[Ground rules: As with the previous post, anything resembling “not all men” is going to get deleted. If this seems unfair, try reading #YesAllWomen or #YesAllWhiteWomen on twitter for a few minutes. People who troll after having their comment deleted will have subsequent troll comments replaced with links to my favorite “male tears” and “misandry” GIFs from Tumblr. (If you play nice after having a comment deleted, your comment can stay.) I am not feeling charitable about this.
Also, I normally don’t do trigger warnings, but TW for misogynist language (not mine).]
The internet has been a pretty fraught place for me the last week. In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings, first there was the predictable backlash of “not all men”, not to mention the reports insisting that the attacks were caused by mental illness, not misogyny. (Never mind the fact that people with mental illness are disproportionately the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.) Then there was the amazing, necessary, but absolutely hard-to-read #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen responses on twitter.
Suddenly women that I look up to and admire were sharing their experiences of harassment and sexual violence. It was a powerful and disturbing indictment of the pervasiveness of our rape culture, but it proved a bit too much for me to deal with. As such, I’ve been avoiding twitter the last few days.
Aside from one comment on facebook, my reflection until now has been mostly private. I have been devouring pieces about Elliot Rodger and his ties to PUAhate and the MRA movement from those media outlets and bloggers willing to actually call a spade a spade and the thing that disturbs me the most about Elliot Rodger isn’t how alien his rhetoric justifying the attack was. On the contrary – it’s familiar. Too familiar. I hear echoes of it all the time.
And these are just examples that I’ve gotten in the last few months – before the long hiatus, I never used to save comments that I deleted from my blog. And none of this includes the awful things that people have said about me on various fora in the past. Nor does it include comments made about me on Reddit that have long since vanished into the moderation ether, but which I still read when they were first posted.
I’ve been called an “irritating dumbass bitch” and a “ignorant judgemental cunt”. I’ve been told I just need to get laid and that no one would ever want to fuck me. I’ve had half an hour of a gaming podcast devoted to me, in which four men talked about my “radical agenda” and why I was arrogant, crazy, ugly, and not worth listening to. And even with all of that, I’ve been grateful that the trolling I get isn’t worse. Because as bad as it is to be called a fat ugly dyke, at least no one has ever threatened to rape me. (Yet.)
But the purpose of this post isn’t to highlight the garden-variety misogyny that gets leveled at me for writing this blog. A lot of people have written a lot of really smart things about the problem of deeply embedded misogyny in geekdom.
Instead, I’d like to focus on something more specific: nerd famous men (yes, men) who use their nerd fame to incite their audience to harass people (usually women) they don’t like.
Using their platform as a weapon
There are men in the gaming community who you don’t criticize publicly; you do that very privately with people you trust, because they are known for riling up their followers and pointing them at people they don’t like (usually women). That way they silence people who would speak out against them because they’re afraid of getting harassed and they get to claim total innocence (well I didn’t harass anyone).
There are some major problems with this:
Problem the first: Harassment is srs bsns
The internet is rife with stories about online harassment against women. Anita Sarkeesian, Adria Richards, Jennifer Hepler, Rebecca Watson, Sady Doyle, Zerlina Maxwell – those are just the first six names off the top of my head of women who are notable for having been the target of harassment campaigns. But there are darker examples too. Amanda Todd. Reteah Parsons. Both of whom were young women that committed suicide after sustained and dedicated online harassment campaigns.
How women respond to harassment varies widely – some grow more outspoken, some go silent, and some retreat from online life altogether. (None of these responses is “correct” – every victim of harassment has to deal with it in their own way.) But women who are harassed, especially young women, face lasting emotional and psychological harm up to and including suicide.
HARASSMENT CAN KILL. It isn’t a weapon that should be used against anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be used casually.
Problem the second: Incredibly fragile egos
The reasons that nerd famous men incite harassment against people can often be quite trivial. Like you once criticized an artist that they like. Or you did a re-draw of a piece of art by an artist that’s not them. You don’t even have to criticize them directly to earn their ire. You just have to criticize a thing that they like.
Problem the third: They do nothing to curb misogyny in their followers
At no point during this process of inciting harassment do these nerd famous men ever do or say anything to curb the tide of misogynist sentiment in their followers. So when their followers go forth and bile-vomit, they call people things like feminist dyke cunt. Or feminazi. Or they tell someone they should probably kill themselves.
Having created an echo chamber to insulate themselves from whatever stimulus offended them, they do nothing to prevent misogynists from taking over that echo chamber. And as recent events demonstrate, Elliot Rodger is proof of the danger of misogynist echo chambers.
How It Works
Step 1: Hark! A woman has said something I don’t like! Quickly! To the interbutts!
Step 2: Link to the thing you don’t like. Be sure that you mention how you think the person who did the thing you don’t like is worthy of disdain. Are they stupid? Shrill? Embarassing? Smug? Arrogant? Ignorant? Ugly? Crazy? Choose a few adjectives that appeal to you in the moment and post without too much thought.
Step 3: Your followers all agree with you that the person is a terrible human being. Of course they do. You’re always right. Make sure to make additional assertions of the person’s disdain-worthy qualities. You know, to help build up a head of steam.
Step 4: Extreme voices inevitably chip in. Do nothing to dissuade them. “That person should suck my dick”? Fine. “We should go beat up that person”? Yup. “Bitches be crazy”? A-OK. Make sure to agree with a few of the more extreme comments not advocating actual violence. (Remember, the goal is to appear not culpable.)
Step 5: Your followers have now gone forth to flood the persons personal internets via whatever channels they were doing the thing you didn’t like in the first place. Make sure to never acknowledge this. Especially don’t acknowledge that a good portion of them are doing so using misogynist slurs.
Step 5a (optional): Has the person you don’t like had the nerve to actually continue doing that thing you don’t like? Even after you told your followers how much you didn’t like them and how awful they were? Time to up the ante. Resort to hyperbole or outright lies about the person you don’t like. They said something critical about sexual objectification in game art? They are now a sex-negative feminazi who wants to censor all sex in everything ever! Or maybe they posted an analysis of the objectification of women in another artist’s work? Lie and say that that person insulted your work. Congratulations! You are so in the right on this one.
Step 6: Use the controversy-generated pageviews to promote your projects to your followers and increase your audience. This is good because you are famous and talented. Unlike that woman who did that thing you don’t like who is just looking for attention. What a fucking bitch.
I wish the above was comic hyperbole. It’s not.
It happened to me
Presented here are three stories in which this has happened to me. In two I will not name names; one person actively generates publicity by doing this sort of thing and I don’t want to gratify his behavior, and one person says that he is experiencing mental distress because of the backlash against MRAs in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree. As much as it is hard for me to have much sympathy for someone who prioritizes their personal feelings about being judged over the lives of the women who died as a result of MRA ideology, I’m not willing to make light of mental health problems.
Some people may know the people to whom I will refer in these stories. I request that you not name names.
The Rebellious Artist
The Rebellious Artist (TRA) is an artist that is well known for his game art, game design, and game-culture-related projects. He is also convinced that I am a terrible blight upon the game community and periodically makes public attacks on me to that effect, all because I happened to blog critically about an artist that he and his girlfriend happened to like. (I was critical of the artist’s extreme anatomy distortions, and in the comments I said that there were trends in the artist’s work that implied problematic attitudes toward consent.)
Somehow he decided that my saying “this artist you like’s work displays problematic attitudes toward women” was the same as “I hate sex and sexy things and sex in any media ever the end”. Once he even described me as a fascist uber-conservative akin to Phyllis Schafly.
His general mode of attack, when he remembers that he doesn’t like me, is to make publicly visible attacks against me attached to my real name, in an attempt to convince people that I’m a shrill feminazi that shouldn’t ever be listened to. Once it happened on a forum that I used to post on but quit three or four years ago – he was banned for that one, but the attack was sufficiently personal that it left me very rattled.
More recently, he attempted to torpedo my reputation in the game design community just as I was getting into doing freelance for some more mainstream projects with Onyx Path:
This is an excerpt of a post that he made in response to a manufactured controversy (that he helped to manufacture) that I commented on. His response was to make this post with many real names besides mine arguing that TRPG industry companies shouldn’t be hiring us to do freelance work for them. It’s worth noting I wasn’t the only one targeted by that one, although I was the only one singled out with a dismissive aside. (Go Make Me a Sandwich girl? Really? That’s super mature.)
And yet despite his bad behavior, and that he is known within the community for his bad behavior (it’s really kind of his trademark), he is still highly regarded by many as a top-level artist, game designer, and gaming personality, which is frankly depressing. Lots of people know about his bullshit and just don’t care.
The Edgy Game Designer
Last week I posted a link to this satirical Dungeon World playbook for the Edgy Game Designer. This playbook isn’t 100% based on the person I’m talking about here, but it’s close enough that that’s what I’ll call him.
TEGD has never (to my knowledge) declared being aligned with the Mens Rights movement, but his public social media posts adhere very closely to that ideology:
(For reference, Caroline Criado-Perez is a British MP who had a harassment campaign launched against her for the radical notion of wanting women to appear on at least some of Britain’s currency. (Not including the Queen.))
Hatred of social justice activists, decrying feminism, denial of rape culture. Check, check, and check. TEGD is also notable for his vocal defense of rape as a device in games and for his advocacy against convention harassment policies. Which. You know. Yay.
And yet despite all that, TEGD has a pretty large and devoted following:
So when a gaming organization with a reasonably large following (not huge, but certainly not small) announced that they were going effectively lend him their platform to talk about his offensive views, I was pretty upset.
So I spoke out. I was careful to keep my posts mostly about my feelings and personal experience and how TEGD’s stances were hurtful to me as someone who has been sexually victimized at a gaming convention. I wasn’t the only woman who spoke out either.
But rather than respond to the substance of the concerns that we were raising, TEGD started making public posts about how TERRIBLE we were and we were calling him a ravening rape monster and didn’t we know he is CALM and NICE DAMMIT.
And then men went nuts in the comments about what awful bitches we were, to which TEGD would respond by saying that he just couldn’t understand how people couldn’t see what a GOOD PERSON HE WAS and HIS WIFE SAID HE’S NOT A MISOGYNIST, etc etc etc. Which only got them more riled up, to the point that I got a few private messages from people who were concerned for me about the level of ire happening on his page.
There were other women who spoke out, as well as one man who was as vocal as we were. Yet despite the fact that the one man made harsher, more personal attack statements while the women focused mainly on our feelings and personal experiences, TEDG’s followers mainly got angry about us “dumbass irritating bitches”. Funny that.
J. Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks
But the nuts and bolts of the situation are this. I wrote a post in which I did a re-draw of the official GenCon art from 2013 by Jonboy Meyers. Whereupon J. Scott Campbell and Mark Brooks, popular artists in the mainstream comics industry, linked their followers to the post and told them what a terrible person I was.
The thing about comics is that it’s not like roleplaying. TRPG game designers can only hope to achieve a moderate level of nerd fame, unless you happen to be Monte Cook or Ken Hite. Comics artists? Their audience is larger. A LOT larger. So literally overnight, my traffic went THROUGH THE ROOF:
You might think that as a blogger that writes a Patreon-supported blog, that kind of traffic spike would be something I’d like to see. WELL IT’S NOT. I found myself obsessively refreshing my site stats, growing more and more worried as the views kept going up by the thousands. That level of attention from hostile, angry sources is just frightening. For the first 24 hours, I couldn’t help but worry that this was going to go viral and I was going to wind up as another Anita Sarkeesian.
Of course, it didn’t help that when I blogged about the negative attention that Campbell and Brooks had directed my way, J. Scott Campbell then lied about my response to his followers:
Which, yeah. That’s not even close to what happened:
Okay, so let’s review. Did I say that they were knowingly using their audience to harass me? Yup! I sure did. Did I say that their behavior is unprofessional and imply strongly that it was also irresponsible? You betcha! Did I say ANYTHING ANYWHERE about artwork created by J Scott or Mark Brooks? NOPE.
Thankfully, the shitstorm died down and things went back to normal. But not before 48 extremely anxiety-inducing hours, during which managing comment threads was occupying a huge portion of my attention.
So what’s the point? Why speak out? Or do I just have an axe to grind?
The reason I’m writing this is because misogyny like that expressed by Elliot Rodger doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Echo chambers like PUAhate reinforce and normalize that misogyny. What also normalizes misogyny is when men in positions of respect and authority engage in the practice of encouraging misogyny and creating misogynist echo chambers so that they can protect their self-image.
The problem is that misogynist echo chambers are dangerous. Never forget that misogyny kills. Sometimes directly, as in the case of Elliot Rodger. Sometimes indirectly as in the cases of Amanda Todd and Reteah Parsons.
Am I saying that people like J. Scott Campbell, Mark Brooks, TRA, and TEGD are responsible for mass-murderers like Elliot Rodger? NO.
What I am saying is that inciting harassment of people they don’t like is dangerous, and turning a blind eye to the misogynist echo chambers that happen in their comment sections (if not actively encouraging said misogyny) is even more so.
We need to stop taking misogyny in the geek community for granted and start holding misogynists accountable for their actions, especially when they are creators who have a large audience that they are willing to weaponize. We need to STOP writing these guys blank checks just because they’re nerd famous. And we need to start calling out misogyny when we see it.
We have to. We must. The stakes are just too high.