Thursday, August 23, 2012

Moving forward

Sexism exists in the gaming communities. This topic has been lingering in the back of my head a while, and rather than launching my thoughts sporadically at various friends, I am going to attempt to put them all down here. 
I play Magic. It is my main hobby, the thing into which I put a sizable about of my spare energy. I have been playing the game for 18 years, and plan on playing it for much longer. I would be lying to you if in my younger days I used terms to describe my game play, and my opponents, that would abhor the Alex of 2012. 

When I still lived at home, one day I called my younger sister a bitch in anger. My dad overheard this. My parents rarely yelled, and punished only when it mattered, but I had never seen my dad so angry. He took me aside and yelled in my face "Do you know what that means?" to which I nervously nodded. "You never call a woman that, especially your sister." I may not have gotten it that day, and maybe I still don't fully understand it, but I know I don't use the word "bitch" in the same way anymore. Sure, I have female friends who self identify as a bitch, and use it in an empowering way. I still say son-of-a-bitch when I get cut off in traffic. I probably shouldn't use the word that way either. But I'm not perfect- I'm learning, and I'm human.

Almost one year ago, Geordie Tait wrote what I feel is one of the most important Magic articles in history: To My Someday Daughter. If you have some time, please read it (it is long, but not unnecessarily so). The article was written in response to "FinkelDate", where Jon Finkel went on a date with a blogger, and she lambasts his Magic history. The response from the community was disturbing. They rallied against the woman, using all sorts of language and posting private information about her. It disgusted me. 

I wanted to understand where these people were coming from. They were the nerds who never got a date, and in their eyes it was because they were deficient...maybe they felt ashamed of their nerd-hood. I know for a long time I was. It wasn't until I became comfortable with folding the identity of gamer into my identity of male that I was able to date successfully. 

My first year of graduate school was tough. I was placed in an assistantship with a supervisor who I clashed with. There were many moments that made it tough- including having to hear her say "I dunno, they're [Jews] all named Abraham", but two of the biggest ones took place months apart. In the first week of work, my boss had a girls night at her house. The male members of our class weren't invited. I had no problem. However, come October I wanted to help set up for an event, and was told by my boss "I want the men to do it." To her, I wasn't a man and I wasn't a woman. I was nothing to her. It was a tough moment to have, and I took time, with the help of an advisor and my supervisor in year two, to quite literally define myself.

Recent events in the video game and online nerd community have brought the issue back to the forefront. When I ran drafts in my old apartment, the younger players would often use the words "gay" and "fag" in ways that are common. I told them not under my roof, and explained why; I saw a decline in the language at the game store from these players. Was it because I was there? Possibly. At a recent event, I told a player flat out not to use the word "rape" to describe a loss. "Rape is terrible. Do you realize what you're saying?" I don't know if what I do works, of if it's tilting at windmills, but I won't stop.

My second year supervisor was (and is) gay. He said something to me one day. "I used to call people 'fags.' That's the past. We all make mistakes. We learn, and we're better for it."

Some people view this as a systemic problem. They feel that we are all complicit, and often the people who try to help are doing more damage. They might call out people that, in my opinion, are trying to help, and chastised them for not doing enough. It is their way or the highway. They want to be heroes- Batman without Robin.

A movement takes all kinds. 

 Maybe some people are, or can be on their side. Sexism is a problem, but bullying people who agree will not make things better. I want to know if this group would find me abhorrent or one of the good guys. I fear I already know. 

Change does not happen overnight. It is going to take the entire community of gamers, and quite possibly the entire community humankind to make a change. So much of this goes beyond game stores and draft tables. It is on television and in advertising. It is in history books and imprinted into our thought patterns. We need a generation of parents to raise their kids to respect everyone, and then we need their children to do the same, and so on and so on. This does not absolve us- we should still stand up and fight against inequality, wherever it is seen. It takes all of us making a commitment to stoping the use of words like rape and bitch and fag as derogatory terms, and then explaining why in an educational way- not an accusatory one. Not everyone is aware of the power of words, be the person that educates them.
It takes all of us to support the people who are standing up against the words- it is important to know we are not alone. 

This is not to our someday daughters- this is to everyone that will come after us.  I am still going to do what I can, make what changes I can and be an entity of change, inclusion, and equality. 

Even if some people don't like how I do it.

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