This blog post isn’t really about literature. Just so you know.
I’ve been wanting to write this post and weigh in on this issue for a long time, but it was hard to really find the words. I was coming from a place of pure anger and rage and, while I am still infuriated (fury is kind of my bread and butter these days), I needed to find the time to sit down and write this clearly.
I haven’t managed to keep up fairly regularly with this blog so this may come as a surprise to some readers, but just let me establish some ground rules: prejudice is not okay. Racism is not okay. Religious intolerance is not okay. Homophobia is not okay. All of these things are tremendously fucking awful and the fact that they still exist is mind-boggling and indicative of some great poison at work.
But for a while there, it really looked like we had the sexism thing mostly under control. There was still obviously a lot to be done but we were moving forward. But then the internet came along and suddenly there are a whole bunch of misogynists coming out of the woodwork, and it’s like we’ve barely accomplished anything at all.
Just to anticipate what you might be about to declare: I am terribly naïve. I thought the few remaining racists in Canadian and US society were crackpots and that eventually that problem would take care of itself. I thought that, sure, there were some misogynists, but they were crazy, and of no harm to anyone as long as they were ostracized by society, as they ought to be.
I know now that there are so many people who still live a life fueled by hate—so many people it makes me breathless to think about it. I know now that I was the crazy one. But really? I’m the crazy one? How the fuck does that work?
There have been a lot of bloggers who have thrown their hand into this and I’m going to say right now that there’s nothing I can say that they haven’t said better. Helen Lewis put my exact thoughts quite simply and elegantly, and Anita Sarkeesian is amazingly effective at expressing herself in as level-headed a way as possible. I am completely incapable of saying anything without blood and bile building up in every word, so there’s no way I could actually add something new to this conversation.
But it doesn’t matter, because it has to be said. And that’s what this blog post is about.
Just to back-track a little and give people some background information. If you’re not aware, misogyny has made a comeback. In the past couple of years there has been a huge surge—mostly on the internet, but sometimes in real life, as well—of men (and women!) hating on women, for no reason other than that, well, they’re women.
A few months ago Capcom held a Street Fighter gaming tournament wherein a team leader frequently attacked a female player with lewd and sexual comments. When asked about his behaviour, he defended it as “part of the community.” That’s right, folks—this guy said that sexual harassment was part of the community. It was almost like he was implying that it was an enriching part of tournament culture? Or something? But don’t take my word for it—please feel free to read up on it here.
And believe it or not the guy has defenders. There are actually people who agree with him that sexual harassment is a good thing. Are we even living in the same universe? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Following that (and perhaps even in response to it), Anita Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter to fund a web documentary series looking into the roles of women in video games. Anita is perhaps known to you already for being an excellent spokesperson for the Bechdel test and so, while I found her pitch video to be surprisingly impartial, you can see how a lot of misogynists would already be dead-set against her. After all, Anita is everything they hate: educated, well-spoken, authoritative … and female.
I won’t go into this in too much detail—you can read all the sordid details on her Kickstarter page, and a simple Google search will be … unfortunately revealing. But suffice it to say that Anita was attacked viciously, pointlessly, and without remorse. She was issued death threats, rape threats, torture threats—because she wants to make a fucking video series about video games.
Recently feminist writer Steph Guthrie posted her own blog post where she takes one of Anita’s critics to task and she, too, was met with similar treatment—forcing her to go so far as to file a report with the police.
And it’s not just the video game industry. This blog post was brought to my attention this morning, and it has nothing to do with video games.
I get that comedians are often an incendiary crew. We laugh because we find something shocking, and it can often be tricky to find the stuff that shocks in the right way. But if Tosh’s set had been something along the lines of “Lynching is always funny. Isn’t lynching funny? Don’t you think lynching is hilarious?” and a black man had shouted from the audience “Um, no it isn’t”—how do you think Tosh would have responded? “Wouldn’t it be funny if five white guys just got up and lynched him right now? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?” I don’t fucking think so. Why? Because that’s disgusting.
So why the shit is this kind of behaviour towards women suddenly allowed? Why is this Tosh guy trying to suggest that it should be? And why the fuck would an audience give him permission to make it so?
It’s not the fact that death threats are issued or that misogynists exist that make this horrifying. There will always be trolls spouting insults in order to provoke a reaction, and there will always be crazy people who will latch onto any person of notoriety. What’s shocking about this is the sheer volume of threats these women receive.
And there are some people who argue that this is normal; that this is how everyone is treated. It’s not. When a man plays a competitive gaming tournament he’s going to encounter a lot of things—and a lot of them will be about his rape (a product of homophobia in the competitive gaming ‘community’, which is also a major problem). But a man playing a gaming tournament is not asked to undress. He’s not asked whether his penis tastes good, or whether it can be touched. Lewd talk is used in order to make him feel embarrassed and demeaned in front of his peers, yes, but he’s not whittled down to being nothing more than a collection of constituent parts. He’s not equated to a fleshlight.
If a man issues his opinion on Youtube or a blog or Twitter, he can expect trolls and naysayers. He can expect people to insult his integrity and his morals, and do so in the crudest way possible. But he doesn’t expect to get rape threats for his opinions, or told that his opinions are invalid simply because of his gender. No one says “What the fuck do you know, anyway? You’re a man. Get back in the garage where you belong.”
So what? I’ve basically just clarified that men and women will BOTH be insulted—why are women complaining?
Because it’s the nature of the insults. Exponential volume aside, the nature of insults against men is to demean them, questioning their value as a person. The nature of insults against women is to imply that they are not people. That they are objects to be possessed, dismantled, or thrown away—and thus their opinion is invalid. And this is symptomatic of a larger issue: that women aren’t as respected and acknowledged as men. Some people—some police officers!—still blame the victim’s behaviour for triggering a rape, despite all evidence to the contrary. Some of the men attacking women like Anita and Steph say that it is, in fact, men who are oppressed, and that they are simply retaliating. What the fuck.
Where You (And I) Fit In
This isn’t okay. This can’t happen. It’s important that this doesn’t happen to anyone—for their sexuality, religion, race, or gender. I didn’t write this blog post because I had anything new to say on the matter; I wrote it because I need to add my voice to the outrage. To deny someone the freedom to express themselves—to prevent them from doing so with fear and intolerance—is absolutely unacceptable. The fact that we even have to have this discussion is mind-blowing, but it’s happening, and here we are.
It doesn’t matter who you are. You can’t be “on the fence” about an issue like this. If you think it’s wrong, then you have to stand up and let yourself be heard. I was once naïve because I thought most people were good and the people who weren’t were a grotesque minority. Everyday someone strives to prove me wrong.
Don’t let them. Stand against intolerance. Be vocal. I don’t know what the end result will be—but you are not allowed to do nothing. Your silence is not a virtue.