I’m willing to bet most of us wouldn’t even know it’s International Women’s Day today without Facebook telling us so. Valentine’s Day gets more recognition and no one even seems to want to acknowledge Valentine’s Day.
As a self-styled geek, I love my video games. Part of how I unwind after work is booting up Team Fortress 2 and ownin’ fools. It’s an entirely healthy outlet. What is not a healthy outlet would be all those times I hear some guy jeering at a female player who dared speak on the mike. In rushes a torrent of sexually harassing commentary with all the force of the Nile washing over its floodplains.
“I don’t want girls in my video games!”
“Get back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich!”
“Hey, you have a sexy voice.”
Yes, we’ve all heard these and their innumerable variations before. When I was a top administrator in a TF2 community, I used to crack down hard on sexual harassment like this whenever someone was idiotic enough to dare it in my presence. Still, I couldn’t have eyes and ears everywhere, and many female players would only come to complain about this to me after the fact, or sometimes never at all (fun fact: this is actually how I met Insomnia Princess. You can bet I dealt with that matter with thunderous fury).
There is so much cruelty in gaming communities and the world at large when it comes to this matter, and the advance of technology has made this so much worse. Social media, my everlasting nemesis, has been utilized to facilitate a whole culture of slut-shaming. Take, for instance, a tweet by a 17-year-old film critic in which he said, “Spent the night with @amyschumer. Certainly not the first guy to write that.”
I have at least two questions:
- Why is there such a thing as a 17-year-old film critic? I get that the dream is to be paid to opine, but is there absolutely no other productive field of study or labor for a seventeen-year-old boy?
- Why would some bratty little boy think to do something like this?
Amy Schumer, comedienne and actress, shot back right away with, “I get it. I’m a whore? Glad I took a photo with you. Hi to your dad.” The critic apologized, acknowledging that he should leave the comedy to Ms. Schumer. Very good. Perhaps said critic should not dare to open his mouth without serious and studied deliberations again (but he is a film critic, so this is unlikely).
How about former baseball slugger David Justice? When his ex-wife, Halle Berry, separated from her third husband, Mr. Justice flew to Twitter to deny vehemently that he ever physically abused her. I’m not quite certain what Mr. Justice was worried about, since the innocent have nothing to fear as a usual rule, but since Halle Berry apparently never said he hit her to the point of causing hearing loss, Mr. Justice seems to be projecting rather hard here. Ms. Berry’s second husband, singer Eric Benet, tweeted thereafter to say that Justice was “tweeting some truth dis’ mornin’!” To be sure, this isn’t a column for celebrity gossip, but Eric Benet divorced Halle Berry after cheating on her. I’m going to leave this merely at the observation that any man who would cheat on a woman, whether a Halle Berry or the girl next door, is not one by whom I would orient my moral compass. Again, it is a weird fascination with slut-shaming. As this article points out, it’s largely a one-way street: numerous male celebrities are multiple divorcees, yet do not experience the same degree of denigration.
Okay, I’ve tossed around the term “slut-shaming” twice already and I assume you have either heard of it already or can use context clues to understand it by now. A fairly succinct definition of the term is, “a form of cyberbullying where girls are targeted on social media and bullied through degradation or humiliation for their sexuality.” I would go so far as to say that slut-shaming extends well beyond the grasp of social media; it just so happens that social media has made it so easy to do. Have you heard of revenge porn? It is when angry ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands (traditionally, anyway) distribute nude pictures of their exes through the Internet as a form of vengeance. With lightning quick speed, a man can tarnish a woman’s reputation. As Halle Berry said about her failed marriage to David Justice, “Well, I think I was still using men, and my mate, to identify who I was. And when that was gone, I was nothing.” Slut-shaming is just that: reducing someone to nothing. Halle Berry contemplated suicide at the end of her marriage to David Justice. She did not go through with it, but she and Amy Schumer are famous examples of the cringe-inducing culture of slut-shaming. Females who are not famous often have less to fall back on, and this article provides a healthy list of girls you probably never heard of, all of whom did commit suicide because they were sexually shamed. There are many more girls who have done the same and no one even knows their names.
According to a study by the American Association of University Women in 2011, up to 46% of girls experienced some kind of unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures to or about them between middle school and high school. A 2010 UCLA study revealed that bullied students earn lower grades. Furthermore, sexually shamed girls are more likely to withdraw in a variety of ways, including avoiding school entirely, quitting activities, having trouble sleeping and studying, or switching schools. Meanwhile, boys are lauded for having multiple sexual partners as a sign of masculinity. This article even questions aloud the idea of dress codes as part of a shaming cycle in which teenage girls are socially encouraged to dress provocatively but then admonished for it in schools because revealing too much is “wrong” or “bad” and must be censored. I personally agree that this cycle exists and is wholly unfair, but that is a different soapbox for a different time.
I must point out that none of this makes the reverse acceptable. Boys can be sexually shamed too, and a woman who cheats on a man is no more equipped to take the high ground than a man who does the same. Girls should not sexually shame anyone any more than boys should. The most common example of sexually shaming males is when they are gay, as the unfortunate fate of Tyler Clementi illustrates to us.
Going back to my experiences online, we all know that sexual harassment exists in online video games. I have never been one to back down from calling out bullies. I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. The next time you see someone who is being targeted for his or her sex, I hope you speak up about it. Yes, a litany of labels will come flying at you in short order, like “feminist” or “SJW,” short for social justice warrior. As a lawyer, I have never understood how a social justice warrior can be a pejorative term, but that just goes to show what kind of culture has festered in our gaming community. Brush those attacks off. It is my belief that to be a feminist is to believe in isonomy. Whether you are male, female, transgender, or anything else, it is never okay to be abused for that or let others be abused for who they are. The next time you step up and defend someone being picked on for whatever group they may represent, you might be saving someone’s life.