[..] for the purpose of this discussion I’m more interested in the kind of attitude that underlies and perpetuates mansplaining. And my answer, in short, is entitlement: entitlement of the epistemic variety, which relates to knowledge, beliefs, and the possession of information.
– Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, Kate Mann
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had an idea stolen from you, attributed to someone else or just plain ignored. Raise your hand if your experience and knowledge has been discounted, because you were contradicted by a guy in a completely different field, who did not have the same experience or knowledge as you did. Raise your hand if this is an everyday occurence, and if you constantly have to assert yourself, to the point where you stop speaking at all.
One of the most common ways to silence marginalised people is to take away their voices or even have them silence themselves through dismissing their experiences and their knowledge. I say “they” but I count myself among them. Among us.
I don’t think I surprise anyone by saying that the games industry suffers from a ton of sexism, racism, homophobia and other more understated but still damaging biases. It’s been a while since a guy told me to my face that women can’t make games, but the unconscious bias is still there among many of my male (and to some extent female) colleagues.1 These biases nudge us towards believing that people from these marginalised groups couldn’t possibly know what we’re talking about. We are – through what Miranda Fricker calls testimonial injustice – denied status as individuals with knowledge, even if that knowledge concerns our own experiences.
Coming forward and talking about issues that plague the games industry is risky for a person belonging to a group that is seen as both less competent and less trustworthy. This is why it is so important to believe victims in situations like the Activision Blizzard lawsuit. Or even believe them when they say “this guy continuously answers for me, he talks over me”. I would in fact argue that the incidents listed in the Activision Blizzard suit are… fortunate, to a certain extent. Not fortunate because the victims had to live through them2, but fortunate because there is evidence and because they are such clear examples of wrongdoing.
It’s less difficult3 to be believed if there’s a paper trail. Even then, the problem still remains. We have a tendency, as a society, to overlook acts of harassment when they’re perpetrated by men. We’re even inclined to forgive men for their behaviour as long as their behaviour only affects people that are marginalised. Look at Donald Trump. He literally talks about how he harasses women ON TAPE, and still he’s elected president. He lied so many times people were at a constant state of alert because they kind of had to know what outrageous crap he’d been spouting. It was like watching a train wreck. Horrifying, but you kind of had to see it. His opponent was one of the most qualified women in the world. And instead, a known liar, cheat, sexist, racist, failed businessman and ignoramus was chosen above her. That ought to tell you something about men’s entitlement to power and our biases against women. Look at just about every man accused or guilty of sexual assault. They’re almost to a man categorised as “good guys”, the assault was, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, “only 20 minutes, and it’ll get to destroy the rest of his life” as Brock Turner’s father pointed out. In all these conversations it’s pretty obvious who is the most important. It certainly isn’t the victims.
Stepping out of bounds, be it through being assertive, knowledgeable or simply not conforming to a primarily supportive and caregiving role often make marginalised people end up in trouble. I should know. Through my way of communicating and my refusal to just do what I’m told, I’ve lost more than one job. It’s never been about how competent I am 4, it has been about vague things like “we don’t think you like it here” (they never asked) or “you have a negative attitude” (I was never asked why, and they never told me what the negativity consisted of.) or – the one taking the cake – “we’d like to offer you career development through for all intents and purposes demoting you” (no, they never did elaborate on how an apparent demotion would improve my career).
One of the most common ways to undermine anyone who is having a bad experience is through gaslighting, which I wrote a bit more about here. Gaslighting works by making the person being harassed or ignored or judged unfairly believe that it was their fault to begin with. Basically by convincing the victim that what has happened really hasn’t happened or that it was just a misunderstanding or, really, it was their own fault, for whatever reason.
Gaslighting thus results in a victim who feels a false sense of obligation to believe his (the perpetrator’s, my note) story over her own. She has been epistemically dominated; colonised even. It’s not hard to see how evil this is. It goes beyond harming someone. When successful, gaslighting robs the victim of the ability to name the harm done to them – and equally, who did it.
– Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, Kate Mann
At the outset, all of these things may seem as if they have nothing to do with one another, but the truth – insidious as it is – is that we have so many mechanisms around us, designed to keep marginalised people in their designated places.
Behaviour, language, entitlement, knowledge, support or the lack thereof, is all designed to keep certain people in power, and others away from it.
The end result is of course that it is absolutely exhausting trying to exist in a context where you’re not really allowed to be yourself, where you constantly have to manoeuvre what is acceptable and what is not, and where you’re not even allowed to own your own knowledge and experience.
This isn’t limited to the games industry. These patterns are everywhere, in everyday life, and we have to constantly navigate the restrictions they present to us. Some of us are more successful than others, but it still constitutes a restriction – on our behaviour, our creativity, and our lives.
- Women are not exempt. It’s called internalised misogyny.
- None of them should have happened in the first place, hence the lawsuit
- Although not impossible, as the Brock Turner trial proves. A guy is found having sex with an unconscious woman, chased away by witnesses and still his dad calls him a “good guy”.
- which all my workplaces, even the ones who have “asked” me to get the heck out, have agreed – I am outstanding as a designer. And yes, I could just be saying this, because it’s a blog and all that, but you should also know that one of the reasons why I get in trouble is because I am honest to a fault and I tend to let people know what I think. Bad move if you’re a woman.