Today in Misogyny: Online Gaming Edition

[Content note: This post contains sexually harassing language, descriptions of harassment, bullying, threats of rape, stalking, and other violent assaults, as well as discussion of rape culture and examples of misogyny in online gaming.]

The BBC World Service has a good article up about the problem of misogynist harassment and threats in online gaming culture. It includes a number of examples collected by female gamers, highlighting the work of Jenny Haniver at Not in the Kitchen Anymore as well as Grace and her colleagues at of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. I highly recommend the BBC article. If you have the teaspoons for it, you may also want to visit the sites collecting examples of harassment. If you don’t, let me assure you that you probably know the general content, since the insults are about as fresh and cutting edge as Hammurabi’s Code: Women are insufficiently attractive! Women deserve violence! Women should restrict themselves to beer-brewing and papyrus-making labor in the kitchen! Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

The article also discusses the specific harassment of Miranda Pakozdi, who quit the gaming competition Cross Assault after enduring days of vicious sexual harassment from fellow gamer Aris Bakhtanians. Bakhtanians defended his misogyny by claiming it was just part of fighting game culture; he eventually apologized for his five days of bullying, calling it “a mistake.” While that might strike some as an inadequate description for five days of relentless body-shaming, rape jokes, and other misogynist cruelty, never fear. There are still rape-culture apologists who think Bakhtanians shouldn’t have apologized at all:

Jonathan Quamina, an avid gamer, expressed his support for Bakhtanians, telling him not to apologise.

"As a female you can't get upset if something is said that is obscene if you're hanging out in a room full of guys," he says.

"It's like going to a strip club as a female and getting upset that the chicks are all naked. For me it goes back to freedom of speech. We're a harmless bunch of people. This is just guys being stupid guys."

I’m sure I don’t have to explain to regular readers of this space what the problems are with this response, but I must admit I am kind of impressed at HOW MUCH FAIL is condensed into five short sentences. It’s like the Campbell’s Soup of gaming misogyny, condensed for your convenience! Let’s have a look at the ingredients:

As a female you can't get upset if something is said that is obscene if you're hanging out in a room full of guys

Conflating objections to harassment with prudery.

“Something obscene.” Speculation on one’s breast size. Rape jokes. Sexual assault. Yep, those are all just “something obscene,” in much the same way that the Battle of the Somme was just “something violent.” Ladeeeez need to get over the naughty words, amiright?


I am fully conversant with obscenity in two different languages. I served in the Navy and studied profanity under true masters of the art. My dissertation draws on 17th century English theatre, and there is no culture on earth with has more synonyms for farts, genitalia, and putrefaction. These experiences allow me to wield “naughty words” in a fashion to make Andrew Dice Clay blush. So trust me when I say: I know the difference between mere obscenity and sexual harassment. So do most women who have experienced it. So do the decent people who haven’t experienced it, but actually listen to what women say, rather than trying to silence us with accusations of the vapors.

Next sentence:

It's like going to a strip club as a female and getting upset that the chicks are all naked.”

Drawing false equivalencies between harassment and other experiences.

Oh, does this ever bring back memories. Of Sesame Street. Because one of these things is not like the other.

I am not quite sure how to explain this, but going online to play a game is really, really not like going into a club where some human beings are displaying their bodies in various states of undress for other human beings. I mean, I get that it’s confusing and all—one involves walking in, paying a fee, dealing with a bouncer, buying ridiculously overpriced drinks, tipping the waitstaff and watching the dancers who are paid expressly to perform for the sexual stimulation of patrons. The other is going online, logging into a game, interacting with other human beings who are also there to play said game, and being viciously bullied and attacked on the basis of perceived gender.

Wait, that’s actually not similar at all!

For me it goes back to freedom of speech.

Claiming that the right to free speech ensures that threats and harassment can never be criticized.

I must have missed one of the Federalist Papers. Because I’m having a hard time understanding how the First Amendment guarantees the right to not be called out as a misogynist for making rape threats, jokes, and misogynist hate speech that makes gaming spaces unsafe for women. Not all speech is free of social, or even legal, consequences. What you’re calling “free speech” is actually an alleged “right” to threaten women until they go away. That’s hate speech. Don’t be surprised when you get criticized for it.

We're a harmless bunch of people

Positing the impossibility of harm done by people in your group.

If I had a penny for how often I heard one of my fellow gamers defend this kind of shit with the “we’re harmless geeks!” line, I would be able to compete with Mitt Romney in the elevator department. Dude, when a woman is in tears every night because of the bullying and harassment she receives from male players, they are not a “harmless bunch.” That is pretty much the definition of doing harm. This defense doesn’t make any sense.

And if you are of the vile opinion that psychological damage “doesn’t count,” then let’s take the odds that among your gaming group there are perpetrators of physical violence, shall we? In the United States, the CDC estimates that 1 million women are raped each year. That’s 1 in 5 in their lifetime. 1 in 6 have been stalked and 1 in 4 have experienced violence from an intimate partner.

Survivors of violence aren’t rare, and neither are the perpetrators of that violence. It’s pretty difficult to logically dismiss any group of people as blanket harmless. There are gamers who rape. There are gamers who stalk. Can you tell which online harasser is “just” talking shit, and which is a stalker? Nope. Women who respond with fear to online threats aren’t panicky nincompoops; they are responding rationally to a world which contains far too many abusers and rapists.

Which brings me to:

This is just guys being stupid guys.

Claiming that misogyny is natural or normal behavior for all men.

Nope! If you’re conflating “guys” with “raging asshole misogynists” and “being stupid guys” with “sexually harassing and threatening violence against women,” then there’s a problem. Plenty of men manage to get along just fine without actively oppressing the female-identified people they encounter online. And plenty of men who have done such things stop doing them once they learn about the harmfulness of such behaviors. So please, stop with the man-hate, and recognize that these behaviors are neither inevitable nor inherent to masculinity.

Because the sooner we can recognize that “normal” is actually extremely fucked up, the sooner we can start changing the culture.

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