The double-bind of credential dropping.

[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.

4591-4913-MediumThe 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.


For two days I got bombarded with nerd rage from dudes who were bound and determined to tell me that I am a bitch[1] 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:

CLICK FOR LARGER, MORE READABLE VIEW. (Some comments anonymized. Blue blocks refer to me specifically.)

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[2]. 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)

[1] What. Like that’s bad?

[2] 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.


10 thoughts on “The double-bind of credential dropping.

  1. I definitely see this all the time. I wish I could say that everybody does this on the internet and that this was just a natural effect of arguing on the internet in general. But no, in my experience it’s just (white, mostly conservative American) men.

    I call it the “worldview ad hoc rescue,” because it uses the techniques of a traditional ad hoc rescue, although it’s not trying to save a specific argument but rather an entire worldview. It comes from approaching every discussion with certain assumptions about the kind of people who would disagree with you. And then when people actually disagree with you and don’t fit those assumptions, you do everything you can to shoehorn them in anyway.

    While this is not necessarily a positive response, I can say that they do it to other men too. Specifically, they do it to me as an educator. Teachers are not very respected in the US. (If I put on my feminist critical analysis hat for a moment, I would hazard to guess that this is at least partly because teaching is not considered a masculine profession.) So when I am in an argument about education, I frequently experience this dichotomy of “What could you possibly know?” followed by attempts to explain that my Masters and 7 years in the classroom cannot possibly be sufficient for me to claim that I know something about the topic.

    I agree that it is infuriating. So I’ll just encourage you as I encourage myself when I get stuck in these loops – remember that these people are not arguing for compromise, logic, or reconciliation. They are arguing to be heard and to be right. You will never get through to them. However, you just might get through to someone who is watching the argument, or you might give a little fuel to someone who has commented once and backed out, but will have their own argument about this soon. Remember that debate has an audience as well as an opponent. Make your points for them, for the silent audience, not for your opponent.

    Because we are watching, and we support you.

    • While I agree with you on most of this, Eric, I would like to call you out on the comment of it being mainly conservative white men on the internet who say and do such cruel, demeaning things to women speaking out.
      It is impossible to tell the race and/or political stance of someone over the internet, first of all, unless it is actually straight out said. Sure, their are jerks online who say that any woman who dares to speak out about supposedly “male dominated” subjects must be a feminazi…but by saying, “any jerk-faced male who is being a jerk online to said women is a conservative white dude”, we are doing the same thing.
      We are lumping people we know next to nothing about on the internet into a pile, and judging them as a whole…and while such jerks should be judged, such blogs are meant to point out the problems men and women face in today world so that the problems can be FIXED. SO that we can all be treated as EQUALS.
      That said, I feel that we, people treating each other with kindness and as equals, should not jump to conclusions as such…as that only means that we are acting in the same manner as those who arn’t.

      However, this is only my personal opinion, and it my be biased, as my father is a conservative white male, and remains to this day, the kindest, and most chivalrous males I have ever encountered.

      (…and my mother is a conservative Hispanic female who definitely wears the pants in their relationship).

      • Sorry, I should have been more clear. I was indicating my own experience, which is most often related to issues of education and parenting. All of the people who have done this to me with regard to those topics are (I happen to know for sure) white conservative males. I would not assume that everyone who does this anywhere, on any topic, is in that category, and there are certainly otherwise liberal males who fall into patriarchical patterns when arguing with women. We need to call those men out as well.

        Also, there is certainly not a part=whole argument implied by my statements. I would never say that all conservative white males engage in this tactic, but that does not mean we should ignore the pattern. Instead we should be asking ourselves why those effects tend to be correlated. Is it related to a common mindset? Is it endemic of the overall anti-intellectualism that pervades American culture? Is it a technique they hear practiced on certain radio shows or news shows? I don’t know. But it may be worth examining. And please do not consider any such examination an attack on your no doubt wonderful father. 🙂

        • Ah, so THAT was what you meant.^^
          Thank you very much for clarifying…I hope that It didn’t seem like I was attacking you. Trends are trends, however, and I have to agree that not all white men, or men in general, are as kind as my father.
          Not all women are very nice either…but in regards to the treatment of women, and how men DO tend to fall into patriarchal patterns, it is certainly a problem that needs addressing.

  2. I’ve been hovering over this blog for awhile now, but now seems a good time to say that I think you are a very strong person for putting up with this crap.
    That being said, of COURSE they’d go out of their way to prove that your education and experience are null and void since they’d said earlier that you had neither…
    …people HATE to be wrong.
    Their are jerks out there, and if they feel like wasting their time complaining and whining about/to you, despite you doing nothing wrong…
    …well, they just sink to a whole new level of jerk-ness, now don’t they?

  3. I agree with the gist of your article, in that I think that asking for and providing credentials isn’t a very useful rhetorical tool, at least on the internet. It’s too easy exaggerate, if not lie outright, on the internet. Credentials do play a part in establishing oneself as an authority in a subject, but just a part, and credentials aren’t nearly as important as the quality of one’s arguments and a demonstrated knowledge of the subject. I don’t know anything about visual arts, but I trust your analysis (to a point) because your blog here makes you sound like a reasonably reasonable person.

    On the other hand, I think it’s a slippery slope to start rejecting tools of rhetoric just because they’re sometimes used to further sexism. If you start doing this, you’re not going to have many tools left.

    As you said, there are lots of ways that men can and do dismiss women; every rhetorical tool I can think of has at some point been used to that effect; they’re used because they work. Of course, if the woman’s argument was sound in the first place, then dismissing her argument isn’t a correct use of rhetoric. By all means point out logical fallacies and bad faith arguments, and call a troll a troll, but try to rise above it.

    …or if you do sink to their level, don’t be afraid to appropriate their tools 😉

    As a baseline, if people ask your for credentials but don’t provide any of their own, they’re probably not interested in an honest exchange of ideas.

    • Hmm. I would question whether asking for credentials is actually a rhetorical tool. On its face, it seems to resemble the process of establishing expertise with regard to expert testimony in court. However, as used it frequently incorporates a clear Appeal to Authority fallacy.

      In the examples in the article, you can see how the initial reaction to criticism is to assume that the critic has no background or authority of her own. This fallacy remains in place because of the continued rejection of establishment of expertise. I had mentioned earlier that it resembles an Ad Hoc Rescue, and that’s because there is never a baseline given, allowing the arguer to keep changing the definition of expertise. No one ever provides an expectation of credentials that, if fulfilled, would remove the objection.

      If someone said, “I would like to hear from professional artists on this,” or “Has anyone actually taken an anatomy class?” then Wundergeek would have been in a position to establish herself as meeting the criteria. As it is (and as you rightly pointed out), the request for credentials was a trap set by a troll.

      So by calling out this tactic, I don’t think we are rejecting a tool of rhetoric at all. I think we are attacking fallacies head-on.

    • What Eric says is very on-point. I just want to add a bit here.

      For the most part, yes, people demanding to know my credentials without presenting their own are arguing in bad faith and that does comprise the majority of the credential-demanding-trolls that I interact with.

      However, there are also Big Names who are more than happy to use their own established credentials as a weapon to invalidate an argument without ever seriously engaging with it. See J. Scott Campbell siccing his followers on me and then, when I blogged about his involvement, claiming that I’d “gone after his art”. (I haven’t.) There are also Big Names in gaming who have used such tactics against me in the past and probably will do so again.

      It’s actually worse when Big Names do it, because not only are they using their credentials as a Shield of Dismissal (“I’m a Big Name so I don’t have to listen to you lalalalala”), but they’re also using their credentials as a threat – either overt or implied – that if you continue to speak out they will torpedo your chances of obtaining work in their industry.

      Of course, what they fail to realize is that anyone who would actually listen to these Big Names as a reason not to give me work is someone that I categorically don’t want to work with anyway. Not to mention that I can make a lot more money as a self-publisher, even a small self-publisher, than through the “mainstream” Old Boys Club.

  4. Hi,
    I follow your blog but today’s post is password protected so I can’t read. I can absolutely understand if you don’t want just anyone reading it (and doing what the haters do), but now I’m pretty curious about your thoughts on current events & how they related to gaming stuff. Is there a way to get a password to read this (my regular wordpress pwd is not doing it)? Thanks.

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