Thursday, May 17, 2012

Open Letter to Penny Arcade, Mike & Jerry

[TW for rape, rape apologia]

Dear Penny Arcade (Mike and Jerry),

Rape isnt funny. I should only have to say this once to get my point across, but after the slew of tweets and blog posts yesterday about "Tentacle Bento" (A card game whose purpose is to have a tentacle monster rape high school girls), it is now clear to me that I will have to say this repeatedly.  Loudly.  Firmly.

Rape isnt funny.

Sexual Harassment isnt funny.  I am one of the lucky female gamers that have never been raped at a Con or by fellow Geeks.  I have, however, been sexually harassed to the point where I was actually in fear of being molested and/or raped.  I have been made to feel so very ashamed of myself for simply being female at a gaming table that I had to spend the rest of the Con huddled next to a male friend of mine to feel safe.  I had to watch where I walked and be hyper aware of my surroundings just so that I didnt accidentally run into the guy who harassed me.

I have also been harassed in online video games.  Have you ever been hunted down and spawn camped in Halo Reach Griffball ONLY because you are female?  I have.  By my own fucking team mates.  Who explicitly killed me and intentionally lost games before I could even prove myself on the field.  They took one look at my female Char, and attacked me.  Ive been called names for being a woman, regardless of my talent for the game.  There is a definite reason there arent many top contending female players in gaming tourneys across the country, and its not because women are bad at video games, or because we have no competitive spirit.  Its not because we just dont get it.  Its because those of us who dare to step a toe into this male dominated field are often instantly attacked, and repeatedly made to feel less than.  It happened in WoW too, regardless of my skill as a tank, people would often find out Im ACTUALLY a woman and start giving me shit.  It had nothing to do with skill or game play and everything to do with my possession and ownership of a vagina.  Does that seem right to you?  No, its not all the time, but its often enough that I have considered on several occasions to simply quit.  Why bother with shitheads like that when I can be called names and made fun of everywhere else as well?

Mike, one of your arguments yesterday in defense of Tentacle Bento was that video games portray murder all the time, so whats the difference.  Murder is universally understood to be wrong around the world.  In every culture there are hard and fast rules about taking another persons life.  Murder victims do not experience constant reminders of their murder.  Yes, rape is absolutely different.  First of all, the victim is living.  Not only living, but living with a daily fear that rape will happen again, and in most cases the victim is in a situation where rape WILL happen again.  The notion that random strangers are the ones that do most of the raping is wrong.  Its usually someone the victim knows and trusts, its someone who is an authority figure in their lives, someone with power over the victim.  It is most likely that the rapist is someone whom no one else would ever suspect to be a rapist.  Rapists do not wear hats that denote them from other people, nor are they born with a mark on their bodies so as to be easily identified.  Rape and molestation, even sexual harassment causes long term psychological trauma.

Jerry, your comments yesterday were particularly offensive.  Not because of the words you used, but because your only substantive response to all of this was concern that Mike was typing fast which made you nervous.  This happened much the same way with the whole Dickwolves controversy almost two years ago.  You stood on the sidelines while your friend and business partner fiercely defended the "joke" even tho a large group of female nerds (We are of your flock, FYI, you don't have only male readers) voiced concern, discomfort and displeasure at this topic.  Instead of stopping it where it stood, not even apologizing but just stopping, you stood by while others in your fold/community lashed out against anyone who voiced descent.

Yes, free speech covers the existence of Tentacle Bento.  No one that I have seen is denying the right for the game to exist.  But WE ARE voicing our condemnation of a video game, which is also covered in free speech.  This game is not satire, it isnt making a tongue and cheek observation of Japanese culture, tentacle porn, rape, high school girls, or anything else that might be involved.  Lack of irony and snark is HOMAGE. Its not satire to actively seek out, kidnap and rape even when in the context of a video game.

Whether or not you like it, you both are leaders in geek/nerd culture.  You have a community of dedicated followers who look to you for guidance and direction.  You may not WANT this influence, but the fact of the matter is you have this influence.  No, you are not directly responsible for others actions, but you are responsible for what you say, and your voice has power.  You are a role model, whether you like it or not people follow your actions.

Geek/Nerd Culture is all about including the outcast.  Over the last century we have gone from being weak, useless, bookworms to a large group with economic, social, and intellectual impact.  In the last 50 years we have seen some of the most drastic changes in attitude towards those us, and especially since public figures like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Joss Whedon, Will Wheaton, and Felicia Day have appeared.  But this culture started with a predominantly male gaze and audience.  Something that needs to be understood is that it hasnt been until the last 15 years or so that women have been accepted into the fold.  We were bombarded with criticism from all angles at being in this cerebral conglomerate.  It is a left over side affect from women not being welcome in the Maths and Sciences until recently as well.  The crossover from science and math to gaming is very simple.  So its to be expected that the last vestiges of misogyny linger in the background as remnants of a distant past.

From the Twilight Zone to Star Trek to Lord of the Rings and beyond, our culture has always pushed social commentary in ways that other cultures wouldnt dare.  Remember that episode of Star Trek where most of the guys were black on one side and white on the other, and started persecuting the guy whose colors were simply reversed?  As a culture we we discussing race and civil rights.  We have been having these discussions about race, sex, equality for a very long time, and we have been doing it with an open mind.  Sci Fi and Fantasy were discussing these things long before other popular TV shows would dare touch the subjects.  We have always been more progressive.

But on this, on Rape Culture, we have been just as heinous in our collective regard as mainstream entertainment has been.  Where we once lead the charge for complete equality and a more peaceful understanding of the world, on this we have backslid right into the middle ages.  And not the cool middle ages we like to think of, the stinky, rotten, violent middle ages that no one really likes to talk about.

We are a culture that is defined as being OTHER THAN mainstream.  WE have worn this definition with pride and defiance.  But Rape is something we as a culture still havent decided on, and that is because of the mainstream influence that we once shunned now being more and more apart of us.  Games that have appealed to a wider audience, AKA sports and War Games have widened our group to include people who have no real interest in anything other than these games.  This isnt a bad thing.  What IS a bad thing is that some of these people have brought with them mainstream influences that have subsequently influenced the rest of us.  For example, this recent controversy.  WE within this culture also draw in influences from the mainstream because quite frankly, we cant get away from it.

AS progressive as the culture is on whole, women (whether identified or genetic) are still objectified, belittled, and made to feel less than their male counterparts.  Booth Babes and scantily clad paladins/magic users/warriors/etc are not helping matters any.  There have been plenty of blogs/articles dedicated to talking about sexism in geek culture, Ive even written about it.  So for a group who is based on a shared experience of Othering, of being shunned and left out and made fun of and harassed, it is not only tragic, but completely backwards that this group would further that notion by subjecting part of its core, women, to continued sexism.

I have heard MANY MANY MANY NUMEROUS complaints about there not being enough females within the Geek and Nerd culture.  Hell personally Ive had at least half a dozen men say "Why arent there more girls like you???" with real bafflement.  My answer?  Because of shit like this.  Because when we come to the gaming table we are either oogled and treated like sex objects, or treated like we are dumber than a box of rocks by simple virtue of having a vagina.  And its not just Geek Culture that does this.  We as women are taught from a VERY young age that what should be our biggest concern is looks.  We are taught that beauty will get us what we want in life, and what we SHOULD want is a good man to provide for us.  Thats what we get from the outside world.  So imagine women's collective surprise when we come to the table expecting something different, and get treated exactly the same as we would anywhere else.

Supporting Rape Culture is doing  the exact same thing all those pop collared douchebags who picked on you in high school did.  Trivializing Gamer Girls complaints about sexism within the culture is being that bully who pushed you down and made fun of you because you wear glasses or can write programming code.  Rape is not funny, its not casual, its not a joke.  Think of the 6 most important women in your life and most likely at least 1 of them have been raped.  Rape isnt about sex, its about power.  Bullying isnt about sex, its about power.  Rape and bullying go hand in hand.  Being a part of this culture who has known bullying as part of its identifying struggle with society, we are only perpetuating the bullying on a smaller group within our fold.

My point?  Women get enough of this shit in the outside world without our own group, our own people, our own culture further supporting it.

Mike and Jerry.  Lead the charge the other way.  Lets make Geek Culture the first and best place for women to go, to feel included, to feel safe and secure, to feel mutual respect without objectification.  You have a voice that influences a very large number of people in our culture, use that voice to stand up for all the Female Geeks and Nerds out there.  We want to be in the group, we want to be part of this amazing experience, but we dont want to do it at the cost of our personal safety and security.  We dont want to be part of a culture that perpetuates violence that is disproportionately and fiercely directed at women.  When you support rape culture, you are in clear opposition for a bigger presence of women within the culture. 

Mike & Jerry, dont be those guys who contribute to the problem.  Also, dont be those guys who believe that your words carry no weight within your community.  When the Dickwolves stuff happened, your stanch support for the comic and flat refusal of complaints caused your community to seek out other spaces where the topic was being discussed, for those members of your space to attack people in other spaces.  I watched it happen, and it was in part because you refused to even address the concerns brought up by your fellow gamers who are female.  Its not just a few "crazy" ladies with their panties in a bunch.  There isnt a bigger voice for us because we are outnumbered in Geek Culture by a HUGE margin.  We dont have a bigger voice, so Be The Guys that help us be heard.  Dont shut female geeks out because we are less in numbers.  Be the kind of guys that listen to the minority cry for equal rights the same way you guys listen to the minority cry in mainstream.  Remember that you are part of a minority and in doing so dont marginalize a minority within your fold.

I want to support you.  I want to go to PAX.  I want us to come to an understanding so that we can move forward together and make our shared culture even more awesome.  I dont think either of you are bad people, a few actions do not blanket an individuals entire person.  I think you are both generally speaking really great guys, your charity work proves as much.  On this particular topic tho, you are supporting rapists.  It is as simple as that.


Lt. Chubbins, a gamer girl and geek

[ETA] I had mentioned that Tentacle Bento was a video game, which was a mistake on my part.  It is a card game.


  1. Might want to watch the use of "females" as a noun, as it's used quite often to dehumanize women and make them like animals. I would say "Just go to any MRA site or other misogynistic haven to see it in action" but really don't for your own mental well being.

  2. Maverynthia I totally agree with you that female is used as a filthy dirty word in many spaces. I try my best to be inclusive and non-offensive with my choice of words, but often I have a hard time using all the applicable words without repeating myself over and over and over again which is a personal pet peeve of mine. I am taking it on good faith that you understand that I do not mean female in that derogatory way. I struggle to define women with words that "should" be available in our collective lexicon and free of negative connotations, but even the term "woman" has been used in that same manner. So I have to make a choice about the words I use, but also get my point across. Girl, woman, female, lady, all words that I should be able to use for myself and others with Uteri or self identify as the same construct, but really none of them can be used without being tied to the negative connotations that have been attached to them over the years. I have yet to find a word that means an all inclusive state without attaching addendums and parenthesis and exceptions and corrections. When I find that word, I will use it exclusively.

    Even as a typed this out I hesitated many times in using the term Gamer Girl, because Girl is infantalizing and diminishing in nature especially when talking about a large group of people most of whom are adults, and I am in my 30s. I dont generally like being called a girl but somehow I prefer Gamer Girl to anything else Ive heard to describe this particular subset of people.

    If you know of a word that has all the inclusive definitions and lacks the negative connotations I would love to know it (sincerely so). AS I grow in my feminism (because no one comes to the table with all the knowledge in hand) I try to adjust. Thank you for pointing this out as it is indeed a very good point, and all part of the same broad topic.