Know when to walk away, know when to run

2010 October 7

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our commenters. This is the last post that will appear for this round.

Let’s say you are a part of a community site of geeks. In my case: gaming. The site is great except for the sexism: it’s a community of mostly guys who generally seem unaware of their privilege as (generally) educated, white males.

Do you stick it out and try to educate, be a different voice? Play along to get along? Leave?

What has been your experience? What do you do and when?

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This post was written by mary.

Mary is a Free Software contributor, computational linguistics research student and programmer at large. She can also be found at and Hoyden About Town.

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11 Responses
  1. tekanji permalink
    October 7, 2010

    In my real life communities I stick around, sometimes educating and sometimes holding my tongue. Of course, since my main community is my school I don’t have the luxury of walking away.

    In my online communities, I stick to spaces that are explicitly feminist/anti-oppression oriented. I learned early on that sites like Kotaku and Destructiod are not only extremely hostile towards women (and therefore a waste of time trying to stick around and educate) but only occasionally provide news that can’t be found elsewhere (and the elsewhere is usually more neutral, less full of random bigoted jokes and allusions).

    It was actually my disillusionment with “mainstream” (read: for men) gaming sites that lead me to form the Iris Network with a friend of mine. It’s a small site and not terribly active, but we tend to have a lot of good discussions on our forums about not just the intersections between gaming and anti-oppression activism but games in general.

    I also wrote an article on women-oriented communities way back in the day for Cerise magazine: Sisterhood is powerful: women-oriented gaming communities.

    Ultimately, though, I think everyone finds their own balance of where and how they want to spend their time. For me, I’d rather spend what little I have of my online time having the discussions that I want to have rather than always having to explain/defend the foundation of my argument to those who don’t get it.

  2. Katherine permalink
    October 8, 2010

    Depends on the group. The closer I feel to the other members of the group, the more likely I am to say something, but then, I am also more likely to feel closer to members of the group that seem like they would be more receptive to suggestions not to be such a sexist.

    Usually if I’m going to say something, it will be in response to (a) specific comment(s), and tending to be lighthearted unless the comment was so far over the line that I question why I’m even spending any time with these people. Usually I can pick which members of the group will stop behaviours when asked and which members will shrug off anything I say no matter how I say it. The occasional “come on, don’t be like that” and “come on, be cool” can steer the peer pressure back away from sexism, but usually works best one-on-one or when you have some backup from another member of the group. I’ve also said “you saying that makes it seem like women are some strange other species” in a light tone for good effect, though of course it can be hard to convey tone on the internet, and smileys might mean your comment is taken too lightly. I have on the other hand had a good yell at people I thought would know better than to make specific comments that really crossed the line, with varying success at changing minds. When the person doesn’t usually make comments that bad, they are more likely to see the error of their ways.

    Divide-and-conquer not only works well against women, but for us. Privately messaging members of the group that are more likely to be receptive can work well, if they can be encouraged to say something when others are out of line. Privately thanking those who do speak up without prior suggestion helps too.

    There will often be times when you will have to leave for your mental health. No use fighting a group when none of its members want to listen. You are the only person that can judge whether to stay, leave until the tone changes, or leave for good. Some communities will never change, and some will have their moments of unbearability. If you’re not sure what to do, perhaps taking a break will give you better perspective on whether to stay or go.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Jen permalink
    October 8, 2010

    I think Mary outlined a very good strategy – respond reasonably to comments as they come up, and know when you’re just not going to change minds. Communities of intelligent, well-meaning guys are tricky when it comes to sexism. Almost invariably, they’re not doing it deliberately, but often when you point it out, they’ll get defensive about it and frame it as your own problem. But also, some of them will realize what they were doing and try to change. I’d say, pick your battles, fight them calmly, and let it go when that doesn’t produce any results. Honestly, my own experience in similar groups (not gaming, though) has produced more positive results than negative ones. Generally, I’ve seen guys more thoughtful about what they do and say after being called out for sexism.

    • Mary permalink
      October 8, 2010

      Katherine, you mean, rather than me?

    • Meg permalink
      October 8, 2010

      It also depends on your status. There’s a group now where I’ve been for 10-ish years and when someone says something sexist (like, “stop being such a girl” to some other guy) these days I just say, “you mean like me?” I’m confident enough in my group membership that it opens up group membership to include whatever wussy behavior the guy was doing, rather than make me feel excluded.

      Sometimes these days they even try to call each other out (not always successfully, but it’s sort of heart-warming in its awkwardness.) On the other hand, ten years isn’t enough for them to stop. So I don’t know how encouraging it actually is.

  4. Ajh permalink
    October 8, 2010

    You can call some of the more intelligent commenters out on it. They’re not intentionally being sexist most of the time. If it IS this certain website I’m thinking of, there are a lot of losing battles. There are articles that are simply a losing battle waiting to happen.

    If it is causing you distress, find a new community. There are many gaming oriented communities on the internet with varying degrees of maturity and sexism. Gaming is a hobby. If you’re not having fun because of sexism, then it’s not the right place for you at all.

  5. Meg permalink
    October 8, 2010

    Well, Penny Arcade just hit the “run” point for me. Which is definitely too bad; I was planning on submitting several panels to PAX this year (seeded with interesting industry people to increase diversity of conversation). However, selling a t-shirt proclaiming your readers to be rapists? That’s pretty much the end of the line for me.

    In general, I prioritize my feeling of safety. As long as I have the extra energy to keep myself safe, and the community is worth it, I’ll stick around. When that stops being true, I leave. Frequently, if it seems like people have simply not questioned the hegemony, rather than having openly and knowingly embraced it, it’s a lot easier for me.

    • tekanji permalink
      October 8, 2010

      It gets even better (and by better, I mean worse); I just re-tweeted this:
      GGlick Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik thinks I’m crazy because I want them to stop alienating female gamers and rape victims:

  6. maggie permalink
    October 8, 2010

    I administrate a gaming forum. I also happen to own the forum. I guess that gives me special status that most females in gaming fora won’t have.

    As a gamer and a gal (chick, broad, dame), I’ve learned that the overwhelming majority of females in gaming seem to play along. They are told “post pix/tits or gtfo” and they comply. they post their most alluring photos, they flirt with all the boys, they put up with all the rude comments and they rarely stick up for themselves. It’s depressing. I don’t have any of those females on my forum. I don’t know if it’s the several openly trans members, the handful of gay and bi guys, or just the fact that a woman runs the joint, but our place is different. Sure, some of the guys (ex-military mostly) are oh so oblivious to their own privilege. A few are even outright belligerent about it. However, I’ve found that in most cases, the guys on my forum will shut up a guy who gets out of line before I even get around to reading the post.

    It wasn’t always that way.

    I’ve used Jen’s techniques – picking my battles, staying calm and rational, never attacking but firmly presenting my case. They have a “hot chicks thread” where they can objectify women a little bit, but they aren’t allowed to post those images elsewhere, and they aren’t allowed to talk explicitly about the women in the photos. I don’t nitpick on heteronormative or sexist language, because that tends to simply alienate people. However, a male who posts something that it clearly intended to imply that women are inferior or some other such hogwash will be quickly made to feel extremely stupid.

    Since 2006 I’ve been slowly pushing the boundary a little at a time. No one calls anyone a fag on my forum. No one laughs about rape. No one debases or objectifies a new female who joins the forum. I think we’re making progress.

    It’s clear to me that the only way to create these environs is to earn the respect of the alpha males and then systematically defy all of their beloved stereotypes.

  7. ratamahatta permalink
    October 9, 2010

    I usually make fun of sexist comments, which allows pointing out that the behavior is not ok and is a sign of a certain flaw (weakness) of a speaker. I avoid taking on an educational role which I find both boring and entirely useless.

  8. Katherine permalink
    October 11, 2010

    One more tactic I use is I try to remember any “oh, that’s what I should have said!” quips for future use. Only rarely will you not have an opportunity to use them again. I also stick up for other persecuted groups when I can, as it seems to be less draining than sticking up for myself (I don’t feel attacked if it isn’t received well), and hopefully silent members of those other groups will stick up for me in the same way.

    A favourite response to “[X] is gay” is “oh, I didn’t know [X] only likes to have sex with other [X].” It gets the point across (sometimes) but hasn’t ever resulted in me being attacked. X is almost invariably a circumstance or an inanimate object, I don’t encounter a lot of people that use it to directly insult others.

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