Men who want write about sexism in video games should really do their research first. Everyone should, really, but this is the second time a male Edge columnist has offered some deeply unhelpful–at best–advice about combating sexism in the video game community.
This time, it’s Alex Wiltshire, writing that women need to “change their attitudes” and be more open about their identity in order for the bullying to stop. The first half of the article is quite good, summarizing two recent blog posts by Mark Sorrell and Margaret Robertson that address sexism in the video game community in different ways. The Sorrell piece focuses on addressing men and how men can help change sexist video game culture; it’s a great example of an ally being an ally. Robertson’s piece talks about her personal experience of writing while female, going over the self-censorship she went through out of fear of drawing abuse due to her gender, and why she isn’t going to do that any more. The two pieces are working in concert, representing two different sides of the issue, encouraging women and men to speak out and support each other. They make a great pair.
With the Edge column, the problem starts when Wiltshire dismisses the work of male allies, saying, “A right-minded blog post that will mostly be read by men who already deplore the way women are treated online surely can’t make major in-roads into the communities its message needs to be accepted.” This is utterly wrong. Male allies speaking up not only works, it’s effective and necessary. The Sorrell piece and the Robertson post work together far better than each does alone: in order to combat sexism, everyone needs to take part.
That leads me to my larger problem with the article, which is that it places the burden of change on women speaking out and opening themselves up for abuse. Wiltshire writes, “Faced with an online world of women who disguise themselves and never talk back, dumb male keyboard warriors are never challenged by their quarries and have no reason to stop their bullying behaviour.” In this sentence, he demonstrates that he didn’t quite understand the point of Robertson’s piece: speaking out escalates sexist abuse, which is why it was so brave of Robertson to write what she did.
No one can deny that women speaking out inspires others to do so as well. It’s a powerful thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to tell women to risk their own safety and well-being–which, remember, is why Robertson and other women hide their identity online in the first place–in order to change male behavior. Cheerleading and encouraging people to speak out is necessary and invigorating, but this is not it. This is condescension and an abdication of responsibility. Men need to do their part in fighting sexism (and, no, their part is not telling women what to do!).
In the last paragraph, Wiltshire writes, “maybe it’s time for women, as Francis Urquhart might say, to put a bit of stick about.” This is what I mean about doing research first. “Maybe it’s time”? Where have you been? This year has seen an unprecedented amount of widespread discussion about sexism in the video game community. Check out number three in this list of “Top 5 Controversies of 2011″ on Gamasutra. Women and allies are speaking out more than ever. By all means, join in, do your part, speak out. (And, credit where credit is due, it looks like you are doing so in the comments on the article, where some people are having trouble with the basic idea of fighting sexism on the internet in the first place.) But please don’t put the burden on women to risk their own well-being in order to better some men.