Men shouldn’t require the law to make them better people

It shouldn’t take a woman going to the police to make us better men. It shouldn’t have to be a matter of legality to have us undo creepy behaviour. Relying on the law to govern our morals doesn’t make us moral beings, it makes us slaves to legality. We shouldn’t require a threat of jail or fine to reflect on our behaviour as men. As moral entities we can engage with others, rethink our actions, consider their impact on those perhaps more vulnerable, more targeted, less privileged than us.

A failure to do so probably won’t result in jail time – and that, apparently, is sufficient reason for so many men to never rethink their actions, their beliefs, their words. That must change if we want to make a better world, but it has to start with us men realising we will fuck up and, maybe, we don’t know everything.

Consider the men in a recent case. A woman decided she wouldn’t tolerate strange men street harassing her, every day, while getting to work. After trying various responses, Poppy Smart took the matter to the police.

She told the BBC:

“Every day I’d walk past and they’d wolf whistle. They’d even come out of the building site to wolf whistle as I’d continue down the road.

“One of the guys got up in my face and all he said was ‘morning love’, but it was in a very aggressive way and the other one sneered.

“They blocked the pavement and I had to walk around them.”

She discusses her own attempts to try, literally and figuratively, get around harassment.

“I started wearing sunglasses so I didn’t have to look at them. I started putting headphones on so I didn’t have to hear them.”

“Eventually it got to the day where I had enough.”

Poppy called the police and reported it.

So what do the men who did this have to say? Well

A builder questioned by police for wolf-whistling at a young woman has hit back – claiming he was paying her a “compliment”.

Ian Merrett, 28, said wolf-whistling was “part and parcel” of working on a building site and even bragged about using cat-calls to seduce a string of other women.

Oh, well, I guess that’s OK then: this man – who, like me, is a 28 year old straight dude – says it’s a compliment to yell lecherous things at woman; to physically block a woman half his size, while she’s made it clear she’s not interested. I’d like to see where, in his work contract, it says “you will wolf-whistle at strange women” since it’s “part and parcel” of working on a building site.

But, you see, he’s had success seducing women! Because there’s no other, non-creepy, way to meet women!

He said:

“I’ve seen the news coverage and it’s not right. I’m a builder and my mates are builders. We are all hard working people and our reputation has been damaged.”

Your hard work doesn’t negate that you are a creep, it just means you’re capable of multitasking.

Or maybe not.

If you really are hard at work, why are you wolf-whistling at strange women? If I was your employer, I’d be concerned I’d hired people who weren’t doing what I was paying them for.

Your “reputation” matters less than women’s safety here: You can go somewhere else, but women have to try commute knowing, daily, there are men who feel entitled to harass them under the guise of compliments. Grow up, apologise, be better men.

“Wolf-whistling is part and parcel of working on a site, it’s complimenting a girl.”

Again, I’d like to see your work contract stating this. All you’re really saying is “boys will be boys”, that’s “just how it is”. The problem isn’t that we don’t know that: The problem is precisely this mindset. The problem is that harassment currently is part of working in a public area and targeting strangers. We’re saying change that: It’s creepy, gross and bad. We know it exists, we know why: We’re saying stop, please.

And just because you intend it to be compliments doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll be interpreted. Intention isn’t magic. Women are literally telling us all the time they do not like this; it doesn’t matter what you think you’re giving when recipients keep saying “Stop”.

“I didn’t even see her face, and I wouldn’t recognise her if I fell over her in the street, so I don’t know how that could possibly be sexual harassment.”

I keep forgetting that because you don’t see someone’s face, it’s impossible to make that person feel uncomfortable, unsafe, harassed and targeted.

“It’s not worth getting into trouble over some silly little girl. I don’t know why she complained, she must be thinking things above her station.”

She’s a woman. So it’s not worth you getting into trouble, but it is worth her sense of security? And you still don’t know why she complained? If you don’t know why a person would take something to the police, maybe… try figure out why they did? Maybe consider the impact your actions have on others?

It’s not like it could’ve been an easy decision for Smart to go the police, knowing people would hate and harass her further (which is, of course, happening).

If “above her station” means the ability to walk down the street not harassed then I guess she was. But that’s not “above” her station, it is her station as a person; that’s a privilege many of us, as straight cis dudes have and it shouldn’t be only us. When people ask for this same privilege of non-harassment , and we berate them for thinking they’re “better” than they are, that only highlights how toxic our culture is.

Men who defend harassment as “boys will be boys” have a very low opinion of men; men who state this aren’t affirming they can’t change how things are, but that they don’t want to. We created this toxic culture, we can be part of changing it. But it won’t happen while men double-down and refuse to listen to women and claim street harassment is compliments. Men: We can do better and we must do better.

Debunking common responses to diversity

Those of us who speak often about diversity – particularly in gaming, but it’s an issue for all mediums – are often faced with similar responses. I want to reply to some.

Throat clearing

Let’s first be clear about what diversity support is: The call to have more games include people of colour, trans folk, etc., is about wanting more, not less.

We want not mere inclusion of, say, black characters, but ones who aren’t all gangsters (as in Watch Dogs); transgender folk who aren’t solely included as targets of transphobic jokes (as in Grand Theft Auto V); women who aren’t caricatures or replaceable with inanimate objects (too many to list).

Diversity is about the recognition that other people partake of a medium, are worth representing within those mediums as people, and who have certain issues particular to that group that are worth exploring in a respectable way.

The question about what to do with this recognition is where difficulty lies. But the responses to such a cause help no one.

Common, wrong responses

“Not every game has to cater to a minority!”

No one is saying every game has to. The call for more games to include and deal with issues that affect various kinds of people is not a call for every game to meet some magical quota. I don’t even know what such a measure looks like. I also don’t really know what “catering to a minority” means.

Diversity campaigning means “cater to all/more people – not just some”. Saying diversity is “every game must cater to a minority” is the exact opposite of the overarching goal of “more”.

We’re highlighting too many games already cater to one demographic (straight white men); in other words, games already cater to one group. We’re saying try make stories about more than one group of people; lots of cultures, nationalities, abilities, etc., exist. We’re all interested in games.

“Let artists create what they want!”

If you wish to make your game star another white man, that is entirely your choice. But it’s still a choice and we will and can criticise you for it. Just as you are totally free to make your lead character another boring white dude, we use that same freedom to criticise you.

Whatever your reason – publishers force you, “the market” decides, etc. – it’s still a choice to focus on the stories of white men. It’s still a choice to disregard other voices or cultures or people. There is no law you’re adhering to.

Make whatever you want: that’s freedom.

The ability to criticise art and artistic choice: that’s the same freedom.

We either both have it or neither of us do.

“It’s bad for business.”

I’m not sure how you ignore examples where a diverse cast led to the biggest profits a franchise had. We’ll ignore women leads sell better – again and again. Since when is it smart business practice to ignore substantial potential audience base?

Do you really want to be fostering an audience that is outwardly repulsed by the idea you treat women respectably? That maybe people of colour don’t have to be terrorists or gangsters? Is that the type of audience you want supporting your work? If not, then you can include other kinds of people and know that the alleged original audience of straight white dudes will continue to support you, because you’re good, talented, creative.

The men who loved Half-Life, which starred a power fantasy version of many of them, didn’t abandon Valve when Portal starred a woman. How belittling of yourself, your audience and the rest of us, when you view your audience based on the most bigoted.

But here’s a black/women/etc. character! Why are you complaining?

Highlighting the existence of a minority individual doesn’t disprove the problem of majority. No one is claiming such stories or characters do not existence – we’re saying it’s too common, too predictable for stories to focus on the plight of straight white men.

For example, if Idris Elba was cast as James Bond, that doesn’t disprove or undermine that James Bond was/is always a white man. It highlights Elba is an exception and that very fact he’s an exception is the problem.

When you point out a game that focuses on a well-written black character – say Lee, from Telltale’s The Walking Dead (who is, unfortunately, a criminal) – you don’t disprove Arkham Asylum, City, Knight, Watch Dogs, Dying Light, Assassin’s Creed (AC) 2, AC: Black Flag & AC: Unity, Witcher 1, 2, 3, Far Cry 1, 3, Lords of the Fallen, Max Payne, Alan Wake, etc. etc. etc. etc. all star and focus on the stories of straight white men.

We already know about the few games that do people of colour well. We’re saying they shouldn’t be an exception, not they don’t exist.

Just be good: who cares if they’re black or white, man or woman?

It’s easy to not care about race or gender or sexuality when yours is the one that’s catered to by default. I am told constantly by white men that race isn’t an issue (which, makes me wonder: if it’s not an issue, why are they fighting me about it?); men constantly tell women to “calm down”, because, hey, Lara Croft exists. And so on.

The way this is framed is that it doesn’t matter if a character is a woman or person of colour or gay, just as long as they’re well written. This gives the impression that straight white men are inherently well-written and you need to make some kind of case for your person of colour lead.

The actual point is this: You need to make all characters, regardless of race, gender, good (or interesting or, at least, not boring/Aiden Pearce). We can all agree on that. But when you use that assertion when people are calling for diversity, you’re diverting the issue. We’re not talking about quality of characters, we’re talking about inclusion. If race doesn’t matter to you, then stop getting involved when people of colour mention inclusion. Why would we want a badly written person of colour in a game? That could be worse than their non-existence.

Your point is either pointless (of course they must be well written!) or diverting (focusing on characters’ quality rather than their inclusion).

Conclusion

Diversity matters to many of us: if it doesn’t matter to you, please rather just ignore our conversations. You don’t really prove you lack of caring when you try divert complex discussions about diversity. You also don’t help when you make the same talking points we’ve been dealing with for ages. Help yourself or help us, but please don’t be boring and distracting.

Dear straight white men: Don’t be that guy

When trying to tackle the various systems that belittle, undermine, oppress, and abuse marginalised people, we often encounter cages made of white dudes‘ folded arms. A refusal to listen; a refusal to acknowledge there’s a problem. There’s often a rumbling before, as their eyes roll when they see any mention pertaining to inclusion of women or people of colour in domains predominantly composed of those who look like them.

Whether it’s gamingatheism, genre fiction (seriously), science, whatever. The idea that these areas are still problematic – despite the existence of prominent people of colour, women, etc. – frustrates many of these guys. They feel as though simply not being a sexist or racist is sufficient to make these environments inclusive; as if by them not harassing, abusing or targeting marginalised folk, they’ve done enough and can’t understand why oppression continues. Or rather, why we’re still complaining. “Look! Barack Obama is president, there’s no racism! Look, a woman CEO, there’s no sexism!” [Read more…]

Recent victories don’t erase online toxicity

My latest for The Daily Beast examines the recent sentencing of “revenge porn” king and the “most hated man on the Internet”, Hunter Moore, in light of ongoing toxicity so many face. I don’t think his sentencing carries the weight some think it does and I highlight some contours of why combatting bigotry online is so difficult – and maybe some small ways we can help.

(Basically: if you understand why I find overt racism less troubling than constant dismissal from people who should be allies, then you understand what combating bigotry is so hard.)

A Voice For Men doesn’t speak for me

So GQ published a profile piece by the excellent Jeff Sharlet on the Men’s Rights Movement – specifically the colourful cast at the awful A Voice For Men at a conference. Given that it’s examining men’s rights activists, there would be some disturbing reading. I Tweeted some.

Here on fatherhood and rape…

There is a horrible description of how they treated Sharlet’s (woman) friend, Blair.  She was taken aside by the collegiate-activism director of A Voice for Men, Sage Gerard.

[Sage says] “You could put down your book right now and yell ‘Rape!’ and I would be led away in handcuffs.” They think about this. Sage says, “I hope it’s okay if I hug you.”

Before she can respond, he pulls her in, pulls her up out of her chair, pulls her against his chest, and holds her there. He rubs her back. An embrace Blair will later describe as “the most unconsensual hug I have ever known.”

Blair: “I still don’t know what to do about the poem.”

Sage loosens his grip. “I apologize for dragging you away,” he says. “I wasn’t going to feel okay until I talked to you.” He warns her not to send mixed messages. For instance, she shouldn’t put her hand on a man’s knee if she doesn’t want to have sex with him. Sage puts his hand on Blair’s knee. This is not a mixed message, he wants her to understand. She’s here, in the VFW. She’s taken the red pill. She needs another hug. He needs to give it to her.

Later, they joke about raping her.

“I’m curious,” [Paul] Elam says. “What did your friends think when you told them you were coming here?”

“To be honest?” Blair asks. Elam nods. She says, “I had friends who said I’d get raped.”

Blink. You can almost see the struggle in Elam’s bones: Play the nice guy? Or the perv? No question. “All right!” he booms, swinging his arms together. “Let’s get started!”

Jazz winces.

“Get the video camera!” Factory yells at his girlfriend, who giggles weakly.

I should be very clear here: At no point does it seem like Elam or Factory is actually going to rape Blair. We know they’re joking. Just a couple of middle-aged guys joking around about rape with a young woman they’ve never met before in a hotel room at one in the morning.

Sharlet’s piece is hard to read. And Voice for Men were certain to respond. They did in a way only A Voice For Men would: by targeting Blair as being “pimped” out by Sharlet. It’s literally in the title.

Elam doesn’t say what Sharlet got wrong, only that he takes offence at the idea that a writer needs to highlight Elam wasn’t actually threatening rape. Why would anyone think that of someone who claims women beg to be raped, likes inflicting pain, gets aroused by targeting his opponents, and makes website to put feminists alongside murderers?

It’s also unlikely that Blair consented to the pictures the site has of her, which link to her Facebook page. That’s some serious unethical media. Elam also refers to her as “pretty young Blair”, while trying to wave off worries about an attempted rape. That doesn’t exactly help, dude.

UPDATE:

My brilliant friend David Futrelle has a better write up about AVFM’s response.

 —

This site doesn’t speak to me or for me. It’s the voice of misguided men, filled with toxic masculinity that leads to fathers dismissing and mocking their own daughter’s claims of rape; to entitlement to women’s bodies because of their wardrobe; to rewards for being decent. It’s ideas that come to someone who’s identified a sickness but looks outward, instead of inward.

Men face numerous troubles and MRAs blame feminism, not the targets of feminism – which should be the targets of men, too: a sick society, a broken world, one still struggling under the heavy load of homophobia, transphobia, poverty, inequality, racism. A world that seems designed for only a select few to benefit, while the rest of us struggle just to stay afloat.

Men who use their platforms to berate women for problems are acting unethically: they are using finite time, finite resources and a powerful tool on the wrong target. Instead of trying to make better men, we’re making bitter ones. So many are straight, able-bodied, cis men who’ve never faced serious pain until a woman rejected them to some degree; and they use that poison to paint all of women in a single, ugly colour, smearing their humanity across the canvas of their worldview.

Women want to help men; women with platform and voices have spoken out in defence of male rape survivors. I know where Lindy West was, during the Shia Labeouf rape allegations – where was A Voice For Men?

It’s a voice for men – just not alleged rape survivors. So some men, who have non-problems and blame feminists. Oh, they’ll mention prison and suicide and work-deaths, but they won’t do anything about it. They never have. Indeed, they make it worse by making it seem like they’re a voice or men who have these issues – they make it worse by using these as touch points to launch nonsense diatribes about the evils of feminism.

This is not a voice for men, it’s a voice for poison. It’s a voice for toxicity that makes any efforts we want to make toward helping men who have mental health problems, who are rape survivors, who are abused by their wives much, much harder. Our gender requires serious self-reflection, we need to be helping men, creating better men, with better views, to learn how to listen, how to apologise, how to be… just better.

Don’t let A Voice for Men be the voice for men. Let’s show that men can be and are better than Paul Elam and his band of unethical content creators.

UPDATE:

My friend David Futrelle has a better wrpte

Public shaming and modern media

Jon Ronson has an adaptation excerpt from his latest book age out public shaming in the digital age. It primarily revolves around Justine Sacco, who you might remember as sending out that racist/unfunny Tweet.

Ronson writes:

The furor over Sacco’s tweet had become not just an ideological crusade against her perceived bigotry but also a form of idle entertainment. Her complete ignorance of her predicament for those 11 hours lent the episode both dramatic irony and a pleasing narrative arc.

[…]

By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke.

[…]

For the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.

At the time, I wrote about why Sacco’s Tweet wasn’t the worst part about the whole affair (and was subsequently quoted in the New York Times, when they wrote about this same issue): I was horrified by the reactions to it – and, mainly, how she was targeted by those with much larger platforms.

There’s an ethical dimension many haven’t considered with platforms and engagements: It’s difficult and tricky areas. I engage publicly on social media with people, quite often – but always with people who have anonymous accounts and aren’t traceable in any way. I don’t even try show up legitimate problematic individuals, unless they are threatening the livelihood and safety of others: if it’s just some loser Gamergater or MRA, I tend to just block, though inform others of the individual.

The point is it’s tricky and it should be tricky. Shaming shouldn’t be as easy as a Retweet, but it is and that’s dangerous. Platform holders like the Buzzfeed editors and Gawker’s Sam Biddle who thrive on public shaming deserve severe ethical scrutiny for their work and conduct.

Indeed, Sacco isn’t the one who should be ashamed; it’s those with major platforms who decided to draw the world’s attention to her, for her innocuous and clearly outrageous Tweet.

I made comments about comments sections

Comment sections are a fascinating topic for me, as I’m very interested in the new dynamics that comes with online interaction and the change in media.

Anyway, I made a Storify of some Tweets after a boring, persistent and verbose commenter I banned here followed me (?) to a game site I write for.

Why it matters that the internet’s made by men

The amazing Soraya Chemaly has a piece up about the internet being made of bros and why that matters.

Tech’s institutionalised male dominance, and the sex segregation and hierarchies of its workforce, have serious and harmful effects globally on women’s safety and free expression.

This is what Soraya documents throughout the piece. From revenge porn to the kinds of abuse women face, that segregates it from the kind men receive.

[Read more…]