A few months ago, I wrote an article on nerds and male privilege. Maybe you read it.
Believe me, nobody was more surprised than me when it proceeded to go viral and start rocketing around the Internet. It garnered a lot of attention and a metric ton of mixed reactions, some good, some bad, some downright puzzling. It made for a great lead-in as to just how some male behaviors can work against us when it comes to dating and I got to enjoy my five minutes of Internet fame. I sort of figured that this was the end of it and was ready to move on to the next series of articles. I mean, after all, I didn’t start this blog to be about gender relations; I’m just a guy trying to help geeks improve their love-lives and get better at dating.
Well, man plans and the gods laugh and all that. It seems as though I’m not quite done with the subject yet.
Y’see, there were certain recurring themes and arguments in the comments, both here, on Reddit and Kotaku, especially regarding my immediate dismissal of entire classes of arguments about whether male privilege – especially as it pertains to geek and gaming culture – exists. And since I’m the sort of person who can’t seem to leave well enough alone…
Well, let’s take another whack at the ol’ hornet’s nest again, shall we?
The 3 Ds of Arguing
Back when I wrote “Nerds and Male Privilege”, I included a link to the “Sexism In Games” bingo card as an example of the most common arguments and ones that, ultimately make my point for me. A number of people felt that this was my attempting some sort of rhetorical end-run around actually having a discussion about how male privilege affects women or even whether or not male privilege exists, and thus cheapening or even disproving my argument. Amusingly, they then promptly proceeded to make just about every argument on there. So many, in fact, that one Redditor decided to play “/r/Gaming” sexism bingo with the comments in just one of the threads about the article.
Not even the one in the sub-forum for Men’s Rights.
I dismissed these arguments in part because that’s not what the article was about; it was about making people aware about how male privilege manifests itself in geek culture and that the attitudes that male privilege engenders1 directly affect women’s involvement and inclusion in geek culture. After all, there’s nothing quite like being told by a community that you want to be a part of that you’re only valued as a commodity or reward is there?
But, more importantly, these arguments pull the attention away from the subject at hand and lead the conversation down roads that it was never intended to go. As a result, the main thrust of the article – guys, you have advantages that lead you to act a certain way that is off-putting to women – gets lost while everybody is sucked into a neverending morass of goalpost moving and verbal gerrymandering.
These arguments tend to fall into what I call the 3 Ds of Internet Arguing: Dismiss, Deflect and Derail.
Dismissal entails denying that the issue exists at all in the first place, evidence be damned. This often involves long and tortured explanations about how something really isn’t sexist at all and is perfectly rational and egalitarian. Occasionally it involves explaining to someone how they’re completely misinterpreting things, they’re oversensitive or overemotional.
Deflection is all about verbal judo and flipping the accusations around on the accuser. In terms of arguing male privilege this usually appears as variations of “No, women have all the power, they’re more manipulative than men” or “You’re discriminating against us!”
Derailing is the most common version of these arguments and serves to change the subject of the conversation, usually by the people in question. Suddenly, instead of discussing geek culture’s implied accepted roles for women, we’re discussing the hierarchy of oppression or why we’re talking about this instead of, say, female circumcision (which is, like, way worse). Or dealing with assertions that, by extension, anyone who agreed with the article wants to ban all “sexy” characters from video games forever.
Now don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying that there can be no disagreement on the subject or that by arguing with me at all you’re conceding the fight or automatically making my point for me. I am, however, saying that the arguments – as represented on the bingo card – fall in line with these types and ultimately do refer back to the point I was making.
But hey, let’s actually go through a few of these, shall we?
You’re Only Saying This Because You’re A White Knight/Trying to Get Laid/ Trying to Appease Your Girlfriend
This one showed up a number of times, and it’s the one that amuses me the most. I mean, honestly, if writing a post on a semi-obscure blog was all it took to get a guy laid… well, shit, I probably would never have actually started Paging Dr. NerdLove because there would be no need for it.
For that matter, why exactly would writing an article make my girlfriend happier than, say, cleaning the litterbox more often? It’s a mystery.
Ultimately, this is a case of dismissal. This argument implies that the only reason why I would even pretend this exists is because I have ulterior motives. Otherwise, I would never bring it up/betray my gender.
Amusingly, I received a few variations of this from some feminist blogs as well; I paraphrase (because I can’t find the link and Google is failing me) but evidently my whole point of bringing this up was “just so that guys could pretend to have a whiff of a clue and trick women into fucking them.”
Comics/Gaming/RPGs/Etc. Are A Subculture That Appeals to Men! You Trying To Take That Away!/
But It’s Not FOR Women! If They Can’t Deal With It, They Shouldn’t Be Here!
These deflections tend to be variations on the same argument; that privilege is inherently a zero-sum game and by making concessions to women regarding the levels of sexism in geek culture requires taking something away from men.
Which is, to be perfectly honest, kinda nuts. But it does imply one thing: that at a certain level the one making the argument realizes that they are the de-facto privileged and they worry about not having that privilege.
Now to be fair: some elements of geek culture are male-dominated; comics and gaming are perfect examples of this. This does not, however mean that they’re inherently intended for guys exclusively, nor does it mean that they also have to be as exclusionary to women as they tend to be.
Realizing that drawing all of your female characters with 36DDD tits and posing them in physically impossible ways in order to show off their boobs and ass at the same time while wearing dental floss costumes might be a little offensive to women is hardly the same as saying that you’re not allowed to enjoy sexy art or that sexy art shouldn’t be allowed. Similarly, campaigning for female characters who are more than “Hero’s girlfriend” or “Fan-Service Station Attendant” doesn’t mean that there can’t be femme fatales or even characters who are there for titillation.
The problem isn’t that these characters or drawings exist. The problem is that these are the vast majority. When 99% of the female characters, whether it be comics, movies, or video games are designed to look like porn stars and the ones that aren’t can be counted on the fingers of one hand, it’s not terribly surprising that women might be oooged out by it… and the implied attitudes that come with it. When your only choice for a gaming avatar are “Bustier and Thong” and “Battle Bikini”, it sends the message that “You are only welcome here as a sexual object. If you do not meet these criteria, we have no use for you.”
Nobody’s saying that there can’t be sex-kittens, voluptuous pin-ups or fetishized characters. But leavening them out with realistically proportioned females in practical costumes who aren’t there to be rescued, raped, murdered, tied to the train tracks or the prize for beating the main boss isn’t taking away your rights or preventing you from enjoying the games.
- See what I did there? [↩]