This bit is in response to a lot of the reaction to Katie Williams’ piece on her experience at E3. It’s a must read and I encourage everyone to give it a look and see some of the comments.
We need to talk about victim blaming. It comes in many forms and appears very often whenever minorities speak about experiencing discrimination. Taking a step past the obvious meaning, it lends absolution to those who act in discriminatory ways by assuming there’s nothing anyone can do to change them. So we go for the one perceived as weak and malleable to do something. If they didn’t dress so provocatively, they wouldn’t get raped. If they just would have stood up for themselves, the game industry wouldn’t be so sexist. This is often coming from allies with good intentions and persuasive rhetoric, like a response Susan Arendt did on the Cross Assault fiasco. I point this out because Susan is a professional in the industry and obviously meant this post to be compassionate and encouraging. Though unintended, there is an implication that minorities, in both these cases women, are not doing enough or doing it wrong, and that’s why bad things happen to them. You can also read Susan’s amendments to further reinforce the nuance of the situation she was speaking to. It isn’t just immature men from the dark corners of the internet making things difficult; women also can contribute to putting the pressure on other women to be responsible for the state of the gaming community.
This reminds me of when someone at my undergrad university wanted me to do a speech on continuing activism into post-grad life. I didn’t know I was an activist. But when I finally got up to speak, I realized that merely existing in a discriminatory space is activism is “doing it right.” The idea that someone is obligated to be publicly angry and aggressive towards their abusers puts the responsibility of creating a post-sexist world on those who are negatively affected by it, and not those who have the power to change things. Katie didn’t only have snarling men criticizing her, but also women who insist she asked for it, because it doesn’t happen to them! Let’s take a step back and think about what it entails to be a woman videogame journalist. It means every single day, you’re most likely going to see something sexist and be expected to be okay with it. You are less likely to rise through the ranks of writer, and you are often forgotten since everyone still assumes videogames is just a boys’ thing. Your gender is never brought up when you crank away writing solid news pieces, but always whenever competency and sex appeal is brought into the conversation. You are often told that sexism is a risky subject and really just an opinion. So, on top of that, surrounded by booth babes, and eventually taking a chance to publish about it, is it completely unfathomable to think one just doesn’t want to deal with for a day?
If this is still too abstract, let me give a personal example. Here are the things other women who are transgender say to me whenever I speak about my experiences of discrimination:
Have you considered hormones?
Do you have a deep voice?
Maybe you need more makeup.
Why don’t you just go to LGBT safe spaces?
Just have surgery.
Why aren’t you more confident?
Don’t admit you’re transgender.
Instead of addressing culture’s cissexism (often erroneously called transphobia), I am told to change myself, literally to change my body, so I can be a happy person. I face discrimination every day and encounter depression triggers at least once a week. Those comments above claw at the back of my mind constantly and I’m super aware of how my frustration at being unable to control society encourages me to change myself. But what would that help, really? If I just magically changed my sex right now, how would the world become less discriminatory other than less people being rude towards me?
E3, the videogame industry, and patriarchy look immutable, but it isn’t true. They can change and we can change them. Just think what you’re asking of a person when you tell them to be an in-your-face revolutionary when they encounter multiple instances of sexism in just a day.