Yet more gender-wars have been erupting on the internet. Yesterday it was about ConTessa an online con intended to step aside from the gender wars and promote the positive contribution of women in gaming and general nerdery. Ostensibly a great idea. Ironically, and somewhat predictably, it immediately became a lightning-rod for the gender wars and this was in no small part due to the policies and self-described nature of the event in its rough-draft guidelines (it explicitly excluded men from aspects of the con EDIT: And still does in its second incarnation).
Today it’s the #1ReasonWhy hashtag on Twitter which is being used to try and describe the trials and tribulations, under-representation etc of women in the gaming (and more general nerdery) industry. Again, predictably, this fairly rapidly descended into man-bashing and this from people who claim to be anti-sexism.
In both cases the laudable and original aim of promoting female contributions and driving for egalitarianism has been undermined by its own proponents. In the case of LadyCon/ConTessa because of its policy that no men are to be involved in the organisational or presentational side of it. In the case of #1ReasonWhy it’s not only the parade of sexism but also the condemnation of anything men might happen to like as being badwrongfun.
This, needless to say, does not foster an atmosphere of tolerance or understanding and appears to those of us sensitised to unfairness and sexism to be deeply hypocritical.
The fact is that the world of the do-gooder is as riddled with presumption, prejudice and privilege as the injustices that they attack. The presumption, in these cases, that men go out of their way to exclude or dismiss women. The idea that the things that men like and want in their games or media are necessarily bad or necessarily exclude women from liking the same things.
Prejudice also exists in other arenas such as erotica, pornography and sex-work. Often from the very people who claim to be out to help. Today that was an Irish organisation’s ‘Man Up’ campaign on Twitter against domestic violence which failed to take into account that men can be victims too and that ‘man up’ means to endure in silence – not helpful.
Previously I’ve seen sex-workers vilified for enjoying their work and have seen them be confused with human trafficking issues. I acknowledge that my more libertine point of view may not fit everyone but I don’t see the harm so long as it’s all consensual and by choice. Same with people who make porn and who suffer a great deal from nasty commentary, lack of understanding and judgement from people who would consider themselves ‘progressive‘.
When you look at an entire industry and broad-brush paint the men in it as sexist, self-interested or conspiring (somehow) against women you are being as sexist as the very few men that would actually fit that description.
Part of the problem here is the presumption that everyone else is ‘like you’ and that things need to be homogenised and changed in order to fit you, or your group’s, desires. Homogeneity isn’t equality and I doubt you’d see people argue that Die Hard needs more time spent on romance or Pride and Prejudice needs more explosions. ‘Games should be for everyone‘ is a frankly facile and stupid thing to say. More ‘There should be games for everyone’ (and there are even if they don’t necessarily meet with massive commercial success).
This homogenisation would mean a loss of diversity, not a gain. Women cannot presume that men react to these games/comics etc the same way that they do or indeed even that other women necessarily react or think the same way they do. It’s much better to argue for addition than for change since change attacks and removes something that someone else loves. That’s going to lose good will and cost opportunities to make points and create change.
People like a lot of things. People like different things. That one person reacts to something negatively or perceives it as negative doesn’t mean that it is.
Some people like curry, some people like cucumber finger sandwiches. Some people like to ogle Lara Craft while they put her through a gymnastics routine (and some of those are women) others don’t.
It undermines your message of acceptance and diversity if you fail to accept and accommodate the needs and desires of others. It invites people to ignore your needs and desires in return.
To take an example from the feminist movement of a breakdown of this sort, some meetings and rallies have had a ‘Women born women’ policy. That is to say no m2f transsexuals permitted on the grounds that they’re ‘not real women’.
Now, this is objectively true at a chromosomal and morphological level AND most likely at an experiential level growing up pre-transition (life experience as a male is going to mean different perceptions and exposure to different experiences than growing up female). However, it seriously undermines any sort of egalitarian principle and plays into the same kind of prejudice that lead to two girls beating up a trans woman in a restaurant toilet. They regarded the situation as being that of a Peeping Tom and again, one can understand that POV even if one disagrees with the outcome.
Creating a women only space, implicitly or explicitly, is not going to foster communication. It’s going to be nothing more than a cheerleading exercise. It’s only going to attract the faithful (and Cockatoo Cichlids) and is going to turn a lot of people off who might have useful insights but just happen to have the wrong gender plumbing – and that’s what we’re trying to fight against, right?
A ‘safe space’, a cheerleader-only space, doesn’t foster communication or solutions to problems. It creates an echo chamber, a positive feedback loop. These kind of closed ‘yes men’ situations are found to lead to extremism. In a very real sense they make compromise and accommodation less likely, not more likely and create levels of alienation from the cause that can cost potential allies.
A big part of the problem with these arguments is that any kind of dissent or disagreement is taken as an attack or an insult when this needn’t be the case. Ironically, the same people who are happy to ‘call people on their shit’ are profoundly unwilling to countenance any protest when they’re ‘called on THEIR shit’.
Robust and worthwhile ideas, theories, concepts are able to withstand criticism and they come out all the stronger for it. This is why Peer Review exists in science and why people work so hard to find problems with scientific theories. If it can resist being proven wrong, it’s a good theory. If people find valid criticisms of the way you’re conducting your social agenda, it might be worth taking a look.
So, is there a solution to all this? I think there is and that’s ‘Make Good Art‘. Add to what is here, don’t take away from it. The problem is not half naked women in games. There’s nothing actually, inherently wrong with catering to majority male sexuality (especially if you audience is predominantly male). The problem is the lack of other options.
Things are changing, additions are being made but this never seems to be enough and is rarely acknowledged. Dragon Age and Mass Effect get as much criticism as praise, despite making massive strides for gender equality in storylines and more grown-up and intricate storylines (if we pretend DA2 didn’t exist anyway).
There are games such as Borderlands and Lollipop Chainsaw that cock a wink at and make fun of the existing stereotypes and turn them on their head (seriously, is anyone in BL2 NOT gay/bi?) but, again, get attacked.
Like I say, we need to add, not take away. Increase our game options and more people are happy, attack someone over something they love and try to take it away and you’ll see their heels get dug in.
For tabletop games the barrier to entry is practically non-existent these days. There’s no reason whatsoever you can’t add to the diversity and scope of RPGs or boardgames but there’s no need to start from a position of ‘man stuff is bad and wrong’. That’s about as mature as ‘girls have kooties’.
For computer games there’s a bit more of a barrier but looking at the #1reasonwhy tag there’s all these women with company start-up experience, design experience, software programming skills and so on so why aren’t they chasing down some venture capital, creating a start-up company or making more indie games? Where’s the Kickstarters for girl games rather than for films bashing boy games?
Can we honestly not accept that different people like different things (sometimes based on gender) and that this is OK and not fundamentally evil? Do we see equal complaint in areas where men are under-represented or sidelined? Where’s the campaign decrying the evil fact that online Bingo is exclusively marketed to women?
Be What You Want to See in the World
If you want to see a more tolerant and inclusive world it falls upon you to be that and most people, taken on good faith, are just out to create things that they love and enjoy themselves. They’re not out to hurt you or even to purposefully exclude you (unless they’re the Westboro Baptist Church). Men want more women to be into games. They want partners who understand their love of Zelda/Xmen/D&D very much.
If you want people to be accepting, you have to be accepting.
If you want gender not to matter, it has to not matter to you.
If you want to see games that emphasise X over Y or Z then you need to make it happen.
A lot of the time these kinds of debates get nowhere because each side is looking for something to justify ignoring the other side. Even legitimate questions or points are dismissed. In the arena of the gender wars Derailing for Dummies is a particular culprit, as is Feminism 101 and the horrendously sexist term ‘Mansplaining’. Armed camps is no way to proceed and like accusations of emotional argument, PMS or bitchiness these things are the WMD of discussion.
As such I propose an open invitation to a calm and open blog debate where no question or dissent is considered stupid or out of bounds and such dismissals are disallowed. One on one – to avoid dogpiling – and with a limit of one post per day or even week.
Without communication there can be no progress and as someone who is staunchly egalitarian and has become increasingly turned off to women’s complaints and concerns by the very people supposedly promoting them, the fact that we seem unable to have that communication pains me.
Topics to be covered might include:
- Why the demographical bias is as it is.
- What can usefully be done to change this.
- Fostering productive communication.
- Intergender Misunderstandings
- Examples of good practice.
Just off the top of my head. My debate partner could choose several of their own and I’m sure any debate would throw up new items.
I have tried to keep this post as calm and explanatory as possible, as open as possible. Some will no doubt take it as yet another opportunity to misinterpret, misunderstand and/or give me a good kicking but I present it in good faith.