While blog commenters might feel deprived their freedom of speech when they are banned for calling us hateful names or being dismissive our writing, what bloggers like myself are trying to do, in banning them, is protect our own voices. The male “right”, rather privilege, to always have men’s voices heard deprives women of our own speech in both public and private discussions. Men use their power to be invalidating, bullying, and harassing, and this shuts women down. (I’m focusing on gender in this post, but people are silenced based on all sorts of identities: men who don’t fit into this macho paradigm, people of color, transgender individuals, people with disabilities, young and old people, poor folks, etc. We should be talking about that, too.)
In an in depth and thoughtful post on her blog called Harassment, silencing, and gaming communities, tekanji shows how such silencing discourse is permitted and endorsed in online gaming communities. In response to her post, I’d like to make a few points about how gamer culture and the hate-speech within it silences women.
- tekanji’s father could have asked her to stop blogging after a threatening letter from a banned Shrub commenter was sent to her house. Harassment and threats would have unfairly silenced her voice by shutting down her blog in exchange for personal safety.
- Telling women we should just tough it up and take it blames us for not being “strong enough” to survive in male dominated spaces. It also expects us to work twice as hard at having a thick skin.
If you’ve never been yelled at by a large man for speaking up, if you’ve never been called a bitch, let me tell you: it’s scary. Those words carry with them the institutional, cultural, and physical power that men have over women. There are times, even as a confident adult woman, I am successfully silenced because I don’t want to face that.
- Whether threats come online or off, I have know way of knowing if it is just going to stop at words. There isn’t a clear boundary between online and off. Take tekanji’s example of the threatening letter sent to her house. In my own life, when I was in junior high, two former friends (gaming was a big part of our friendship) threatened violence, my family, my pets, and my friends online, and went as far as vandalizing the yards of my friends. Online, they called me a slut, prude, accused my mother of incest, and posted pictures of pornography on my website. This was beside my first and last name, which could draw dangerous attention from uninvolved parties. When these young men attacked my character, my parents advised that I didn’t say anything back lest it provoked this young men into further “retaliation.”
- Popular game blogs like Kotaku and Destructoid are among the widest read and hold more weight than the voices of small-time bloggers who end up with trolls when their posts are linked. On this, tekanji writes:
The editorial content on these sites are “official” which, especially when we’re talking about sites with a certain amount of popularity, gives them more weight than a personal blog or a comment in the post. What this means that, when women read these sites — and if you’re a woman interested in gaming you will come across them, most likely long before you find any woman-positive sites — you are shown time and time again that your perspective and your opinions are not only lesser than that of men’s apparently pressing need to drool over boobies, but that if you speak out against it (and even if you don’t) you set yourself up to be an object of ridicule — and who is going to be taken more seriously, the bloggers at these popular sites (many of whom have some sort of journalistic training behind them) or you and your personal site?
In commenting on mainstream game blogs, women have to think twice as hard about what they say, when others can spit out stream of consciousness posts, to anticipate what won’t provoke the wrath of other commenters. We’re unfairly accountable for both our own actions and the actions of others.
- Trolling silences women. About a year ago, a feminist game blogger, The Geeky Feminist, shut down her blog in part because of harassment a link from Kotaku brought to her website. tekanji writes,
The loss of her voice was felt by the feminist gaming community, and because of the rampant trolling (which were the same kinds of comments that I highlighted in my previous section) encouraged by a post that mocked and misrepresented an issue raised by several people in the gaming blogsphere, Kotaku bears some responsibility for chasing away one of the unique voices in the gaming community. Exactly the kind of voice that Brian Crecente claimed he was having trouble finding.
I want to be able to speak up in mainstream places without being ignored, having my character attacked, or called names. But I’m not willing to grow a thicker skin, to censor myself, to have to constantly, preemptively watch my back. I’m not asking for special treatment, just to be treated with respect owed to all human beings. Until the mainstream is ready for that, I’ll continue to blog from the margins where I can call some shots.
Cross-posted on Feminist SF – The Blog!