being outside while being a woman

???????????????

I’m in Denver, walking back to my dorm during a summer post-graduate course when a car pulls up next the sidewalk and slowed down, keeping pace with me. The driver rolls his window down, and the men inside of it start yelling at me. I do my best to ignore it, to just keep walking, but when they became angry some of what they say registers.

“Fat ass.”

“Ugly bitch.”

“We were just being nice to you– why couldn’t you just talk to us?”

I keep trying to ignore them, but then he starts revving his engine and jerking his car toward the sidewalk. I walk faster– he speeds up. Suddenly the low-level anxiety I’d been feeling bursts into full-fledged panic. I could see a bluelight, part of the campus security system, and I run for it, hoping I could make it before something awful happens. I pick up the phone while the driver speeds off, screaming obscenities and threats.

I’m in St. Louis, hired to photograph some of the unique architecture in a downtown area for a local guidebook, and a man starts shouting at me from his truck. “Hey! Hey, baby! You wanna take a picture of my dick?” and then he laughs and drives off.

Florida: I’m walking in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart, and a middle-aged man who’d been walking from the store turned around and starts following me. “Hey, how are you doing?” I give that half-smile that every women knows, the one that says please I just want to be left alone while also pleading please don’t hurt me. “Hey, why won’t you answer me? I’m just being nice! Cunt.”

I’m sitting in the middle of a traffic jam in North Carolina, and the men in the car next to me start shouting. I look up, and one of them has drawn a picture of a penis in his notebook and has it pressed against his window. I do my best to ignore them, but for the next three hours they sit next to me, taunting me, shouting at me, drawing more and more graphic and lewd pictures, alternately “complimenting” me while screaming that I’m a bitch for ignroing them.

I’m waiting for a bus, and a man tries to strike up a conversation. I keep my answers muted and monosyllabic while trying to seem friendly because I have to stand there. I can’t leave, I’m trapped. I’m desperate to do anything I can to make sure it doesn’t escalate. At first it’s ok, but then he starts asking really invasive and obviously in-poor-taste questions, and I’m so relieved when I see my bus pull up. I do my best to extricate myself from the conversation as smoothly as I can– “hey, it’s been nice chatting, but my bus is here!”– and I move into the crowd of people waiting, trying to put a buffer between us. He immediately starts screaming a litany of profanities and threats, and three other men join in, shouting “why couldn’t you just talk to him?! He was trying to be nice to you, bitch!”

I go out to get the mail in my apartment complex, and two men follow me all the way there and back to my apartment, starting off with “hello!” and “nice ass”, but then escalating to “bitch” and “whore.” Eventually I’m so fed up with it I flip them the bird, and that’s when they start screaming at me, and I’m scared. I’m ten yards away from the stairs– can I make it? If I scream will my partner be able to hear me?

I’m in Virginia, antiquing, looking for Christmas gifts. A man starts following me, waiting for me outside of every store I go into. He doesn’t say anything, he just follows me, and stares. Eventually I go inside a coffee shop and ask the employees inside to keep that man from coming in– I’m frightened. The barista recognizes him because he’s done this to many other women, including her.

I’m taking out the trash, and someone driving past yells “hey!” and then when I don’t respond, “you want to fuck a n*****, bitch?” out of his window at me, laughing when I jump.

I’m sitting on the metro in DC and a man who watched me as I got on moves from the complete opposite end of the mostly-empty car to stand directly in front of my seat– he positions himself directly in front of me, trapping me. He was so big, he filled up the entire space, I’d never be able to get around him. I open up my book and do my best to keep my eyes glued to the pages, even though I can’t read a word. I sit there and pray that he has to get off before my stop.

~~~~~~~~

It took me a long time to recognize this sort of behavior for what it was because it’s been happening since what feels like forever. It started when I was 12 and creepy old men would come up and start stroking my waist-length hair without my permission. It happened so often that one day I’m with my father when it happens and he gets angry at me because why didn’t  I do anything? and I don’t know what to say because all I can think is I don’t understand why you’re upset this is normal. I turn fourteen and suddenly hips appear and every time someone follows me around a parking lot to shout things about my rear end I just assume that I’m not dressed modestly enough, even when I’m already wearing a skirt with enough fabric you could camp under it.

And then I’m in my twenties and researching feminism and I finally connect the dots: what has been happening to me my entire life is harassment. It is not a compliment, and it is not my fault.

So yesterday, when I saw Shoshana’s video, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

Then I saw the comments, not just on the video, but on the pages of the friends who’d posted it. I saw the rape and death threats. And I’m exhausted. I don’t want to expend any of the energy to respond to the (usually white) men who just don’t get it. They don’t understand. They’re screaming about “how can just saying “hi” be harassment?! Feminists are just so stupid and sensitive,” and I want to scream because most of the street harassment I’ve ever experienced in my entire life starts with “hi”– and it never ends well. You say “hi” back and all of sudden you’ve given them permission to follow you. You flip them off, and they get pissed– really pissed. You ignore them and suddenly it’s all about how ugly you are and how they’d never fuck you anyway.

Men don’t have to deal with this. They don’t understand how every single time I hear the word “hi” something inside of me wants to curl up into a ball and hide because I know what’s coming. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of men who have looked at me and given a polite “hello” that wasn’t the precursor to insults and jeers. That’s not normal. When a man is polite and respectful to me in public, it is actually startling to me because I don’t expect it.

That is something all those men shouting about how these entitled little jerks are just “being nice” will never understand.

Update 9:47p: When I saw the video yesterday the only thing I was watching was her face, and, like in my real life, not paying attention to who in in particular was harassing her. But I saw this statement earlier today from Suey Park:

That catcalling video you all posting is deeply problematic: It perpetuates the myth of the cult of white white womanhood by literally placing this white woman in neighborhoods where men of color will be the ones who catcall (or, in some instances, say hello to) her. Doing so makes it appear as if men of color are the perpetrators of all that is bad on this planet, which can only be balanced with the exigent need to therefore save white women above all else. This stale, ahistorical association also makes invisible the disproportionate harassment that women of color face broadly from men (including white men)–and the very tangible violence that trans women of color face in particular.

So I went back and re-watched the video and I agree with her thoughts. As a white woman, I can afford to see this video primarily as a useful tool for talking about the constant barrage of harassment women face on a daily basis, but we must never forget that everything we do, everything we create, exists in a system dominated not just by sexism but by racism and other oppressions. It’s unlikely that the editors consciously chose examples for this truncated video that focused on the actions of black men, and because I didn’t follow Shoshana around for 10 hours I don’t know if she really only did walk in black and/or brown neighborhoods, but the end result is racist.

In my personal experience, I am harassed by men of all races, but because of my context, I’m harassed primarily by white men. I’ve decided not to remove the video because it’s also helpful to illustrate how white people have used, and continue to use, the racist assumption that black men pose a particular threat to our white women.

“Real Marriage” review: 86-106, “Taking out the Trash”

trash can

I wish you all could read the entirely of this chapter because it is ironic. One of these days I’ll have to create a whole series of posts dedicated to page 89, where Mark defines repentance, comparing that to his actual real-life behavior, because it is hysterical. Not only does he fail his own list of “pastoral requirements,” he also bombs at his own definition of repentance– and you can read the whole thing here.

Interestingly enough, I actually agree with Mark on almost everything from 88-90. His definition of repentance is pretty comprehensive, and I only disagree with two of the points– that repentance is not “worldly sorrow” and not “grieving the consequences of sin but hating the evil of the sin itself,” but that’s probably because a) I don’t think Christians are better at everything than everyone else and b) I don’t have the same definition of sin.

To me, I don’t have a problem with arrogance in and of itself but because of the consequences that being arrogant can have– it can make me blind to things I’ve done wrong, it can cause me to belittle people I don’t understand . . . and I think this is where Christians can get it backwards. If we focus on an abstract list of things we consider to be “Sin,” it seems like it would be inevitable for us to forget how much damage our actions can cause. As long as we’re not “Sinning,” it’ll be easy for us to ignore how we’re hurting people. That is how Christians can claim to “love gay people” and yet hold and express beliefs that are directly responsible for emotional and physical harm in the LGBTQ+ community, including the deaths of many queer people. We haven’t “Sinned” by talking about how perverted gay people are, so we can ignore that our actions and words have consequences.

After page 90, though, Mark and I start having problems. The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to sections on “Forgiveness” and “Bitterness,” and I imagine most of you just felt your hackles go up. So did mine. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear the word “bitter” without being mildly triggered or angry because of how that word is thrown at me all of the time. I have never heard someone use the word “bitter” without it appearing in the middle of a demand for silence. Bitter is the evangelical version of “shut the fuck up.”

We’ll get to how Mark uses it in a bit. First, let’s cover his approach to forgiveness.

He starts off with this statement: “When we sin against our spouses, we cause them to suffer.” This is an excellent example of how backwards the whole “hating the sin itself” concept can make us. Causing our spouses to suffer is a sin against them. I cannot stress how important I think this concept is, because it revolutionized my life. When I stopped worrying about “how much sin I had in my life” and started focusing on “how do my words, actions, and inaction hurt people?” everything changed.

The next few pages I have mixed feelings about, mostly because I’m still wrestling with what forgiveness is. Personally, I think there’s a difference between personal healing and forgiveness, but those two seem conflated in Christian conversations. It’s also possible that I have forgiveness and absolution and reconciliation all mixed up inside of my head, and I’m trying to straighten that out.

The one part I do have unequivocal feelings about is this:

Forgiveness is not dying emotionally and no longer feeling the pain of the transgression.
Rather, forgiveness allows us to feel the appropriate depth of grievous pain but choose by grace not to be continually paralyzed or defined by it.

This irritated me because I do not think it is ok for someone that isn’t me to tell me that there is an “appropriate depth” that I can feel my pain at. Healing looks different for every single person, and healing from trauma and abuse isn’t ever pretty. I spent three years trying to experience pain “appropriately” because nearly everyone I encountered had some sort of yardstick for what healing should look like, and the one I heard all of the time was “you’ll know you’re over it when you’re not talking about him anymore.”

Well, I wanted to be “over it,” so I stopped talking about it. For three years. Until I realized that it wasn’t helping, and I was actually getting worse. I’d refused to actually heal from the abuse and the rapes, and my body wouldn’t let me go on that way.

And guess what– I’m still talking about it. I talk about spiritual abuse. I talk about child abuse. I talk about sexual violence and rape. I talk about sex-based oppression in Christianity. My professional life is “defined” by my status as an abuse survivor, and that is not just completely appropriate: it is a good thing. I will never stop being “defined” by this because that is how I help others.

But … moving on to the section on bitterness, and this is where I threw the book.

In order to illustrate what bitterness looks like in a marriage, Mark uses John and Molly Wesley. I’ve been doing off-and-on research on John Wesley, and I think when it comes to his wife at least he was an unmitigated ass. Mark sets this illustration up by talking about how Molly didn’t like it that John traveled so much and John’s justification that he did it because God.

But then we get this:

“I took you first by the arm, and afterward by your shoulder, and shook you twice or thrice … and might have made you black and blue. I bless God, that I did not do this fifty times and that I did nothing worse.” [edited for ease of reading]

That sentence from one of John’s letters to Molly is immediately followed by this:

Her bitterness, made worse by John’s extensive ongoing letter writing to multiple women, caused Molly to become insanely jealous … Their final years were spent apart, as she never once set foot in his personal residence.

What in the ever living fuck is this. John Wesley admits that he could have made his wife “black and blue” (“thank God I did nothing worse”) and the fact that Molly decides she’s not going to put up with his abuse any more makes her bitter?! She couldn’t even divorce him– at the time (this “time” extending to 1923 in England), women could only divorce their husbands if they could prove adultery and could also afford the £1,500 fee. She didn’t have any options, and she was married to someone who ignored her, ignored her requests, disrespected her continuously, and was willing to hurt her. A domestic violence victim is not bitter when they decide that they’re never going to step foot back in their abuser’s house.

So, once again, Mark is making it perfectly clear what he thinks about abuse, and it’s terrifying.

being a feminist who wants to watch TV (without the gifs)

watching tv

I decided I’d cover a lighthearted topic today because it’s been a rough couple of days and I just want to talk about stuff that I like because the whole world is sort of pissing me off right now and I am temporarily not going to think about it.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Handsome about how it’s important for us to be aware while we’re watching TV or reading books or watching movies because there’s probably something going on to normalize oppression and/or violence– and he asked if there was anything I could truly enjoy watching on television or if every single show was making a huge part of me cringe.

My gut reaction was to say “no, everything has something,” and to an extent that’s true, especially when it comes to sexism. But, as I thought about his question, I realized that there are some shows, that even if they have some moments, I still genuinely enjoy and I’m able to dial down the feminist voice in my head, and I figured I could share some of them with you and then we could all talk about our favorite least-problematic media!

So, for television shows:

Honestly, the Food Network pretty much tops this when it comes to just brain vegging. I’m in love with Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, and I think the producers really go out of their way to show racial and gender diversity; they’re also honest about how sexist the restaurant industry can be. It’s nice to hear both the male and female judges talking about the challenges that women and minorities face, especially in elite kitchens. There’s a lot of shows on there that are … not problematic per se as much as they just sort of assume gendered baselines, like wives cooking for husbands and doing all the work for entertaining (Barefoot Contessa is actually pretty good about involving her husband when she’s cooking for entertaining, which is cool).

I’m a huge fan of Last Man Standing, although a huge part of that is probably nostalgia, since it’s essentially Home Improvement only with Tim Allen’s kids being girls instead of boys. I really enjoy watching the marital dynamics in this show, though– there’s a lot of egalitarian give-and-take, and they’re both successful professionals. Both make mistakes, both are funny, both have triumphs at work and with their kids and … I think it’s one of the healthier marriages I’ve seen in a sitcom. I also love the fact that their oldest daughter is a raving liberal feminist who disagrees with her dyed-in-the-wool Republican father but still has a good relationship with him.

The best part about it, though, is that Tim’s character, “Mike,” can be a really sexist douchebag … until something happens in the episode with his daughters and he has a sincere “OH” moment and realizes he’s a sexist douchebag. It’s pretty great.

We were flipping channels a few weeks ago and caught a few moments from Once Upon a Time, so we decided “hey, it’s on Netflix, let’s give it a try.”

DEAR LORD IN HEAVEN I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH.

I’m still in the first blush of nerd-euphoria with it, so I don’t think I’m even capable of realizing if anything problematic is happening because damn I think this is one of the best shows on television right now, which I completely and totally did not expect because all of the advertising I’d seen for it made it seem ridiculously awful. But it’s not. It’s so good. I’m in the middle of season two, so please no spoilers, but I love it I love it I love it. I love Snow, I love Emma, I love Regina, I love Mulan, I love Belle, I love Red … there’s just so many fantastic women and yeah some of them are the “strong woman trope” but I think they’re pretty well-written. Complicated, with motivations that make sense, and the writers allow them to be human in human ways and not just in stereotypical “flawed women” ways. I was probably predisposed to like it since I grew up with Gail Carson Levine and the “re-written fairytale” being one of my favorite genres (seriously– Ella Enchanted? such a great book), so if you like Levine or Hale or McKinley you’re probably guaranteed to like Once Upon a Time.

For movies:

GONE GIRL. I can’t tell you anything about it because that would ruin it but this movie was so good. So good. I haven’t read the book yet, but I think I’ll still enjoy it even after watching the adaptation. I really, really loved this film. Dear god the ending. This movie blew my socks off, and the last movie that did that was The Avengers, so …

I know that it’s spawned a lot of discussion on how “feminist” the book and movie are, but I 100% agree with this (spoilers at the link AND IN THE QUOTE):

We need dangerous women on-screen; women who can claw open and bite down into the scarred center of any woman (every woman) who has suppressed an unfathomable anger, a will-to-power that can’t be contained in a pin-stripe suit. We need women whose talons break through skin and spread bones to rip out the great, thick throbbing heart. We need women who breathe fire.

When I was in graduate school, I took a class in post-modern literature, where I was introduced to Camus and Ionesco and I fell in love with theatre of the absurdThe Chairs is one of my all-time favorite plays, and I really enjoy films that have an element of the absurd to them, which is why I like Wes Anderson and Grand Budapest Hotel. I also really like Ralph Fiennes, so I’ll watch basically anything with him in it (the same is true of Emily Blunt and Gary Oldman). There’s not much I didn’t like about it– I highly recommend giving it a watch.

For books:

I think I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Parksennarion trilogy before, so — it’s a solidly good set. I’ve also talked about my obsession with Brandon Sanderson, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about his Stormlight Archive series, which has just two books out so far (both are 1,000-page tomes, which my greedy literary heart adores). Sanderson is really good at character development, and he’s especially good at writing women– one million and a half times better than any of the women GRR Martin’s written, that’s for sure.

I really like his characters in Mistborn and Elantris, but Shallan Davar and Jasnah Kholin from Stormlight are some of the most solid female characters I’ve ever read. Stormlight takes place in an incredibly racist and sexist world, but the forms it takes on this planet are imaginative enough to really explore sexism and racism in a new light. He doesn’t include a patriarchal hierarchy because “historical accuracy” but because he’s taken the time to really explore that system. The women who live in it actively fight against it, and by the end of Words of Radiance the society is forced to take an extremely egalitarian turn, and the characters have to re-examine their sexist assumptions.

Anyway– what are some of your favorite things that you’ve been watching and reading?

(If you’d like to be a part of the discussion, you can comment here. That skips past all the gifs.)

being a feminist who wants to watch TV

watching tv
[content note: I'm using a lot of gifs today. I know that can cause problems with some people, so I'll also upload a version of this post that doesn't have them.]

I decided I’d cover a lighthearted topic today because it’s been a rough couple of days and I just want to talk about stuff that I like because the whole world is sort of pissing me off right now and I am temporarily not going to think about it.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Handsome about how it’s important for us to be aware while we’re watching TV or reading books or watching movies because there’s probably something going on to normalize oppression and/or violence– and he asked if there was anything I could truly enjoy watching on television or if every single show was making a huge part of me cringe.

My gut reaction was to say “no, everything has something,” and to an extent that’s true, especially when it comes to sexism. But, as I thought about his question, I realized that there are some shows, that even if they have some moments, I still genuinely enjoy and I’m able to dial down the feminist voice in my head, and I figured I could share some of them with you and then we could all talk about our favorite least-problematic media!

So, for television shows:

amanda frietag

Honestly, the Food Network pretty much tops this when it comes to just brain vegging. I’m in love with Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, and I think the producers really go out of their way to show racial and gender diversity; they’re also honest about how sexist the restaurant industry can be. It’s nice to hear both the male and female judges talking about the challenges that women and minorities face, especially in elite kitchens. There’s a lot of shows on there that are … not problematic per se as much as they just sort of assume gendered baselines, like wives cooking for husbands and doing all the work for entertaining (Barefoot Contessa is actually pretty good about involving her husband when she’s cooking for entertaining, which is cool).

tim allen

I’m a huge fan of Last Man Standing, although a huge part of that is probably nostalgia, since it’s essentially Home Improvement only with Tim Allen’s kids being girls instead of boys. I really enjoy watching the marital dynamics in this show, though– there’s a lot of egalitarian give-and-take, and they’re both successful professionals. Both make mistakes, both are funny, both have triumphs at work and with their kids and … I think it’s one of the healthier marriages I’ve seen in a sitcom. I also love the fact that their oldest daughter is a raving liberal feminist who disagrees with her dyed-in-the-wool Republican father but still has a good relationship with him.

The best part about it, though, is that Tim’s character, “Mike,” can be a really sexist douchebag … until something happens in the episode with his daughters and he has a sincere “OH” moment and realizes he’s a sexist douchebag. It’s pretty great.

emma serious

We were flipping channels a few weeks ago and caught a few moments from Once Upon a Time, so we decided “hey, it’s on Netflix, let’s give it a try.”

DEAR LORD IN HEAVEN I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH.

I’m still in the first blush of nerd-euphoria with it, so I don’t think I’m even capable of realizing if anything problematic is happening because damn I think this is one of the best shows on television right now, which I completely and totally did not expect because all of the advertising I’d seen for it made it seem ridiculously awful. But it’s not. It’s so good. I’m in the middle of season two, so please no spoilers, but I love it I love it I love it. I love Snow, I love Emma, I love Regina, I love Mulan, I love Belle, I love Red … there’s just so many fantastic women and yeah some of them are the “strong woman trope” but I think they’re pretty well-written. Complicated, with motivations that make sense, and the writers allow them to be human in human ways and not just in stereotypical “flawed women” ways. I was probably predisposed to like it since I grew up with Gail Carson Levine and the “re-written fairytale” being one of my favorite genres (seriously– Ella Enchanted? such a great book), so if you like Levine or Hale or McKinley you’re probably guaranteed to like Once Upon a Time.

For movies:

gone girl 2

GONE GIRL. I can’t tell you anything about it because that would ruin it but this movie was so good. So good. I haven’t read the book yet, but I think I’ll still enjoy it even after watching the adaptation. I really, really loved this film. Dear god the ending. This movie blew my socks off, and the last movie that did that was The Avengers, so …

I know that it’s spawned a lot of discussion on how “feminist” the book and movie are, but I 100% agree with this (spoilers at the link AND IN THE QUOTE):

We need dangerous women on-screen; women who can claw open and bite down into the scarred center of any woman (every woman) who has suppressed an unfathomable anger, a will-to-power that can’t be contained in a pin-stripe suit. We need women whose talons break through skin and spread bones to rip out the great, thick throbbing heart. We need women who breathe fire.

lobby boy

When I was in graduate school, I took a class in post-modern literature, where I was introduced to Camus and Ionesco and I fell in love with theatre of the absurdThe Chairs is one of my all-time favorite plays, and I really enjoy films that have an element of the absurd to them, which is why I like Wes Anderson and Grand Budapest Hotel. I also really like Ralph Fiennes, so I’ll watch basically anything with him in it (the same is true of Emily Blunt and Gary Oldman). There’s not much I didn’t like about it– I highly recommend giving it a watch.

For books:

I think I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Parksennarion trilogy before, so — it’s a solidly good set. I’ve also talked about my obsession with Brandon Sanderson, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about his Stormlight Archive series, which has just two books out so far (both are 1,000-page tomes, which my greedy literary heart adores). Sanderson is really good at character development, and he’s especially good at writing women– one million and a half times better than any of the women GRR Martin’s written, that’s for sure.

I really like his characters in Mistborn and Elantris, but Shallan Davar and Jasnah Kholin from Stormlight are some of the most solid female characters I’ve ever read. Stormlight takes place in an incredibly racist and sexist world, but the forms it takes on this planet are imaginative enough to really explore sexism and racism in a new light. He doesn’t include a patriarchal hierarchy because “historical accuracy” but because he’s taken the time to really explore that system. The women who live in it actively fight against it, and by the end of Words of Radiance the society is forced to take an extremely egalitarian turn, and the characters have to re-examine their sexist assumptions.

Anyway– what are some of your favorite things that you’ve been watching and reading?

can video games turn us into misogynists?

video-game-controller

For most of my life I didn’t consider myself a “gamer,” mostly because I had an incredibly narrow understanding of what a gamer could be. I was usually more interested in books and film than I was in video games, so I didn’t think I was “allowed” to describe myself as a gamer. Over time I changed my mind.

That happened in graduate school, and the first time I self-identified as a gamer a bunch of boys tried to laugh me out of the room. Mockery, derision, dismissal … I was an English major, a book nerd– and they were being extremely honest when they said that I was “too pretty.”

For weeks I tried to establish my cred– that I’d grown up with the TurboGrafx-16, the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, N64, Gamecube, Playstation 2, and Wii. That I’d played Doom and Warcraft. I can still cycle through all the different responses you’d get by clicking on an orc grunt and the StarCraft Terran medic (“where does it hurt?” still makes me giggle). I still cry when I think about Kerrigan (and I played through that mission so many times before I figured out that it was rigged). My family hosted Unreal: Tournament LAN parties. I can hum the theme songs from Sonic the Hedgehog. Diddy Kong Racing and Star Wars Episode I: Racer are still my all-time favorite games, and I downloaded an N64 simulator just to play them. That guy who proposed to his girlfriend at a Con by cosplaying Link and Zelda and then saying “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this” while offering her a ring makes me sob like a baby.

In high school I played EverQuest, Anarchy Online, Star Wars Galaxies– I even played Lord of the Rings Online from beta and all the way through grad school. I love all of the Fable and Assasin’s Creed games and I’ve played through Portal a half-dozen times. Currently, I’m saving up money to get Bioshock Infinite.

It was extremely frustrating to have all of that dismissed like it didn’t matter. I was a girl, and that’s all they could see, so they did everything they could to ignore me. Had I played every single Halo? No, only 3? Not a real gamer. Had I ever played Call of Duty? No? Not a real gamer. It was endless. I eventually realized I didn’t have to prove myself to them and I walked away, but it still irks me at times that those dumbasses were so smug and arrogant and they still think that I couldn’t possibly be a gamer because I was a girl.

So, yeah: video games and sexism? In every single encounter I’ve had with “gamers,” they go hand-in-hand.

Which is why I’ve been paying some attention to #GamerGate. Anita Sarkeesian is one of my all-time favorite people and YouTubers, so she’s how I found out about it, and I’ve been keeping up with it since about early September. If you’re not familiar with it, this post is a good synopsis. I also really loved this video, which covers the base assumptions of #GamerGate.

There’s already posts and articles and forum threads and twitter conversations aplenty covering what’s wrong with this “movement for journalist integrity” (coughbullshitcough), but there’s one argument I’ve seen pop up quite a bit, and I want to address it: video games cannot make players be misogynists.

This is not an argument unique to #GamerGate– I’ve already heard it a number times, usually in response to the Feminist Frequency Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series. The argument usually follows this pattern:

  1. Research shows that violent video games don’t increase aggression among players (which some research does support; but then, some research says no, it can make people more aggressive and hostile).
  2. Ergo, video games can’t make people be sexist, either.

I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, but in a way that argument makes a certain sort of sense to me. I don’t think that video games can make a non-violent person go on a shooting spree at their high school. I’ve grown up around incredibly violent and graphic games, and I’ve enjoyed camping with a sniper rifle while picking other players off, delighting in “FIRST BLOOD” and “HEADSHOT” being shouted out of my speakers during an Unreal: Tournament deathmatch– but I have never once wanted to pick up a gun and shoot anyone, or even become a sniper. I’m not a violent person, and playing violent video games didn’t change that. That is also true for most of the people I know.

However, saying that video games can’t make people violent so they can’t make people sexist, either is a false equivalency for the simple reason that everyone is already sexist.

Video games that uncritically (key term) show sexism, misogyny, violence against women, rape, sexual assault, sexist slurs, domestic violence, casual sexism, sexist tropes/costumes all contribute to our cultural assumptions about gender and women. There isn’t a culture of “regular” people walking around cities robbing, looting, defacing, and killing indiscriminately like what the player does in the Grand Theft Auto series– however, there is a consistent problem of violence against sex workers, a problem that GTA engages in by allowing players to murder sex workers in order to retrieve their money.

Sexist video games capitalize on the already existing oppressions in society. The sexist tropes that appear in video games don’t show up in these narratives completely out of thin air– they are present in games because they are present in our culture, and every single time we encounter one of these tropes or patterns it can reinforce the patriarchal narratives our minds have been steeping in since birth.

Gamers aren’t being forced to become misogynists against their will by playing these games– these games are simply relying on shallow depictions of women, on clichéd storylines and tired plots, and a player who absorbs the gendered messages of these games without analyzing them is having his or her beliefs confirmed, not invented.

#GamerGate is such a perfect illustration of this, too. Without even realizing it, these gamers who are so worried about “journalistic integrity” have only even gone after women, none of whom were journalists. You’d think that if they cared about journalistic integrity they would have en masse attacked the journalist that Zoe Quinn supposedly dated in order to get positive reviews (which don’t exist, by the way), but they didn’t. This “movement” hasn’t turned any Gater into a misogynist– they all just already were.

ordinary monsters

gremlin
[content note for child sexual abuse and rape]

If you are anything like me, you were probably sick of hearing about John Grisham’s comments the first second you heard about them. Another celebrity said something beyond uninformed and ridiculous about abuse and rape? I’m shocked.

If you haven’t heard what he said about child pornography (a crime that I believe should be referred to as “paying to watch other people sexually abuse and rape children”), here’s the salient bit:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child, but they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn …

I have no sympathy for real paedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

Turns out he was talking about a friend, Michael Holleman, who served 18 months in prison, and who also disagrees with John and says that “‘I did something wrong and I don’t have a bit of resentment about the way I was treated.” John has since apologized for his comments:

Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.

I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.

Ok, now that we’ve gotten all the background stuff out of the way, I want to talk about this. When I saw this start popping up in my news feeds, some of the comments accompanying these articles were things like “someone should get a warrant and search his computer,” implying that John must have also watched recorded-for-profit child rape– but I disagree with that, and to a certain extent I get this.

What he said was inexcusable and completely unjustifiable, but he said nothing more than what a huge section of our culture actually thinks about abusers and rapists, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

John Grisham had a friend who– drunk or not, accidentally or not– spent at the very least five minutes (according to Michael’s own words) watching someone else sexually abuse and rape a child. I don’t think John really wants to admit that his friend was capable of doing something truly heinous and something worthy of going to prison for, so, like many of us, he took advantage of the lie we all tend to believe: his friend is not a real pedophile. He’d never really hurt someone. Therefore, the fact that his friend started watching the rape of a child and didn’t immediately click away in horror isn’t a real problem. Plus, he was watching someone rape 16-year-old girls who “appeared older than their chronological age,” so it’s not really a terrible thing.

That falls right into place with the common understanding of rape. My friend isn’t a horrible, terrible, gross, disgusting monster.  My friend is a decent fellow. I like him. He couldn’t possibly rape someone, so if someone says he did, she must be a lying bitch. Because, after all, rape is horrible, so only truly repulsive people are capable of doing it, and I would never be friends with them because I’m a good person.

And, to a certain extent, they’re not totally wrong. The vast majority of the population– male, female, and otherwise– are not rapists and will never rape someone. Most of us recoil in horror at the very thought. But that doesn’t mean that the people who are capable of sexual assault and rape aren’t our friends, the people around us that we like. These people seem normal, ordinary, likable. In fact, for most of their lives, they could be fairly decent people who seem to have a pretty reliable moral compass. These people do not spend all of their time hiding in alleys. In fact, 70% of the time, women are raped by people they know, not strangers. The person that they trust to walk them home from the bar when they know they’ve had too much to drink. Their boyfriend. Their husband.

Ordinary monsters.

In fact, this came up in a recent episode of The Mindy Project. I only have a passing familiarity with the show, but they recently tried to cover “consent” as an episode topic … except it went off the rails and featured Mindy’s boyfriend anally raping her. And Mindy spent the rest of the episode wondering if she was good enough for her boyfriend, instead of calling him out on the fact that he’d put his penis inside of her anus without her consent.

As the viewer, we’re supposed to like Danny. In fact, the few times I’ve caught the show, it seems like Danny is supposed to be a sort of grounding character for Mindy, and also perhaps more moral? That’s speculation, I’m not familiar enough with the show to say, but that was the impression I got.

Except Danny raped his girlfriend.

My own rapist? For the longest time one of the things that held me back from understanding that he’d raped me was the same lie that John Grisham believe(s/d). My rapist wasn’t a monster. I was in love with him. He did all of these wonderfully sweet, romantic things. He surprised me. He loved his parents. He wanted to serve God as a missionary. Everyone on campus adored him. He couldn’t possibly have done that. Except he did. I told him no, and he did it anyway.

This is one of the biggest lies our culture needs to stop believing, because as long as we believe that only hideous monsters who are clearly visible to everyone can do these horrible things, rapists and abusers will continue getting away with it.

Mark Driscoll’s resignation letter

letters

You might have heard the news that broke just a little while ago– Mark Driscoll has officially resigned from being a pastor and elder of Mars Hill. This is exceedingly good news, and while I was not exactly joyful to hear it, I am hopeful that those who have been abused by Mark and the Mars Hill leadership can gain some hope and comfort from this. Mark Driscoll wasn’t the only problem at Mars Hill– no one becomes a spiritual abuser of thousands all by themselves– but he was the most visible example of misogynistic, abusive Christianity and I’m glad he’s gone.

For the moment.

Because he’ll be back.

However, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about a few things happening in Mark’s resignation letter that hopefully won’t be ignored in the flood of “see, everyone, now we need to forgive him and NEVER SPEAK OF THIS EVER AGAIN” posts that are probably coming. You can read the entire letter here, if you’d like, but there’s a few things about this letter that I think it’s important to highlight.

This appears in the third paragraph:

You have also shared with me that many of those making charges against me declined to meet with you or participate in the review process at all. Consequently, those conducting the review of charges against me began to interview people who had not even been a party to the charges.

The “You” there is “Board of Advisers and Accountability.” When I got to this section, at first I was a little puzzled why this was coming up in the middle of what was supposed to be a resignation letter, and then I remembered that this is not so much a resignation letter as much as it is a PR move on Mark’s part. It’s his attempt to continue controlling the narrative and what gets talked about as he leaves, and “these people who have forced me into this are cowards whose stories aren’t credible” is supposed to be one of the things he wants us all to bicker about.

Except most of the people who have “made charges against him” have done so publicly, with their names attached, and they have put an overwhelming amount of proof out there for anyone to review, including memos and e-mails. That whoever Mark is talking about didn’t feel particularly inclined to talk to a “Board of Advisers” isn’t at all surprising, especially when people like Paul Tripp resigned from it because it was incapable of actually addressing the issues at hand. Why would anyone abused by not just Mark Driscoll but an entire system set up to keep him in power ever want to talk to these people?

This is not a failure on the part of those who “declined to meet.” They’ve done more than their fair share of suffering in order to expose Driscoll and Mars Hill leadership, and “declining to meet” was probably the only option they had to protect their mental and spiritual well-being.

Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry.

This line made me laugh– a bitter and cynical and rueful laugh, because oh it’s just so … sad. What this line actually means is: well, nothing I did was actually ILLEGAL. If the best thing you have to say about your behavior is “well, I wouldn’t go to prison for it,” you have a problem.

But let’s talk about how he says he didn’t commit “heresy.” The fact that he doesn’t think his abusive behavior– and his plagiarism– is immoral is a problem all on its own, but that the Board decided he’d never taught anything heretical is revealing. Granted, I’m not one to bandy around the word “heresy”– but Mark’s tribe is. I mean, they pull out the “heretic!” when someone uses a feminine pronoun to describe God in a poem.

But Mark gets to call women “penis homes” and preach entire sermon series on how women should basically be nothing more than sex slaves to their husbands and … crickets.

And, to be blunt, that Mark’s and the Board’s standard is “don’t be convicted of anything illegal and don’t do anything heretical or immoral” is more than just a touch horrifying. It’s also troubling, because the “standard” that these people claim to adhere to doesn’t have “don’t do something illegal” as its baseline. The Acts 29 Network even has a whole article dedicated to the “Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor” (posted March 2010, when Mark was still in charge) and these items jumped out at me:

4. A Pastor must be humble – not arrogant (Titus 1:7)
5. A Pastor must be gentle – not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3)
7. A Pastor must be peaceful – not violent (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3)
16. A Pastor must be respectable (1 Tim 3:7)
17. A Pastor must be an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3)

The Board of Advisers and Mark himself admitted to all the different ways Mark has not been any of these things– and some of these he even admitted to in the letter. He says that ” I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.” The Board of Advisers said this:

We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.

Mark is quite clearly saying my own articulation of the rules do not apply to me.

One of the last things he says in this letter, though, made me angry:

Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill.

I am not in Seattle, and I do not personally know the Driscolls. It is entirely possible that his family has received threats, even threats of physical violence. That would not surprise me at all, considering the things that Mark has done in an incredibly public way. Threats against his family are completely inexcusable and I will not justify them if they happened.

However, there is absolutely nothing in this letter that says “I am resigning as pastor because I have sinned against the people I was supposed to shepherd.” He never says that. He says a bunch of stuff about how the Board didn’t say he was disqualified to lead, and how the people accusing him are a bunch of untrusthworthy cowards, and how he’s leaving because it’s just not the best thing for him. This letter is dedicated to creating this image of a man who was persecuted out of being a pastor, and it makes me sick because that’s not what happened.

Mark is a misogynistic abuser who has spent well over a decade creating a church and staff that would enable his behavior, and this letter is nothing more than a continuation of that. It is insurance so that one day he can start another ministry and do it all over again.