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.

The paradox of rejecting entitled male/nerd culture

You’ve probably all seen this Laurie Penny piece, detailing the problems with geek/nerd culture, entitlement and so forth. I’ve long been a great admirer of Penny’s work and she’s done a lot for me in terms of understanding and combatting male entitlement and sexism.

One of the first responses I got when Tweeting Penny’s piece was a rando complaining it was yet another “white woman femsplaining” to men. I thought, as someone who is neither white nor a woman, I’d outline why I support Penny’s general position and want us to oppose nerd gatekeeping and general manosphere attitudes.

Like a cliche, I unfolded into puberty gripping a game controller, bullied, shy, and lonely. I had more interest in reading than I did in other people, despite desperately wanting to fit in. Yet, it seemed easier to complete Resident Evil’s ludicrous puzzles than speak to girls. Since I had a funny name and a strange accent, I didn’t fit in with any one group: non-Muslim friends couldn’t invite me out because of drinking and no pork products; Muslim kids didn’t like my boredom or open disdain for religion. And on it went, throughout almost all of my school years.

I was a shit to girls as a teenager, as I think almost all teenage guys probably are. All I really had were my fantasy books and games and alien shooters. My parents divorced, I had major health issues and so on.

More recently: Games themselves have been an essential way to combat chronic pain, after I found myself literally walking with a cane due to an illness no one really understands (it made my legs look like zombies had had a bit of fun). I literally earn my livelihood from writing about and studying games and games culture (among other things of course). I wrote a mini comic and one of my dreams is to do graphic novels.

I care about these cultures and they literally make my life. And the most dangerous and poisonous things to these cultures I live off, live in and that have shaped me have been those who gatekeep it. Not those putting up new walls, but those who’ve cemented themselves inside. Not those breaking barriers but those putting on locks.

I hate the term nerd and geek. Where once maybe it demarcated activities a select few were interested in and obsessive about, we live in a world of celebrity scientists and well-funded science shows; big comic book films topping the box office; the foolish and boring Star Wars franchise continuing to exist (blegh); video games making more money than a lot of Hollywood films. Nerd culture has blossomed and been amalgamated into general culture. It’s not strange to like Superman or play Dragon Age; it’s kind of expected.

Nonetheless, like someone who has great knowledge about cars or has a career in the automotive industry, some of us are more invested than others. But that investment gives no more legitimacy to deciding who may and may not participate than a footballer denying you entrance to a match because you can’t name every player for England (they’re a team right?).

Of course: I understand that “nerd culture” – or whatever – which we can loosely call games, comics, and film were the domain of the “outcast” or the “bullied”. But isolation from the rest of the world was a bug, not a feature of that culture. Now it’s bloomed into every day life of big budget Marvel films and billion dollar game industries.

And yet we still have people – mostly men – “defending” it, gatekeeping, testing women because “why would a woman I’m attracted to be interested in “nerdy” things – unless it was to get attention, to be a slut, or… something not really ever defined?”

Gatekeepers: You are not protecting “the culture” by deciding who may and may not participate, you’re poisoning it. When the barrier for entrance is correlated to your level of sexual interest, that’s both unfair and disgusting. This is the trajectory the arrow of “you’re too pretty to be a scientist/business person/etc.” flies and you’re putting up a new bullseye. You’re the child hugging a puppy who you love so much you strangle it; you’re the gardener who drowns his plants. What culture needs is expansion and growth, which comes from freedom. With freedom comes diversity.

Not hilarious

Nerd gatekeeper humour = hilarious

It’s not even a moral goal anymore, since gatekeepers need only face reality: games, films, comics are no longer their domain. It’s everyone’s. Thus, when gatekeeping, they’re not only being willfully ignorant – by not facing reality – but as with many acts done out of ignorance, damaging. Many, of course, don’t believe they’re harming – almost no one believes his actions are harmful or bad, otherwise he wouldn’t act that way. But again: such a view is due to ignorance – willful perhaps – in which case it’s intentional in a by proxy sort of way.

Many would attempt to convey sympathy. That there’s something that unites us or that we should find some common ground to understand these poor gatekeepers. But we’ve seen what such people do. We know how invested they are in maintaining a status quo, in deciding who is and is not welcome to be part of their culture. But, as I previously highlighted, when you make something so central to your identity, you can’t help but become a gatekeeper and arbiter of whoever else decides to use it, too.

Yet this is description, not justification.

And it doesn’t matter if they’re a minority, what matters is their passion and investment. And that’s where this gets weird…

See, we often use the term nerd and geek to also describe deep investment and knowledge about these cultures, not just the culture themselves. That’s why the bizarre fake geek girl nonsense involves testing female humans* with the smallest details of arcane knowledge… to see whether they warrant a nerd/geek cred (they never do, but that’s cos they’re icky girls). But the attitude matters too –  that investment, that time, that passion. As I’ve indicated, I have that for games – but I also have it for ethics and media and other things (I don’t have much of a social life).

But what we witness with gatekeepers and Gamergate and MRAs and other entitled men raging on the Internet at women is the same attitude: They’re nerds about entitlement, they’re geeks of poisonous causes. How are we supposed to match that? Heating up hollow causes and feeding off the misplaced outrage is a system we’ve long witnessed. So often, we’re dealing with obviously utter nonsense – men are the most oppressed, white people are under threat of representation in media, etc. – but it still requires time to respond, and response is required due to the very real consquences.

We can think Gamergate, for example, is nonsense but we still have to deal with consequences of harassment. Gatekeeping is a feature of entitlement and entitlement is very real, even if its justification is not. This is why in order to respond we need to keep propping up the goals worth fighting for: inclusion, tolerance, acceptance, support. Yet, we must also operate by dipping our feet into the rushing waters of nonsense that brings these waves crashing to the shores of the real world. It doesn’t matter whether games truly are in danger of the feminists; what matters is those feminists getting bomb threats and being chased out their homes.

When people ask why I care about gatekeeping – even though I’m not often “prevented” from entering; or care about Gamergate – even though I think it’s nonsense; or care about MRAs – even though I’m a man, I need to always point to these goals: security, freedom, safety, properties I want to see on the Internet, which means the world. I don’t want any space I have some impact on to be one where others feel unsafe because they’re not the “right” race, gender, etc. We fight for safety in many ways – but one I’m less certain of is silence and ignoring. This isn’t a call to arms or anything so noble, it’s an outline of my own reasoning for dealing so often with people my Followers shake their head at, for those so obviously wrong.

Their views are worth ignoring; the impact their actions have for harmless people is not.

UPDATED:

Added a sentenced related to this Tweet.

* Also known as "women".

Not being an asshole is actually kind of hard

(Disclaimer: This is a very “me” post since I’m the only anchor I feel safe to use. And I’m trying to work it out. Apologies.)

Many, including myself, have said that “not being an asshole” is easy; that decency isn’t a lot of work. I wonder how much truth there is to this.

On the one hand, not harassing women, threatening people with rape or death, etc., is actually quite easy: You just don’t. You don’t act at all. But we don’t describe non-harassers as good or decent people: That’s just the norm. We should here take note of people who expect prizes for being not-harassers, not-threateners, and so on. For some people, this is an effort worthy of reward instead of the barest, coldest foundation for decency.

On the otherhand, if you want to try be a good person toward others, you’ve got a lot of work filled with fuck ups.

Consider feminism.

I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a feminist – or any -ist – beyond atheist. Indeed, I don’t even call myself a liberal or progressive. The reasons are boring, except to say that is how I define myself. But regardless, much of my work is in support of feminist friends, against sexism and is considered feminist. I have no issue if that’s what others wish to call it.

The problem is I am not a woman. I am going to fuck up and say something stupid. I’m going to support the wrong people or use the wrong phrase; I’ll fuck up terminology and phrasing.

Again: I’m not just “not-harassing” or “not-threatening” women. I am attempting to actively and vocally support them and causes related to making society more inclusive. Whether that’s street harassment or online gaming. This is also why I target Nintendo, for example, for their unthinking homophobic prejudice. Inclusion matters beyond appeals to me as a straight dude.

But this almost always means I’m fighting to support those who are not like me.

Of course, as a non-white person there is the added aspect of racial inclusion – since I’ve encountered everything from claims about my language ability and sexual habits (namely camels) because of my Arabic name to dismissal of race concerns entirely, as irrelevant.

And in terms of supporting those not like me: I’m going to fuck it up.

To repeat: “not-harassing” is the default; vocal support is decency or good. The latter is done precisely because you want to create a more safe environment.

But yes: it seems decency is hard because you will fuck up, since you’re trying to shed light and deal with concerns about a broad group of people who are not you.

This, however, shows an important corollary: being an asshole is easy.

I’m unimpressed with people who double down on their bigotry, sexism, blind-sided ideas of what is or isn’t good for a group they don’t belong to: It’s one of the main reasons I abandoned active atheism. It’s easy to ignore the concerns of others as bluster, even when you claim to be supporting them. It’s easy to be a white, straight man and tell people daily affected by bigotry in large and small ways, to grow a thicker skin when society itself is the skin you wear. Tearing it off in pieces, to let others be part of it is hard when you’re wrapped in it for so long. But it’s right. It’s moral. And you can spot an asshole by the ease with which he utters his convictions, with the comfort he feels in support.

I, for example, always feel uncomfortable supporting women and LGBTI people (spoiler: I do not consider myself an asshole. Many disagree). This is the main reason I use my immunity as a man to undermine that immunity, under the banner of entitlement. I target what men are doing wrong, what men must do better. I use the one identity that unites me with those who often oppress and convey bigotry, who reinforce toxicity, to target their wrong actions.

The point is that being decent or good is difficult, because we’re being decent in terms of people who aren’t like us. We will fuck up and we should try surround ourselves with those who can help us, guide us and correct us. We should be uncomfortable in our support because, for example, feminism isn’t designed for men’s comfort – it’s designed for everyone’s inclusion, which means eroding long-standing entitlement men have.

Finally, you are not owed praise for being not-harasser and you are not owed praise for being decent. People who do this are precisely where that “white knight” label comes from, tarnishing efforts premised on morality with the brush targeting those who do so for creepy personal or sexual advantage (a minority that still has far reaching consequences; you only need one creep to ruin your day).

In conclusion: being an asshole is easy. Being a good person, especially when it comes to those not like you, is hard. It’s time for more straight dudes to recognise it, deal with discomfort and support those not like us.

Scott Adams mansplains why feminists are wrong about street harassment or something

I had no idea, OK. I didn’t know Scott Adams, a person I admired for his Dilbert comic, was… well, like this. I wrote an article for The Daily Beast on street harassment and male entitlement in general; let’s just say Mr Adams and I disagree somewhat.

He wrote this blogpost last month, but yeah. OK. So… let’s have a look.

—–

This blog is written for a rational audience

Well, thanks. I guess?

in 2014, sexism is not so much the “can’t vote” type of problem it once was. It’s more of the “Someone is making me uncomfortable” or “I think my gender played a role in a decision” or “I can’t tell if this is a business meeting or a date” sort of thing.

I’d like to point to a small American paper called the New York Times, though I realise I’m quoting from all the way back to three days ago. This is what’s happening in his own country. Right now.

Anti-abortion measures pose a risk to all pregnant women, including those who want to be pregnant.

Such laws are increasingly being used as the basis for arresting women who have no intention of ending a pregnancy and for preventing women from making their own decisions about how they will give birth.

How does this play out? Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for “attempted fetal homicide.”

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.

In Louisiana, a woman who went to the hospital for unexplained vaginal bleeding was locked up for over a year on charges of second-degree murder before medical records revealed she had suffered a miscarriage at 11 to 15 weeks of pregnancy.

You can nail this next to the other numerous incidents of women – still in America, today – being arrested for not stopping abuse while themselves being abused. Oh, but yeah, it’s probably just feminists overreacting – not shitty laws worth opposing, like voting law restrictions which Adams deems proper feminist issue. Nope: voting is far more important than women being locked up and arrested for trying to protect their own bodies and selves and lives and making autonomous decisions. (Note: voting of course matters, but why is this more worthy of feminist sledgehammers than fucking bodily autonomy that still is an issue today?)

Again, I’ve not even mentioned what happens to Muslim women in conservative Muslim countries or elsewhere. Even America sucks when it comes to women, dude.

Then we get this bit of patronizing nonsense (aside from the whole thing).

I pause here to make a clarification for any folks who might have wandered over here from Jezebel.com, HuffingtonPost.com, or Slate.com. I will try to type slowly so you understand this next part: Scott…is…saying…there…is… still …plenty… of …spousal abuse…job discrimination …sex crimes… and …other …horrors…perpetrated against…women.  But in 2014 that stuff looks more like crime than sexism. All women and 98% of men are on the same side when it comes to the criminal stuff.

(I like how he thinks ellipses indicates typing slowly, whereas I could’ve taken an hour to write this sentence.) [Read more…]

Ubisoft, women and diversity in media

My latest for The Daily Beast is on Ubisoft’s (lack of) prioritising women in their upcoming games and the response, in general, from those wanting diversity in media. Specifically in the case of Assassin’s Creed: Unity I found this really disappointing, since this is a talented bunch of people – who not only themselves wanted women, but are great at encouraging diversity.

I’ve been sick and busy with work, so apologies for empty blog for awhile. I should be returning to at least my infrequent levels of blogging – I definitely have an upcoming fisk.

‘Cybersexism’ by Laurie Penny: a review and essay

I wrote a review for Laurie Penny’s book Cybersexism at Big Think.

In it, Penny, a well-known and much loved (and of course hated) British writer on politics, feminism and many other topics, outlines the current model of sexism online. Using her own and other women’s experiences, she outlines why it occurs, the ground from which such terrible treatment springs, sexism in general and what sorts of responses we can muster. Her insight, as always, is invaluable and potent.

I used this opportunity to give a perspective as someone who is not the target of sexism; I outline why I care (because we need to do that nowadays?), why others should and related matters.

I am a long-time fan of her work and it’s fantastic to read her in long-form.