Misogyny: Every Little Bit Matters

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.


No Fat Chicks

I guess I should start by making it crystal clear that I am disgusted by gay slurs and all anti-gay sentiments.

I had to get that out there because I’m not going to write in this post about the damage gay slurs and anti-gay sentiments cause. That’s been the headline in the aftermath of Cam Janssen’s nasty little radio interview, but enough people have weighed in on that already.

Full disclosure: I have not actually heard the interview with my own ears. By the time I first heard about this, the audio and video had already been taken down. But I have read quotes from the interview in enough places that I have every reason to believe they’re legitimate. Janssen’s ensuing apology also supports this belief.

Anyway, like I said, I’m going to forgo commenting on the homophobic comment and focus instead on the line that seems to bother nobody but me: “Damn fat broads, man … [The LA Kings are] the fat broads you just regret banging. I’ve been there and done that.”

I’ve spent more than my share of time in NHL locker rooms, and I am in no way shocked that this kind of crap gets tossed around when a room is soaked in testosterone and every male feels the need to prove he’s an alpha. And to an extent I guess that’s what was happening on the radio that day, too: Three guys who pride themselves on crudeness were closed up in a little room where the whole goal was to sound raw and real.

In fact, the bashing of women in general, and overweight women specifically, surprises me a lot less than the homophobic comments do. People are increasingly uncomfortable with gay slurs, and NHL players in particular have been made acutely aware of how harmful these words are (for more about this, Google Brendan Burke and check out the You Can Play site). The battle to extinguish homophobia is far from over, but at least it’s being fought in a very public way.

There has been some outcry about misogynistic language in sports, too, although not nearly as much. I get the sense that this is a case of people believing it’s more effective to fight one battle at a time, which might be true but makes it no less dispiriting to see women constantly pushed to the back of the queue as the sports community targets offensive language about race, then religion, then sexuality. If a professional athlete gets caught using slurs in any of those categories, he can expect a call from the league office and likely a fine. But “insult” a teammate or opponent by calling him by a woman’s name and most people laugh right along with you. Mike Milbury does it on TV all the time while commenting on hockey and I’ve never once heard the NHL express dismay over it. I can recall exactly one punishment doled out by the NHL in response to a misogynistic comment, and that was really more about the sexual innuendo implicit in the phrase “sloppy seconds” than the underlying sentiment that women are items to be used once and thrown away. Plus, it was Sean Avery, and pretty much everyone was itching to punish that guy for something.

So the sports world is mostly OK, but not completely OK, with guys like Janssen crowing about his skill at convincing “broads” to let him “bang” them, presumably in large numbers.   Make no mistake, though – the sports world is 100% on board with showing contempt for those “broads” based on their weight.

Weight is, after all, the ultimate measure of a woman’s suitability as a potential sexual partner. Macho men sleep not with women but with women’s bodies, and bedding a body that doesn’t look like the ones in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is nothing less than shameful. (That Sports Illustrated publishes a swimsuit edition is a patently scuzzy fact, but I digress.) It could go without saying the decision to have sex with any woman in possession of such a body must by definition be regrettable, but guys like Janssen feel the need to say it anyway, just in case.

The theory, of course, is that overweight people got that way through laziness and lack of self-control, and thus deserve ridicule. Let’s put aside the fact that in any given case this may well be a faulty assumption, and focus instead on people’s need to demean one another based on utterly harmless characteristics. What does another person’s weight have to do with you? About as much as that person’s race or sexuality does. Don’t find overweight women attractive? Don’t sleep with them. But if you do, through some cruel twist of fate, awaken next to one such woman one morning, just politely excuse yourself and go on with your life. There’s no need to broadcast how very humiliated you are over having had such and encounter (which clearly you’re not because – duh – if you were you wouldn’t broadcast it in the first place). And you surely have no cause to discuss the obvious shame of such a tryst in a highly public forum so as to guarantee that all women in earshot who feel unattractive due to their weight (which represents a much bigger segment of the population than you realize) are made absolutely certain that all they can ever be to you is a fleeting regret.

As a Devils fan I always liked Cam Janssen: He seemed like a humble, affable guy who was genuinely grateful to be playing hockey for a living. I don’t like him any more, and I won’t like him again even if he apologizes for his anti-gay comments in such a way that I actually believe he means it. I won’t like him again because I now know that he has no respect for me despite the fact that he does not know that I, specifically, exist. Not that he has any reason to care that I exist; he’s “been there done that” with fat broads already, so I’m of no use to him. That might not bother the overall sports world but it’s still hurtful to me, and in theory I know better than to care at all. Imagine how it feels to the plump 16-year-old hockey fan who just learned that she’s been cheering for a guy who finds her about as appealing as he finds losing a shot at the Stanley Cup.