The “Little” Things That Count

It’s easy to dissuade yourself from writing about social issues. “Everyone who will read it already agrees,” you tell yourself. “If by chance someone who doesn’t stumbles onto it, they’ll just roll their eyes and close the tab.” Your voice isn’t loud enough, the audience isn’t big enough, people are tired of hearing about it- there is no end to the excuses. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. For all the good my shyness and cowardice does those who are being mistreated and discriminated against.

Perhaps that makes it ultimately a good thing that I got involved in a big Twitter kerfuffle on Sunday, stirring me out of passivity on the subject. It may be the one good thing to come out of the discussion, which was unpleasant and unproductive, due in no small part to my tone. I honestly think the things I were saying were fair, but the way I said them was antagonizing, and perhaps addressed to someone who was simply trying to vent frustration without an overzealous amateur second-guessing her justified anger. I’m a nitpicker of language by nature, and the habit rarely wins me any friends. I apologize. At least it finally gave me the kickstart to address sexism in an article, which I should have done a long time ago.

Sexism is an issue that colors a great deal of our society, and it’s a tremendous burden to many I know and care about. Discrimination against men happens, of course, and is just as deplorable, but in frequency and intensity it doesn’t hold a candle to misogyny. I just disqualified GTA V from my GotY honors primarily on the (de)merit of its hateful attitude toward women. (Ben, for what it’s worth, was way ahead of me- a better fighter for the rights of the discriminated by far.) Raised in South Carolina, too, discrimination was always close at hand- of all sorts. A six year old Colin wasn’t aware enough to notice what was happening around him, but that’s just the point- it’s so subversive and ever-present that a white male could miss it entirely until removed from that toxic place. Our culture is rank with it, and like any big change improvement is coming unbearably slowly.

The unacceptable behavior of some Enforcers is all the more egregious because of how magical the show can be.

My area of knowledge is games- it’s safe to say that short of eggs benedict it is the only subject I can write on with authority. I don’t know enough to write about sexism in any other subject- I’m afraid I’ll have to leave that to the pros of those respective fields. But the way we treat female players, female developers, female characters- it has to stop. Reading stories of sexist Enforcers from PAX made me want to throw up. Playing Super Princess Peach and seeing the legitimately good game behind the “woman overwhelmed by her raging emotions” stereotype broke my heart. And words can’t begin to express how foul the ways people on gaming networks like Xbox Live and PSN can be. It boggles the mind.

We can all agree that these grand displays of the worst mankind has to offer should be shunned, condemned, and spoken out against. But it is that very fact that means they are not the true danger. No one who is not already completely lost to discrimination and hate will find acts that make you gag acceptable. The real threat comes from the little things in life. Equipping plate armor on your female character in WoW, only for it to magically transform into a bikini. A simple “whoa, a girl!” when a female voice is heard on voicechat. Equivocating any statement about a woman’s skills or abilities with “for a girl.” These things don’t seem like a big deal, but in ignoring them we allow a culture to build around. If it doesn’t draw a reaction, then it’s okay to say. If it’s okay to say, it’s a normal attitude that I should have as well. And thus do quiet moments of discrimination corrupt a society.

This exact same set of armor, when equipped to a male, covers their whole body.
This exact same set of armor, when equipped to a male, covers their whole body.

It’s an awkward situation to address, to be certain: often these acts are thoughtless, with no ill intent. To go for the throat over something the perpetrator sees as innocuous would only serve to put them on the defensive, ensuring they don’t hear a word for have to say. It’s human nature- when attacked, we fight back, even if we’re in the wrong. Instead, it’s important to be gentle, and casual. Let them know privately that you think it wasn’t cool, and explain why. Whatever their reaction- apologetic, shame, anger- you have told them something they needed to hear, in the best way you could say it. Probably they meant no ill, but that makes it all the more important you help them by catching the mistake.

It’s quite possible you’ve heard all of this before- that it’s not news to you. I’m afraid I can’t apologize for repeating the message. The problem still exists, and people can still do better in fighting it. As long as that’s true, it’s vital that we keep repeating these messages. The dyed-in-the-wool, hateful misogynists are more than likely beyond any help we can offer (though it’s certainly admirable to try!). But that’s not the majority of the problem: most sexism comes from people who have no intent to be sexist, but simply repeat things without thinking, consume media without analyzing, and just generally let sexist ideas subtly infiltrate their lives. These are the people we can help- and we should help them. Because people are worth the effort.

It’s no secret that fighting discrimination is a long, slow fight, and that can make it incredibly discouraging. To fight and fight and see no change at all is maddening, and depressing. It can be tempting to try more extreme measures to incite change. But you’re not going to convince anyone to change their minds by antagonizing them, and patience, though unsatisfying, is the best tool we have. Don’t tolerate injustice. Don’t stand idly by. But make sure that what you say, and how you say it, is productive, rather than just to satisfy your own frustration. It’s unfairly hard, but it’s the only way we’ll speed this movement along.