A Year of GMMaS: Where do we go from here?

So it’s been a year. (Okay, a little more than a year now.) 131 posts and a whopping 5579 comments later, here we are. In the past year, I’ve written about tabletop RPGs, CCGs, console games, PC games, board games, MMOs, gaming blogs… Let’s just say I’ve managed to cover a lot of ground. So much so that I’ve been starting to feel as if I’m running out of things to say.

You may have noticed recently that my posting frequency has been dropping off. Part of that is because, as I have mentioned previously, I (apparently) hate free time. But a larger portion has been the fact that I’ve been struggling to find new things to say. Being visual artist, it’s no surprise that my main focus here would be art and design-based. While I’ll happily get diverted into dealing with other related issues such as fail in the gaming blogosphere, talking about sexism in game art and character design is always what I come back to because that’s my background and it will always inform how I approach games.

But the fact is, there’s only so many different ways you can mock badly drawn breasts. There’s only so many ways you can mock chest TARDISes, or ninja lingerie, or armor with inexplicable boob holes. The truth is that the well just runs dry after a certain point.

Does that mean that I think that feminism’s work with regard to gaming is done? That sexism has been solved now and forever in gaming? Oh fuck no. There have been some positive things I’ve seen in the last year – the explosion of readership I’ve enjoyed here being a very large reason for hope in particular. But there’s reasons for concern too – not the least of which is the increase in imports of Korean MMOs that make North American games look like bastions of feminism. No, gaming still has a long way to go before it even catches up with the base levels of misogyny in mainstream society, let alone before it becomes a place that might be seriously able to call itself female-friendly.

But the truth of the matter is that I never considered this blog to be something without a fixed endpoint. My goal was to highlight the sheer amount of bullshit sexism that pervades game art, game culture, and game design. And I feel pretty good about my success in doing that. I could continue re-hashing old ideas, but that would be tiresome and frankly not all that rewarding. And the truth of the matter is that it’s time for me to move on to other things.

See, I have things I want to do. I have that fantasy novel that I’ve been wanting to write. I haven’t even touched it in two months, because every time I have time to write I feel obligated to post here instead of writing more of the novel. Not to mention that comic project that I am so excited about oh my god but which, yeah, has been playing second fiddle to this blog as well. (And I promise when I can talk about it, I’ll post about it here because – seriously, peeps. You’ll love it so much.) I regret the fact that I don’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to do it all. But at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve said everything that I need to say. And I feel pretty good about that.

Where do we go from here?

Heh. Stupid Buffy jokes rule.

1. Redesign this blog.

I’m going to redesign this blog to be a handy reference tool for those of you looking to maybe get your friends to reexamine why some of the stuff they like in gaming might be kind of bullshit. My goal is to model it on Finally Feminism 101 in making it an easy-to-use resource. So you might see the layout change inexplicably in the next little bit. If the site winds up breaking for a little while, don’t panic. I plan on changing the theme, and that will probably involve monkeying around with the layout. Along with the re-design, I’ll post new stickies and an introduction explaining what this was all about.

2. Look into writing that book after all

The irony is that I started this blog as a way to avoid writing the book that I didn’t want to write about sexism and gaming. And by now, I’ve written more on the subject than I would have if I had just given in and written and the damn book in the first place. I’d like to look into turning Go Make Me a Sandwich into a book. I’m not confident that it will succeed – a lot of what I do here would be… um… challenging, as far as intellectual property is concerned, in book format. But I’d like to try.

I’m not terribly confident that such a book would have a large audience. But I honestly never thought that this blog would acquire such a large audience either. So that’s something I’ll be looking into, and if I happen to make any progress I’ll post about that here as well.

Thanks for your support

To everyone who has read and commented in the last year, thank you. You made this whole crazy journey worth it, and I never would have come this far without you.

Looking back at a year of GMMaS: Trolls (Part 2)

Thought the first: on trolls and free speech

Writing this blog, I’ve learned a lot about trolls – how they operate, how they think, how to deal with them or not deal with them as the case may be. Despite my dyed-in-the-wool cynicism, I really thought at the outset that I would be able to maintain a policy of not moderating comments. One of the main goals, after all, of this blog was to reach out to gamers who maybe didn’t identify as feminists and illustrate just why the way gaming treats women is fucked up. I make a point of avoiding feminist theory past the ultra-basics and the tone I take here is decidedly non-academic. I was hoping that would make this blog an accessible place and that when trolls did pop up, people could ignore them and move on with their lives. Most of all, I was tired of anti-feminists claiming that “feminazis” who moderated other feminists blogs hated free speech and I wanted to see if I could counteract that.

…wow was that a huge mistake.

See, there were two things that I wasn’t prepared for: the level of vitriol that would be hurled at me and the sheer volume of troll comments I would come to get.

The level of vitriol was hardest to adjust to in the beginning. What helped me the most in dealing with bile-filled troll comments was when I started to see how similar they all are – like they were all reading from the same script. Despite the personal attacks they all resort to – saying that I’m fat, ugly, slutty, stupid, crazy, have a radical agenda, whatever – they weren’t attacking me. They were attacking the radical notion that women are people. That perspective was helpful for me in dealing with these attacks, but not so helpful for other people coming here to comment that had to see this shit as well.

Eventually, however, the volume proved to be even more overwhelming than the bile. For the first few months, I had relatively lower traffic and far fewer commenters. It was manageable at the beginning when I was averaging 100 views per day. By the time I got to the point where I was averaging 1,000 views a day things were getting rapidly unmanageable. It got to the point where I got emails from people who wanted to comment on something they’d seen on my blog but didn’t want to get dog-piled in the comments. That was when I started to question the wisdom of not moderating comments.

My friends, who are much smarter than I am, had reached this point well before me. They’d be all like OMG JUST MODERATE COMMENTS ALREADY WTF ARE YOU DOING TO YOURSELF? And I’d flail around guiltily with ARG BUT THEN IT’S LIKE I HATE FREEDOM OR SUMTHING WHAT DO I DOOOOOOO. And then they’d roll their eyes and say WE JUST TOLD YOU.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I received my first comment saying that I should go kill myself. That was the moment when I said to myself, “you know what, fuck free speech”. And the difference since doing that has been wonderful. I didn’t really realize until after I started moderating comments just how much oxygen the trolls had been sucking out of the conversation. I can’t moderate 24/7, so I can’t promise that this will be a completely safe space, but it’s wonderful having my blog feel like my space again. (Though I will say that I appreciate the irony of the fact that the post that announced the new comment policy was one of the most aggressively trolled posts I’ve done in the last few months. You know, because saying I’m not going to tolerate people telling me to lie in front of a train is super-controversial. /eyeroll)

So lesson learned. Other feminist bloggers were smarter than me. Trolls don’t have an inalienable right to free speech in feminist spaces.

Thought the second: most trolls are reading from the same script

There’s a shocking lack of originality in most troll comments. (Well, that and attention to proper spelling and grammar.) The vast majority of them seem to fit into a few fixed categories:

  • hurr hurr you’re ugly
  • it’s just a game/it’s just fantasy
  • I’m a woman and I’m not bothered by it
  • It’s just a joke/satire you stupid humorless feminist
  • you aren’t qualified to criticize [whatever I happen to be criticizing]
  • you feminist bitches are so silly
  • you’re a fascist/nazi/pink commie
  • you’re making this all about you
  • the female body is art
  • nonsensical slurs
  • games are for men
  • talking about discrimination is stupid and makes people feel bad
  • omg ur biased for not showing that dudes in games are just as bad

A few times I’ve responded in a general sort of way to these sorts of things. Most of the time it’s just not worth the hassle. Occasionally a troll comment manages to rise above the masses to the point where it becomes humorous – or at least it does in retrospect once the initial rush of anger goes away. My personal favorite is a comment that started: “So, another interesting thought. Riddle me this, Aderp Titler, Furor[sic] of the feminazi’s…”

Of course there are also plenty of comments that still rankle well after the fact, like the person who found one of the few photos of me on the interbutts and said ‘well no wonder she’s a feminist’. (Ouch.) There’s far too many to quote here, but if you’re curious, the following posts are worth checking out:

discussions of trolling

unusually aggressive/offensive trolling in the comments

Thought the third: exercise caution when following trackback links

I have mixed feelings about trackback links. I’ve found some really interesting stuff thanks to them and have added a few blogs to my RSS feed that way. But just as often, I’ve encountered people saying really depressing and horrible stuff about me, my blog, my appearance, my politics, or my agenda. Over time, I’ve observed some patterns that have been useful in helping to avoid the worst bile out there:

1) Don’t ever follow links back to Reddit. OMG, just dont. The absolute worst comments do tend to get deleted by moderators after a while, but that doesn’t keep you from seeing them. Any place where I get called an “ignorant judgemental cunt” (on the /r/GirlGamers subreddit no less!!) is a place I don’t need to go to. I’ve washed my hands of Reddit and accepted that it’s a lost cause.

2) Don’t ever follow links back to forums on major gaming sites or to forums specifically devoted to one particular fan community. ESPECIALLY never follow links back to the BioWare forums. There’s a few people who will link to my posts there actually appreciating what I’m saying, but they always get dogpiled by the legions of rabid BioWare fans who tell them to OMG SHUT UP THOSE FEMINIST BITCHES BE SO CRAZY. So much as I love BioWare’s games, their official fan community can go jump in a lake as far as I’m concerned.

3) Similar to number 2, but slightly different. On occasion there have been some columns on the really big gaming sites like IGN that have cited my blog. And those are great to read, so long as you never ever read the comments. Resist the temptation. All they’re good for is raising your blood pressure.

Of course, sometimes I do something stupid and follow a link to Reddit when I know I shouldn’t. But at least this way I can avoid most of the worst bile being said about me.

Thought the fourth: occasionally, positive things can come out of engaging with trolls

…but that’s the exception that proves the rule. I can only think of one instance where engaging with a troll led to a positive outcome, and one where it led to a neutral outcome. In the first instance, some podcaster found my blog and tweeted that I must be ugly. His podcasting buddies then had a “discussion of sexism” that was really just slamming me for half an hour without actually reading any of my blog. I took down their comments pretty harshly in a response here. But afterward I offered to come on their podcast if they wanted to talk to me and not about me, and we actually had a pretty positive conversation. I won’t say that I totally converted them, but I at least was able to present the feminist perspective in a rational and not crazy light. So that was a win.

The other was when I received a very long, very condescending comment from a publisher who makes 3rd party Pathfinder products. I responded with, um, a little bile. (Okay a lot of bile.) Because I was angry, there was a bit of splash damage onto Paizo as well and Erik Mona came and posted some surprisingly calm comments in the comment thread. Nothing really came of it: Erik Mona was still pretty entrenched in his position after our brief conversation in the comments. But I at least appreciated that he was polite about it after I said some harsh stuff about Paizo that was maybe a little unwarranted. Also, that comment thread gave me the phrase “leathery nipple trainwrecks”, which still amuses me.

Thought the last: there are always people who will try to judge your feminism

That’s one of the harder things to deal with. I was pretty new to feminism when I started this blog and I said some stuff that was wrong-headed. And I acknowledge that it was wrong-headed, and apologized and mostly mended fences with the people who rightly took me to task. But there are still people out there who view my early wrong-headed statements as proof that I Am Not and Will Never Be a Real Feminist. (There’s one former commenter in particular who has said nasty stuff about me Not Being A Real Feminist in a variety of places outside of this blog.)

Hell, there are people who have seen more recent stuff that I’ve wrote in which I bent over backwards to make sure I was on the correct side of social justice who came and told me that “MY FEMINISM IS RIGHT AND YOURS IS WRONG, WRONG, WRONG”. And other people might disagree, but I’m going to call this trolling as well. Feminism is a big movement, and contrary to popular belief we aren’t a hive mind. There’s going to be disagreements. But I think it’s dangerous to judge other people’s feminism as “wrong”, because who knows – maybe you’re the one who’s wrong and are too entrenched in your position to be open to that.

And that’s all I have to say about that

Happy Birthday! Looking back at a year of GMMaS.

Well, folks. It’s hard to believe, but Go Make Me a Sandwich is officially a year old today.  When I first started writing this blog, I never imagined that I would acquire the kind of audience I now have. I honestly thought that I would be doing the internet equivalent of ranting crazily in the wildnerness, so I was pleased and astonished and even a little scared when this thing took off the way it did.

I started this blog as someone new to feminism and social justice issues and wound up trying to educate myself in a hurry when the popularity of this blog took off. (Sometimes I still feel like I’m faking it.) I’m very proud of some of the stuff that I’ve written, but at the same time I’ve said some pretty ignorant and problematic stuff too. (Though I’ve repented of some of my earlier positions and I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better as time went by.) So I thought this would be a good opportunity to look back at my experiences of writing this blog and some of the things that I’ve learned. This will probably wind up being two or three posts, depending on how much rambling I wind up doing.

First up: Traffic stats

Today’s post makes post #130, which means in the last year I have averaged one post every 3 days or so. I realize my posting frequency has fallen off in the last month, and that average is being spoiled by the frequency with which I posted while I was unemployed earlier in the year. But as I did do my best not to post filler, I’d say about 95% of the posts were actual content. Considered in that light, It’s pretty amazing to consider how many words I’ve put to virtual paper on this subject. (I did try to get a total word count on this blog that didn’t include comments, but I haven’t found a great way to do that yet. If anyone has suggestions, I’m all ears.)

Now recently, I’ve been freaking out quietly over social networks that I recently passed 300,000 views on my WordPress blog – an astonishing feat when you consider that I switched from Blogger to WordPress less than six months ago. What I neglected to remember is that there was still a substantial amount of traffic to the old Blogger iteration of GMMaS in those first few months after the switch. Even now, the old links out there mean that the Blogger site still gets a decent amount of traffic. So when I put the traffic numbers for Blogger together with the numbers for WordPress, the result was even more shocking than I’d thought it was:

Don't forget that this October is only 2/3 over. It'll probably be a drop-off from August and September, but not by as much as it looks like now.

…holy shit, people. At the time of writing this post, Go Make Me A Sandwich has gotten 564,834 views. That’s… astounding. Especially when you look at the average number of views per day:

Again, numbers for October 2011 are as yet incomplete.

Now all of this is averaging out the traffic spikes that tended to happen when I would talk about something particularly controversial. If I were a more cynical person who only cared about page views, I would have devoted this blog to talking only about gaming conventions, D&D, Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, and BioWare. The two largest traffic spikes I saw were in response to my series of posts about Mass Effect and my later series of posts about GenCon, with the largest single day number of views (6,347) happening right in the middle of my series of posts about Mass Effect. From the comments left here and following track-back links, it was pretty easy to establish that the really big traffic spikes tended to be mostly trolls. I came to dread any traffic spike that happened because of Reddit and very quickly learned to never follow trackback links to Reddit.

Seriously. It’s just a bad idea.

Most viewed posts and most-commented posts, some interesting differences

When you look at the numbers for posts with the most views, the subject matter is pretty diverse and wide-ranging:

Female characters done right: FemShep (Spoilers, of course)
9466
A belated look at gamer Valentines: the good, the questionable, the pathetic
8536
Industry artist fail: Hyung Tae Kim (so VERY VERY nsfw!)
7233
In his words: why Jim Sterling is, in fact, very sexist
7103
Porn as advertising (really NSFW)
5999
League of Legends: SO MUCH character design fail
5488
Industy artist fail: Wayne Reynolds (at least he’s not as bad as HTK)
4930
Paizo: Thanks for not being full of race fail, but…
4784
Et tu Nintendo?
4031
TERA: competing with Bayonetta for the sluttiest women still wearing clothes?
3822

I wasn’t particularly surprised to see one of my BioWare posts came out on top. What I was surprised to see was that half of these were about non-video-game-related fail, considering this blog does skew pretty heavily toward video games. I am particularly encouraged to see that my first post about Jim Sterling comes in at number 4. I’m very proud of the fact that that post is the number five Google result for “Jim Sterling”, and while I doubt it will ever affect his career I can at least take comfort in the fact that he’ll have a hard time explaining that to people outside the gaming community who ever feel like Googling him.

Also, I’ll note that number 10 there probably made it into the top 10 because there was quite a flap here and over other blogs about my use of the word slut. Yes I know it’s terrible. I’ve since repented its use and have stopped using it, as well as others of its ilk. I have mixed feelings about that post, because as problematic as the title was, I really was proud of the post itself (not the least of which because I got to make the nerdiest pun ever). Still, I’m leaving the title as is because I feel like changing it would just be dishonest.

Now interestingly, the list of most-commented posts doesn’t really have a lot of overlap with the list of most-viewed:

Some gaming news WTF: Eternal Light trailer; Duke Nukem Forever not sexist?
275
Female characters done right: FemShep (Spoilers, of course)
166
Industry artist fail: Hyung Tae Kim (so VERY VERY nsfw!)
143
New comment policy is coming
137
Blade and Soul: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
131
Why I don’t want Shelly Mazzanoble to represent female D&D players
131
Bayonetta and the Male Gaze
122
Photos from GenCon 2011: Part 1 of 2
119
League of Legends: SO MUCH character design fail
107
On the word slut: a rambling response long overdue
107

Given the previously-mentioned flap about my use of the word slut, again not too surprised about #10 there. What is surprising is that there’s a group of people more vocal than BioWare fans: Hyung Tae Kim fans. Despite the fact that I say pretty much the same stuff in my post on Blade and Soul as I do in the original post about HTK, the post still got dog-piled with comments. So that was pretty surprising.

Also surprising is the fact that the #4 most commented post was a post on how I wasn’t going to tolerate trolls anymore and was going to start moderating comments. I mean, honestly I don’t think that saying I don’t want to put up with people calling me fat/ugly/crazy/fascist/all of the above is controversial. Nor do I see the controversy in saying I don’t want to put up with people telling me that I should kill myself. But apparently, this being the internet, it was controversial to want to feel like my own blog is a safe space. So, go figure.

What I am not at all surprised at, though, is the fact that my post about DNF blows all of the others out of the water for comment volume. The comment thread for that post was pretty much a microcosm of all internet discussion of sexism ever, with some sane and rational discussion being drowned out by angry trolls, defensiveness, and flailing at strawmen. Which leads us to…

Trolls: a frightening reality of blogging while female

But instead of trying to cram that in, I’ll make that a post of its own, along with lessons learned and where to go from here.

By popular request: your chance to own a sexy president

I think I may have created a monster when I created sexy Abraham Lincoln. The fervor with which some of you wanted to own a piece of sexy Abe merchandise has been, frankly, a little frightening. Still, I am nothing if not accommodating. So to facilitate your requests, I’ve created a shop over on Spreadshirt that should satisfy your suggestive Presidential attire needs.

Yes, I realize that leaves those of you who wanted prints out in the cold. However, the reason I went with Spreadshirt is because they offer a nicer range of products for women and because they allow users to select the color of shirt they want the image printed on without me having to manually create each different iteration. Bonus! In compensation, if I find time (ha!) I’ll create some wallpaper versions of Abe. Or maybe I’ll just see if any of my enterprising readers want to save me a bit of time and have fun coming up with sexy Abe wallpapers. (If you do, feel free to post them wherever. Just please also post links in the comments, and please also be sure to credit me.)

Lastly, I went with Spreadshirt because their pricing was most favorable, and as previously mentioned I intend to donate half of the profits to the International Myeloma Foundation – a foundation that raises money for research into treatment methods for incurable blood cancers. I realize that this might not exactly seem aligned with the stated purpose of this blog, but this past summer I lost my father to multiple myeloma – bone marrow cancer. I realize that there are no “good” cancers, but watching my father go through years of agony from having tumors inside his bones was especially cruel. Even more cruel is that there is no cure for myeloma. Around 33% of patients diagnosed with the cancer that my father had are dead within 6 months. I was lucky that my father lived almost 6 years after his diagnosis. My father was incredible instrumental in shaping my feminism and inspiring me to speak my conscience. He taught me the importance of speaking out, even when silence would be easier. This blog wouldn’t exist without him.

That said: don’t buy a sexy Abe shirt because I’m guilting you to help raise money for cancer research. If you feel genuinely moved, go donate directly to the International Myeloma Foundation. If you’re going to buy this shirt, buy it because you want to wear a ludicrously portrayed sexy historical President.

Short note regarding sexy Abe

After my posts lampooning the new Civ board game, I’ve had a disturbing number of comments from people wanting to buy sexy Abe merch. Seriously, it makes me worry about your mental health, peeps.

That said, there’s a fair number of you who want to own a piece of hot sexy President. And I’d rather be the purveyor of said merch rather than have unauthorized knock-offs start appearing. Unfortunately, my original file got ruined, which means I have to re-do Abe from scratch. It’s 2 hours that I don’t have this week, but I promise I’ll have an announcement here by the end of next week about how to own a sexy Abe of your very own.

A large portion of the profits from this venture will be donated to charity (I’m still waffling as to which), so I hope that you’ll also consider traumatizing your friends.

Thanks for reading, even if I’m a little scared by some of you now.

Double-header: Destructoid’s New Editor & Harassment of Feminist Bloggers

Before you read any further

So the funny thing about people is that they change. Imagine that! At the time of writing these posts, I never could have imagined that Jim Sterling would have a change of heart, but he did indeed. He was actually gracious enough to let me interview him about how he’s reversed his stance and how that happened; you can read the interview here on Gaming as Women.

The internet being the internet – there’s no real point in taking this down. It’s out there forever. But I can at least put it in context.


 

[Edited to add: Some folks kindly pointed out that my discussion of rape culture in the third section is problematic wrt trans people. Mea culpa if you saw the earlier version of this post. I’ve gone back and edited my comments.]

[Hi, folks. At the time I’m writing this, it looks like Destructoid may have been hacked. I’m going to provide links to pertinent stories for when the site does come back, but don’t freak out if those links don’t work right now.]

So there are two things that I want to write about today. They’re going to seem unconnected up front, but they really are. But I’ll talk about each thing separately and then come back to elucidate how these things are connected.

Thing the first: Destructoid’s new Editor-in-chief

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Destructoid. I’ll admit that I’ve started actively avoiding content on Destructoid, since I know that all that’s going to happen is that it will inevitably make me mad. I don’t visit periodically to see what bullshit Jim Sterling has gotten up to recently. Nor do I read my Google Alerts for Jim Sterling because, you know, what’s the point?

But something happened to catch my attention. It seems that Destructoid has a new Editor in Chief. I guess Niero has gone and gotten himself a job at Harmonix, which is great for him I guess. So who did they replace Niero with? Dale North. …great.

For those of you who’ve started reading this blog recently, or who don’t remember this from previous posts, a bit of a recap. See, I wrote my first post about how Jim Sterling is a repugnant human being and blatant misogynist after a Twitter-dustup in which he called a woman a “feminazi slut”. This actually caused enough of a flap that a non-apology was issued by Sterling, that mostly went ‘okay that was bad but she deserved it and the nasty feminists are being meeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaannnnn to meeeeeeeeee’. It was around this time that a reader forwarded an email from Niero responding to his complaint about Sterling that pretty much read as “he crossed a line, but he’s totes a nice guy! honest!”.

Of course, less than 24 hours later, Jim published a story that he ended by saying:

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some vaginas that have not been raped yet, and Kirby told me I need to “get on dat sh*t!”

Which, you know, didn’t sound like he’d really learned a whole lot from the experience of being raked over the coals for calling someone a “feminazi slut”. It was at that point that I sent an email in complaint to Niero (a copy of which I posted here on this blog). Predictably, I never received a response. So you might think that I would be pleased by the fact that Destructoid is going to have new leadership. And that might be the case, if it weren’t for the fact that that new leadership is Dale North.

See, Dale North has professed to have great personal affection for Jim Sterling. And like Jim Sterling, Dale really likes to make rape jokes in his official work both on Destructoid and Japanator. Let’s not forget that it was Dale North who titled an article about the banning of RapeLay from Japanese shelves: “RapeLay raped off Japanese shelves for good”. To make it worse, he used this as the headline image:

For fuck’s sake. I’m just as mad now as when I saw this the first time.

Of course, Dale would like to have his cake and eat it too. Despite being a fan of rape humor, he actually made a faux-introspective post in which he asked his fans if he was a sexist pig. Predictably, they leaped to his defense and assured him that – no, the evil feminists were just being mean and that he was just fine. Of course, the fact that some of those fans were female is, in some people’s books, enough to completely obviate any charges of sexism against Dale. Because as we all know, if you can find one woman who doesn’t think that you’re sexist that means YOU’RE NOT SEXIST. It’s fucking magic.

Anyway, I wish I could say that I had hopes that this will mean a new era of non-rape humor from the editorial staff at Destructoid, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Thing the second: Harassment and death threats of feminist bloggers

Something I am thankful for on a daily basis is the fact that, despite the fact that this blog receives an unholy amount of traffic for a blog devoted to such a specific (and controversial) subject matter, I have not experienced the harassment, stalking, and death threats that many female bloggers face – especially feminist bloggers. Mostly the trolls that I get confine themselves to ‘lol, feminist bitches be crazy’ or ‘you must be fat and ugly’ or ‘you need to get laid you fugly lesbian’. (Hell, sometimes I get all three at once!) Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person ever saying anything that could be construed as a death threat, and even that was pretty passive in that I was told I should go lie in front of a train. And I’ve never, ever had anyone threaten me with rape.

So why bring it up? Because I suspect that my experience might put me in the minority of feminist bloggers. The reality is that far too many feminist bloggers face harassment from trolls that goes far beyond looking for lulz. S.E. Smith recently posted on Tiger Beatdown about the harassment that they and other bloggers have experienced, and the stuff that is quoted seriously curls my toes:

It took a few years to reach this point, but I finally have, the point where I do have concerns about my physical safety, and have had to reevaluate certain aspects of my life and work. I’ve gotten those emails that send a long chill down my spine and create a surging feeling of rage, mixed with helplessness. People have sent me my social security number, information about my family members, identifying details that make it very clear they know exactly how to find me. They  have politely provided details of exactly what they’d like to do to me and my family, they send me creepy things in the mail.

‘I’m glad your stupid cat died,’ someone wrote me last October. ‘You’re next, bitch,’ and followed up with my street address.

…seriously. SERIOUSLY???

It’s a good week, these days, if I only get 15-20 emails from people telling me how much they think I should die, or how much they hope I get raped, or how much they hope my cat dies or I lose my job or fall in a hole or get shot by police or any number of things people seem to think it’s urgently important to tell me in their quest to get me to shut up. We are not talking about disagreements, about calls for intersectionality, about differing approaches, about political variance, about lively debate and discussion that sometimes turns acrimonious and damaging. We are talking about sustained campaigns of hate from people who believe that we are inhuman and should be silenced; the misogynists, the ‘men’s rights activists,’ the anti-reproductive rights movement, the extreme conservatives, the fundamentalists. The haters.

This is beyond just fucked up. I am so beyond thankful that I have not had to deal with hate of this magnitude, because the backlash that I do receive is already enough to make me second-guess myself sometimes. We need to speak out against this sort of thing, all of us. It isn’t right that female bloggers should have to worry about the safety of themselves, their families, and their pets simply for daring to have an opinion online. As the kids say these days, shit is toxic, yo.

I hope to god if anybody reading this right now has friends who say anything like these comments – be it on a blog, facebook, forum, WHATEVER. CALL YOUR FRIEND OUT AND LET THEM KNOW THIS IS NOT OKAY. Whatever you think of someone’s personal politics, it is a basic human right not to fear for your safety.

One of these things IS like the other

So how are these things related? Sure Jim Sterling and Dale North make some vile comments. Sure they tell jokes about rape and domestic violence and those stupid feminist whores. But those are just jokes, right?

Wrong.

We live in a culture that trivializes sexual harassment and sexual assault, violence against women, and rape. (And not just against women! Rape against men too! And people who identify as something outside of a gender binary!) When prominent community leaders like Jim Sterling and Dale North make rape jokes, they are propping up the rape culture that leads to less than 6% of rapists ever getting convicted of a crime. They’re propping up a culture in which (around) 1 in 6 women and (around) 1 in 33 men are the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. They’re propping up a culture in which cops blame victims of rape because they were “asking for it”. And they’re propping up a culture of online harassment, of graphic threats of rape and sexual violence.

“But, wundergeek!” you may be saying. “There’s a difference between joking about rape and threatening to rape someone!” But that’s not the problem. The problem is that jokes about rape contribute to the notion that rape is something trivial, something unimportant, something permissible. Jokes by community leaders contribute to this notion even more! Dale North and Jim Sterling can joke about how they’re just “garme jurnalists”, but the fact is that they are major voices in the gaming community and their audience is HUGE. Much larger than mine. Their words have weight.

It’s time for prominent figures in the game industry to acknowledge that they’re responsible for the environment that their words create. Because as long as our community leaders are allowed to make misogynist “jokes” about rape and violence against women, how can we expect the sorts of criminal harassment that feminist bloggers face to go away? If rape is something normal, acceptable, and permissible, can we be surprised when the women who dare to speak up for women’s rights are threatened into silence?

Open Letter to BioWare Part 2: I am a female who wants to give you money for your games. Please stop treating me like shit.

[This is an open letter to BioWare. Like the previous open letter I posted about this topic, this has been sent to the folks at BioWare. Unfortunately, my first letter’s only response was an autoresponder promising that it would be forwarded to a human. I have yet to receive a response, and considering that it’s been nearly a month I’ll assume that one isn’t coming.]

Hi, BioWare. This is wundergeek again. I haven’t heard from you since my last letter, but I was really hoping that you might have taken some of what I said to heart about the depth of loathing and betrayal that I feel about this awful Liara statue that Kotobukiya is producing.

You’ve made some pretty positive steps in recent titles. The variety of same-sex relationships in Dragon Age and DA2 was awesome, and I’m thrilled to bits that there will be a gay romance option for both men and women in Mass Effect 3. And while there were some problematic elements to the contest to choose the FemShep on the ME3 Collector’s Edition box, I’m willing to believe that your heart was in the right place and that you really were trying to reach out to the legions of fans, female and male, who love FemShep and want to see her get the love that she deserves.

With all of this positive progress, I really wanted to believe that the backlash that you received would convince you that this awful perversion of a great character by Kotobukiya was a mistake and a cheapening of a great brand. On the facebook page, you said you wanted to know what the fans thought, and we told you. There were thousands of comments posted in less than 24 hours. I would have commented myself had I seen the page before the comments were closed not long after the page was put up.

And I definitely wasn’t alone in my dislike of Kotobukiya’s vision of Liara. Thousands of us voiced our dismay, that you would take one of Mass Effect’s strongest characters – male or female – and turn her into an over-sexualized figure in a cheap grab for a few more bucks. Liara is an adult, a brilliant scientist, a powerful biotic, information broker, and total badass. This reduction of a strong, funny, awesome female character to a collection of sexy bits… this isn’t just a betrayal of your fans. It’s a betrayal of your own writers. I really feel for them, because if Liara was a character I had written, I’d be pretty pissed too.

The backlash was huge, negative, and spread across several fansites – including The Escapist, Daily Joypad, and even Kotaku. There was also a lot of backlash on your own forums – backlash that spread across multiple threads. Hundreds, if not thousands of people spoke out against Kotobukiya’s version of Liara, and most of their comments can be summarized thusly:

DO NOT WANT. This is not my Liara.

So after all of this, I had hoped that your desire to solicit feedback from fans was genuine and that you would take this anger to heart, that you would tell Kotobukiya to modify the design of the statue to at least partially mollify your many, many angry fans. Even after all the times you’ve let me down lately, BioWare, I still hold out hope that you’ll listen to your better nature. You have it in you to be so very good, it really pains me to see this kind of stuff.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that, nope, you weren’t really interested in soliciting fan feedback after all. You never intended to take fan feedback to heart in the first place; this was all a clumsy attempt to generate buzz for licensing tie-in to rake in cash from male gamers who would happily pay $55 bucks to stare at some random Asari with balloons tacked to her chest who happened to have stolen Liara’s Shadow Broker outfit. Because here’s the pre-order for the figure.

Were you trying to slip this under the radar? I hope not. I hope it’s nothing more than a simple case of the many fan sites I read being tired of the story and not picking up on the pre-order. I want to believe that, but after all of the awfulness you’ve put your fans through recently, I’m not sure that I can bring myself to believe in your good intentions anymore, BioWare.

I beg, implore you, even. Please reconsider. Scrap this awful, awful doppleganger of a beloved character. Consign the Kotobukiya statue to the trash heap and get it re-designed right, in a way that honors the spirit of the character. I’m not against a sexy Liara figure, when it comes to it. But I want a figure that honors the strength and intelligence of her character without simply putting her bits on display for horny male gamers.

Don’t just do it for me. Do it for all of your fans that you claimed to want to listen to who have told you that this is something WE DO NOT WANT. Mass Effect is a beloved franchise with thousands, if not millions of fans. We are not the people who think that video games are creating rapists, or making children stupid, or causing the moral decline of our society. We are people who love games, who specifically love your games and want to give you money for your games and merchandise based on your games. Rather than alienating your fans by asking for feedback and then ignoring it when it goes against an established marketing plan, how about you try actually listening to us? Because again, we’re the folks who are prepared to give you money! You have a vested interest in listening to us, right?

And if you decide that even after all of the hurt and anger your fans have expressed over this issue you still want to push forward and bring this godawful Kotobukiya Liara to market, then do us a favor. Next time, be up-front in your pandering. Have the balls to admit that you’re selling boobular figures to horny male nerds because you think they’ll buy anything with breasts and it’s an easy way to make some quick cash without having to do any of the work yourself. As much as I hate the pandering, this dishonest pandering is even more distasteful.

Ever your devoted fan,

wundergeek