Allies or Yes-Men, why I Don’t Much Care for Social Activism
In the past year of being increasingly active in an online activist movement, which has bumped into several other groups, both supportive and contrary to my own, I’ve found one thing to be true about some of the most vocal and extreme ideological movements. Some just don’t want allies, despite claims they do. Whether it be the extreme feminist movement some have termed ‘3rd wave’ or the extreme Neo-Puritans who want to wipe society of anything offensive, triggering, or questionable, in many cases their idea of an ally is really just a yes-man. Cries of “Just shut up and listen”, “Your opinion doesn’t matter”, and “Silence is consent”, ring as contradictory statements that tend to make many simply disengage and walk away. How can one be an ally of a group that doesn’t want diverse opinion, but wants their diversity recognized? How does one find the will to care, when the extent of one’s involvement is expected to simply be ‘listen and believe’?
My personal experience has most recently been in the realm of gaming and comic book fandom, especially with a year-long campaign to try and reform gaming media and the image of gamers who are still struggling to get out of the negative stereotypes of the past. One of the prime charges against gamers, oftentimes by feminist critics, is that gamers want to keep gaming as some sort of boy’s club or male-dominated hobby. Of course gamers want to defend themselves against such accusations. No gamer I know wants to exclude anyone, but if you try any sort of argument you’re labeled a misogynist or worse. Critics don’t want to hear that the male dominance in the gaming hobby isn’t some nefarious plot to keep women out, but is simply the natural formation of the hobby, and perhaps the fault of past marketing not being forward thinking enough. I can, and have said that I agree, more female gamers would be great, but…and that’s where the dialogue stops. It doesn’t matter if I have a perfectly reasonable explanation for the state of things now, or a viable solution to make things more inclusive. My sin is in not parroting the strict line that gaming is hostile to women, and gamers want to keep it that way. I’m sexist, by their definition, even if I agree more female gamers would be fantastic, but I don’t completely agree on how to correct it, or the cause in the first place.
In gaming recently this issue has come up even more often in the topic of female and diverse representation in games, the characters and themes themselves. Again, I don’t know a single gamer that would have an issue with more female characters, or more female oriented stories. Like me, most gamers don’t care that much as long as the game itself, mechanics, art, and story are good. Most of us would firmly agree that more female characters in games would be a great idea. The problem arises when we disagree with how to go about that. Many gaming critics offer a solution that involves less male characters, or less masculine themes. When someone offers a different solution a lot of these critics again claim sexism or misogyny because gamers dared to suggest more games with female characters rather than less with males. The worst of it shows when female gamers offer the same suggestion; they suddenly become gender traitors, internalizing their misogyny to get a free pass into the boy’s club. In case that last line seems completely over the top, keep in mind those exact accusations have been thrown at women using the GamerGate hashtag for the last year.
Further back, but still being discussed is the treatment of women in the comic book industry and at conventions. While issues exist, that much I’m willing to admit, since I don’t agree with the extent, or the solution, I’m somehow part of the problem. I read an article about a woman’s awful experience with a few men in the comic industry and opened discussion about it because of the conclusion of the article which asserted that men in general expect women to cater to them, to be submissive to their whims, and so on. Not some men, or the men the woman had directly interacted with, but men in general. When I pointed out this was a bit of a generalization, and why a lot of good men and women take issue with that sort of thing, I was promptly met with a sneering #NotAllMen comment, and told I should just shut up, nevermind that I agreed the behavior in the article was awful.
So in the end, even if our goals are the same, if I don’t simply say that I agree completely, or parrot the accepted idealogy I’m a mysogynist, and if I dare to offer an alternate idea I’m mansplaining (an incredibly sexist term designed simply to shut down discussion through guilt). Even this essay would be considered mansplaining. Fact is I want to see more people, of every background, race, and gender do the things they love no matter what, but that fact doesn’t matter to a lot of people. Unless I’m willing to just be a yes-man and contribute to the conversation by being quiet. I know a lot of men and women who feel this way, and rather than jump into the debate, they’d just rather walk away and not get involved. It’s impossible to be an ally to the perpetually offended. Even if you try, the moment you step out of line, and have your own opinion you instantly become a target. Sadly, even the revolt against games journalism I have been a part of has its elements of this on the fringe, turning on allies who offer a different opinion and deriding people who don’t parrot the accepted talking points.
Of course the last thing I want to do is leave this piece like the one I mentioned above, with the impression that all activists, feminists, and critics are like this. Over the last year I’ve met some wonderful, opinionated, and open-minded people who want all of these things too, and identify as feminists, men’s rights activists, and social justice advocates. They aren’t the loudest, or most vitriolic. They aren’t the ones we see telling people to shut up, listen, and believe. In a way they’re a lot like me for the same reasons. They don’t come right out and say what they think, they get a feel for the room, conversation, thread, or forum before speaking out because they just don’t want to deal with the hate. When they meet someone like me they understand why I’d rather just read a book, write a short story, or play video games than get involved into the political shit-storm that is being socially aware. So do you want an ally or a yes-man, because I’m not the only one who has other things they’d rather be doing.