All the recent coverage of the harassment of women working in the gaming industry makes me want to reiterate a point I made once in a profile I did on The Unicorn Files: Growing up as a someone who is disenfranchised as a QPOC living in a relatively right-wing country town, being a nerd was just one more thing that made me an outcast. As I got older, I found some comfort in finding fellow nerds who although white or heterosexual, could still understand what it's like to be treated as a less-than in society. There are many white, heterosexual cis-gendered male nerd friends of mine that are amazing human beings, but there is also an extreme amount of homophobia, racism and misogyny in nerd culture that at times can be even more prevalent than the bullshit espoused by the generic stereotype of the average fratty douche.
Why? Because these nerds feel like they are nothing, they feel weak, unwanted, unimportant and oppressed in a world where they are ridiculed for not meeting the destructive standards that modern male masculinity requires, therefore they cling to the only thing that gives them the power and confidence they so desperately crave in the only societal systems that are still turned in their favor...racism, homophobia and patriarchy. Having a hard time measuring up to the societal demands of masculinity? Don't worry! Just call a gay man a bunch of homophobic slurs! At least you're closer to the ultimate goal than that guy will ever be! Feeling inadequate stacked up against the racist stereotype of the aggressive black male? Don't worry! Just film yourself and your nerdy white friends pulling pranks in predominantly black communities where you provoke strangers on the street than mock them for their perceived aggressive responses! Easier yet, just call PoCs racist names online! That way you can remind them of systemic racism that will always make sure you are ahead in the game! Regularly rejected by the women you are attracted to? Don't worry! You can anonymously call them a cunt online to remind them of their place in society as second class citizens who exist to serve your sexual wants and needs! Not enough? Still don't worry! You can take out your frustrations by creating or playing the video games you love in which you are free to batter and murder women at will! After all, no matter how much you will never live up to the straight, male paradigm of the buff, handsome and confident hero, WOMEN WILL NEVER BE HEROES.
While all of these types of outrage morphed into oppressive behaviors are explored by these particular nerds, for now I'm focusing on sexism and the gamers who vehemently oppose any kind of feminist lens casting over what they consider "their" culture. The problem these nerds have with feminism is not that it threatens free speech as they often attempt to argue. Feminism and the fight for equality threatens their last avenue of dominance and perceived superiority. If women are seen as equals, they take away what these men see as their right to be above. Their birthright in the hierarchy of things. When people like Anita Sarkeesian criticize the inherent misogynist tropes in video games, these male nerds cannot cope. They view this from the perspective of a baby having his bottle taken away and being forced to share with his sister. Why shouldn't they be able to play a game in which they gain points for fondling a stripper behind the bouncer's back? Or beating a prostitute and throwing her into the trunk? It's JUST A GAME, they argue. You're right. It is just a game, but the want and need of a misogynist male gamer to do these tasks are 100% REAL. As is the time and effort that goes into creating these tasks digitally by game developers. That is frightening and it should be seen as such.
Misogynist male gamers scream, bemoan, belittle and disgustingly harass women who dare challenge their false sense of power. These men love the damsel in distress trope not because it's a great story telling technique, but because of the power it allows them to wield in a world where they secretly or not so secretly would give anything to be Johnny Football hero. In those terms, I get it. I get it because as a QPOC, I know what it's like to feel powerless. But that's just it. While these men have escapist fantasies where when they feel weak, they can still vicariously live through a digital world in which they are a fearless hero, as women our only perspective is to sit in a castle and wait to be rescued. In both the real world and the digital one, we are more often than not portrayed as weak, helpless objects that exist solely for the purpose of giving male characters a task, purpose or point advantage. How long must these disempowered male gamers depend on the suffering of others to feel invincible? And how can they not see they are repeating the same cycle of oppression that makes them long to feel powerful in the first place? As Anita Sarkeesian brilliantly points out in her "Tropes vs. Women in Videogames" web series:
"The damsel in distress is not just a synonym for weak. Instead, it works by ripping away the power from female characters... distilled down to its essence, the plot device works by trading the disempowerment of female character for the power of male characters."
Feminism in any culture is NOT about the subjugation of men. You can point to the behavior of so-called "radicals" all you want just as there were so-called "radicals" associated with the Civil Rights movement. Feminism is about equality among the genders. It is democracy in replacement of a monarchy. These men want absolute power because they feel powerless. They fear sharing that power because they see it as being taken away from them all over again. To them, equality isn't about making everyone happy, it's about making them miserable. But this is a selfish perspective. Women crave power too in a world where we are powerless, but feminism is not working to dethrone you so women can rule the world in a oppressive matriarchy. Feminism is working to build a world where women are equals. Equality is the balance in power that serves everyone and it's desperately, desperately needed.