For the vast majority of my life I was the only ladytype in a social group full of men because my hobbies were those considered by the western world to be traditionally masculine: I loved working on cars, playing football, the nutritional science of beer, live blues and metal, and, most especially for our purposes, any and all gaming. Like, I had a vast and profound collection of Activision patches and twice-weekly tabletop groups, gaming was such an important part of my life. And all through that time, I was one of The Good Chicks. You know the ones: just one of the guys, lolololol sandwich jokes, bitches be trippin amirite, etc etc.
My male-majority social groups were so important to me when I was a kid (and by “kid” please understand that I mean from my weester gamerhood through college and young adulthood) that I spent a lot of time pulling what Melissa McEwan calls the terrible bargain: even when someone said something shitty I wouldn’t call it out, because I couldn’t; saying something would cause a big fuss, my friends would all get mad at me and upset about it, and it would ruin the whole day. So I convinced myself that I was just being crazypants hysterically oversensitive since obviously no one ever meant anything by it, and I sucked it up and moved on.
This happens a lot, even now. All the time.
Here’s the thing: lots of people I care about say shitty things, including me! Lots of people in the world do this, sometimes because they don’t know any better — and they don’t know any better because we are conditioned to strike the terrible bargain every time, so they so rarely hear that these uncool things are hurtful and should be stopped.
So there is some background: keeping my uncomfortableness to myself, swallowing concerns, and of course stridently insisting that I was certainly not a feminist, not like one of those women. Lots of things happened to evolve my feelings and actions on the matter, but there was one seriously majorbig turning point: I had a daughter.
The second I learned that my fetus was genetically female I started looking at the world a different way, and that was when I stopped putting up with so much bullshit. I very clearly remember when the world clicked into place for me: Mr. Aro and I went to a particular big-box store to sign up for the baby registry, and I saw that the toy aisles were divided into “Boys” and “Girls.” Not the subtle way you’re thinking, either, where one aisle is pink and one is blue, but ACTUAL LITERAL SIGNAGE: this toy is for a boy (action figures, video games, motherfucking legos), and that toy is for a girl (fashion dolls, dress-up costumes, play kitchens), period the end.
To say that I flipped out would be something of an understatement. I think there is maybe still a smoking crater where that store used to be.
What the fuck kind of world did I bring my daughter into? A world where just saying that she wants to think critically within Traditionally Dude Pursuits gets her the most horrifying hatespeech imaginable. And that’s my world, too, and I have a responsibility not just as a parent but as a member of the global community to make it better. Because this shit? This shit where we have to get all rapey mcbeaterson on weester Lara Croft so gameplaying dudes can relate to protecting her? This shit needs to stop, and the only way it will stop is if people keep speaking out and telling everyone that it’s not okay.
No one is denying that it’s hard. I have to check myself and my privileges and my language every goddamn day. It’s so scary to take that deep breath and tell someone you care about that what they’ve said or done is uncool and run the risk of setting off the Privilege Phalanx to stab you right in the RAEG!1. It’s especially scary to do so within the gaming culture where you not only have to worry about the reaction of the person(s) to whom you direct your uncoolness doctrine, but also the reaction of every other person on the internet.
For some people, that worry makes speaking up not worthwhile, and that’s so sad. I used to be one of them (and this ties back into the geek social fallacies), and so I understand the reasons that can go into making that choice to keep quiet and shake it off whenever and however you can. I understand that in many cases you are literally exposing yourself — to threats, to harassment, to eviction from your social group, to a whole passel of shit that sucks. I understand. I really, really do.
The problem I have is that this existence is not sustainable. “It’s the internet, that’s how it works” is not sustainable. “Trash-talk is part of the culture” is not sustainable. “Straight white dudes get harassed too” is not sustainable. “But telling people to quit being douchebags is censorship” is not sustainable.
The world I want to give my daughter (and your daughters and your sons and everyone else) is not that world. I want to give her a world where thinking critically about social issues in games is a discussion method, not a one-way ticket to hateytown. Where she plays Cooking Mama because she wants to, not because that’s A Game Girls Play. Where, if she works in a computer shop, people don’t immediately assume she’s the receptionist. Where “but sex sells” is not a common retort to complaints against sexualized violence.
And that’s why I’m a gamer and a feminist and a feminist gamer, openly and proudly, though it’s lost me friends in the past: because I’m building that world. It is constantly filthy and backbreaking work, but I promise that it’s worth it.