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Nov 19 2011

Girls online: damned if you do, don’t, or simply ARE.

That Weird Atheist Girl has an excellent post on her blog entitled She’s Just an Attention Whore examining the problem of simply being a woman in an online community traditionally dominated by men. If you’re a girl and like Star Wars or video games, you’re just “seeking attention” (a.k.a “attention whore”) — you don’t really like those things, you’re just faking it so boys will like you. But if you don’t like those things, you’re shallow and vapid.

Despite girls making up at least 40% of the gaming market presently, it’s far more likely than not that if you pick a female avatar or feminine-sounding username, you are presumed to be a GIRL — a “Guy In Real Life” — or you are accosted by the forever-lonely. And if you dare speak up on voice-enabled multiplayer games, especially on servers that aren’t explicitly for role-playing, accidentally exposing yourself to be a mere girl amongst manly-men, no matter how good you had been doing up until that point you’ll inevitably hear a chorus of “women can’t play this game!”

Worse, some well-intentioned males might suggest that “the world needs more gamer chicks”, but without clarification, as far as anyone’s concerned, they’re just looking to increase their pool of potential mates. Why would the world need more gamer “chicks”? Why not more women willing to prove that video games are not simply a man’s domain, to normalize the otherwise supposedly novel happenstance of having a top shelf you can rest your controller on between rounds.

It goes beyond online gaming, though.

Any time women speak out, they’re called attention whores. Female skeptic talking about an awkward situation? Attention whore. Female activists bringing attention to victim blaming? Attention whores. Smart woman who blows shit up? Attention whore.

We’re already well aware of the misogynist trolling, and the feminist and accompanying antifeminist wars fought over such in our own community. The howler monkeys — whether employing a Sybil attack of sockpuppets to amplify their voices, or simply calling in their Personal Army to swarm their newly acquired target — come out first, screaming “cunt” and “bitch” and “rape you to death”. Then when we dare moderate our online spaces to remove the abuse and off-topic nonsense, cries of “censorship” follow suit in short order. Taking any step to protect yourself from needless abuse is apparently anathema to the concept of freedom of speech to these folks, which evidently means that every person providing a platform of any sort must needs allow every bit of hate and venom directed at them to be aired wherever it is.

Women often have to disguise their identities online, since “online” is a traditionally male space, though “tradition” is hard to come by in a space so new. Admitting to be a female online is tantamount to transgressing onto that male territory. Ergo the charges of being interested in what you’re interested solely to get men’s attention, since they’re the only people there in this parallel reality. Maybe at its inception the internet was a sausage factory, sure, but certainly not by necessity. It was built primarily by male researchers in a field dominated by men, and primarily used by the mostly-male university staff and alumni and electronics hobbyists. Since those are traditionally “not women’s areas”, it’s no wonder early adopters were men. And those women that do, naturally have to hide their genders lest they get caught in the inevitable ensuing shitstorm.

So, male got set as the default gender (like it needed any help for that, in our patriarchal society!) for the author of the disembodied text being disassembled then reassembled at the other end of an electron stream. So now, when women engage in conversation online, whether on their own blogs or on others’, they are treated far differently than if they were a member of the “default gender”. Regardless of whether they’re cis-gendered females or not, they are exhorted to suck dick, show their tits, or return to the kitchen — never mind that, as Weird Atheist Girl points out, these tropes are so far overused as to be impossible to find funny, even when these women are thereafter told to “lighten up, we were just joking”.

That is a technique called gaslighting, after the 1944 film Gaslight. It is a psychologically manipulative technique that, when it works, convinces people that their complaints are simply an oversensitivity on their part. In this way, the abuse can be ratcheted up slowly, like a frog in a pot of water, til the abused person is convinced that they are in fact crazy or somehow otherwise abnormal. It is victim-blaming at its finest: convincing the victim to blame themselves.

Pointing all this out will, of course, raise the hackles of those same howler monkeys, the antifeminists, the misogynists, and the male supremacists. It’s not even limited to men — women can be any or all of those things, slut-shaming or denouncing any perceived lack of seriousness. The only real course of action I can find at present is to simply give these people an opportunity to meet women off the internet — not for dating purposes, but for cultural exchange. As the Daily Mash reports, albeit flippantly, it actually stands a chance to change some minds.

He said: “At first I was scared because she was fully clothed and much bigger than monitor-size. But she was very nice.

“When I asked she said that Nikki was her proper name, not a made-up name for being in porn films. Apparently most women aren’t even in porn films.

“We had lots of similarities. I asked her what food women eat and she said it was the same as men.”

Fancy that — women and men have similar diets! And real women are, in fact, life-sized!

If only more of the howler monkeys knew that the people they were busy seeking-and-destroying, protecting their territory from outside incursions by those folks engaged in the terrible transgression of being a woman, are, in fact, carbon-based bipedal life-forms much like, you know, the rest of us normal humans.

It just so happens that “being normal” is not contingent on having male genitalia.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    ohioobserver

    I wonder if these creatures are so misogynistic because they’ve never met women in social space; or is it that they are active in anonymous, online space because they’re misogynists. I know that I’d hesitate to socialize with anyone who held such vile opinions (and I’m male). I can’t imagine how someone who thought as these guys think had a chance in hell of spending five minutes in the company of any woman. Maybe webspace is the only refuge of the terminally social-skills damaged.

  2. 2
    Aliasalpha

    There is a demonstrated tendency for internet anonymity to give fuckwits decreased inhibitions about acting like an arsehole. Add the fact that they never see their targets and thus never see the consequences of their abuse (or “jokes”) and it really helps bring out the full force of flagrant fuckwittery.

    On the positive side, the forums for Star Wars The Old Republic have 2 or 3 ‘girl gamers’ threads started by women wondering how rare they’re going to be in the game. The threads still have some misogyny but a surprisingly low amount and its pretty well universally panned by everyone else in the thread.

  3. 3
    Michael Swanson)

    I feel sorry for misogynists (when I don’t want to punch them in the head) since they’re missing out on real, worthwhile relationships with slightly more than half the human race. Of course, intensely disliking misogynists, racists and homophobes, I guess I’m missing out on quality relationships with all sorts of people, too.

  4. 4
    Ticktockman

    I’ve played a variety of online games over the last dozen or so years, including being guild leader of a fairly large group that included its share of women, including about half of the officers. Over the years, the level of misogyny seems to have decreased. There’s still a bit of “wow, a real girl playing that female toon!” but it’s diminished.

    Early on, the games were male dominated, and many males became accustomed, I think, to having to teach females the ropes of the game and would be frustrated by their inability to play at their level (they’d be equally frustrated by a new male player, but women — being “different” I guess — gained the stereotype). At this point, though, only the most oblivious male expects ineptitude from a female player.

    The internet in general, though, still needs to grow up. I think culprits see opinions they dislike, and they’ll latch onto anything they can to intimidate the writer, be it race, occupation, political leanings or, of course, gender.

    -TTm

  5. 5
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    It’s hard to be a member of an online community as a woman (in my case transgender) because regardless of how hard you work or how much effort you put into gaming, it comes inevitably back to you that “oh you only got that stuff cause you’re sleeping with the guild leader” or some vileness similar to that.

    To the utter misogynists in gaming, women only try to be women online cause they want to “get stuff.” Prior to my acceptance of a female identity, I can’t remember how many times I got told I only had a female avatar because I wanted free stuff. I can’t imagine how I’d be treated now – having a female avatar and wanting to be identified as female.

    But then it goes the other way, if the women are silent, they’re expected to simply shut up and stay quiet about being called misogynistic things. Some jerk in chat says awful stuff about women and if the woman listening to the chat says something about it, it becomes “tits or GTFO.” If she doesn’t draw attention to her gender, then she’s called a white knight and is only defending women cause she wants to fuck them.

    I’ve taken some strides with my clan – they know I’m female and a few know I’m transgender. I call out misbehavior and misogynist / homophobic / transphobic language as soon as I see or hear it. However I have had the people who not only refuse to call me a female, but make it a habit of stressing the incorrect pronouns associated with my name.

    Gamers have a long way to go.

  6. 6
    generalizations

    i love how this post consists entirely of generalizations,.. i mean yeah it’s true but hardly always. you’re acting like there’s no escape whatsoever.

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    And hardly never, which it should be, @6.

    Or did you have something else you wanted to say about the situations I’ve described?

  8. 8
    Mitchell

    I still think the solution to this is to make awesome games the Angry Boys In The Shadows won’t like at first, allowing female gamers to be majority early adopters in something awesome. We’ve catered to the other gamers directly long enough. At this point, its sadly often as simple as having a non-fetishized female protagonist.

    It would be nice if the idea of safe spaces could transfer over to online games a bit as well, but maybe that’s an impractical pipe dream.

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