Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bullies are bullies, even if they're on the "right" side

WARNING: This post is about offensive language, and thus will probably contain offensive language used as examples. Please consider this a trigger warning, though I will promise none of the words are used outside of pointing out which word I'm talking about.
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I don't remember how I came across Laci Green and her Sex+ videos, but I'm assuming somebody linked to one of them on tumblr.

See, I really like tumblr, it makes no sense and I couldn't explain it to you if I tried, but I enjoy it. I enjoy the people I've met on there through fandoms, I like the fun graphics I get to see. I like the education I'm getting about various causes. I especially like that I'm getting to read and be exposed to first person narratives from minorities and groups I don't belong to.

It's really opened my brain up to a lot of new thoughts and ideas about how to be a good person, and that's great. Especially because as I pointed out on tumblr a few weeks ago, I belong to pretty much every majority in America. Being female, I'm a statistical majority there even if sexism makes that obsolete. But otherwise, I've got every advantage and privilege you can probably think of.

Well, neither my family or I have ever been stinkin' rich, which is what really counts most in America, but that's a point for another day. While we've never been rich, I would say we've also never been truly poor either.

I know it seems like I got a little distracted, I'm coming back around to the point.

A few days ago, somebody asked Laci Green why she used the word "tranny" once in a video three years ago. She replied that three years ago, she didn't know how harmful a word it was and hadn't really come to understand how unacceptable it was. She didn't realize that it wasn't something she should say as a cisgender woman, and she has learned better since then. She stated that she was sorry she had ever said it, but that once she understood why it was a problem she stopped using the word, and started trying to use more inclusive language.

And everybody accepted her apology, learned from the situation, and they all lived happily ever after.

Yeah right, we're talking about the internet. Everybody got angry and started sending her hate mail and looked up her home address to start sending pictures of her house to her with the death threats and she's had to take a step back and stop posting online until she can deal with it.

This is ridiculous. It's shameful, it's disgusting, and it's wrong. I see this the same way I see "activists" who are promoting causes I believe in by breaking the law and physically hurting people: you're a bully and a horrible person and I'd like you to stop representing my side of the argument. NOW.

Listen, let me explain something to you about privilege that you might not understand: part of privilege is a lack of education and awareness. Because you don't HAVE to know, you don't know. But the other thing about privilege is that it's something that you're born with and that is done to you/with you/for you. You can make choices that exercise your privilege, you can be a horrible person by using it to your advantage at the expense of others, yes.

But there is nothing I can do about the fact that I'm a cisgender woman. There are a lot of things that I can only understand if they are explained to me. I do actively seek out that information, and I try very hard to learn at all times. And I'll be clear, I'm not asking for pity or saying that this is a hard road to follow or anything, it's not. At all. If I didn't want to, I could live my life blissfully unaware of anything outside of my little world I was born to, I completely understand that other people don't get to do that.

What I'm asking for is the benefit of the doubt. Listen, I understand that must be difficult. You probably spend your life dealing with ignorance and stupidity and it gets tiring. As a woman, I can understand that to a degree. I've been pretty immersed in the world of gamers for the last two years, and I can't tell you how tired I am of trying to explain why it is never okay to use the word "rape" as slang. I can only assume that it's worse if you're LGBT or a person of color.

But like I said, what I want is at least one try to get better. I'll use an example from my own life: I used to use the word "retarded" as slang. Not constantly, but often enough. Then somebody, I can't remember who but I think it was my friend Jessie for some reason, explained to me very patiently WHY it was a hurtful word and how it made other people feel. I don't think she said more than two or three sentences but the point hit home for me: even if I didn't mean it, I was hurting people with a word that I didn't even care about.

So I realized she was right, and I stopped saying it. Mostly. I do have this problem where I pick up slang quickly from any group or person I read/talk to a lot, and because it's a word that is still regularly used in gaming communities, I have noticed myself slipping up once in a great while.

I think this example shows the sort of normal course of action for a reasonable person with privilege. First, you're unaware of your actions because of your privilege (because that's what privilege is). Then either through your own reading and experience or through somebody's patience, you learn WHY it's an offensive word/phrase/action and you realize that you're hurting other people and that's not what you want. Lastly, you do your best to stop hurting people.

I know the last part probably bugs some people, "doing your best isn't good enough" and all that. But my particularly breed of religion has taught me that the best thing we can do in this life is just try every day to be better than we were the day before, because that's also one of the hardest things we can do. That's what I believe and it's kind of the core of my philosophy in life. I don't expect anybody to be perfect, I just expect them to try and to apologize when they do something harmful and go back to trying to be better.

This is exactly what happened with Laci Green, as far as I know (I admit I may not know the full story, I don't know her, I just follow her on tumblr). She was unaware that the word was harmful, she learned otherwise, she changed her behavior, and she apologized.

Listen, I know that it's not always so simple. That sometimes you think "maybe they don't know this is wrong" and you speak up and you get yelled at and the person gets angry and defensive and that they never learn. I understand that it happens, like I said, I've been dealing with gamers who think that it's fun to say that they raped somebody because they beat them at Halo. And they won't let go of it, even women use the phrase and defend it, it gets exhausting. So if you don't feel like being the person who steps up to educate, that's fine.

But at least have enough understanding to not start sending somebody death threats and ruin their lives over it. You can say "I'm going to let somebody else get this one" because on tumblr, somebody else probably will. But nothing ever excuses being an asshole and a bully. This is the exact same type of situation as the men who have been attacking Feminist Frequency for daring to say there's sexism in gaming. It's just as unacceptable, even if the "point" they're making is "good."

Don't be like that. And if you see it in your community or among people you know, call them out for it and tell them it's unacceptable. Stand up for even the people you disagree with for their right to not be harassed, stalked, and threatened.
Nobody deserves that.

EDITED TO ADD: In response to this post, Poison Symac wrote in the comments, "The overwhelming majority of responses to Laci have been reasoned criticism, not violent threats. Furthermore, the violent threats were immediately condemned and disavowed by the community at large. It's very inaccurate to suggest that the general response was in any way violent."

This is correct, and I apologize that in my anger about the threats I misrepresented the response. I'm a bit touchy about this subject right now in light of what has been happening to Anita Sarkeesian, because as I said I spent the last two years heavily involved in the gaming community and seeing Sarkeesian attacked the way she was was upsetting for a lot of reasons. So I did overreact and in doing so I implied that people with reasonable voices and understandable complaints were overreacting, which I should not have done.

I do stand by my statements about why the violence and bullying is wrong, and that a statement like Green's can be made out of ignorance instead of malice.

As somebody said this morning, saying "I didn't know" is not an excuse. But it can be a reason.

2 comments:

Poison Symic said...

Here's the parts you're missing:

1. The overwhelming majority of responses to Laci have been reasoned criticism, not violent threats. Furthermore, the violent threats were immediately condemned and disavowed by the community at large. It's very inaccurate to suggest that the general response was in any way violent.

2. Laci did apologize, but she used the very slur she was supposedly apologizing for within her apology. It was quite clear that she was apologizing because she'd been widely criticized, not because she actually understood what she had done.

Elizabeth said...

1. I should have been more clear on this point that most of the time, the violent threats are the minority of the response. I will make an update to that effect (I feel like it would be dishonest for me to edit the original piece at this point).

2. I may have missed an apology post somewhere (since I posted this I have found one other post she made about her comments on Islam that I had not read at the time of posting) but the apology that I read only used the slur to explain what the slur was, in a sentence saying clearly that it was unacceptable.

While I admit that's problematic and that she could have written the apology without using it, at the same time I'd say that is simple ignorance and not malice, as most people seem to be attributing it. I think it is clear that she understood, but that she doesn't know that even when saying a word is unacceptable it's still unacceptable. I'm only just learning about how to handle this kind of thing myself, I'm actually having a conversation with a friend about it as I type this.

From what I've seen, most of the angry responses leave no room for her to learn, change, or grow. They simply want her to shut up. And silencing women's voices with anon online hate is something I have a big problem with, no matter what those voices are saying.