

It hadn’t been my intention to wade into the realm of misogyny, sexism or anti-feminist troll attacks that have unfortunately continued to pop up and linger despite the decades that have lapsed since the women’s rights movement was won, but it seems like I can’t check my twitter feed without regularly reading about some misogynistic asshole or some group or convention that has tolerated or flat-out endorsed bigotry or sexual harassment of its female members. While I am appalled that this happens everywhere and with every genre grouping, I find it particular offensive that it seems to happen so often in the geek realm, especially given that the stigma that comes from being a “geek” or “nerd” should make us more inclusive, not the other way around. If there’s one group that should understand the negative impact bullying can have on a person, it’s geek culture, so for any so called “geek” or “nerd” to engage in the bullying or intentional discomfiture of others, especially our own members, is downright reprehensible.

Given that the anonymity of the internet creates a breeding ground for hate and trolls, it seems as though you can’t skip a virtual stone across the internet without it ricocheting off porn and hitting a story or comment thread full of this vile misogyny.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m highly opinionated and have been known to call people or companies out for things I dislike or disagree with. My twitter feed is filled with cracks at the expense of Kristen Stewart, Justin Bieber and John Mayer. So I’ll be very clear up front that I am no saint when it comes to vilifying or insulting others. Maybe I’m worse than others or maybe I’m better than some, but find me someone who doesn’t do this sort of thing and I’ll tell you that you’ve found the new Messiah.

But what you won’t see me doing is engaging in comment thread wars ragging on an individual or group. You won’t see me directing hateful or derogatory comments directly to a person’s Twitter handle or blog. And you certainly won’t see me basing stereotypes or the actions of one or two individuals as justification to hate on or objectify an entire group of people.

I have a great love and respect for women. While I plainly acknowledge the physiological, psychological and evolutionary differences between males and females, in my mind there is no difference between the capabilities of men and women. Sure one gender may be more suited to certain tasks or activities over another, but both are human beings and if a man and woman can do a job equally well, they should be treated and rewarded equally. There should be no such thing as an inferior sex (not to be confused with inferior sex, commonly recognizable by use of the phrase “I’ve had better”), because like it or not, nature has determined that both genders are necessary for the continuation of the species. That puts us in the same boat.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the beauty that is the female body, and I certainly can be guilty of the “objectification” label from time to time. I commonly will classify women as hot or cute, and I am not immune to the charms of generous cleavage or a shapely posterior. I won’t lie and say I’m appalled by a female video game character wearing skimpy clothing or that I don’t find a sexy shower scene titillating. I’ve already admitted to loving anime primarily because of the designs of the female characters, and I have 15,000 and counting pictures of my favorite anime girls set on random rotation as my screen saver, all in various states of full dress to tasteful disrobing, though I’m quite adamant about making sure the characters are never nude.

So basically a lot of pictures of Tobias Funke

My point is that while I submit to my baser red-blooded male instincts from time to time, I clearly draw the line at the debasement or disrespect of women in general – especially any living, breathing human being. Women have dreams and feelings, and above all, a desire for respect just like everyone else. So is it really too much to ask to not treat a person as inferior or less of a human being simply because they have an opposing set of genitalia or different color skin or what-have-you?

Disliking or lacking respect for an individual because of their viewpoints, attitude, lack of intelligence or simply that they may be an awful human being is one thing, but to disrespect or rule out an entire group of individuals simply because of a physical trait is out and out bigotry and such a stance clearly places the bigot in the wrong, not the other way around.

So with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. Given the overabundance of misogynistic and sexual harassment stories on the internet, in order to keep this brief and focused, I have decided to keep this blog post limited to three articles that have stood out the most to me in recent history.

1. Aris Bakhtanians says sexual harassment and the fighting game community are “one and the same thing”

In February 2012, Cross Assault, a five-day Capcom-sponsored fighting game reality show pitting five Street Fighter gamers versus five Tekken challengers imploded on account of a disturbingly obscene amount of misogynistic harassment towards female players.

Over the course of the five days, plenty of sexist remarks and behaviors were flung around during the trash-talking, so much so that one female player, Miranda ‘Super Yan’ Pakozdi, essentially gave up trying to even compete properly and ultimately forfeited a match. She would have simply quit the contest and left except that she would have broken her contract in doing so. What’s worse is that even though Pakodzi was visibly upset before she threw her match – and even tweeted as much during the taping – no one, including Capcom, stepped in to address the situation or ask that it be toned down.

What followed was the televised (or more precisely streamed) revelation that many members of the fighting game community believed that sexual harassment was an integral part of the fabric of the community itself. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Yes, for some reason, many people within the fighting game community believe that harassing other players, women especially, in a sexually debasing and disgusting manner – which has absolutely nothing to do with fighting or games or even community for that matter – is perfectly acceptable, nay essential, to being able to play a game where two digital brawlers duke it out competitively.

When Twitch.tv community manager Jared Rae asked if he could get his Street Fighter without sexual harassment, Aris Bakhtanians, the coach of the Tekken team and primary instigator in this whole ordeal, stated, “You can’t. You can’t because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.”  You can find the full exchange here.

Bakhtanians even doubled down on his misogynistic douchebaggery by then stating that to attempt to remove sexual harassment from fighting games was “ethically wrong.” I don’t know about you, but I was under the distinct impression that sexual harassment was ethically wrong in and of itself, so it’s both laughable and shamefully condemnable that this guy thinks it unjust to remove it?

Ethics in action, apparently

There is no doubt that what Aris Bakhtanians did was vile. There is no defending that, and any attempt to do so would only lump you into the same sad category as him. He clearly couldn’t read his own teammate’s (yes, Pakozdi was on his Tekken team) discomfort, nor did he demonstrate any remorse when he was called out on it, instead attempting to justify his actions. And what’s worse is that a lot of people agreed with him and supported his stance. Thankfully a lot of people rightfully found it reprehensible, but the situation exposed an undercurrent of sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in the video game world. It’s always been there, it’s just mostly been brushed off or swept under the rug. Just enter any XBox Live chat and it’ll become perfectly clear how commonplace it is.

Let’s be perfectly frank. If part of the nature of video games – and fighting games in particular – is trash talk, then so be it. Such a thing employs a sense of competition, artificial hostility and can serve to mentally throw a challenger off their game. But it would be wise to remember that with all things there is a line, and in this case that line ends at casual insults or ribbing and starts when hateful invective starts being thrown around. Racial or homophobic slurs and sexual harassment clearly cross the line, and screaming out things like “Rape that bitch!” are never appropriate. Just ask Daniel Tosh.

The bottom line is that this bigoted attitude, whether of casual or malicious intent, needs to stop. Sexual harassment is not a tradition; it’s a travesty. In the workplace it’s a punishable offense. It is not something that should be bandied about so easily or glorified. As this article on thesheaf.com so succinctly states: “To those who subscribe to Bakhtanians’ thoughts on the fighting game community tradition, it’s really this simple: sexual harassment is not a tradition worth conserving.”

Seriously guys, we should all live by actor Wil Wheaton’s creedo: “Don’t be a dick!”

NOT to be confused with the advice given by Wheaton’s Stand By Me character!!!

2. Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project endures harassment

In early June 2012, Anita Sarkeesian, owner of feministfrequency.com launched a Kickstarter project Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Her aim was “to create a series of five videos that look at and deconstruct the most common and the most stereotypical representations of women in games” with a modest goal of raising $6,000 to do so. What she got in return was more than perhaps she bargained for.

Within two hours, her Youtube page was flooded with 100+ comments of harassment and misogyny, all based on a video series she hadn’t even made yet! All told, the final tally for the vile comments was in the thousands. I won’t repeat any of the nasty remarks here (click the previous link if you dare), but suffice it to say that the majority of the comments had to do with labeling Sarkeesian a feminist slut, a call for “tits or GTFO” or just sexist remarks reminding her where a women’s place should be.

Pictured: A woman’s place

What was astonishing was the level of vitriol aimed at this woman. It didn’t just stop at the Youtube comments. Next up was an update to her Wikipedia page, which was “vandalized with misogynist language, pornography and racial slurs” as Sarkeesian puts it. This vandalism included filling her bio with sexist and derogatory language – such as dropping the n-word and referring to her as “it” rather than be gender specific – as well as changing all of the external links to link to porn sites and including a crude drawing of a woman giving a man a blow job labeled “Daily Activities.” She was also treated to hack attempts on her social media accounts, false reports of “terrorism,” “hate speech” or “spam” in an effort to get her accounts banned and countless threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape.

When is this sort of behavior ever considered okay? It’s shameful and disgusting is what it is, and every person involved should be ashamed that they are such hateful, spiteful, ugly trolls. Yet instead they are proud of their behavior, and brag to their internet buddies about every nasty thing they did to this poor girl or anyone else they might have cyber-bullied.

It’s saddening and disconcerting to know that there are that many people out there with such outdated or hateful notions about the female gender.

What was even more ironic was that these attacks were aimed at Sarkeesian for trying to research and educate on a topic that these hateful commenters clearly proved was a problem in the video game community, and therefore in need of further exposure to help correct this problem. It also didn’t hurt that the attention these assholes drew to her project brought some 6,968 supporters out of the woodwork and allowed her to raise $158,922, far surpassing her $6,000 goal, allowing her to not only make the videos but also run her website and work on her series full time. So that kind of backfired on the haters, and karmic-ally so.

As Sarkeesian herself pointed out, she is not the first woman to suffer this kind of harassment, nor will she be the last. She stood up to her haters and didn’t allow them to sway her from her goal, but how many woman do end up backing down, or worse yet, don’t even bother to try, because of this behavior. It’s practically an epidemic across the internet, and like all epidemics it needs to be stopped.

Harassment and threats are meant to intimidate, shame and silence. The tables need to be turned so that the haters are instead shamed and silenced. We cannot just accept that this is how the internet functions, or that “trolls will be trolls.” Their behavior needs to be confronted, their accounts need to be reported when they cross the line; they need to be held accountable for their words and actions. Free speech does not entitle anyone to absolution or a free pass for anything they say. Just as one can be arrested for yelling fire in a crowded theater or fired for saying something that does not line up with a company’s values, there are consequences to speech. Just because you can freely say it doesn’t mean there won’t be an impact somewhere down the line.

So seriously, guys, knock it the fuck off. No one is deserving of that much vitriol.

3. John Vee has way too much time on his hands

A common argument made to dismiss the victims of online harassment is advising them to simply block the perpetrator. Naturally this argument tends to take on a sexist slant when a female victim is involved, as we’ve seen with such wonderfully misogynistic gems like “Big girls know Twitter has a block function.” As though most women are so stupid that they don’t understand how technology works or that you can block or report online abusers.

Well, guess what? Blocking doesn’t always work. Just ask Sue over at DC Women Kicking Ass.

Ever since creating her website focusing on female comic characters, it should come as no surprise at this point that she would be the target of many sexist trolls, but apparently a particular disturbed and hateful individual going by the name John Vee was one of the trolls that had been harassing Sue and many like her, including comic industry professionals, for years. This is a guy whose Twitter bio describes him thus: “I eat loudmouthed feminist morons for breakfast. Afterward I’m full because they are really, really fat.” What a classy guy.

Apparently John Vee decided that being a dick to women online should be a full-time gig, and if you checked out the aforementioned DC Women Kicking Ass website, you’ll see just how (sadly) committed to this self-appointed task he is, using a wide variety of twitter handles (@MisterE2009, @JonVeee, @1stNightshade) and even purchasing his own proxy server in order to continue his vile comments unabated.

How many of you are imagining this guy right now?

At first John Vee’s comments were just mean or derogatory, but over time, the more he was blocked, the more he started threatening violence and sexual assault. He even publicly pondered Sue’s reaction to her kids dying of cancer. It didn’t matter how many times he was banned, he would just keep popping back up and taunting that any attempt to ban him was futile, that he was in control. All told Sue physically counted 70+ emails and IP addresses that this guy used, and those were only the ones she had records of; there were obviously many more. We’re talking full on stalking of these women writers and bloggers, popping up with some despicable comment everywhere their name was mentioned, be it interviews, podcasts or forums. Bleeding Cool has compiled a list of some of his more egregious Twitter posts here. Read ‘em and weep (literally, because it’s really fucking sad).

Fortunately, John Vee’s antics came to the attention of comic book writer Ron Marz, who publicly called him out on Twitter and urged followers to report and block him. Fellow comic writer Mark Millar picked up the ball from there and used his own resources to track down John Vee’s identity (turns out he’s 51 and married) and report him to the police, who have promptly opened an investigation. At the time of this writing, his accounts have been deleted and his online presence has thankfully disappeared from the internet for the time being. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

But the worst part about this was that in the fallout of all of this, there were a great many people who took John Vee’s side, either joining in on the sexist tirade or arguing that his rights to free speech were being violated. This wasn’t just a case of one person stating his opinion. This was cyber-stalking. It was full-on cyber-bullying. I hate to break it to anyone out there, but cyber-bullying is a crime and you can do jail time for it. Just a little food for thought the next time any sexist troll decides to threaten anyone with violence or rape.

What bewilders me about all of this, though, is how disturbingly obsessed John Vee was with bullying women online. I wasn’t really joking when I said he made it a full-time job. You look at the sheer amount of time, effort and number of comments this guy left and it makes you wonder if he had time to do anything else in life, or just how mentally unstable he might be. It would be sad if it weren’t so sickening.

But it then reminds me that many of his ilk are similarly infatuated with spewing hate or working themselves up into a frenzy over something so trivial that they disagree with. This is a case of women getting involved online in things that have long been considered a male-dominated genre, and not only have certain men flat out ignored the age old saying of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but they’ve literally gone miles out of their way and dedicated a large percentage of their free time just to intimidate and belittle women for having an opinion or wanting to be involved. But to what end exactly? Does it really make them feel better to be mean to someone, or does it only serve to transform them further into more spiteful and angry people?

Does shutting down someone else’s opinions on anything other than the merits of a rational argument, such as threatening rape or dismissing someone’s argument because they claim that lacking a Y chromosome prevents someone from having viable opinions, really leave one with a sense of pride or accomplishment? Maybe it’s something I’ll never understand, and for that I am glad.

Because for me, if I don’t agree with someone or if someone’s stance upsets me, I either 1) ignore it if at all possible and go on my merry way or 2) respond with my own thoughts and views counter to that person’s argument or viewpoint. There is no need to make it personal by resorting to personal attacks or threats. If you can’t respond in a logical and civilized manner, you’ve already lost the argument – regardless of whether you succeed in silencing the other person – because in the end you’ve only proven your lack of intelligence and what a wretched human being you are to the community at large. And anyone who agrees with you only proves they are no different from you, so before you start patting yourself on the back, know that they have nothing to be proud of either.

I saw another article (and on a related note, fuck you Richard Dawkins for your wildly irresponsible comments!) where in response to past sexual harassment and chauvinistic lewd behavior, a Defcon attendee, KC, made up and distributed a set of “penalty” cards, in red, yellow or green, that could be handed out to people based on the creepiness level of their behavior, which I thought was absolutely brilliant.

Like in soccer (or football for you non-U.S. folk), a red card obviously means your behavior was wildly inappropriate and a clear violation of another person’s personal boundaries. A yellow card signified mildly inappropriate behavior and could serve as a warning to be more respectful in the future. While I like the idea of a green card for good behavior, as positive reinforcement is always a good thing, I do have to agree with KC, who originally didn’t think the thank you cards were necessary, that “not being an asshole should be its own reward.” It is indeed sad that we’ve had to stoop to this level just to get people to act like civilized human beings.

So while we’re on the subject, let’s just clear this up, because apparently there are people out there that don’t quite get this: A woman is not there just as someone for guys to lust after or have sex with. If she chooses to engage in sexual intimacy with someone, then that’s her choice. But there is the key word: choice. A woman is not an object or a play toy. She is a person like everyone else, capable of dictating the course of her life as she sees fit. That there are some countries that do not allow that, or that consider women inferior beings, is simply tragic, and my hope is that one day those countries come around to the revelation that women are as much human beings as men, with an equal amount to offer the world as any other individual.

I think it’s great that women are getting involved in comics and video games and other forms of geekdom. If anything, we as a culture should be supportive and welcoming of that. If there’s one thing this article reminded me of, it’s that women are very vocal about their interests, and therefore can be an extremely powerful fan base. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that teen heartthrobs like Justin Bieber are splashed all over the media, yet for as many pretty girls as there are on magazine covers, can you honestly say there is a male equivalent? Young girls are the reason Twilight is so popular despite being universally panned and ridiculed by anyone with a set of testicles. Women are the reason why mommy-porn books like 50 Shades of Grey are not only bestsellers but continue to be universally talked about, as well as the reason any book featured on Oprah becomes an instant bestseller. The fairer sex is also the reason why yaoi (boy on boy love) makes up about half of all fanfiction or why sexy male comic book characters like Gambit are continually featured in comics despite most (male, I might add) comic writers explicitly stating that they do not care for the character. Because while men tend to have a habit of wanting to keep their interests exclusive to themselves, females are far more likely to be open and sharing of their interests, as well as fighting to keep their interests represented.

So while one may be quick to dismiss the female fan base of their preferred genre, let this be a warning that to ignore such a powerful force when marketing a product could spell the difference between success or failure. So wouldn’t it be a good thing to have that powerful fanbase on our side rather than against us? They may not always seem to be interested in the kinds of things boys tend to like (read: Twilight), but it’s not difficult to imagine that inclusion into the comic book or video game community could easily direct their focus and interests toward those things.

The times they are a-changing, and the fight for human rights has always been a gradual and progressive change throughout history. From freedom from religious persecution to the abolishment of slavery to desegregation to women’s rights on up to the modern day fight for gay marriage, history has shown that ultimately equality always wins out. So please, no more “slut” attacks, or threats of rape and violence because a woman expresses her opinion, or commanding her to make you a sandwich or telling her where her place is. It’s 2012;  a woman’s place is wherever she chooses to be.

Well, except for here

Bottom line: Don’t be a dick. Just because you have one, that doesn’t mean you have to act like one.

More sexual harassment links, if you’re curious:

http://agaishanlife.com/2012/09/bullying-and-cyberbullying-a-social-commentary-post/

http://www.explodedsoda.com/2012/09/boundaries-and-penis-incident.html?spref=tw

2 thoughts on “Misogyny Has No Place In Geek Culture

  1. purrrentice says:

    First off, I love the cards! What a great idea.

    Being a girl on the internet and in geek world, I experience this a lot. Unfortunately, if you are female (especially if you’re attractive) and you affiliate yourself with any nerd community, you have to develop a tough skin and try to understand the difference between 4Chan-esque humor, trolling and bullying. It’s crazy. Nick will tell you when I was younger, these guys would bring me to tears with bullying in forums and comment threads. A lot of it online has to do with power through ambiguity, but I’ve been bullied in person, too! I’ve learned to pick my battles wisely and never feed the trolls. These boys need to grow-up and learn that even being disrespectful jokingly is still disrespect, especially when it goes too far.

    I want to throw out there that there is one nerd group that I have never had qualms with…the Bronies! Love and tolerate!

    • I have no doubts that you’ve had terrible experiences with nasty people and comments online. It’s terrible that women have to develop such tough skin just to share their interests. I really wish that weren’t the case. Glad you don’t let it stop you from enjoying your interests though.

      I would certainly hope that the Bronies community is accepting of women, given that females are the primary demographic for My Little Pony. It would just be strange otherwise. lol

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