The Guy’s Guide To Being A Feminist Ally In Video Gaming

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One of the things I hear whenever I write about misogyny in video games is that there’s a silent majority of male gamers who are uncomfortable with the vicious sexism some of their counterparts deploy against women (and frankly, against men, too). Women aren’t alone in feeling hopeless, or like there’s no effective way to change either the behavior of individuals or the culture that leaves space for the harassment of women. So I hopped on Twitter yesterday and asked men who play video games, and who push back against sexist behavior when they see it, what kinds of arguments they’ve found to be effective. Dozens of you responded, with a lot of terrific advice. So if you’ve ever wanted to call out sexism in video games but weren’t sure how to start the conversation or how to make sure it would be productive, here’s the collective wisdom of the internet.

-Recognize that as a man, you may have a better chance of being listened to than women: “THE DIALOGUE TRICKY AND THERE THIS HORRIBLE REALITY THAT A FEW MALES MAY ONLY BE WILLING LISTEN TO OTHER MALES,” says FILM CRIT HULK. Women who write about sexism in gaming—and sexism in entertainment in general—often find themselves discredited on the grounds that they’re acting in their own self-interest (which is strange, when you think about it). When men speak up against sexism, it gives validity to the idea that sexism is a problem that affects everyone, not just something that only women see or experience.

-Have the conversation one-on-one, if possible: “As a rule I think direct 1 on 1 conversation is more valuable than a public setting (Internet included) w/ groupthink,” writes Reuben Poling. If you think someone is reachable in private, but likely to get their hackles up in public, start the conversation there before shaming or banning them more aggressively.

-Take the high ground—but don’t sound superior: “SOMETIMES IT ABOUT STARTING FROM PLACE GIVING RESPECT EVEN IF RESPECT UNDESERVED?” asks FILM CRIT HULK. And Byron Hauck suggests avoiding prissiness: “‘Don’t talk like that with me.’ Pepper in swearing or ‘bro’ as you feel appropriate. Works on homophobia & antisemitism too.”

-Stay as calm as possible. If you need to blow off steam, don’t do it in conversation with the person your’e trying to change: “Speak calmly and then back off,” says Ian Dickerson. “Avoid messy argument. Hope silent majority feel more able next time as a result.”

-Use humor: Lots of recommendations for this. Humor and sarcasm change the perception of who’s in violation of norms, and shows that feminism is cleverer than sexism.

-Be clear, from the beginning, the conditions under which you’re willing to play with someone, and stick to them: “We simply did not tolerate any sort of sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, or other bigotry, even jokingly,” Grayson Davis of Beeps & Boops wrote in an email. “We had a zero-tolerance approach, with exceptions only made for long-standing players who seemed genuinely sorry, and even then we handed out long bans—several weeks or months, which is a very long time in multiplayer gaming.”

-Don’t equate taste in culture and individual instances of behavior with the totality of the person you’re calling out: “I think an important facet is separating fan from fandom,” says Reuben Poling. “Like, the difference between ‘this thing you like is troubling’ and ‘this thing you like makes you a bad person.’ I’ve found myself digging in my heels against stuff I OUGHT to listen to because from the get-go it smacks of ‘you are the sum of your shitty opinions.’ It loses people quickly, esp. gamers who like to think themselves persecuted.”

-Personalize your discomfort with sexist language: “I did get someone to stop casually using the term “rape” (I.E. in the “PWNED” context) by saying it creeped me out,” Tim Jenkins told me. Reminding people that sexism isn’t just a neutral state that some women are unduly uncomfortable with changes the landscape in which people operate. Daryl Surat points out that “Cause Number 1 [of sexism]: ‘doesn’t know any better / heard others doing it so assumes it’s the norm.’ Largest cause; can be talked to.” Or as John LeBoeuf-Little wrote in an email, it can shake up people’s thinking to make them realize that sexism harms people even when there aren’t women around to be offended.

-Use yourself as a safe zone: LeBoeuf-Little also says that when he encounters people who think that it’s other gamers’ responsibility not to be offended or to remove themselves from situations he finds offensive, he does the following: “I try to get them to see their responsibility for creating a healthy environment. I point out the harm in what they said. I point out that not caring what other people think is kinda dickish. This often works. When it doesn’t, I ask them if they could just not say those things around me.” If you’re willing to speak up, and to explain what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t, you can create a safe space for the people who play in your vicinity, who may not be willing or feel able to speak up about things that hurt and offend them.

-Ask why they think it’s okay to say something: “I often find people use such language because it’s a socialized institution, and they never think to question,” Matthew Cherry observes. Suggesting that something isn’t a norm is a way of going in with confidence, and changing the environment people think they’re operating in.

-Don’t assume everyone has the same standards for what kind of language is sexist or disturbing—but be willing to explain what you feel: “I raised the topic of whether whore ought to fall under our zero-tolerance approach, and I encountered some pushback by other moderators (we were virtually all men),” Grayson recalls. “Some just didn’t see it as a gendered slur, or thought it was a relatively minor/benign insult.”

-Ask them to put themselves in women’s positions, or to imagine the same things being said to women in their lives: “Try to put their words into perspective to their own life,” suggests Matthew Cherry. “How they’d feel if someone said that to someone important in their lives. If they have an ounce of decency, just that visual is often enough to get them to at least look at their reasons.”

-Remind them that women are as committed gamers as they are: “I usually use my clannies as examples,” Alex says.

-Set out a standard for optimal gameplay—for everyone: Daryl Surat says that there are some gamers who “‘Deliberately rejects mainstream society’ (ex a stereotypical ‘nerd’); ordinary cultural critiques won’t work as they’re often already read-up on the male gaze/sexism arguments & actively oppose them; what works for this set is to demonstrate deficiencies from a pure ‘what makes optimal gameplay’ perspective. It can stop behavior; values are set.”

-Point out that doing things other people don’t like makes them vulnerable if something happens that makes them uncomfortable, and they’ve denied themselves grounds to complain: “Your advertising attracts douchebags you don’t like,” James S. said he told people at a game store. “Try attracting people you like.”

-Appeal to ideals of games as art: “Never talk ‘down’ towards gaming culture (very sensitive, see endless ‘is games art’ debates),” suggests Hanzan. Ask folks if they want to give the impression they’re in a frat house, or a cutting-edge, badass museum. If sexism’s branded as tacky and immature, and feminism’s a means of gaining respect for gamers and the games they love, maybe the value proposition can change over time.