Deeds Not Words

In 1913, a British suffragette named Emily Davison went to the Epsom Derby, entered the racetrack, stepped into the path of an oncoming horse owned by King George V, and died four days later as a result of her injuries.

While her motivations and purpose are unclear–some people believe that she had merely intended to tie a feminist flag or slogan to the horse’s tail, and others suggest she may have mistakenly believed all of the horses had already passed and was crossing the track for some other reason–history sees her as a martyr to the feminist cause. That she had a well-documented history of militantly violent/self-destructive behavior in the name of feminism–arson, hunger strikes, etc–seems to lend credence to the theory that she was performing a de facto act of self-immolation.

Lately there has been a lot of discussion–centering around Kotaku–about the role of traditionally-unrepresented gamers in the community. True, it’s not getting women the vote–but we need to figure out how to deal with certain unacceptable elements and attitudes in our community. We don’t need to do anything as dramatic as Davison did, but the response to Kotaku’s stance has been a pathetically childish please stop.

I’m speaking specifically about Mattie Brice’s Border House article  “An Open Letter to Kotaku’s Joel Johnson”. Her article is a response to Johnson’s own “The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku”. The latter article was the epitome of the clueless straight boy totally, dumbly perplexed by his own privilege; the former, a wishy-washy attempt at Dialogue with someone who will likely never respond.

For all of its faults, Brice’s article does do a good job of outlining the problems with Johnson’s article. What galls me the most about it is the sense of confused blame that Johnson places on the voiceless within his community. “we sort of have to work with what we’ve got, which trends towards normative T&A” he says, implying that the sole reason there aren’t more pictures of shirtless guys on Kotaku is because, well, no guys are taking off their shirts. It’s the fault of those who are marginalized for feeling that way–that the community would totally welcome female- and queer-focused comment if they could only find it!

I find Brice’s work to be generally well-written, well-researched, well-thought-out–and so academically ivory-tower as to be useless. (“The Fantasy Cyborg: Reading Passing Narratives in Dragon Age” is an excellent example.) My problem with “An Open Letter” isn’t so much with its content–which, as I’ve said, gives a very good rundown of what’s wrong with Johnson’s article–as with its tone. Brice is taking the tone of a parent who crouches down next to their child when he’s in the middle of a tantrum, lowers her voice, and calmly explains that there are other people around who are bothered when he screams and cries and please think about the other people that he bothers when he does that and wouldn’t it be a great world if we would all be quiet and happy. Who wonders why that child continues his tantrum.

There’s no teeth to her letter, and that’s what bothers me the most. “I don’t want to tag you with responsibility you didn’t agree to,” she says, as though a community which attempts to free itself of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. is a rare privilege, a treat, instead of something that we should demand. Taking this responsibility would make him a “decent person”–he should take this step because of how nice we’d all think he is. She demands no real action but a simple conversation–”involve as many as you can” she states–and maybe, if we had that conversation, she’d be so happy she’d subscribe to Kotaku again.

All of this is well and good–I’m all for having a conversation–but she has not outlined anything which will lead to anything remotely resembling change. Kotaku’s commenters will continue to spout the same crap they always have, Johnson will continue to think that there’s nothing wrong with the “Oh, Those Wacky Japaneses!” column, The Border House will be pleased with itself for being such an open-minded, progressive, nice community, and fighting games will still star women whose breasts are anatomically unsustainable.

Feminism and other inclusivity movements have always had a very tenuous presence in the gaming community. Rather than demanding a place at the table, sites like GayGamer and Women Gamers and The Border House have been content to stay at the sidelines. And while it is important and necessary to have specialized groups dedicated towards discussing particular issues, these sites have remained very niche. There are the big sites, the boys’ clubs, and then there are the tiny, more-enlightened sites. It’s a disservice both to the minority communities and to the mainstream ones to continue in this way.

But why is feminism in the gaming community so feeble? A comment on Johnson’s article suggests the reason:

All I have to say is, be careful how far you go. There’s a fine line between promoting gender equality and being a puppet of the feminist machine. I respect the former, hell I expect the former, but not the latter.
–Tony Danza (Assumedly not the actor — ed.)

One of the easiest ways to derail feminism is to mischaracterize it. Instead of focusing on the “gender equality” side of the spectrum, you throw the word “Feminazi” around, talk about how our poor language is being policed by these PC liberals, and complain about how we have to walk on eggshells. And it’s for this reason that I think the Mattie Brices of the videogame community don’t feel that they have the right to demand change. I’ve said it many times: This is our community. It’s not a secret club that we’re trying to pass an initiation into, causing us to suck up to the members in hopes we’ll be let in–we’re already there. We are doing nothing wrong by demanding that realization.

I’d overlooked the opening paragraph in Leigh Alexander’s “I’m Tired Of Being A ‘Woman In Games’ — I’m A Person” when I first read it–I guess I found it to be an empty piece of rhetoric. But the more I think about it, the more I’m coming to agree with it:

Sexism in games remains an unsolved problem, it’s clear. Some of you will be nodding along, and some of you will hear the s-word and roll your eyes and go, “oh, this again?” You guys can piss off-–go click on some new screenshots or a trailer consisting of a release date slowly fading into view. You’re hopeless.

Sorry, do I sound a little hostile?


Several of the comments to her article took issue with her sarcasm:

How are we supposed to take someone seriously who starts off an article by telling a number of potential readers to ‘piss off’ and that they’re ‘hopeless’, and then has the audacity to post that comment? She is the sociopathic internet rager.

And while her opening is seemingly designed to elicit that kind of reaction–well, that’s kind of the point, and I find myself thinking that perhaps that’s the attitude we should take. Because the time for dialogue and calm explanations has passed. We need to stop trying to explain why these attitudes are wrong and bad and mean and we need to disengage from them completely.  When I was a child and I threw a tantrum in public, my parents would immediately grab me and take me home, where I’d be punished. And that’s what we need to do.

I don’t think that Johnson’s a bad person and I think that Brice’s heart is in the right place. But I’m tired of letting this go by without any steps being made. The motto of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the militant feminist organization that Emily Davison was a member of, was “Deeds Not Words”. We need to do more than hope that the mainstream sites will listen and will let us have representation on their sites. We need to demand that representation. We need to create a culture in which sexism and homophobia and racism and all of those things are deemed unacceptable.

In short, we need to tell more people to piss off.

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