Between Daniel Tosh, the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, and the exposure of rape culture on Reddit, the web is becoming the sunlight revealing the hidden pockets of sexism still alive and well in American culture. What surprises me is the areas in which this sexism is coming to light. We expect there to be sexsim in corporate culture. In fraternity culture. Even in areas as otherwise socially progressive as hip hop.
But we expect comedy to be progressive precisely because it is subversive. We expect gaming and internet culture to be progressive because it is technologically advanced. But we’re learning that progressivism and feminism are not the same circle, but two parts of a Venn diagram.
This is disappointing and disturbing for two reasons. One, to see rampant sexism (and one can pretty much assume homophobia) in otherwise socially progressive cultures suggests far more rampant sexism in cultures that are less so, meaning, in total, a metric fuckton more sexism than was originally assumed. Two, the level of sexism is vitriolic. Not just the casual, thoughtless sexism of otherwise progressive media like The Newsroom. No, we’re talking about flat out validation of violence against women.
To know that this level of sexism and misogyny still exists and exists in numbers large enough to pop up in hate-speech responses to an attempt to explore a topic in gaming—not call for policy, mind you, just discuss—is disillusioning in a very specific way. Mae Azango is a female journalist in Liberia who makes it her business to report on female genital mutilation in her country. It’s a frequent practice, culturally accepted by some, but kept very hush-hush. Her attempts to expose it earned her death and rape threats against herself and her nine-year-old daughter (the same for anyone who dared talk to her). Horrible as they are, you expect death and rape threats to come from people who think it’s perfectly reasonable to hold down a child and cut away parts of her body. You do not expect them from people who like to play Call of Duty. But that’s exactly what they did.
It’s akin to the frustration people feel when they say things like “We can put a person on the Moon (or a robot on Mars) but a sixth of the world lacks potable water.” We think we’ve made progress; but we haven’t made any progress at all.
Except, perhaps, in the conversation. The fact that these things are happening out in the open, or are being brought out into the open. The fact that probably due in part to the vitriolic reaction to it, Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter raised $152,922 more than its $6,000 goal. The popularization of tools like the Bechdel Test to have this discussion. Maybe that’s progress.
It just doesn’t feel like it.
Update: And then Merlin Mann had to go and do this.