I have been forced, through sheer volume of Twitter exposure, to learn what #Gamergate is.
I’m not a gamer. Never have been. I have no reason to take any interest at all in the internal politics of the gaming community. But there’s this stupid hashtag peppering my Twitter feed, compelling me to find out what the hell it means.
Well, sort of. I know what some of its proponents say it means and I know what basically all of its opponents say it means. To be frank, I don’t care how it started (actually, given that the term was coined by Adam Baldwin, I’m actively bummed to know how it started) or whether the original accusation of bias has any merit (seems like it doesn’t, but I’m not going to do enough research to be able to speak with any authority on that). Here’s what I care about: Gamergate, either by evolution or by design, is rife with enthusiastic misogyny. Its banner has flown above threats of rape, murder and at least one full-on terrorist attack. Feminists are the enemy and silencing them is way up there on the to do list.
If you’ve ever wondered why I have taken such a big interest in the issue of NHL ‘ice girls,’ this is why.
It’s because video games are rife with sexist tropes, and when a woman speaks too loudly about that topic she is driven from her home. Gamergate is a horror show of circular misogyny, in which a segment of the population so values its god-given right to demean women that it responds to any threat to that ‘right’ not by rethinking the practice, but rather by upping the ante and putting individual women in real danger of bodily harm (to say nothing of the relentless psychological abuse raining down on these women).
‘Ice girls’ are one part – a small part, perhaps, but a part – of why some men believe so deeply that they are more human than women are. ‘Ice girls,’ NFL cheerleaders, movie damsels in distress, video game hookers, everyone pictured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: All are defined entirely by whether or not they’re pleasing to men, and by how men choose to react to them. This isn’t about actual sex workers, who certainly have their place in society; it’s about an overall image of womanhood that we accept, unthinking, because we’re so used to it.
Children of both genders see co-ed crews shoveling NHL ice, with the men in warm-up suits and women in sports bras and hot pants, and see that there’s a fundamental difference between what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, even when that man and that woman are doing the exact same job. Teens see an entire issue of the world’s leading sports magazine devoted to showing pictures of barely-dressed female models, and they learn that the sports world still caters directly, if not exclusively, to straight men. Grown men hear pundits blame women for provoking domestic abuse or muse about the commercial boost afforded by sexual assault charges, and conclude that ‘real men’ are entitled – and expected – to dominate women.
Add it up, and you get a bunch of male video game enthusiasts who simply cannot tolerate a woman trying to exert any influence over the content of those games. You get those same men, absolutely convinced that they are entitled to shut down that woman through absolutely any means, no matter how violent or cruel. After all, these intruders into the gaming world aren’t full-fledged people – they’re just women.
The best way to address this warped view is by preventing it from forming in the first place. No more placing ‘heroic’ males athletes next to scantily clad, seen-but-not-heard women. No more objectification of women in ‘family-friendly’ venues and outlets. No more making excuses for abusers just because we’d rather not view them as such. We have to demonstrate, every day and everywhere, that women are people, just the same as men are. Only by weaving that truth into the fabric of society can we start raising generations that see the world that way from the day one.
That’s not to let adults off the hook for their own bigotries. We’re grown-ups and we’re responsible for questioning and refining our own values, regardless of how they were initially formed. For those who haven’t begun that process yet, a tip: While there’s not always a clear right and wrong in every situation, if you find yourself threatening a stranger with bodily harm for expressing her opinion, then you are wrong. Most of the time, though, misogyny isn’t nearly that obvious. More often than not it comes attached to a grin rather than a snarl.
Rest assured, straight men, that feminists don’t seek to keep you from enjoying the sight of women’s bodies; rather, we’d like for everyone to remember that those bodies belong not to the men viewing them but to the women inhabiting them, and that those women have minds that deserve to be valued every bit as highly as men’s. Unfortunately, the sports and gaming worlds – and, to a slightly lesser extent, the world of pop culture – generally focus on women’s bodies to the exclusion of our minds. Little wonder, then, that those men who are most enamored with sports and gaming feel the most threatened when confronted with women who insist on being treated as more than just the sum of their physical parts.