As a gamer who also happens to be a woman, I pay attention to other women gamers. Even if you’re not a self-identified “gamer,” you probably heard at least a little bit about kerfuffles like “GamerGate” and the sustained harassment critics like Anita Sarkeesian have received in response to the grave sin of talking about games while possessing a vagina.
Sexism is nothing new in gaming, but I guess I thought with Millennials growing up that it would start to wane at least a little. Half of the world’s population is women and nearly half of the gaming market is also women. But you wouldn’t know it by signing on to XBOX Live or even just by looking at the kinds of games that are produced. Anita does an amazing job talking about the tropes that plague women in her video series, which has garnered her endless rape and death threats, so I’m not going to cover that again.
What I want to talk about is the kind of harassment women are subjected to when they choose to play multi-player games online, like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. “Not in the Kitchen Anymore” is a website that documents the harassment Jenny receives for daring to play on XBOX Live while also being a woman. It’s a small sampling of the kind of crap women get for merely existing in what are considered male-dominated spaces, but it’s shocking nonetheless. Comments such as these are commonplace:
Shut up, slut.
How sweaty is your vagina?
Yeah, you fuckin’ bitch ass cunt. Suck a dick. Suck a dick bitch.
Can I have sex with you? ‘Cause you got a hot voice.
Show me your butthole, bitch
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s just trash talk!” Yeah, except it’s not. Listen, I get that trash talking is a thing, particularly in games where you’re blowing each other to bits for funsies. I don’t play Call of Duty, but I do love me some Unreal Tournament and the built-in trash-talk in that game is half the fun. I’m not trying to censor “trash talk.” I am, however, making a distinction between what is simple “trash talk” and what is gender-based harassment.
Comments insulting your mother, insulting your general playing ability or intelligence, etc. are trash talk. Comments that are made in direct response to the fact that you are a woman are not trash talk. Propositioning a woman, asking her to show you her tits, calling her a “cum dumpster,” threatening to rape her, etc. are NOT trash talk. That’s gender-based harassment. It’s not intended to be banter between competitors, it’s meant to threaten and degrade someone deemed “other” (in this case, women) and has the ultimate goal of ejecting the person from the space, rather than enhancing the gaming experience. They are not the same.
After pouring over the archives on Jenny’s site, I couldn’t help noticing certain themes. Or namely, one theme: “All you’re good for is sex.” This is what we tell women and girls every day of their lives. From beauty pageants to advertising, catcalling to rape threats, we constantly remind women that they are no more or less than their capacity to sexual gratify men. It’s a pervasive and damaging message. And online harassment is no different. No matter what the insult, ultimately the underlying message is the same: “You exist to serve me sexually.”
As such, here is a list of comments frequently made to women in multi-player games and their translations.
Sexism in Translation
Comment: “You’re fat”
Translation: “I only find skinny women attractive, so I’m asserting that you must be fat and therefore worthless and your opinion is worthless.”
Comment: “I bet you’re a lesbian”
Translation: “A lesbian cannot offer anything sexually to a man, so I’m calling you a lesbian as a way of telling you that you’re worthless and your opinion is worthless.”
Comment: “You’re a dirty cunt”
Translation: “I’m reducing you to your genitalia and if you’re a dirty vagina, that’s not sexually appealing to me as a man and therefore you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”
Comment: “Suck my dick!”
Translation: “Prove your worth by sexually gratifying me.”
Translation: “I bet you’ve had sex with more than one person, and that is a privilege that belongs to men. Women exist only to gratify me sexually, and since you’ve been ‘used’ more than I consider acceptable, you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”
Comment: “Dumb bitch”
Translation: “I don’t like women talking in what I consider to be a male-only space, so I’m going to insult your intelligence and use the least creative gender-focused insult I can think of, namely ‘bitch’, in hopes of shutting you up.”
Translation: “I’m an ignorant bigot who thinks all gay men are effeminate and I equate femininity with weakness.” and/or “I’m a man who’s uncomfortable with my sexuality and I deflect this discomfort by insulting the sexuality of those around me.”
Comment: “Are you hot?”
Translation: “As a woman, you only have value to me if you’re sexually desirable to men.”
Comment: Referring to women as “Females”
Translation: “I think women are literally a different species from men so I refer to them as ‘females’ rather than women.”
Comment: “Get back in the kitchen”/”Make me a sammich”
Translation: “I haven’t updated my sexist rhetoric since the 1950s.”
Comment: “I’m going to rape you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ using sexualized violence.”
Comment: “I’m going to kill you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ by ending your life.”
Comment: “All you’re good for is your vagina.”
Translation: “All you’re good for is your vagina.”
That last one really lays it all out for you, clear as day. And I wish I were making them up as an example, but I’m not. That is verbatim something that was said to Jenny while playing XBOX Live.
As you can tell, all these comments are about sex and/or female anatomy, with the exception of the straight up death threats. Even so, there’s a gendered component because of the assumption that, as a man, you are physically stronger than any woman. Don’t tell me this is trash talk, because it’s not. It’s harassment targeted against women specifically and, again, the goal is not to simply banter with your competitors and/or teammates, it’s to make the environment hostile to women in hopes of driving them out of the space.
And of course, it’s all a trap. While most of the comments focus on telling the woman she is not what a man wants (i.e. “you’re fat,” “you’re butch,” “you’re a lesbian,” “you’re not a virgin,” etc.) even in the cases where the woman IS desirable (“You sound hot,” “show me your tits,” “I want to stick it in your butt”) this does NOT elevate the woman above the role of “sex object.” In other words, there’s no winning. Either you’re worthless because you are not a viable sex object, or you ARE a viable sex object, but that’s literally all you are. You can’t be smart, you can’t be skilled, and you certainly can’t be a good gamer. You can be a vagina that a man wants to fuck, or you can be one he wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Uh, yeah, I see how feminism is done and… all… Ugh. Sexism is, unfortunately, alive and well. And though in the grand scheme of things men harassing women in online games isn’t the most pressing human rights issue we need to tackle, it is unfortunately a symptom of a very sexist society that is why we need to talk about it.
That’s the thing about micro-aggressions: Individually, they seem somewhat harmless, but all together they add up to environment that is not only hostile towards women, but outright damaging to them. This environment leads to self-objectification, eating disorders, rampant violence against women, rape as an ever present threat, and an average of three women PER DAY dying at the hands of someone they love and trust… So, yeah, in that light, I’d say this stuff matters.
So what’s a girl to do? Or a guy, for that matter, who knows this is bad behavior and should not be tolerated? Speak up! They will try to shut you up, but speak up anyway. Talk about the harassment, expose it to light, make it clear that it will not be tolerated and it will not work. I truly believe that the troglodytes who harass women and othered peoples like this are in the minority, but all you need for the trolls to triumph is for everyone who disagrees with them to remain silent. Don’t get them the satisfaction.