In response … Stream of Consciousness Solutions to the Candyfloss Costume Problem

Ah, Facebook. The generator of …. deep, potentially volatile, conversation?

Yep. Sometimes.

So this week on Facebook, the old-ish article ‘Nerds and Male Privilege’ has been re-winging its way around my feed. I will totally admit that I posted it on my own page quite some time ago, as it’s something I want to keep forever and ever and hug it and squeeze it and name it George. Dr. NerdLove’s blog is one that I find to be a good read, in fact – and this particular article is well written as well as (in my opinion) pretty much spot on. Especially telling is that the response – on my page as well as on the pages of others has basically been something like this:

Girls: “YES. YES, a thousand time, YES. THIS IS SO TOTALLY IT.”

Guys: “Um… well… yeah, I guess? Maybe? Though not really…”

(Right, loves – that’s a generalisation. I admit it. But that is basically it.)

It’s exactly the reaction – especially from the guys – that Dr. N-L talks about. It’s only, like, four paragraphs before he says exactly this, and repeats it through the article. And still, there are those guys who say, “Eh…but what about….?” What about what, mansplaining? Urg.

Yet a question, and a reasonable one, was posed by my indomitable friend Sean: What’s the solution? He even admits that he is part of the problem, but still asks, what do we do that will result in change?

Well, in light of things like the so-called GamerGate ‘movement’, and both certainly as well as likely correlated events that left some game reviewers feeling so threatened that they left their homes, or a transgender developer’s apparent suicide, I feel like I needed to try and answer this. The underlying attempt to suppress diversity in the gaming community that so-called movement, and the pervasive attitude that discourages some, especially women, from participating and contributing to the industry, is … well, it’s a Thing. It’s a big Thing that reflects not only the state of gaming, but also social media’s affect on culture and the polarising trend in politics, the legal issues and complications surrounding cyber-bullying, and a whole lot of other stuff.

(BeeTeeDubs, I recommend reading Brianna Wu’s personal account of the ways in which the GamerGate movement has affected her. Not only is it a Thing in and of itself, but it includes a number of additional links for reading if you’re interested.)

So I started thinking. Then I tried to write my response in a Facebook comment, but (not shockingly, if you know me… or you’ve read this far already) it became too long. I decided to put it here, on my blog (plus, I can use italics in WordPress)… so this is it, in all its ‘DISCLAIMER: I say what I’m thinking and that’s sometimes harsh and/or unreasonable’ glory.

Just note two things: One, part of my job as an editor is within the gaming and comic industries, and two, this is a response to a comment in a long thread, so there is context that you’re missing. I’m not going to repost any of the thread because I don’t have the permission of all the people involved.

— 

What can one do differently? Sean, you’ve admitted you’re part of the problem. Well, one of things that can be done differently is for you — the predominately male collection of writers and produces and etc of geek publications/media/etc — to stop being a part of the problem. Someone has to go first. That is the way that change happens, and in this industry, it’s overwhelming the fact that those who are in the position of privilege are the ones who are going to have to do it, because there simply aren’t enough women in the industry to do it themselves. I know it’s an extreme illustration and not actually a correlation, but you could think of it this way: someone had to keep her seat on the bus before others started to sit in before others marched on Washington. They got fucked for a while, but eventually that hardship paid off and there was change. If you prefer, look at the Occupy Wall Street folks. Or at the Arab Spring. This is nearly always how change happens.

So yes, you may take a hit in the pocketbook for some period of time, but consider the fact that the more that we (females) can look to a culture we are a part of and want to find ourselves represented in and actually find ourselves represented in some way other than the candyfloss costumes and the ‘oh, God, come save me’ complexes (most of which aren’t representative of us, or aren’t how we want to be), the more we will be willing to put our money into that culture. The female geek population is an almost entirely untapped resource — some of us get involved because our boy/guy-friends buy us a comic in the hope that we might like it, or we buy a few because we know that they will. Some of us stumble into it. But rarely are we directly marketed to. Sometimes we stick to a video game or a graphic novel, but over all? There’s very little to make us want to stay and keep pouring our money into something that only perpetuates the stereotype that we must all be tiny, sexy, dressed in barely anything and either a crazy murder-tastic bitch or a damsel in need of saving, and absolutely nothing else.

Something else you could do? Listen to us. Almost every single girl I know who has read the Dr. NerdLove article has said something to the tune of “Yeeeeep. This is how it is.” But most men have said something like, “Weeeeeell…I can kinda see some of this, but it’s not /really/ that bad.” Or, they point of the one thing that isn’t exactly copacetic, using that to devalue the entirety of the rest of the article. Or, even better yet, they say something like, “Yeah, it’s a problem, but /I/ don’t do it. And you shouldn’t suggest that I do!” These are indications of Not Listening. Look at what almost every woman has said about this article. WE’RE TELLING YOU THAT THIS IS A PROBLEM. HAVE THE GUTS TO LISTEN AND TO ACCEPT THAT SIMPLY BY BEING A MAN, YOU ARE A PART OF THE PROBLEM.

(Sean, my dove, I hope you realise that really, I am no longer talking at you, but just talking in general.)

But before you get your boxers all in a bunch, please understand that this thing about male privilege is not an attack. LISTEN: Male privilege is a societal construct. It’s a part of sexism, just as racism, classicism, or any other type of discrimination is a construct of society. The responses (and, I think, the concern that you are being attacked) come from these constructs. You can’t help that you’re a part of the “dominant group” when you’re a white (in many cases single, in some cases Christian, and generally straight) male. You can’t help that society, very simply, favours you – you can’t help that effectively, your white male forefathers built it that way. Those of us who are aware of the reality of the world know that. But you also need to understand that when you continue to watch, and even laugh at, that Subway commercial where the girl uses her looks to get the slightly nerdy male co-worker to give her his sub, you’re perpetuating the construct. When you write a comic where the woman has no depth, and her only role is to be captured and rescued, and/or draw her in an entirely sexualised manner doing whatever it is she’s doing, you’re perpetuating the construct. When you admire and praise all those girls at the ComicCon in their skimpy anime outfits, but forget that the girls in the jeans and the sweatshirts exists, you’re perpetuating the construct. Even when you simply say or do nothing, you are perpetuating the construct, and are therefore a part of the problem. It’s not your fault, exactly – it’s just the way things are. 

And that’s why we girls say what we say, and why we’d like to see some change. It’s why we’d like for you to do some things differently.

And yes – those (sometimes) tragic girls in their skimpy anime outfits looking for the praise and attention are, in different ways, a part of the problem, too. But it is an entirely different part of the problem. And it is still a problem. Let me show you something — another illustration, of the formation of racial identity.

Seriously. Click this shit right here.

Take a look both pages. These are written in reference to racism, but they apply to sexism as well (since intersectionality is a thing). The first page of the racial idenity illustration, in this case, would be for women, the second page for men. Just read it – and think about what you see from both women and men in geek culture. Does this help illustrate some of the reasons behind the discomfort from men — and some of the behaviours of women? (I’m hoping so — because it seriously helped me get what I was seeing, when I was introduced to it. And as a note, scholars say that most people exist somewhere between the first two or the second and third stages – and that the last stage is by far the most difficult. They also say that people fluctuate between one stage and another, because of the discomfort and the challenges from society.)

How to change, in relation to identity development, comes down to this (which is also written in reference to racism, but is still applicable):

  • Racist/sexist: To be a racist or sexist is to oppose, belittle, or denigrate members of a particular racial or ethnic group or gender in speech, action or belief.
  • Non-racist/Non-sexist: To be a non-racist or a non-sexist is to acknowledge that racism and sexism exist and occur but to not actively confront or challenge the racism or sexism that you hear about or witness. Your silence and non-action implies acceptance and allows racism and sexism to continue.
  • Anti-racist/ Anti-sexist: To be an anti-racist or anti-sexist is to oppose, confront, and challenge statements, actions, and beliefs that belittle, stereotype and demean the other.

(from — http://www.diversitycelebration.com/models-of-racial-identity/)

The fact is, there is SO MUCH that could be done that throwing out one suggestion is like tossing the needle into the haystack.

I like throwin’ shit, though.

When women are represented in the ranks of creative directors, editors, marketers and so on, when their opinions are not just heard but accepted and implemented, giving the chance for trial and error and learning, then maybe there will be some noticeable change. When women are drawn like real women in actual clothes, when XBox bans users who verbally abuse female players, when dudes at the bar no longer decide to demean a girl as a slut or a bitch because she knows more about the football teams playing than they do (alright – that’s not geekdom, but still – it totally happens), then we will start seeing some change. But when men are the ones who challenge and oppose the treatment of women in the genre, and the behaviors of both men and women – like the white folks who sat in at lunch counters, next to black folk and for the same reasons – that is when we will see the most potent change.

Or so I believe.

(You could also market the Lantern series like you do the Harry Potter books. That would also be some genius.)