Initially a post talking about Gamification and the general “ugh”-ness that pervades it was supposed to go here, but I got distracted by this phenomenal article by Nathan Grayson at Kotaku. In it, Grayson talks about attending GaymerX, a convention celebrating inclusion and diversity, and describes the highs and lows of his attendance. While I highly recommend everyone read it for his account of the conference itself (and, hopefully, to get fired up and support the continuation of the GaymerX Con with a flood of money!), I still want to pause and chat about one particular passage that resonated deeply with me. I’ll step aside and let Grayson’s writing do the talking here:
Then Burch says something that will stick with me for the rest of the show. “I think all of us are still learning, trying to be less shitty people as we go on, and when I started writing games three years ago, I was markedly more shitty than I am now.”
I realize I definitely used to be in the same boat. In college, my friends and I punctuated jokes with homophobic slurs on a regular basis. A couple years ago, I would’ve been terrified to attend something branded as “gay,” let alone embrace it. And anyway, I didn’t think my input on this stuff mattered. I was just a single person, one who didn’t identify as part of this group, to boot.
Thing is, you don’t have to be something to be part of it. Supportive, combative, or non-existent, actions always have outcomes. Always.
There’s always room to grow. Mistakes will happen. It’s how you come back from them that counts.
While we were recording the WAG podcast with Kate earlier this month, I’d admitted that I didn’t always feel comfortable speaking specifically to Gender issues because I didn’t have the theoretical training to really grapple with them properly, and that was true- but if I were being completely honest it wasn’t the whole truth. Theoretical frameworks are simply the GPS coordinates that help me map my way through issues I don’t experience as a white male-bodied male-gendered straight person. My experience reading and writing on colonial discourse is why I feel comfortable navigating through colonialism and certain racial issues than, say, the issues of overt sexism in the video game industry. But another reason why I don’t always feel comfortable is that I know I used to be the problem.
Part of what sincerely angers me, what genuinely enrages me, about the post-sexist bullshit put forth by supposed “objective thinkers” (who more often than not are White Males, not that it would have ANYTHING to do with it, amirite?) is that I espoused the same nonsense with a vigor once upon a time. I, too, stripped criticisms of sexist portrayals in video games and film of any context and thought I was simply being “rational.” I took umbrage with the Feminists at my undergraduate insinuating that I could possibly be part of the problem- after all, I never allowed any overt sexism to pass through my lips. If I didn’t think women belonged in the kitchen, that was enough, right? What more could possibly be asked of me? And don’t even get me started on the Free Speech defense. It was really only through living with Seth (who would discuss these issues with me at length, especially when he was attending his own graduate schooling) that I started to reappraise my previous stances.
And the truth is, I have found being an ally to be a constant struggle in self-criticism and worry over whether I am allowing myself to slip into “old habits.”* I distrust myself to genuinely offer a “good” response, given my past, to questions about sexism and gender diversity. When, for example, I published my piece on Feminist Critiques of Video Games with Lusipurr.com, I refused to publish more than a cursory of defenses to the piece, even while it was being strawman’d to hell by the “news” editor, simply because I wasn’t sure I was good enough to defend it. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t.
But lest I make you all think I’m surfing for sympathy and validation, this is why Burch’s comment (and Grayson’s admission of early complicity) resonated with me- because it offers up a recognition of those allies who were not always so while still offering a guideline on how we can still improve. In many ways, one of the many important things all allies simply need to do is “be less shitty.” When Leigh Alexander (The Immortal and Always Amazing Leigh Alexander) drafted a DO and DON’T guide for combating online sexism, “Be Less Shitty” could easily be the phrase attached to the end of every guide post she offered. “Be Less Shitty” is, really, Burch’s Law for Allies, a variation of Wheaton’s Law that recognizes the place for growth among allies who followed the same path as me and others. It recognizes that we used to be shittier, while also that there are still less shitty ways to be.
And that’s an important recognition. It can be cringe-inducing to reread things you wrote or ponder over things you said when you were young and naive – but can also make you feel utterly reprehensible when you think about the ways in which you may have contributed to the oppression of someone else. And then you start a cycle wherein you recognize that your feelings about being shitty are nowhere near as bad or worthy of pity as those who were the victims of your exchanges, that you are not the victim of your own contributions towards sexism against others. But then, you stop and think – “Be Less Shitty.” It doesn’t solve the problems of the past you still need to make up for, but it allows you the chance to improve, to progress, and to help others without hiding or trying to forget the mistakes you have made.
That’s what I found particularly useful as someone who wants to be an ally towards groups of people. What other things- guidelines, mnemonics, acrostic poems- have you folks found helpful? Are there resources that you wish more people would read and consider?
*For the record (since I couldn’t find a good place to put this in the article, but it’s important to say): I think my own tone-policing of myself is actually a net positive and is incomparable to the self-restrictions of speech non-white/straight/men have to put on themselves- that their barriers inhibit them and their ability to live happy and fulfilling lives and, in some cases, breaking those self-restrictions can even endanger themselves. My self-restriction not only helps me “Be Less Shitty” but to also “Be Less Shitty” to others- it’s a minor, minor responsibility compared to the burden dealing with the issues that surround people who face all the discrimination which comes from a world and society built to serve people who look and act like me.