This is a difficult piece to write. I struggled with a title because honestly, Science Fiction hasn’t failed us on this particular topic, but boy have we been a disappointment all on our own. This is going to be a frank and open discussion about hate, misogyny and free speech. There will be offensive language below, so be warned. I know I’ve talked about how the anonymity of the Internet has created a new breed of douche bag, but I really just scratched the surface. This is a topic that’s being given new light because of issues that range from online bullies to virtual hazing and flat out harassment. I know I don’t have as many readers as some of the other blogs, but I feel this is important enough for me to talk about.
My friend Natali (@UberDorkGirlie on Twitter) always posts great stuff. She’s a strong single mother with realistic feminist ideals. She never promotes hate; only equality, love and positivity. Seems somewhat contrary to the way feminists are presented to us by the media (it’s a shame that stereotypes exist, but they do because someone exemplified them). Specifically, the post was a link to an article that appeared on the New Statesman website about one of my new heroes, Anita Sarkeesian (the article Dear The Internet, This Is Why You Can’t Have Anything Nice, was written by Helen Lewis and posted on June 12th). Go read the article, but just to summarize, Anita is a pop culture critic (and a good one), and one of her specialties is the treatment of women in popular media. Her video series, Tropes vs. Women, has been used by educators, parents and other interested parties, to show how as a society, we’ve been pigeon-holed into viewing women a certain way. The six tropes she mentions are the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (a female character that exists only to pull a male lead character out of a funk), Women in Refrigerators (the trend of prominent female character, particularly in comics, being killed off in meaningless fashion primarily to add value to a male counterpart or lead), the Smurfette Principle (which is the phenomenon of having many male characters and a single female character of prominence, despite that not being indicative of most groups), the Evil Demon Seductress (which is the supernatural version of the “Black Widow” – a creature disguised as a woman using seduction to lure men to their doom), the Mystical Pregnancy (the story device in which women in science fiction and fantasy are often impregnated against their will – or against the will of others – with supernatural offspring), and finally the Straw Feminist (an archetype that demonizes feminist ideals because in the fantasy world of film and print, all people are equal and feminism is no longer needed). You don’t have to agree with her, but you should respect her position, and at the very least the fact she’s putting herself out there for the scrutiny of the world. Not many of us can say the same.
But my article isn’t about feminism or about how women aren’t treated equally in popular media. Honestly, as a man, I find I’m under-qualified to talk much about the subject. I’m for all people being equal. It’s not right that women get paid less than men. It isn’t right that they pay more for health care than men. It isn’t right that their armor only covers their “mommy parts” and would be as effective at protecting them in battle as cardboard. Our world could use a little less testosterone. This article isn’t about that. It’s about … well… I don’t know what to call it.
When Natali introduced me to Anita’s story, at first, I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. Then I started really digging into it. I was appalled at how Anita was being treated simply because she was questioning the perpetuation of the stereotypes presented in popular media. This time, she wanted to go over the tropes presented by video games, and it opened the flaming floodgates of douchebaggery. Please pardon the language, I’m going to be quoting directly from the comments on her YouTube page. Here’s what the people at large had to say about her idea:
D4gI3 wrote: “All of these feminist whores need to shut the fuck up.”
Derek Thompson wrote: “This bitch is a fucking scumbag…Sexism in video games goes both ways. Both Men and Women are stereotyped in video games stop acting like Women are the only one portrayed poorly. This bitch is just taking advantage of how stupid feminists are and you faggots who get a massive erection every time you see a girl gamer. ”
stabmycock wrote: “I CAN DONATE ALL MY SEMEN IF YOU AGREE, PLEASE RESPOND”
Ln192 wrote: “I wish I could just wipe out humanity by pressing a button thanks to people like this kyke. The fuck is wrong with humanity… I’m seriously considering becoming a sharia-supporting muslim because of women like you.”
You’ll note that all but one of the examples were written by people who choose to hide behind an alias. Here’s the thing. There are THOUSANDS of comments like these. Most of them question the validity of Anita’s Kickstarter campaign (she asked for $6,000 to produce the videos; she’s been pledged over $117,000), but honestly, that’s a poor excuse for this level of abuse. And that’s what it is. You can hide behind the First Amendment, you can hide behind your computer screen, but the bottom line is that this type of speech is purely and simply… ABUSE. I would bet dollars to dimes that none of these “men” would say any of this to Anita’s face. She doesn’t make a bad point, and even if she did, she is entitled to her opinion. And while the same could be said of her detractors, she isn’t threatening their lives, using racial slurs against them, or threatening to rape them. I am forced to ask the question, where does one person’s right to speak their mind end? Does it end?
So what would you call the types of comments made above? Defamation? Well, by definition, in order to claim Slander or Libel (read as “spoken defamation” and “written defamation”), you must prove that a statement is not only untrue, but that you were harmed by it and that the person defaming didn’t research the truthfulness of their statement. In this case, any harm would have been purely psychological because she beat her fundraising goal by nearly 20 times. So Defamation is out. Hate Speech? In the United States, “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment unless it’s inciteful or calls for violence (which makes it fall into the little known category of “Fighting Words”). What’s more is that “Fighting Words” are a crime that’s enforced state-to-state, meaning that without a Federal statute, there is no way to enforce compliance on websites because which state’s laws would apply? Those of the user? Those of the host? What if the host is off shore? A slew of questions that aren’t easily answered. And to be honest, it doesn’t help that sites like 4Chan and 9Gag encourage this type of behavior (it’s thought that 4Chan is where the vitriol for Anita began).
So I pose the question again: Do we censor abusive speech like the examples above, or allow it to continue on the premise that it is protected speech. It’s not an easy question to answer. I would call myself a Libertarian, so the concept of “free speech” is practically sacrosanct to me. For decades, people have tried to put an end to parades and displays made by hate groups like the KKK, but without specific threats of violence, they are protected, as they should be. Like it or not, they have a right to their opinions, no matter how ignorant and uninformed as they may appear. Interestingly, the same people (along with some of their “friends” in hate groups) have been trying to put an end to pornography since… forever… and failed because again, it’s protected speech. The girls are paid, some very well, and many of them enjoy what they do. Further, no one is forcing people to buy the stuff. If there wasn’t a market, it wouldn’t exist. I could say the same about the tropes about which Anita is complaining. They are used because they sell video games/movies/TV shows/white bread/*insert anything here*. It isn’t right, but neither is Jersey Shore and we can’t seem to get rid of that either.
Frankly, this type of behavior pisses me off to no end. There’s no excuse for it, and honestly, there should be no place for it in out society. I’m firm in my belief that the only reason it happened is because it was online and the posters can’t be identified and confronted face to face. It’s the same with online bullying. Something about the Internet makes people think that they can say whatever they want, and that it’s OK because it’s only words. Mechwarrior 4 was the first game I played where I was communicating with other people while I played and the first time I was cussed out by what was likely a 12-year-old. This isn’t behavior we would accept on a playing field or even in a public arena, why do we accept it online?
So we come back to my chosen title. We failed Science Fiction, my friends, because, let’s face it, WE are the Internet and we are letting this happen (or worse, are participating in it). While the progenitors of modern Science Fiction didn’t always agree about how the future would look, I’m sure most of them thought that by the 21st century, we wouldn’t be targeting a well spoken and intelligent woman because she thinks popular media presents her sisters poorly. We’ve handled their ideas poorly. Kirk was a womanizer. Padme and Leia are the only women of real prominence in Star Wars (movies here, folks, don’t flame). Anakin Skywalker was a “virgin birth” and his mother only existed to give birth to him and die. Tasha Yar died a meaningless death, then was made into a villain later.Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had two prominent female roles, a sidekick (Colonel Wilma Deering – Buck’s Rank was Captain… unless he’s in the Navy, she outranks him, otherwise they are the same rank) and the evil seductress (Princess Ardala whose goals were to destroy Earth and, of course, make Buck her consort). I know men are poorly represented as well ( I mean who can live up to the image Kirk sets), but at the same time, men aren’t dealing with centuries of being treated as property.
It’s up to all of us to put an end to this kind of hateful activity. So, to start, I’m giving you homework. I want you to go to Feminist Frequency’s YouTube page (found here: FemFreq) and see what Anita has to say. There’s a website too (It can be found here: Feminist Frequency). She’s good at what she does, and she deserves a little respect. If you really like what she’s doing, there’s still time left on her Kickstarter too (You can back her here: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games). I would add that you should follow her on Twitter too, but for God’s sake, be respectful. You can find out more about Natali on her blog (Life in Monkeyland) and her awesome business the Uber Dork Cafe (based in Milwaukee). She’s also a co-host of The Power Geeks (a podcast which can be found here: The Power Geeks). Natali is one of my dearest friends online. Respect these women or I will find you and hurt you in your genitals.
Now go and play nice.