Archive for December, 2011

It’s not just one joke, it’s all the jokes.

When this post appeared in the Kotaku AU re-feed today, I will admit that I allowed my mouse to hover over the “trash” button before I’d even read what it was about. Seeing the headline, I could already predict what the reader response would be, and as the only person on duty at the time, I did not want to  read every comment that would be posted beneath the article. I ended up publishing it, holding my breath as the comments rolled in. I already knew what kind of comments they would be. They’re always the same. You can take this Sexism Bingo Card into any comment thread about women/feminism/sexism/sexuality and it won’t be long before the room shouts bingo and everyone walks away with a tray of meat sweat.

I was not going to provide any substantial kind of comment on the post because I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there, especially when it comes to a subject that generates so much anger and dismissiveness in the comments. I ended up commenting because a question was directed at me in a civilised manner and I thought it appropriate to respond. The question was:

I’m not justifying any sort of discrimination, but it seems impossible these days to make any sort of joke without offending people. Tracey, do you feel offended by this guys comments? Or do you find his joke funny?

Below is my response, which I have since extended for the purpose of this blog post (the original is still within the Kotaku comment thread (I’m going to get a bit more personal here because it is my own blog)):

Regarding this one comment in particular, I didn’t really find it funny, although I was annoyed that [Bissell] was perpetuating a stereotype. The thing I find frustrating when people say “it’s just a joke” or “you can’t make a joke without offending people” is this: people don’t just get offended for the fun of it. Generally speaking, women don’t enjoy getting angry about sexist comments. We don’t like writing angry blog posts, or calling people out for using gender-specific insults. We don’t get a kick out of this in any way at all. It’s really exhausting.

So WHY do we draw attention to it? Because sometimes it is genuinely hurtful. “It’s just a joke” doesn’t work when you’re constantly in a position of disadvantage. And the thing is it’s never just one joke in isolation. They stack up one after the other and they never go away. We hear it on Xbox Live, we read it in the comments, we see it in the games we play, we read it in the articles … when all these instances of sexism stack up, it’s no longer “just a joke”, it’s another hideous block of discrimination thrown on top of the mountain of blocks that we suffocate under.

A few years ago when I first started writing about games, I was able to easily shrug off sexist comments and “jokes”. I saw them as isolated incidents — moronic statements made by people who didn’t know any better. Sexism wouldn’t play any defining role in my career as a journalist who writes about games. After that first sexist comment came another, and then another, and then another. It didn’t end. The first time someone makes a sexist comment and says it’s a joke, it is easy to believe. But when it happens again and again and again, it just doesn’t sit right. The more I was told that it was all just a joke, the more I felt that I couldn’t say anything when someone was completely out of line. I began to second-guess myself, I was worried that if I said anything I’d be dismissed for simply not “getting the joke”. A friend of mine gave me an analogy: “It’s like when you die in a videogame and your friend says ‘You just died’, and you’re like ‘I know’, and then ten minutes later they do it again. ‘Oh hey look, you died again.’ Such comments attack the psyche like the . . . slower, more ‘adult’ version of a child repeating every word you say immediately after you say it”.

Today on Kotaku we had one post about sexism and the comment thread was full of people ready to dismiss the concerns of women who felt that the way we as gamers talk about women is an important issue. A few weeks ago we had a post on a sexist advertisement run by a game retailer and again the readers came out of the woods to put down any person who expressed that they were offended by the ad. Weeks earlier, a post on female characters in videogames evoked a similar response where the writer was accused of over-reacting and making a mountain out of an ant hill. It goes much, much further back, and it’s not just on Kotaku — it’s everywhere, and it’s not okay.

What I have just identified is what upsets me the most. The day after a certain post regarding sexism went up on Kotaku, I went home feeling more defeated than I ever have during the time I’ve spent writing about videogames. I was disturbed, deeply saddened, and I found myself in tears, bawling harder than I have in years. What upset me was that all the jokes, all the dismissive comments, all the times I’d been told to toughen up and deal with it — all of that had snowballed to the point where a new “joke” would serve as a reminder for all the previous “jokes” told. It was a reminder that this isn’t a new and isolated incident where someone has made a silly remark about women; rather, this has happened before and people are clearly okay with it to allow it to keep happening. And it will happen again. These jokes are a reminder that if someone writes a post about sexism on Kotaku (or where ever) tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or five years from now, if I make a contribution I will still be dismissed, my opinion will still count for nothing, and I will still be accused of being anything other than a rational human being. The moment I contribute to the discussion, it won’t matter what my role is — I will just be another hysterical woman who is over-reacting.

I’ve been told that things will change in time, I just have to wait. Really? Really? Is waiting all it really takes? How exactly will things change if I just wait? And how long do I have to wait? What people seem to forget is that people who are discriminated against are feeling it right now. They live through it every day. It bothers me that we’re all being told to wait with no end in sight. It bothers me that waiting appears to be the solution. It bothers me that I feel like I need to tip-toe around a subject that concerns me, that as a woman I am somehow less qualified to talk about how issues affect me lest I be accused of being a “feminazi” who is pushing an agenda.

Understandably not all women feel this way. Some don’t believe there is a problem at all. But enough DO feel this way to speak up about it, and when they do we shouldn’t be dismissing them for being overly emotional or hysterical because if you were in their shoes you would understand why it bothers them so much. It bothers me. It bothers me so much I freeze up every time I see a headline in the Kotaku CMS about women, I wince before I look at the comments, and I’ll often sit there moderating them, feeling completely deflated, wondering why I bother writing about games when so many readers don’t even respect me as a human being. So, since you asked, that’s my answer. And the important thing to keep in mind with these things is that this may have been “one joke”, but how many “jokes” of this nature have women had to silently deal with, and how must it feel to be dismissed every time you try to stand up for yourself?

[Note: This post is written on my personal gaming blog and does not necessarily reflect the views of any of my employers. With that in mind, I have posted this here to get some thoughts off my chest, not to spark a debate or discussion. I’ve heard plenty of opposing views in various comment threads, I do not welcome them here.]