Working Together Against Sexism

The EDGE Magazine logo, the word EDGE in a bold black font.

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.

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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51 Responses to Working Together Against Sexism

  1. xenphi says:

    I tend to agree with Wiltshire on the impact of blog posts. It’s a microcosm of the general state of dialogue on the internet: those with differing opinions and lack of tolerance for differing ones tend to ignore the article or read only the headline (heck, most people tend to only read the headline). Then they’ll vociferously and angrily make their opinion known. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen people change their mind based on writing on the internet. Even though many articles that confront sexism mean well and make excellent points, the rhetoric in some is confrontational, which tends to invoke a defensive response. Leigh Alexander’s last piece in Kotaku comes to my mind. As much as I agreed with the article, the tone, especially in the beginning, made me feel defensive. And if it made me feel defensive, there’s an incredibly small chance someone who doesn’t care or is hostile to the article will even read past the headline or introduction only to vent in the comments.

    • Alex says:

      That’s simply incorrect. First of all, blogging isn’t as insular as you make it out to be–remember, MANY more people read your average blog post than comment on it. Secondly, not everyone reacts the same way to things that you do–you may have been put on the defensive by Alexander’s post (which was her aim, btw), but her attitude may have intrigued others; there’s no one way to reach people. Thirdly, I keep this pandagon comment bookmarked because, in my years of experience doing the whole feminist game blogging thing, it is spot-freaking-on about how activism on the internet works:

      Your argument against, well, argument, seems to assume that an argument has to move a person to 100% persuasion, and if it doesn’t then it isn’t worth bothering.

      Which is bullshit. No, your argument is never going to move anyone from zero to 100%. But you know what, it’s absolutely completely possible to move them from zero to 1%, or from 45 to 50%. And yes it’s entirely likely that their response to that will be shouting a whole lot and saying you’re wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and never, ever openly admitting that you might have had a point. And then you run into them again and MYSTERIOUSLY they have views that are a bit closer to yours.

      And yes there are people who you’re never ever gonna move even 1%, because A. they’re dumb or B. you’re the one who’s wrong. But, you know… oh well!

      But yeah we know people do change and we know it doesn’t happen by magic – or at least I do, CAUSE I’M AN ATHEIST, LOL – so yeah, just because it’s messy and chaotic and not especially rewarding doesn’t mean you just throw your hands up in the air and go home. Or at least it doesn’t mean that to me, cause I kind of think atheism means admitting that things are just messy and incomprehensible and plain-ass hard, and you just like, deal with them anyway.

      The context is atheist activism, but it is the exact same for feminist activism. Someone may disagree vehemently with a post, they may even troll a bit, but you’ve planted the seed. If they keep seeing the greater feminist argument, as it were, from all kinds of different people and places, it’s bound to sink in eventually. I have literally seen this happen with people I’ve previously had Internet Fights with.

      And even if what you and Wiltshire were correct, Wiltshire only applies that logic to posts written by men. Why wouldn’t it be the same for posts written by women?

      • xenphi says:

        I fully agree that consistent activism does cause change. The reaction I have (which is probably my temperament) when I read “No, your argument is never going to move anyone from zero to 100%.” is to ask “why not?” and proceed to try. Not writing unless it will do so is bullshit, but trying to do so shouldn’t be out of the question, either.

        On the rare occasions that an argument has moved someone from 0 to 100%, I really want to know precisely how that works, not just in general terms, but the language structure, the psychological effects that specific words invoke, the reader’s background, the specific context, and everything else in precise detail that contributed to someone internalizing part of a worldview that didn’t exist before. If a writer can hone their craft and consistently write so that a wider audience intellectually empathises with an point of view they never had, there’s a better chance of causing beneficial change through writing.

        I think I come at activist writing more from the aspect of an individual writer’s impact because there have been articles that made me change my point of view from 0 to 100% and writing towards that kind of response, even if it won’t happen, can make an argument more effective.

        • Alex says:

          Okay, sure, but the thing is, there isn’t one magic bullet that will work on everyone. Different writing styles, arguments, tactics work on different people at different times. We need all strategies, which, to bring it back on topic, includes male allies speaking up against sexism in blog posts. I am talking overall strategy here, not on the individual level.

        • Sunflower says:

          I don’t fully agree with you, Xenphi. To me it sounds like you’re saying that our style of communication should be shaped mostly by the likelihood of people agreeing with it and being changed by it, and that puts an impossible responsibility on everyone. We can’t control how other people will react to anything we do, and although considering your audience is important, to be tied to a particular result will probably dilute the message and stifle the speaker.

          It doesn’t take special coddling to get someone to change their mind if their desire is to learn more about how not to oppress people or be a jerk. After the Penny Arcade Dickwolves stuff went down, on Shakesville Melissa posted that she had gotten private emails from people who had come there to troll from 4-chan and who had changed their minds and saw what she was saying was true. And her writing did not cater to anyone. It was incisive, intelligent, and righteously angry. Lots of people comment every day on feminist blogs about how they used to be ignorant and sexist and how they have grown and learned. I used to be an ass about so many things and probably still am, but a good argument is a good argument if written from the heart. People who expect to be treated like a hero for displaying basic decency are not going to be great allies anyway.

          Now, if you’re asking writers to take responsibility for their readers’ feelings, that’s also impossible, because nobody is responsible for the feelings of others. We can be considerate and caring, but ultimately everyone has to own their emotions and reactions.

          • xenphi says:

            This is gonna be a little meta, but your interpretation of my post highlights what I was trying to communicate. I didn’t mean to suggest that the audience should shape an article’s point of view, writers should take responsibility for their audience’s reaction or that audiences need to be coddled to change their minds. I believe that we actually can control, to a certain extent, an audience’s reaction to an argument through writing. This doesn’t imply coddling the audience, either.

            I admire Martin Luther King Jr.’s writing and speeches because he didn’t simply say that racism is wrong, but used American and Christian values like freedom, equality, and nonviolence that a majority his audience also held in high esteem as part of his argument. How can a southern Christian American reconcile racism with those highly-esteemed values?

            Using an audience’s common values and experiences is only one technique that can increase the strength of an argument and it draws upon the audience to support itself. Of course, techniques like these have been used by people like Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler to gain power, but I think that the fight against sexism, homophobia and prejudice in general can benefit from using the audience to make an argument stronger.

            • circadianwolf says:

              “Of course, techniques like these have been used by people like Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler to gain power,”

              hahahahahahahahahahaha

            • xenphi says:

              I don’t understand why that statement seems funny. The utter destruction of Germany after WWI caused much resentment among the German population, which Hitler drew upon to gain power. Similarly, Karl Marx used the feelings of the disenfranchised (mostly laborers) in capitalist systems as part of his arguments for communism. Rhetoric is and has always been a tool.

            • Sunflower says:

              “I believe that we actually can control, to a certain extent, an audience’s reaction to an argument through writing.”

              Ok, then we can just agree to disagree.

              I don’t think the best writers and speakers approach their craft quite the way you describe. I think it’s true that taking common values into account is helpful, but that’s done in the service of communicating more clearly and deeply, not trying to get a certain reaction. I am not sure if I’m putting this well, but it’s the difference between seeming and being.

              It was put well in the xkcd comic “Marie Curie”: “You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.” I think that applies to activism too–changing people’s minds isn’t the only goal, but rather the byproduct of a truthful, hard-hitting, well-crafted piece.

    • feministgamer says:

      Actually, hearing an opinion of someone you respect is powerfully persuasive. Just because people don’t come out and say that a blogpost has changed their mind (they likely won’t, because that’s embarrassing to realize you were wrong), it definitely plants a seed of knowledge and a new perspective they’re forced to deal with. Just coming onto places like the Border House has significantly changed my POV on things when someone explains why something isn’t right, in their eyes. I’m basically proof blogposts do change people’s minds, but I’ve never posted this before – until now. There’s either no need because the conversation is long dead, or it’s something you were supposed to have believed in in the first place (so don’t say you ever didn’t!)

  2. Apologies, xenphi, but so fucking what?

    To be honest, it seems to me this isn’t about teaching the trolls, though if they decide to listen that would be great. Rather, it’s about showing newcomers that there’s an alternative, that not everyone is going to act like the trolls or acquiesce to that behavior. That there is a fight, and it’s okay to fight back.

    The argument that this is an echo chamber of smart people talking to themselves needs to die. Other people are paying attention. The fact that they’re on the defensive means _they’re on the defensive_. They are having to try to justify themselves. And every time they do, it becomes obvious to a few more people how absurd and emptily horrible they are. How is that a bad thing?

    • xenphi says:

      My concern is what a writer’s intent is when writing an article and whether the effects on the audience was the aim of the writer. A writer’s perceived effect on the audience of an article may not be the effect that actually takes place. Part of this comes from the fact that those who we think as sexist, racist, etc, don’t think of themselves as horrible people. The larger extrapolation of this is that those who do not share our views don’t think like we do, so if the aim of activist writing is to create beneficial change, then writing to present our point of view so a wide audience can understand and intellectually empathize with them is the goal.

  3. Sif says:

    “As much as I agreed with the article, the tone, especially in the beginning, made me feel defensive.”

    Is that the one where she said if the person reading the article was just here to troll or bash people, they should go back to watching a trailer with a release dates slowly fading into view? I LOVED that one – if that’s how she writers when she’s angry, then bring on the rage because we could use some more sharp-tongued critics with good points to make rather than the more aimless trolls blogs trying to be edgy or funny attract.

    Not that writing that tries to court people into open dialogue doesn’t have its place, but I’m very fond of that column.

    Thanks for the article Alex. This article really does smack of little research done on the topic at hand. I think Wiltshire means well – I see him battling some truly stupid comments in that article’s comments section – so I hope he’s just speaking from a position of ignorance on how constantly wearing, degrading and disheartening it is to be in the crosshairs if you stand up. I’d love for him to read your article and respond here.

  4. depizan says:

    Pretending for a moment that there’s nothing wrong with that advice (and there’s quite a lot wrong with it), how does Wiltshire think people are going to implement it? Are women supposed to announce themselves as such the moment they team with someone on WoW? Should women include their gender in their XBox ID so everyone knows? Post pictures of themselves? None of that could go horribly wrong. And I fail to see how any of those ideas are going to change sexist asshattery.

    • Alex says:

      I guess he thinks people realizing Women Are Everywhere will make harassers give up and/or see the light? But women being the majority hasn’t stopped misogynists offline as of yet. In reality, we need a critical mass of anti-sexism from all people, not simply women being present, even if that does help.

      • depizan says:

        He doesn’t seem to understand what women can face in those situations, though. I know I’ve read on here (and other sites) about the horrible and downright frightening harassment and threats that women bloggers can, and far too often do, face. Also women working in “male” fields, like, say, game design. Hell, he mentions the fat, ugly, or slutty site, but doesn’t seem to have processed it.

        That’s not to say that women being a more obvious presence might not change things a bit, but, well, like you say, sexism hasn’t magically vanished off line, either. It’s really all about the anti-sexism (and anti- other discrimination, too), and that can come from anyone.

    • Jawnita says:

      Are women supposed to announce themselves as such the moment they team with someone on WoW? Should women include their gender in their XBox ID so everyone knows? Post pictures of themselves?

      I honestly can’t imagine that ending in anything other than the women being attacked for “flaunting their gender.”

      • depizan says:

        I’d say that’s about the nicest possible outcome. Followed by demands for pictures as proof. Followed by the kind of things that end up on fat, ugly, or slutty.

        Oh wait, being accused of wanting handouts would be in there somewhere.

        Yeah, it’s a terrible, terrible idea.

      • Sunflower says:

        In WoW, I openly identified as female and spoke on Vent and corrected people when they referred to me as “he”. I did get some crap for it. I had people accuse me of cybering with my teammates in order to get heals, of “seducing” people into joining my guild, and of being fat. So yeah, basically two out of three. It was only two or three people who did that, and for the most part people were pretty cool with it, or at least to my face. But people who are jerks can and will use gender-based insults when they can because it plugs into the existing power structure very well, and they’re really looking for a way to shut you up.

        • depizan says:

          There are some very nice guilds out there. And, in truth, at least some of my friends are open about being women on WoW, but, like you, they’ve taken some crap for it. I’d say its not something to do unless you’re prepared for said crap. And plenty of people game to get away from crap. I really don’t like the idea of pressuring people to out themselves (as women, as gay, as members of any category that gets discriminated against on line or otherwise), as if that will solve everything.

          (Of course, that idea also puts people like me in a weird position. I’m genderqueer. I’d rather not stop gaming to try and explain that.)

          • Sunflower says:

            I had an inkling that I would get some crap but wasn’t sure how much. However, I was lucky because I had a few irl friends playing with me that I knew would likely support me so I thought that me being very openly and visibly female would be a little bit helpful to other women playing and maybe make it easier for them knowing they weren’t alone.

        • Eraziel says:

          mhm, maybe that’s something server- or region dependant. I’ve never had any problem when people got to know my gender. Most groups I get into have at least one other woman in it so there’s no rarity bonus/malus and no fighting over my attention. But germany is pretty female-friendly in that terms. Since we have female endings for many words you’ll know pretty soon if someone’s female or not and I try to correct people who call me a guy or boy by default.
          I also try to use the gendered pronoun that correlates with the played character.

          But yeah, we need that big anti-sexism melting pot. We need a majority of both men and women being openly against sexism.
          Maybe it is more easy here because we discuss gendered role models and sexism/racism in school as soon as we get into puberty…

          • Tim says:

            “But germany is pretty female-friendly in that terms.”

            It is? I am… mildly suprised by that, actually.

          • Sunflower says:

            You discuss gender issues in school as part of mandatory education? That’s really amazing, I didn’t have that in my school and as far as I know, it’s not something we do in the US in mainstream schools. I think if we tried to implement that here, a bunch of people would get angry over a “feminazi agenda”. Man, I hate that word so much, it fills me with rage!

            • Sunflower says:

              I wish I could go back and edit to add: Maybe this is why Venetica did so well in Germany. I read a lot of reviews about it here in the US that were really condescending, nit-picking, and dismissive, and these criticism weren’t consistent– for example, they would criticize Venetica’s combat and never talk about other combat systems that were much more simplistic. They would say Venetica’s story is hackneyed, and yet never address the much more cliched stories of other RPGs. The worst one was on Destructoid where the reviewer starts out by saying “Back when I wrote for one of those girl gamer sites (yes, even I have a dark past)…”

              I can’t help but think there’s something behind the negative reviews that really doesn’t have to do with the actual gameplay or the story. But this must be off topic. I wish I had my own blog and could review this game properly!!!

            • Laurentius says:

              Venetica is game made by Deck13 German video game company so it’s no wonder it fared well there. Venetica recpetion in US is of course no suprising at all, games that don’t pander to US-audience (unlike hur-hur Bioware) recieve bad reviews or have bad sales there or most often both.

            • Eraziel says:

              well, it depends on your teacher, but as far as I know, we discuss roles, role-models and gender in german, ethics/religion and politics. At least I did that back in my school-days. But I guess that’s Europe… we also have no issues discussing the act of having sex in 6th-8th grade biology and handing out condoms to pupils to let them practise the correct application on dummys as soon as most of them enter puberty.

              It is not that sexism doesn’t exist at all here… it is just more subtle in terms of female representation in top positions and payment. Or that fathers still lack some rights when it comes to their children. We also lack the importance of stressing out the idea of “privilege”
              But as we got a female chancellor and some prominent gay ministers who all support gay marriage despite some being in the conservative party that might hopefully change.

              Speaking of political parties… most of them proclaim strong equalist-agendas and some even go as far as trying to abandon the concept of “gender” as binary construct at all (hello my little pirates).

              Of course, the situation is pretty good in diversified urban areas. i don’t know how living in more secluded bavarian villages feels like. But I’ve never been insulted or threatened or stalked because I was female.

              I have been insulted once in teamspeak by a douche who wanted the same Item as I and lost the roll. He first thought I was a man so he called me “gay cocksucker” and corrected that to “you seem to need more dick, bitch” as soon as he realized I was female. The group broke up at that part and most other members took my side and put him on ignore. I raged over it, but looking back the others had been pretty supportive.

            • Sunflower says:

              Laurentius- I knew Venetica was German :) It sounds like you’re saying any German game would do well in Germany, though? I was thinking that it showed something good, that a game with a strong female lead character did well there, and something not so good about the US, that reviewers almost went out of their way to criticize it. (I’m not talking about the bugs/glitches, those seemed to be justified criticisms, because some people had a really hard time playing it on consoles.)

              Eraziel: I don’t remember discussing gender very much in school at all and our sex education was pitiful, and that was in the Northern US. I do remember giving a report on how Western-focused our history was and how I wish we could learn about other continents/cultures, and being told by everyone in the class that I should go look it up in the library if I cared about it so much, and that anyway, only the Western countries ever did anything important. Yes, they said that, and the teacher just nodded and didn’t say a word. /facepalm

  5. Maverynthia says:

    Telling women to fight for themselves is basically dismissing women outright because we all know the internet at large dismisses what women have to say even on the whole.

    Either that or he’s trying to say “Too much work, do it yourself.”

    Still it’s those little nuggets that dudebros latch onto to get away from feeling that they should try and mitigate a situation by speaking out. “Oh hey yeah.. uhm.. do it yourself yeah!”

  6. Kimadactyl says:

    Funny, it reminds me of the other article doing the rounds today about the “If I were a poor black kid” and the excellent rebuttal (http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/12/if_i_were_a_white_male_middle_aged_forbes_columnist_1.html). Almost exactly the same BS…

    Nice article :)

  7. Sunflower says:

    Amazing article here, thank you for writing it. I saw that post by Wiltshire and was pissed off by it, because the tone is so condescending and so quick to declaim responsibility.

    I completely agree that when someone feels defensive it IS because they are on the defensive, and that’s when they make a fundamental choice about what kind of person they want to be. Do they feel the anger and defensiveness and stay open and learn from it, or do they just shut down or try to shut other people down? It’s human nature to get defensive, but what you do after that says a lot.

    Good people want to be good people regardless of whether they get cookies or not, simply because it’s unbearable to be willfully unfair, and so when they come across something that points out their unwitting participation in unfairness, it’s normal to be hurt, angry, guilty– and then to feel their way through that, accept it, and resolve to do better. For that reason, blog posts make so much more of an impact than just numbers of readers. The echo chamber theory is completely incorrect. People make connections everywhere and come across things that have not occurred to them before, and that becomes part of their life, which spreads to everything they touch. I have learned so much from reading blogs that I have applied, and it has spread to everyone I know. It can’t help but spread. When something touches people emotionally, the seed has been planted. Once someone sees sexism, they can’t unsee it, no matter how much hand-wringing and whining they want to do. It doesn’t erase the fact that they came across an idea that made them uncomfortable, and made them THINK, and they’re going to have to use more and more mental energy to keep that thought from progressing into its natural conclusion.

    • Alex says:

      Thank you! This is a lovely comment.

      Non-feminists arguing strategy with feminists annoys the crap out of me. If you haven’t done the work, you probably don’t actually know what’s effective. It’s almost like men think they know women’s experiences better than they do and wish to explain how it is! I think there’s a word for that…

      • Ms. Sunlight says:

        This. While I appreciate that it’s good that anti-sexism be discussed and awareness be raised, “Have you tried…” can be obnoxious. If it were that easy to fix, don’t they think we would have already fixed it by now?

        Sometimes I want to scream, “Pick a book on feminism! Just one! Any one! Then you won’t sound so much like you’re telling an IT specialist to try turning it off then back on again!”

      • Sunflower says:

        Oh my goodness, yes! I hate that so much too! One I hate is the concern-trolling “tone argument” where you’re told that you’re just too loud and pushy or scary to gain any allies in your cause. (Which is false, false, false!)

        • Kasey says:

          I’m not sure it’s safe to assume that comments about tone are always necessarily “concern-trolling”.

          • Sunflower says:

            Why not?

            • Let’s put it this way:

              I got into a debate about games once—not even anything controversial about games; it was about something that the creators had outright admitted.  And some guy made it clear that if I believed that—never mind that I was quantifiably right and he was quantifiably wrong—I was clearly less knowledgeable than he was, and probably less intelligent to boot. When I called him on this (as politely as possible), he started accusing me of concern-trolling (not to mention “playing the victim”).

              He was being rude and condescending.  I can see how pointing out when someone is being rude and condescending could be construed as a tone argument, but I hardly think it’s automatically the tactic of a concern troll.  (Ironically enough, the same person turned around and scolded me like a bad puppy over my perceived “tone.”)

            • Sunflower says:

              When I mentioned “Tone Argument”, I was talking about this:

              “A tone argument is an argument used in discussions, sometimes by Concern trolls and sometimes as a Derailment, in which it is suggested that feminists would be more successful if only they expressed themselves in a more pleasant tone.” and I found this definition on this site: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument

              So I don’t see how it’s the same as your example. You were calling someone out rightfully for being condescending, not telling them they weren’t being nice enough or using the right words to convince you.

              Can I ask what the point is of this debate? I’m not trying to be snide in any way, I’m just not sure what we’re actually discussing. If it’s term use, I hope we are able to figure it out together. Otherwise, I’m pretty stumped as to why there seems to be contention when it comes to linking concern-trolling and tone arguments. In my experience, they almost always go together.

              If you’re worried about the potential hurt feelings of people who might be making tone arguments and yet not concern trolling, well, let’s address it when it actually happens, ok? Because trying to think of all the possibilities is kind of hurting my brain :D

            • Ah, I see. Perhaps I’ve simply heard the term “tone argument” overused or misused.

            • Sunflower says:

              Ah, ok, I see now. I hope my post didn’t come across as being flippant, I just find that when I don’t know what’s going on, it’s much better to say it and ask for clarification than to assume, because if I assume, usually I’m wrong!

            • Kasey says:

              Farseer’s example wasn’t exactly what I had in mind either. Of course I’m familiar with the concept of the concern troll and of derailment, but I do occasionally see those labels applied as a way to avoid engaging or to prematurely (in my mind!) shut down discussion.

              To me, sometimes this is appropriate – as trolls clearly DO exist and indeed some arguments are so reprehensible as to not be worthy of response. But what the about borderline cases, or when people with good intentions make mistakes?

              It’s not at all that I’m concerned about the hurt feelings of people accused of concern trolling, but that I’m not yet convinced that tone – or rhetoric, or argument style – is as irrelevant as you seem to think it is. So, I’m not always comfortable when this label is used as cudgel.

          • Sunflower says:

            “… I do occasionally see those labels applied as a way to avoid engaging or to prematurely (in my mind!) shut down discussion. But what the about borderline cases, or when people with good intentions make mistakes?

            It’s not at all that I’m concerned about the hurt feelings of people accused of concern trolling, but that I’m not yet convinced that tone – or rhetoric, or argument style – is as irrelevant as you seem to think it is. So, I’m not always comfortable when this label is used as cudgel.”

            I’m not sure what you mean when you say that I seem to think tone is irrelevant and what it has to do with anything. What does that even mean? Tone is a complicated thing and context is important, and what does it have to do with me?

            As for intent, it’s often used to justify being an ass, because anyone can claim good intent. People who truly mean well show they mean well by acting in good faith, accepting feedback, and not trying to stifle other people’s communication. If someone calls them out on their shit, it’s their job as people with good intent to process that.

            However, it’s not necessarily wrong to disengage from a discussion where there’s trolling, or which someone doesn’t enjoy or see the point of, and it’s not wrong to provide feedback to trolls, or even dismiss or ban them entirely. We all have the choice to dismiss or disengage, for good or bad, and that choice might happen for very different reasons. So to say “dismissing people is always bad” is a digital thing, which makes no sense outside of context and thought.

            When I judge whether I think someone is communicating in good faith, I look at a lot of things in a conversation. For example, is the person arguing a clear point? Does it actually have to do with reality, or is it a straw-reality where feminists go around pushing people around? Does the person seem interested in mutual feedback and cooperative discussion, or is it a flexing of intellect? Do the goalposts keep moving? Is that person interested in pushing people into a discussion whether they like it or not? So, it’s complicated. We all have our own judgment systems for deciding if someone is worth engaging with. Nobody is entitled to anyone’s time.

            Also, can you please let me know what your actual point is? Again, not being snide, but it would help if you told me what this debate is actually about. A sentence such as “I believe too many people dismiss others with good intentions by saying they are concern trolling.” or whatever would be great. Keep in mind though that I can’t do anything about it. I’m not the great cudgel-wielder or the hive-mind of People Who Call Others Trolls. To be honest, it feels like this discussion is getting personal, and I don’t see why. If you think I did something wrong, by all means please let me know.

            • Kasey says:

              Sorry, no, I apologize if you got the impression that my comments were about you specifically, because they certainly weren’t intended to be! I can see how you could have gotten that impression though, and apologize for being unclear – when I said that I “don’t find tone as irrelevant as you seem to think it is” I only meant to respond to your comment about how tone comments and concern trolling almost always go together.

              For example, I dislike the tone of Fat, Ugly or Slutty. While they obviously have good intentions, there is an aspect of gleeful cruelty to the tone of the site that I feel undercuts their mission to some degree. The targets of the site are not sympathetic at all, but a part of me is still disappointed to see them mocked and humiliated.

              Similarly, I was disappointed with some of the comments made toward Joel after Mattie’s most recent article. To me at least it seemed that he was making a genuine effort, but met with mostly mockery and abuse, rather than given the benefit of the doubt (something I think almost everyone deserves) or engaged with with even a modicum of respect.

              Do these beliefs make me a concern troll? I hope not!

            • Sunflower says:

              Ok, I think I understand better now, thanks for clarifying. I see what you’re saying about the tone. I can’t say if it’s valid, of course, in terms of whether modulating tone actually helps gain allies (in my experience it doesn’t) and if it’s even worth it to do so. I personally don’t think the compromise benefits anyone, but everyone can choose as they like, of course.

              In the Occupy Wall Street movement, for example, there’s been some disagreement over feminism and its place in the movement. Some people say it’s divisive and should be avoided, and some welcome it as essential. The worry is over whether they will lose numbers, but I suspect those kinds of numbers would not be very useful anyway, because they would be gotten under false pretense, by refusing to acknowledge a lot of their members’ views, and that’s my opinion on tone, too.

              I think if allies are not wiling to deal with some indirect discomfort, then they will not be able to handle the really deep questioning that has to happen when we engage with people that have been treated unfairly and from which we indirectly benefit. If people get turned off because some bullying losers get mocked, how will they react when the focus is on them? Because one constant is that we all mess up and we all have privilege, and we all get defensive at some point or other. I think it’s better to be who you are, present yourself honestly, say what you think, listen, and let the chips fall where they may.

              It’s absolutely your choice to dislike the way the people you cited express themselves. It’s a valid feeling and a valid choice to not engage with those people. Nobody can tell you what is best for you. I just don’t think everyone reacts the same way, or finds their tone problematic, and I don’t think we can extrapolate what is best for others across the board by what works for us.

              I also don’t think that the goal behind F,U or S or the comments made about the article were to get allies, either. Not everyone is thinking of numbers all the time, nor should they. People have the right to express themselves as they like, and they will get feedback just like everyone else, which they can accept or reject. Nobody is required to focus only on what will make their views palatable, they can just focus on giving themselves a voice.

              Personally, I like the mocking behind F, U, or S and the comments made here as well. The more mocking of oblivious, bullying, or entitled people, the better! I’m saying this as one who has been on the receiving end at times (although prob more gently than I deserved). Yes, it hurts, and it took me a bit to feel my way through it, but you’ve got to laugh at yourself and get that reality check sometime!

    • Rob says:

      I hadn’t thought about it that way before but you’re right. In my experiences with a friend of mine, a seed does get planted into someone’s head even if they do initially resist. It started with me pointing out various things in videogames that I had started to notice were fairly sexist. He’d usually respond that he hadn’t noticed, or that I was over-thinking things. Even when I pointed out things like, “Hey did you think it was neat that pretty much the entirety of Portal’s cast was female or personified as female” or “Hey did you notice that not only were there many notable female characters in System Shock 2 (as opposed to none at all), but that they held roles that are stereotypically held by male characters? (e.g. chief of security, chief engineer, head of I.T.) Do you think the developers were trying to make a statement about the future there?” it was “I hadn’t noticed” and “you’re over-thinking things” again.

      Then, one day he contacted ME to tell me about a camera angle he’d found (of all things, and no it wasn’t the infamous Mass Effect one) that he felt was a bit sexist. He started with, “I couldn’t help noticing….” and I just thought, “mwahaha, excellent.”

      He still teases me about my ‘sensitivity’ to such things, but I’d like to think I still raised his awareness level. :)

      • Sunflower says:

        Oh my goodness, your comment made me very happy :) I have been feeling like I’m shouting in a void sometimes and this is great to hear, thanks so much for posting!

  8. Yes, we should all just be more open about being female on the Interwebs.  Because that never, ever backfires and gets used as ammo somehow or another.  Right?

    This guy is clueless.

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