Its necessary end?

Jessica Valenti is more optimistic than I am. She says GamerGate is the last gasp of the angry white guys. I wish.

As the cultural relevance of angry white men on the internet withers away and ends, their last words – muttered angrily at an empty room – will surely be“Gamer … gate”.

The recent uproar – said to be over ethics in journalism but focused mostly on targeting outspoken women who aren’t journalists at all – is just the last, desperate gasp of misogynists facing an unwelcoming future. But this particular bitter end, while long overdue, is loud, angry and extremely dangerous.

I wonder what gives her the idea that this is the last gasp and the bitter end. Why would it be? We’re not going to shut up, and Twitter and Facebook aren’t changing their rules and practices, and laws against campaigns of harassment don’t exist, so why would it be the last of anything? It’s a pleasant thought, but it’s nonsense.

Maybe that was just a rhetorical flourish and she didn’t notice that it’s not true, because she argues the opposite in the following paragraphs.

…despite assurances from Gamergate supporters that they have no problem with women, their de facto leaders are being outed as violent misogynists. (Sample tweets: “Fat/ugly women seek out dominant men to abuse them” and “Date rape doesn’t exist”.)

It’s tempting to believe that this online row – a toxic combination of misinformation, anger and anxious masculinity – is just about one specific technology industry’s subculture, or that it will blow over. But by labeling Gamergate a “gaming problem” and attaching a hashtag to it, we’re putting unnecessary boundaries around a broader but nebulous issue: threats and harassment are increasingly how straight white men deal with a world that no longer revolves exclusively around them.

Quite so, and they’re not about to stop.

When I spoke to her by phone in San Francisco on Sunday night, Sarkeesian saidGamergate is “absolutely” an issue that goes beyond gaming:

The harassment is becoming more intense towards women and other marginalized communities, and it seems to be happening more to women in male-dominated fields, and to women who speak out or make critiques.

Sarkeesian told me that the backlash in gaming – hardly a new problem – has gotten more vicious as the conversations about women’s representations in games and their role in the industry have gained steam. “This reaction, mostly from male gamers, is to protect the status quo,” she said. The same is true more broadly, and always has been when it comes to women’s progress: the more ground we gain, the worse men react.

So this isn’t a last gasp at all; it’s probably much closer to a first gasp than to a last one.

That’s why right now is such a dangerous time for women: we’re in the midst of an unprecedented feminist moment that not all men are pleased about. Sexual consent is being radically reframed, but feminists are accused of trying to classify all men as rapists. Television and movies created by women are at an all-time high (though still nowhere near parity), but they’re derided as“peak vagina”. And while institutional coverups of violence against women – be it rape on college campuses, domestic violence in the National Football League or the international news mediaat large – are no longer publicly tolerated, women are still being blamed for their own assaults.

I’m a lot older than Valenti, so I don’t see any of this as unprecedented or new. It’s the same as it’s been all my adult life: feminism versus the more or less enraged opposition to it.

It would be easy to assume that the current online backlash that many women face from Gamergaters and beyond is simply the domain of a handful of trolls and a few harmless kids. But we’ve seen the violence that sexist men can do when they don’t get what they want. And even after authorities found a 140-page misogynist manifesto from the California shooter who killed six people this year, women were cautioned against calling the crime one of sexism.

By Jaclyn Glenn, for one.

What excuse will we use after the next inevitable act of violence? That we didn’t see the horror coming? Angry men are plainly telling us to expect it.

Even if the threats being bandied about now don’t come to real-life fruition, their chilling effect is real – Sarkeesian noted that women are already “being threatened out of the industry and out of their homes”. These are not small things.

Gamergate enthusiasts will continue to argue that the vitriol against women is coincidental – and they will likely never acknowledge their fear of irrelevance and accountability. That’s to be expected. But as the grip of angry white men on our cultural conversation arrives at its necessary end, it’s up to the rest of us to make sure that, as change comes, we take the anger from those men far more seriously. Ignoring “trolls” doesn’t work when they show up with a gun.

Hmm, back to claiming the bullying is arriving at its end. I don’t see it. It would be nice, but I don’t see it.



  1. Kevin Kehres says

    Extinction burst? One can only hope.

    I actually think that the increased attention being paid to these issues, and especially the awful behavior of the worst of the worst (looking at you “GamerGaters”) will eventually have a beneficial impact.

    These people know what they’re doing is reprehensible. It think it’s important that we avoid giving them an ethical escape hatch, which they are desperately trying to concoct. #notallgamers and etc.

    Change can happen. And it can happen fast. Just keep the pressure on.

    Look how fast the gay marriage thing changed once a critical mass of public opinion was achieved. I did not think it possible to see the current events in my lifetime. I had friends move to a different state a couple of years ago because they had given up hope of being able to get married in this one. And this week, gay marriages were performed here. Wow. Just. Wow.

  2. MyaR says

    It would be nice if it were an extinction burst, wouldn’t it? I found this take a better analysis, though. Not an extinction burst, but another cultural field more open to diversity. So progress, certainly, but it’s likely the same pattern will be repeating itself. And the mainstream reaction has certainly been better this time around than it was to disco bashing. Maybe someday we’ll get to the point of people pointing out the lack of diversity and the mainstream response being more along the lines of “Oh. We should get on that.”

  3. Crimson Clupeidae says

    The problem is that even if it is an extinction burst, the internet has a way of amplifying and prolonging these kinds of events for a long time.

    It does seem like most of the mainstream (not directly game related) media that notices gets it right though. That’s a good thing, at least. (Or maybe I’m just biased in the media I read?)

  4. dshetty says

    . She says GamerGate is the last gasp of the angry white guys.
    I tend to agree (except Id probably say angry guys instead of angry white guys) –
    from a pure economic perspective FB games and Mobile app demographics(anecdotal) do show that there is a significant willing to pay for games demographic that consists of women and it would make zero business sense to not target games that anyone can enjoy.

  5. Barb's Wire says

    Jessica is way… way, way….. way way WAY more optimistic than I as well…. and I believe… dead wrong.

    I’ve been doing some research into narcissism as a causal agent of worsening online behaviour. I should explain that everyone is narcissistic to some degree – we have to be. It is really a continuum – a scale of behaviour with most being somewhat narcissistic but still with a healthy ability for social behaviour and skills in empathy – and fewer at either end. A bell curve. It is possible to not be narcissistic enough, to ones own detriment.

    Those on the higher end (most narcissistic) of that scale has rapidly increased, just in the last couple of decades, with the very worst – those with Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) increasing 3 fold in numbers over the last several decades. That is scary as heck. Cultural factors explains the big increase of those on the “more narcissistic” end of the spectrum… (still, with the majority of younger people still in the middle of the curve ie only slightly more narcissistic) – but I’m not at all sure what variables are driving the actual huge increase of Narcissistic personality disorders. And its in the range if 1 in every 10 people now.

    This also explains why I feel far more vulnerable as a woman today than I ever have… even as far back as in the 70s and 80s.

    Knowing this… knowing that we as a society are on this downward slide towards less empathy…. knowing that the bell curve of behavior is showing more people at the extreme of behaviour – specifically the narcissistic extreme…. where is JV’s optimism coming from? From thin air, in my opinion.

  6. spin boson says

    I’ve been re-reading Susan Faludi’s 1991 book, Backlash. This all seems to be following the pattern of the various backlash movements throughout U.S. history that she discusses in the book, starting from the post Seneca Falls backlash, the anti-suffragette backlashes, the WWII “war over, get back in the kitchen” backlash, the ’70’s antifeminist backlash, etc. It seems to in every case be driven by a testerical, disproportionate response by angry white males to relatively minor gains by women. The overall trend seems to be two-steps-forward and one step back, but not every feminism resurgence and backlash cycle has worked out that way, and I don’t see clear signs that the battle is over or that any net gain is solidifying this time around.

    The tactics share many similarities for each backlash movement. It is often driven partly by commercial interests. There is a characterization of feminists as emasculating man-haters. There is an overblown paranoia that women are “taking over”. There is the portrayal of feminists and in general and key figures in particular as being loathsome, immoral, “bad mothers”, “trying to destroy the family”, having bad hygiene, slutprudes, spinsters, etc. Much of the antifeminist literature is penned by women. Often there is an element of religious piety and/or a quest for purity.

    Each time, many are optimistic that this is the last time, that equality will be achieved, that gains can’t or won’t be undone. I like Valenti’s writing, but I don’t share her optimism.

  7. Donnie says

    My only thought is that the puss filed boil that is full of unbridled misogynistic douchebags has been lanced. Now, the time is to clean up the mess, watch for infection, and clean up gaming, atheism, library science, fiction and Sci – fi, skepticism, philosophy, and I am sure that the list continues with Politics. A never ending list of areas?

  8. Brony says

    It is hard to tell if it’s a “last gasp” or a “first gasp”. Getting closer to the last gasp is better. I have some thoughts from the perspective of a guy framed for other white guys and I’m curious about the quality of it.

    Who is being aggressive?
    Mostly men. I get what they mean about white men, we are extra dense when it comes to privilege because of racial privilege. People interested in multiple kinds of social justice is good. I still wonder what women of other races would say about this in a strategic sense? Cultural differences matter.
    “Man” includes a lot of men who don’t like how it’s been defined. Recognizing gendered dominance displays against women will help all of us. And the social habits will with problems related to social dominance and privilege related crap like mental-illness issues and race in a more meta sense. Social role-modeling matters. Harassers and abusers are role-modeling too.
    Women are being aggressive for the status quo as well, but some of the specifics change. When something gender related is the subject things get complicated when it comes to fair criticism of women. I’m still working on that myself and I have people I watch for how to think about things. But a good rule is to make it easier for women to criticize and be heard fairly in all situations. Maybe someone can give some insights on how this tends to work?

    How are these men doing dominance displays?
    There are things that shape how dominance is enforced (not exclusively but it helps). Offense, and defense with respect to specific people or things. These are men choosing aggression.
    Distraction (which includes deception), is a common means of attacking and defending the status quo, or victim. Subject changes in the comments of an article are distractions, often from suffering and that can be used to great rhetorical effect, because that is shitty.
    Suppression of communication and people is another means. Harassment and abuse of women communicating (in any media) about problems, and criticizing people and society is suppressing a person. Minimization of a message is suppression of the message. Filling comments with abuse and mere mockery has a real psychological effect. So do constant distractions and subject changes.The behavior of those people has a structure.
    Social micro-aggressions are real, but they are macro-aggressions due to volume and privilige. Dawkins’s repeated “thought experiments” in suffering, the continued use of sexist language by gamers during games. Or large quantities of non-gendered insulting language (more of a macro-aggression) hitting women more often, and insulting, personal, irrelevant subjects like a subject change to a woman’s sexuality. Men insulting, distracting, and subject changing in comments in media is a social micro-aggression. That is aggression against a message. The dominant group is choosing it over genuine exchange of ideas. Acting like that is true is useful. Those of us trying to be allies should expect people to act outraged and point out behavior contrasts that would exist if the roles were reversed. Call that sexism because it is. The word matters as well as the overreaction to its use.
    The socially dominant group’s bullies (and criminals) try to be “more trouble than they are worth”, which is a horrible thing to say because justice and fairness to everyone is worth it. Lean on authorities and friends. Causing deliberate offence, causing harm, harassment or other things should be considered rude because a public display of dominance is worth investigating. Bullies and criminals “go aggro” and have a tantrum. When people react to the disturbance those of us that would consider ourselves allies need to speak up! Especially if we have a privilege or in-group advantage. The person doing a social dominance display will distract from their responsibility by using group-status. We need to prevent the subject changes, and point out why things like sexist and other bigoted language matters. This will require us to conflict with our own group. Accept that.
    Why are they being aggressive? Because they sense a threat to their dominance. The fact that it’s a social threat makes it no less a matter of combat. If you consider yourself an ally as a male always listen to, and use criticism from women so that we can all the best threats that we can.

    *No one really needs to look at someone literature dumping about men’s problems in an article about harassment of women in the workplace. No one has to pay attention to someone who does not want to help men, and instead wants to hide the suffering of women. Their actions speak of taking attention from someone else’s suffering. Why would someone who does that be trusted to help anyone? They have to hide attacks and defenses socially to make it work. It’s not just “the internet”.

    *Some men are also cowardly if they can’t say anything about the media and its content, because they are afraid to demonstrate opinions. They had the energy to say something, but chose to direct attention away from the actual article, or post, or tweet. They should be able to say why and speak in specifics about the persons actual words in text or video. I pretty much never get anyone to actually cite portions of Anita Sarkeesian’s videos so I can see what the hell they are talking about. Drill men on their assertions because women are tired of having theirs drilled in a gendered way. That should be a non-gendered behavior and bias requires men to make sure we are really doing this through practice (not specific to men, but no subject changing).

    *Humor is not an excuse. Think about comedy. What are the themes of the stories? Relationships (with family, authorities, other races, other genders and gender expressions…), death, aging, raising kids, and other things that cause tension, usually from fear. Humor reduces fear. When a man tries to be funny, or claim they were being funny when a women is offended actually pay attention. Gendered slurs and language is often used to “put someone in their place”. Bullies and criminals will try to reduce outrage. I have never seen a racist or sexist joke that did not reduce tension from fear on some level. Are you letting someone use fear against another?

    There is a related race-based guideline that works as an analogy in gendered humor. Other races sometimes get to do things that look like racism to us when we are screwing up. For example someone showed me a modified shirt of a certain native-american connected baseball team, but this one said “caucasians”. It’s the power difference, whites can’t really face racism because that requires social force. For gender-based humor it means that when women and LBGT’s make fun of us they have more of a case and I’m rationally taking sides with my skepticism. Most “jokes” about women are things that everyone does, and defense mechanisms. Have you seen the driving statistics? “Women driver” is hiding something.

  9. mildlymagnificent says

    I’m a lot older than Valenti, so I don’t see any of this as unprecedented or new. It’s the same as it’s been all my adult life: feminism versus the more or less enraged opposition to it.

    Me too.

    Though I confess to the same kind of unfounded optimism when I was the same age as Valenti is now. Sadly, I predict she’ll learn the hard way much as the rest of us had to do.

  10. Dunc says

    @spin bozon: By about halfway through the post, and long before I read your comment, I was already thinking about this

    It’s been the same since before I was born, and I’m no longer young.

  11. ZugTheMegasaurus says

    I don’t think Valenti was saying what people are reading. She didn’t say that misogyny or gendered violence is dying; she’s saying that the unquestioned control of culture by “angry white men” is. At the end, she says exactly the opposite of “bullying is arriving at its end.” She’s saying that we can expect more violence from these men because they are losing their cultural dominance and they don’t like it.

    Really, both posts seem to be in complete agreement.

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