In the past year of being increasingly active in an online activist movement, I’ve found one thing to be true about some of the most vocal and extreme ideological movements. Some just don’t want allies, despite claims that they do. Whether it be the extreme feminist movement some have termed ‘3rd wave’ or the extreme Neo-Puritans who want to wipe society of anything offensive, triggering, or questionable; in many cases their idea of an ally is really just a yes-man.
Cries of “Just shut up and listen,” “Your opinion doesn’t matter,” and “Silence is consent,” are contradictory statements that tend to make people disengage and walk away. How can one be an ally of a group that doesn’t want diverse opinions, yet still want their diversity to be recognized? How does one find the will to care, when the extent of one’s involvement is expected to simply be “Listen and believe?”
My personal experience has most recently been in the realm of gaming, especially with a year-long campaign to reform gaming media and the image of gamers who are struggling to get out of the negative stereotypes of the past. One of the prime charges against gamers, oftentimes by feminist critics, is that gamers want to keep gaming as some sort of boy’s club or male-dominated hobby. No gamer I know wants to exclude anyone, but if you try any sort of argument then you are labeled as a misogynist or worse.
Critics don’t want to hear that the male dominance in the gaming hobby isn’t some nefarious plot to keep women out. I agree that more female gamers would be great, but… and that’s where the dialogue stops. It doesn’t matter if I have a perfectly reasonable explanation for the state of things now, or a viable solution to make things more inclusive. My sin is in not parroting the strict line that gaming is hostile to women. I don’t know a single gamer that would have an issue with more female characters, or more female oriented stories. Like me, most gamers don’t care that much as long as the game itself is good. Most of us would firmly agree that more female characters in games would be a great idea. The problem arises when we disagree with how to go about it.
Many gaming critics offer a solution that involves less male characters, or less masculine themes. Yet when someone offers a different solution, a lot of these critics make claims of sexism or misogyny because gamers dared to suggest more games with female characters rather than less with males. The worst of it shows when female gamers offer the same suggestion; they suddenly become gender traitors, internalizing their misogyny to get a free pass into the boy’s club. In case that seems completely over the top, keep in mind those exact accusations have been thrown at women using the GamerGate hashtag for the last year.
In the end, even if our goals are the same, I’m a misogynist. If I dare to offer an alternate idea I’m “mansplaining.” Even this essay would be considered “mansplaining.” It’s impossible to be an ally to the perpetually offended. Even if you try, the moment you step out of line you become a target.
Over the last year I’ve met some wonderful, opinionated, and open-minded people who want the same things as me. They identify as feminists, MRA’S, and social justice advocates. They aren’t the loudest or most vitrolic. They aren’t the ones we see telling people to shut up, listen, and believe. They get a feel for the room, conversation, thread, or forum before speaking out. When they meet someone like me they understand why I’d rather just read a book, write a short story, or play video games than get involved in the political shitstorm.
Do you want an ally or a yes-man?