Gamer culture is rich with bright, intelligent, creative, energetic, passionate people. We love our games, love to analyze them, make them, mod them, love to praise them and love creating the forums, wikis, guilds and leagues around them. It is, without a doubt, a culture we want to continue to cultivate, a culture with value and potential. But the amount of bigotry, especially the casual homophobia and hyper-masculinity in the gaming community is a threat to this culture I love. Every time a gamer says “that’s gay”, every time guys get unusually excited over voice chat when they hear a woman, every time we call a woman a stupid bitch, cunt or fake gamer, the community dies a little. If we want to preserve gamer culture, we’ve got to do something about this. We have to change. All of us.
Since the greater part of the problem isn’t these vicious, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, able-ist attacks committed by a hateful few, I want to focus on those of us who are paralyzed by the displays of violence, or those of us fence-sitting, waiting for incidents to blow over, waving them off as insignificant, passively observing, watching as the community is made less. It’s not hard to see that something is wrong with this, but it’s very hard to know what to do, much easier to grow apathetic. Hearing about these violent events can get annoying, if only because they sometimes remind us of our feelings of powerlessness. But we’re far from powerless. To act though, we have to understand the problems. And unfortunately, not enough of us do or even want to. We have tons of excuses to continue with our own points of view, to stay within the confines of our warm and fuzzy ideas, despite any evidence that’s contrary to them – even if we know there’s evidence contrary to them. We’ve got to grow up.
If we really love this community, we’ve got to be willing to change.
For relevance, let’s talk about recent events, though they’re far from the only problems threatening our beloved culture. The hatefulness and bigotry of those who violently attack people for having strong opinions is nuts. The fight to prove who does or doesn’t belong in gaming is positively destroying the culture, preventing progressive game development and killing our communities. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this destruction. Attackers commonly claim to be male in identity and commonly defend their violent acts. Keep in mind violence is much more than physical. Attacking people through insults and threats is possibly more harmful than outright slapping them in the face. While this behavior by men is definitely a by-product of the wider culture, that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with it within the gamer community. I’d argue that’s where most of us need to deal with it, because it’s the community we live in the most. This aggressive behavior is just a symptom of the way those men were taught to perform masculinity, and since group behavior is magnified the larger the group, it rapidly becomes heinous and out of control.
One can never be enough man that one can stop proving their masculinity. Unlike with women gaining the status of woman, manhood is something men believe we can lose. It’s not something we are, it’s something we do. And because we don’t focus on who we actually are, because we’re so hell bent on demonstrating what a man is, the blind and mindless anger and hatred is a really easy thing for us to reach for. It’s so bad men don’t even blame themselves for their bad acts (the nexus of victim blaming). Masculinity is literally a relentless, daily effort that men put into a performance:
Women are only tangentially necessary to prove male heterosexuality, a checkbox on the list of Masculinity. The less like people they are, the better because it’s not about demonstrating our love of women, but our solidarity with other men. Remember: men don’t get points with other men by being loving. We get the respect of other men by being emotionless, hard, tough, and, most of all, heterosexual. Sexualization of women in games is primarily about homosociality among men. Masculinity is a performance men do for other men and in which women are only a prop.
This brings us to the concept of the Man Box. The Man Box, a concept that sociologists and experts on gender studies have coined to describe the construction of masculinity, is at the root of our community problems because many of those lashing out right now are of the mind that gaming is a man’s domain. One of my readers linked me a really great article in the comments of a recent post. The article is by Charlie Glickman and he does a nice job of explaining, in a really light and clear way, the complexities of the Man Box. I highly recommend reading it for anyone more interested in exploring what it is and what it means for men in our culture. But how does this relate to the behavior we see amongst men in the gaming community?
The rabid defenses of sexualization of women, the vitriolic response to Tropes vs. Women, the hatefulness being thrown at Zoe Quinn for her sexual habits (if it were about journalistic integrity, there would have been more attacks on the journalist), are all performances. To be inside the box is to vehemently deny the validity of anything outside of it. This is partly why the issue of sexism in the gaming community is usually so black and white. Masculinity is an either/or proposition. I see this kind of thinking all the time with men. We see this extremism everytime someone suggests sexualization of female characters is out of control (“but censorship is wrong!” and it’s ilk). You’re in or you’re out with these guys.
Here’s an illustration of the box, though if it were a physical thing, it’d be more like a mask or a body suit. It’s something we wear, not something we are.
Charlie explained that men have to be all of these things to be masculine, and while I’m willing to yield to his expertise, I must say this isn’t how it seems. Men try to be all of these things, that’s very true. But you only need to be as many of these things as possible and make sure that you’re not anything outside the box – that’s the trick. Whatever we lack (such as height), we just over compensate with what we have. Masculinity is more like a critical mass of manliness. Either you’re a real man or you’re not, and there’s no in between.
One of the studies Charlie mentioned asked men to braid hair or rope. As a reward for completing the task they could chose either a puzzle or to punch a punching bag. The men who braided hair always chose the punching bag, and they always tried to punch harder. The men who braided rope didn’t try to punch so hard. This is that over compensation.
Another example he gave was that men acting in groups are far more aggressive than they would be individually, and he mentioned cat-calling is one activity where we see this. The more men doing the calling, the more likely the situation is to escalate out of control. This he attributed to one-up manship. Each man in the group is striving to prove that they’re more inside the box than the other men, and none of them wants to be the guy in the group who’s at the bottom of this competition. I think most men can relate to this experience.
This competitiveness against other men is equal parts performing masculinity and homophobia. Fear of not being seen as a man is also a fear of being seen as gay. All the taunting using fag, homo, gay, etc reveals that fear. We’ve all probably seen men flare up at the mere suggestion that they might like men or act like a woman. Some of us have seen the reaction of men who, after learning that woman was a “man”, wanted to confront that person about being “tricked” – as if his attraction to that woman were based on her chromosome arrangement. This is the flimsy, fragile nature of our model of masculinity.
A strange thing happens to us psychologically because of this mask, this performance. We know there’s a difference between the demands of masculinity and who we are, and I think this is why men are less likely to take responsibility for their own terrible acts. We’re more likely to deny that responsibility and to blame external factors for our behavior. The attacks on Anita Sarkeesian are seen by certain groups of men as her own fault. She provoked this response, she’s responsible for what’s happening. We see this in cases of rape, assaults on transgendered people and other cases where men get violent. It’s always provoked. In a sense, it’s a way of looking at our behavior and saying “I wouldn’t do something like that”, but the man we wear would do that and then some. If men in our community want this hostile behavior to stop, we must re-examine why believe that being provoked is sufficient grounds for it.
A study in the previous article made me consider this connection between masculinity and the fierce denials of responsibility that are so common. Bigots and other hateful mobs who condone this toxic behavior see people like me as the problem, me as someone who provokes the demons out of them. They don’t believe their behavior is a problem. Their behavior, in their eyes, is perfectly sane, normal, and righteous. It’s a proper response to people who are demanding a better community.
There’s no nuance to masculinity. Recognizing the root causes of this behavior is kinda important if we want to be able to do something about it. We can’t be reactionary, waiting to respond only after the fact. We have to accept that these people are among us all the time and all they need is some event to provoke them. So why not think about why we see this behavior and talk about how we can foster better models of masculinity? This is a problem only mean can solve, because we are the problem.
Let’s whip out the ole spellbook on this one.
Of particular relevance to recent events are Counterspell, Awareness, and Reinforcement. Show your support to people being targeted. There’s always the risk that those same people may retaliate on you, but how is that different than any other day? Those of us demanding a better community have to expect a certain amount of flack for standing up. All the same, know your own limits and give self-care as much priority as taking a stand. Only you know where that line lies and only you, in any given moment, can determine if it’s the best time and place to put yourself at risk.
I’ve been asked to help build an activist group for gamers. The basic idea is that gamers need a place to turn to, a refuge against the hate. We also desperately need a gamer friendly place to get useful information about social issues and pool our contributions to social justice. More on that another time, but if you’re interested in organizing and doing more for this community let me know.
Advice for men in particular:
- Listen. This is the single most important thing for you to do in the sexism debate. Yes we have feelings. Yes we have things we want to say. But we have to first understand and we can’t do that if we’re too eager to speak.
- Follow. Read up the issues to give yourself greater context. It’s really not enough to pay attention to the singular incident. The more you know about the wider issue, the better you can respond to any specific one. Follow people who usually have that information or who can help you access it.
- Care. Give a damn. Never let the fact that REAL people’s lives are literally being devastated by this hateful behavior, whether you believe it or not. Let compassion be your first response to people who feel attacked.