Ok, I wasn’t planning on this. After two separate articles on male privilege, women and the geek community, I had been planning on leaving the topic well enough alone. I mean, I’ll freely cop to enjoying and appreciating the attention and links it gets me whenever I strike that particular hornet’s nest, but the last thing I want is to either a) turn my blog from dating advice to gender relations studies and b) I don’t want to give the impression that I keep going to this well whenever I feel like I need more pageviews.
Plus, diminishing returns and all that.
And then someone sent me the Giant Bomb article about Aris Bakhtanians and the treatment of Miranda Pakozdi and that plan went right out the goddamned window.
So let me explain…
No, is too much, let me sum up.
Cross Assault is an online elimination-style reality show sponsored by Capcom, where two teams of five players – one team of Street Fighter players and one of Tekken players – compete for a cash prize. Twitch.Tv livestreams the multi-hour competition on their website, featuring commentary from the players and the team coaches. On Day 5, Twitch.TV host Jared Rea, made comments regarding the use of potentially offensive sexual language by the fighting game community – once considered to be incredibly insular and closed off – might be alienating potential new fans. Many of the players bristled at the idea that they should clean up what their act. Team Tekken coach Aris Bakhtanians stepped in to insist that sexism, sexual harrassment and abusive language is an inherent part of the fighting game community.
You can’t. You can’t because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community–it’s StarCraft. There’s nothing wrong with StarCraft if you enjoy it, and there’s nothing wrong with anything about eSports, but why would you want just one flavor of ice cream, you know? There’s eSports for people who like eSports, and there’s fighting games for people who like spicy food and like to have fun. There’s no reason to turn them into the same thing, you know?
– Aris Bakhtanians
A little while later in the broadcast, another voice (whom I can’t identify, my apologies) mentions that Team Tekken member Miranda Pakozdi is there and begins to speak for her. When she tries to add her two cents about the sexual harrasment, she’s shouted down by Aris.
As offensive as the Keystone stuff is […] they know where the line is. You [Aris] don’t know where the line is.
– Miranda Pakozdi
Later on, Pakodzdi deliberately forfeited two matches… apparently because she was frustrated and tired of the stream of harassment from Bakhtanians.
Fast forward a few hours, and I’m seeing that Aris is insisting that sexual harassment is morally equivalent to liking spicy food.
And that’s just about when I lost my shit.
“You’re trying to figure out a way to make me wrong, when I’m not wrong”
Gaming news site Destructioid posted a You Tube link featuring footage from Day 1 of the competition. In it, Bakhtanians jokes that Pakozdi participate in a mud-wrestling match with another female player… and that Bakhtanians gets the winner of the match as a prize. He also demands to know what Pakozdi’s bra size is, whether “it’s number one or number two” when she gets up to go to the bathroom while wishing for a camera in the lady’s restroom and makes fun of her for “not being sufficiently mean enough” for Team Tekken.
(Warning: NSFW language.)
It’s 13 minutes of some profoundly uncomfortable shit. And this is on day one. As other have pointed out: the chat with Bakhtanians where he desperately tries to justify sexually harassing women as part of the community is on day five of the week long competition.
Let’s just think about this for a second. Five days with Bakhtanians, that shining example of humanity making constant and seemingly unending offensive comments about her looks. About her body. About wanting to watch her pee, sleep, wanting to fuck her and pimp her out. Listening to him scream “Bitch” over and over again with all of the joy of a five-year old who’s figured out that naughty words make his parents react, then scream “RAPE THAT BITCH!” when a female character is taken down.
Look, man. What is unacceptable about that? There’s nothing unacceptable about that. These are people, we’re in America, man, this isn’t North Korea. We can say what we want.
– Aris Bakhtanians
Going by tweets, which she later took down, Pakozdi intmated that the only reason she was sticking around was because of a contract that required her to be there for the entire week.
So not only is she dealing with a creeper making rape jokes over and over again.. she’s legally stuck with him. She literally is not allowed to leave, at the risk of violating her contract with the competition.
She’s effectively trapped in there with him.
And before some of you decide to leap on me for using hyperbolic language, ask some of your female friends how they would feel dealing with that level of behavior day in and day out, with absolutely no recourse. Everybody else around her seems to be content to let it happen, if they’re not joining in on the “fun”.
To be perfectly honest, I’m kind of astounded she didn’t jam something large and blunt up his rectum and hoist his scrotum on a bloody pike as a warning to others. But more on that in a second.
“the entire time you were giggling and enjoying the attention. someone mentions harassment and not until then do you complain?” – via Twitter
Let’s take a few minutes and talk about Pakozdi’s behavior. A number of people, especially in fighting-game communities such as Shoryuken make much over the fact that in the video, Miranda can be seen giggling and even – apparently – going along with things. She doesn’t seem to be saying “Hey, dicknose, cut it out or I’m going to feed you that seaweed thatch you call a beard”.
To be sure, we live in a post Third-Wave Feminist world, where women are supposed to be empowered and able to stand up for themselves and fight their own battles. Women are supposed to be assertive and powerful and unafraid to speak their minds! So by all rights, if she isn’t telling them all to go fuck themselves, then clearly she’s cool with it, right?
Not so much.
In our culture, women grow up socialized that they’re not supposed to make a fuss. They’re not supposed to be assertive. They’re encouraged – even in this day and age – to swallow their feelings and “go along to get along”. The pressure to not say anything and “just go with it” increases exponentially when you have precious few allies to back you up. A lot of times, embarrassment and even outright humiliation get covered up with laughter and increasingly brittle smiles.
“If you fight back, it only gets worse,” they’re taught. “If you just pretend to go along with it, they don’t bug you as much.”
Unfortunately, a lot of people take this behavior as tacit approval of their shenanigans. “See?” they say, “She doesn’t mind it at all!” Meanwhile, the harassment continues and nothing gets better. And in depressing truth: they’re not always wrong about this. Trying to take a stand on the matter often results in even greater harassment in retaliation. In a perverse way, her fighting back can be an enticement; now not only does the harasser get the thrill of wielding his power over her – and it is a form of power – but now he feels obligated to put her in her place for daring to stand up to him.
To make matters worse, women can often expect to be blamed twice for their harassment; once for “inciting” it and once for protesting it.
Women will often be told that there mere presence is the cause for the treatment, therefore it’s her fault for how she’s treated. In their view, she is somehow responsible for the bad behavior of others; clearly, it’s not the poor, put-upon men’s responsibility to not be a collection of rowdy dickbags. If and when she protests, it’s again her fault. She “can’t take it” or “shouldn’t be there in the first place.” She’ll have her motivation for protesting or reporting it questioned – she’s “doing it because she wants the attention”, or “She’s jealous/inferior/unable to keep up and is using this to strike back”. Hell, sometimes she’ll even be blamed for not doing something about it fast enough.
The last one is especially insidious, because you can see this coming from men and women. Some people will imply that not protesting fast enough is a sign that she was clearly cool with it beforehand… obviously the only reason she changed her mind was because she planned on something underhanded. Others will stand up and say “I’d never put up with this shit, I’d get in their face/rip off their scrotum/walk out”. Of course, it’s easy to be the Monday morning quarterback in situations like these. It’s a lot like would-be internet tough guys talking about how they’d take down a criminal or a terrorist. Everybody’s a bad-ass… right up until the moment they get hit.
In the case of Bakhtanians and Pakozdi, it’s played out in an entirely too predictable a manner. One sterling gentleman provided the quote in the header, calling Miranda out on her Twitter feed. Over on Shoryuken, a fighting game community forum, a number of posters have taken up the mantle to defend Bakhtanians in this matter. One insisted that the only reason why Miranda was offended was because Bakhtanians wasn’t attractive enough.
Others have blamed her skill as a gamer, her inability to handle a “competitive environment”. Said environment of course being a place where men can – in the words of one poster – “the fighting game scene is a chance for them to relax and be themselves, away from an insane, politically correct culture.”
Yes, those poor, put-upon manliest of men, so restricted and restrained by a world where making rape jokes and demanding to see someone’s tits are frowned upon. Those noble saints and all the hardships they endure. Y’know. Like all the white people who feel oppressed by the world because they’re not allowed to say the n-word.
In a perfect world, every woman would feel confident and empowered enough to stand up and shout down her tormentors. In a perfect world, a woman wouldn’t have her motivation in doing so questioned, nor would she be blamed for being harassed at all.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing this blog in the first place.
“If you were really a member of the fighting game community, you would know that these are jokes,”
It’s a common response to complaints about sexual harassment, whether it be in the gaming community, comics culture or the office that “it’s part of the culture here.” “It’s just jokes. She can’t take a joke.” It’s a classic deflection, and one that Bakhtanians makes use of frequently. As far as he’s concerned, sexual harassment is such an integral part of the game that asking people to watch what they say is antithetical to the entire community. According to him, it’s so integral that it’d be morally wrong to get rid of it. In his words:
You can’t go to the NBA and say “hey, I like basketball, but I don’t want them to play with a basketball, I want them to play with a football.” It just doesn’t…it doesn’t make sense to have that attitude, you know? These things are established for years. That would be like someone from the fighting game community going over to StarCraft and trying to say “hey, StarCraft, you guys are too soft, let’s start making sexual harassment jokes to each other on StarCraft.” That’s not cool, people wouldn’t like that. StarCraft isn’t like that. People would get defensive, and that’s what you’re trying to do the fighting game community, and it’s not right. It’s ethically wrong.
Congratulations, people. Right now, the biggest spokesman for you believes that asking people to not sexually harass women is actually an offense against God and man.
Now to be sure: trash-talking is a part of any competition. It should be patently obvious that nobody is saying otherwise. But there is a huge goddamn difference between running smack against an opponent and screaming “RAPE THE BITCH!” over and over again. There’s a difference between taunting somebody’s skill and demanding to know her bra size. Or openly and consistently commenting on her thighs. Or talking audibly about fantasizing about her or offering her up as a prize for people in a chat-stream.
And, credit where credit is due: there seem to be plenty in the gaming community who agree. Aris Bakhtanians’ actions are hardly universally welcome.
But unfortunately, there is still a sizable and vocal number who insist that it’s Pakozdi’s fault for not being able to withstand the barrage of taunts and comments.
But you know what? By all accounts – including her own – Miranda could handle most of it just fine. In the Day 5 stream, she points out that she never felt uncomfortable at the Keystone events at the San Jose Bar and Grill – where the trash talk flies freely – because people there never crossed the line. Aris? Well…
Well, you know, there are layers here, if you think about this. There are layers of ethics. There are people who are racist and commit hate crimes, right? And then there are people who are racist but they have tons of friends of all colors and they have deep love for those friends. Do you think those people are one and the same? Absolutely not.
These are not the words of a man who knows where the line is. Or that there’s a line at all.
As she said on Twitter, Miranda made a point of discussing the matter with him on a one-on-one basis. By all accounts, Aris ignored her complaints and continued to make sexually aggressive and harassing comments towards her.
Therein lies the lesson.
Bringing It All Home
Again, let me reiterate: I’m not saying that you can’t talk shit during a competitive game. Nor am I saying that you can’t use edgy or even offensive language.
Hell, in my seeeeecrit identity, I’m a member of The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, a geek-interest podcast that’s part of Spill.com and we’re known for earning that “Explicit” tag on iTunes. Some of our humor can even seem to be borderline harassment of other members and frequent guests… with one major exception. Y’see, we work out well in advance where that line is. One of us may make a joke about sleeping with one of the female members or guests… and to someone who doesn’t know us, it may seem extreme, even hypocritical. Behind the scenes though, we’ve already established where the limits are. When we accidentally go too far – and it’s happened on occasion – we’ve apologized and take strides to not do it again.
One member of the League is fond of dropping c-bombs. Another member is profoundly offended by the word and said so… as a result, he’s never said it in front of her again.
To Bakhtanians, this sort of courtesy to others is anathema.
This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.
This, my friends, is what makes all of the difference.
ADDENDUM (2/29/11) More footage has been found. Kotaku recently posted video – shot on the 23rd, day 2 of the competition – of when Aris Bakhtanians picked up the streaming camera and harassed Miranda Pakozdi further. It’s further evidence of his attitude towards her and more evidence of just how uncomfortable his antics made her.