“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” –Red Queen to Alice, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.
I haz an epigraph! Seems fitting to engage in a bit of literary tradition in the same post in which I engage also in a bit of blogger tradition and link to and analyze an article from another website (and toss out a lot of cliches instead of coining original phrases):
“Push to Talk: The Tricky Business of Being a Woman on Vent” by Becky Chambers, which tackles the subject of sexism within the gaming community. (I must thank Skepchick.org for sending me to the article in the first place; is that enough attribution?) Here’s the pertinent passage from Chambers’s article:
For those of you who have gone through really rough times in game, I know this is over-simplifying. Yes, those encounters hurt. Yes, they’re unfair. Yes, it’s scary and infuriating to have some stranger’s voice coming into your home while you’re trying to unwind after work or school, preying on you solely because of your gender. But you’re still here. You’re still playing, just like the girls who fought for their own baseball gloves forty years ago. Hang in there. It is getting better. It’s just going to take some time.
“It takes time” is a very common excuse for why sexism exists within the skeptical movement, too. “Old people have old-fashioned ideas,” young people say, “and when they have retired from the movement/society/politics/business, they will take their sexist ideas with them and everyone will be equal and happy and fine.” This statement, which masquerades as comforting, is simply a way of passing the buck and avoiding the problem, thus freeing anyone alive right now of any responsibility to actually do something to eliminate sexism in the skeptical movement. Waving your hands for twenty-five years until today’s babies grow up is an ineffective strategy for social change. Furthermore, old people just don’t die like they used to, and they retire from their positions at later and later ages. You can’t rely on their sexist attitudes (which no one actually bothers to confirm are their actual attitudes and not attitudes held by a lot of people of different ages) dissipating, especially if everyone who works with them picks up their sexist habits and practices them in the decades ahead. That’s just setting up a situation of new old people, same old sexism. And telling women to be (passively) patient and chastising the ones who go “too far” to expose the problem caused by sexism (see below) is another tired example of what appropriate behaviors for women are supposed to be.
What the excuse of “it takes time” reveals is a profound unawareness of how social change happens (hint: lots of arguing and fighting is how social change happens). Here is the next paragraph of the passage, which reveals more profound unawareness of how social change happens, and includes two icky tropes to boot:
And yes, gentlemen, some women take their ire too far. I know that many of you would never dare to say the things that get spat at us. Try to remember that the anger you’re encountering is often a defense mechanism. Tell the jerks to shut up and welcome the ladies who want to play.
Icky Trope 1: The need for women to “sweeten” their message to men–excuse me, gentlemen–by flattering them before making super-polite nudges towards bare minimum decency (true gentlemen tell jerks to shut up and welcome ladies without having to be reminded)
Icky Trope 2: Psychologizing women’s anger, thereby diminishing it and making it easier to dismiss (it’s just a defense mechanism, and it isn’t rational)
Ineffective Strategy for Social Change 2: Telling jerks to shut up and be nicer to women (talk is cheap)
You know that phrase, “We’re as mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore”? Women are as mad as hell about inequality and sexism and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Instead, they take radical steps (boycotting things and telling men they are behaving badly without complimenting them first is what passes for radical within the skeptical community) and make life unpleasant for a lot of people. So unpleasant, in fact, that these people have to reevaluate what they liked so much about sexism (and there is a lot to like); so unpleasant, in fact, that they actively seek out ways to make pain go away (stimulus, response! it’s biology!). Squeaky wheels get oil. That’s what causes social change. Reassuring the perpetrators and enablers of sexism that they are very good people and that these women’s criticisms don’t apply to them reinforces the status quo. Telling sexist people to not be sexist doesn’t cause social change. Making rules about sexist behaviors and enforcing sanctions causes social change. And never letting your guard down for a minute once you’ve achieved some modicum of social change only might help you keep your social change in place, as the Red Queen and anyone following laws about reproductive rights in the United States (or Title IX, a law referred to in the Vent article) already knows.
There are jerks online, yes, and some of them can be downright cruel, particularly when anonymity comes into play. But that’s true anywhere. I’ve had my share of unpleasant things said to me at bars, but that doesn’t mean I shun such places in favor of drinking at home with my blinds drawn just because some idiot said something untoward about my boobs. If someone insults you, find someone else to play with. If a guild is giving you a hard time, find another one, or start your own. I cherish the friends I’ve made online, and I’ve had a blast gaming with them over the years. I hate the thought that people are missing out on this amazing digital playground solely because of those previously mentioned bad apples. Don’t let them win.
1. “Putting up with unpleasantness” versus “staying home alone” is a false dichotomy. Being abused is not a requirement of being social, and there are plenty of places women can spend their time and pursue their goals without experiencing it. The author herself provides an example of how she has actively created such a space in her very next sentence.
2. The toleration of “bad apples” who perpetuate sexism, within the gaming community or within the active skeptical movement, means that your “playground” is not an amazing thing that women who stay away are missing out on. It means it is a sucky environment that some women have found a way to endure.
3. “Don’t let them win”? If you’ve acknowledged that people within your community are working against women and you are not kicking out those people and/or shouting them down, they’ve already won. You’re following rules that they’ve set, and a generation’s worth of time letting them run unchecked will make them stronger.
Time is not on your side. Patience is not a virtue. The waiting is not the hardest part. Well-behaved women seldom make history. You’ve gotta fight for your right to <verrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-erb!>.