When GamerGate was at its worst, and still in the public eye 1, one of the most common reactions from Gators- that I saw – was disbelief. “She’s just making it up” “she’s pretending to be a victim” “she’s manipulating you into thinking she’s being harassed”. This was interspersed with videos from different YouTube personalities that assured the viewer that the chosen person they had decided to smear using innuendo, rumors and other made up “facts” was only making it all up, you see. To get attention. Because bomb threats, death threats and rape threats that prompted the police to contact the FBI 2, and the FBI to start an investigation were obviously just a figment of the overly emotional woman’s imagination.
In the same vein that rape victims are met with total disbelief – “she asked for it don’tchaknow” – the harassment of women who are even remotely involved in the making of games or the culture surrounding games is dismissed as a fantasy or overreaction.
There is in fact so much disbelief when it comes to the emotional reactions of women that I’m surprised when our complaints about real issues, real concerns, are taken seriously.
After a few years of low key harassment at a former workplace, I was labeled “paranoid” by my producers and HR, but not before having had to sit through meetings where my concerns were brushed off and met with comments such as “are you sure it’s not just you?” “perhaps you misunderstood?” “have you considered working on your attitude?” as if the e-mails and comments I was getting were figments of my imagination, as if the lack of information preventing me from doing my job was only in my mind.
For me, the lack of trust was the most hurtful. Not being taken seriously. Made to believe that what I experienced – and had proof of – was only in my head.
But that is the baseline for women’s experiences, isn’t it? Since we are supposed to be such emotional creatures, our reactions are not to be trusted. We’re not rational, we’re hysterical, which of course prompts the default attitude to be “are you sure she’s not lying/ making it up/ misunderstanding/ fabricating false evidence?”
As a matter of fact, one of the first reactions to any form of abuse suffered by women is to question the veracity of it. As if all women are liars and – as one tweet so eloquently stated – “attention seeking whores”.
It plays into the fake nerd girl meme as well. Women couldn’t possibly be interested in nerd culture, they’re only doing it to get attention.
Their emotions are not real enough to validate, as if women aren’t real people. At the same time, women only “lure” men so they can have their attention. It’s the view of women as temptresses and sinners, dragging men into damnation all over again.
Just as Ronny Ambjörnsson points out in Mansmyter, women are an emotional distraction for men. They lead men away from their greater purpose in life – at least if you believe stories like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Tarzan. Sure, women might need saving. (For which they are grateful), but in order for the hero to keep being heroic, the men need to avoid distractions such as love and lust. Well. Lust is fine.
Love… not so much.
The women asked for it anyway, didn’t they? They shouldn’t have worn a short skirt and a thong if they didn’t want to get raped. And they shouldn’t have lied and manipulated if they didn’t want to get harassed 3.
The truth is that a woman can dress in sackcloth and ashes and still be blamed if she is raped because the lord knows all women are temptresses as discussed by the extremely sexually neurotic church fathers who had a very strange relationship to their own sexuality and the sexuality of women. And lord knows putting on makeup is manipulative, right, because it’s a false face, not the real face of women 4.
And so we “emotional” women get pegged as liars and manipulative, only seeking attention, so that the first thing that happens when we talk about our experiences of how men harass us, or think they’re entitled to us, or behave as if they owned us is that our experiences are questioned. “But he’s such a nice guy.” “are you sure you weren’t leading him on?” “you know how boys are” “are you sure it’s not just you?” “she must be lying.”.
“She must be lying” was the first thing I heard when talking about Zoe Quinn’s and Anita Sarkeesian’s stories of how they’ve been harassed.
“She must be lying” about women who have come forward to talk about sexual harassment in the gaming industry and culture.
“Are you sure it’s not just you?” when I recounted my experiences to HR and production.
The sexism isn’t the worst part, nor the harassment or the low key attacks that tell us that we don’t really belong. The disbelief is what kills at least me. As if I have no honor, no integrity. If this industry and culture is ever going to change for the better, the first reaction to our experiences can’t continue to be “she must be lying”. Women’s bodies are not the only thing that doesn’t truly belong to us in this crappy culture. Neither do our experiences and emotions. They’re denied, belittled, distrusted and rewritten to better fit a narrative where there’s really nothing wrong with our culture, it’s all on her. She was to blame all along, she overreacted, she’s trying to manipulate you, it wasn’t really that bad, and yes, she’s paranoid.
We cannot continue to dismiss women’s experiences as something happening in their own heads. We cannot continue to think that “he would never do that”. Yes he would. Yes he did. Yes, he will continue – until you believe her and stop him.
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1 It’s still active, the harassment is still ongoing, but the papers aren’t writing about it anymore.
2 FBI investigating Anita Sarkeesian threats
3 This was one of the most common replies when GamerGate was in full swing. According to many of the people I talked to, Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian et al deserved being harassed because they’d lied. Quinn to her then boyfriend Gjoni and Sarkeesian to her Kickstarter crowd. The veracity of Gjoni’s blog post was not questioned in any way. The people stating that Sarkeesian was lying to her Kickstarter backers didn’t have anything to back those claims up with. Apparently that didn’t matter. The women were wrong. The men were right.
4 Except women can’t not wear makeup either, because then they’re ugly feminists (and not catering to men).