[BEFORE I START: I’m going to go ahead and post this, since I got it 80% written over the weekend before I heard news of the Isla Vista mass shooting. I have a lot of thoughts about that and will be touching on that in my next post. For now, as I sit here finishing the editing on this post, don’t be surprised if some of that creeps into this post today.
Also, any comments that even smell faintly of “not all men” are going to get deleted as soon as I see them.]
One of the problems that I’ve encountered frequently while writing this blog, as well as elsewhere on the internet, is the problem of credentials. In any discussion in which a woman expresses something resembling an opinion, it is generally true that someone will challenge what the woman says on the basis that she has no standing to express said opinion.
She’s not properly educated! She doesn’t have relevant job experience! She doesn’t have enough relevant job experience! Her work doesn’t conform to this narrow standard! …Whatever. There are lots of ways that men can and do dismiss what women are saying, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to refer to the idea of credentials as a shorthand for the authority to speak knowledgeably on a subject.
And honestly, that alone is pretty goddamn sexist. Plenty of dudes can hold forth about their opinions about subjects that they know nothing about, but heaven forbid a woman get in on commenting on something that she is only familiar with in passing.
The problem is that the seemingly logical conclusion, saying “I am qualified to talk about this because [pertinent credentials]” is also the incorrect answer. That’s right. No matter what you do, you’re still wrong. Welcome to the internet!
Some Real Life Examples
Two months ago, I did a redraw of an old piece of GenCon art that I’d just discovered actually really bugged me, not thinking anything of it at the time. Redraws are something that the internet has been doing for a long time – it’s a very useful way of illustrating the problems of sexualized anatomy to the lay viewer, as it were.
WOW WAS THAT A MISTAKE.
For two days I got bombarded with nerd rage from dudes who were bound and determined to tell me that I am a bitch who doesn’t know what she is talking about:
(If you haven’t seen it, you should really go read the followup post that I did documenting the horrible things people were saying as a cautionary lesson in just how invested dudes can get in making sure that they don’t have to listen to things that women say that they don’t like.)
So in the face of tons of dudes coming to my blog and DEMANDING to know WHO THE HELL I THOUGHT I WAS, I made another mistake. Mistake #2 was that I actually told them about my relevant experience:
it’s worth pointing out that I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and while my major wasn’t drawing, I took 2+ years of drawing anatomy classes. Also, I have worked as an illustrator in the RPG industry. My education and experience are not irrelevant factors here. (you can see the whole comment here)
It was, all in all, a fairly brief summary of some of the things that give me specialized knowledge when it comes to criticizing game art and culture. I didn’t even mention my long experience with blogging, or my experience as a freelance game writer and designer, or my experience as a small press game publisher, or my long standing friendships with some fairly big names in the indie tabletop RPG industry. It was simple and matter of fact, or so I thought. Who am I to criticize this art? Well here are my credentials, gentle reader.
But nope! That was also the wrong move:
Having actually had the nerve to answer the implied question of “who the hell are you”, I found that dudes were actually more infuriated by that than by the presumption of my lack of credentials. Most of them started finding ways to discount my education and experience. (I say most because there was a creepy exception, which I’ll get to in just a second.)
Well I may have done game art, but I’m not a professional artist. Or, I have a degree in art, but not in Drawing. Or, I took drawing anatomy classes, but only two years and that’s not enough to know what I’m talking about. Whatever reasons I came up with as to why I was knowledgeable enough to provide valuable commentary on the subject at hand, those reasons just weren’t good enough.
And then there’s that one creepy exception, who got weirdly obsessed with learning the exact details of my art education, as though he was trying to find some way to debunk my education altogether. He actually demanded that I tell him where I went to school so that he could verify that I had the education that I said that I had. As I said at the time, oh yes, why don’t I provide you with personal details of my life on the internet. That seems like such a great idea, I can’t imagine any way in which that could possibly go wrong. Here’s what I ended up telling him:
I have no idea why you are so FIXATED on my education. I took drawing classes BECAUSE I LIKED THEM. My parents were paying for my degree, and New Media was a bit more practical than a degree in Drawing. So I majored in New Media, minored in Photography, and took all the drawing classes that I could shove into my schedule. BFA is a five year program – I had LOTS of room for electives.
All in all, I think I preferred having dudes go “lol who is this bitch” to that level of totally creepy scrutiny.
So which answer is less wrong?
Honestly, I wish I could tell you. I honestly thought that me talking about my own credentials on MY OWN DAMN BLOG would be a non-confrontational thing, but apparently there are a lot of dudes who feel differently.
Still, why should I have to pretend to be LESS than what I am in order to make a bunch of dudes feel better about themselves? Achievement is not a zero-sum game, fellas. Me having actually done productive shit with my life doesn’t prevent you from doing things with yours. (Links to an animated GIF)
 What. Like that’s bad?
 Seriously, people. Study anything for two years and you will get pretty knowledgeable, if you’re doing it right.. Two years is a long damn time. Also, it was actually more than two years, but it’s hard to count because semesters are weird.