On Harassment, Abuse, Apologism
I've been publicly quiet on things for awhile, and for good reason: I'm a very small fish faced against an enormous community. I have very little clout within the Internet, let alone in my local activist community. But I'm starting to veer towards dangerous territory now, and I think it's time I speak out about something we're missing out on.
First off, you might recognize me if you've been following the "trigger warning" debate that cropped up earlier this year, in May and June. I'm the Rutgers University student who was sourced in the New York Times, who wanted to put TW's on the Great Gatsby and King Lear. Huff Post and BBC really loved my ideas, to the point where they interviewed me to talk about my work.
But that's not important right now. What's important is that I'm one of you: I'm one of those trans, non-binary, feminist activists who wants to make the world a better place. I'm a social justice activist, first and foremost.
But in these past two weeks alone, we have been royally fucking up. You see, we have a problem in social justice, and these problems have been simmering under the surface for awhile now. We have an enormous, ongoing problem with abuse and harassment directed at others: both outside of the community, and among our own.
Last week, Eron Gjoni posted a call out about his former girlfriend, Zoe Quinn, a video game developer and a former inspiration of mine. I read through his call out, and I've studied his receipts closely. I quickly found out that Zoe Quinn shows the classic signs of an emotional abuser: she constantly utilizes suicidal threats, gaslighting, lying, guilt tripping, isolation from others, redirecting her partner's concerns, and spiteful blame in order to control Eron. The list goes on and on, and the receipts are damning to any abuse survivor.
Previously, there were concerns about Eron's call out: he appeared to be the only one calling Zoe Quinn out, and, despite there being enormous receipts, many people were skeptical of his claims. In fact, this led to many individuals spreading misinformation about Eron. This was further compounded by Zoe Quinn's post on "terrorism," which sidesteps the abuse allegations completely. This led to many activists smearing Eron's name, calling him "spiteful," "jilted," and other various baseless insults towards Quinn's ex-.
However, Eron is no longer alone in his call out. Now, a total of five people and organizations have come out verifying pieces and angles of Eron's story. For their own privacy, I won't disclose their names; but if you've been following this story, their call out's on sexual harassment, lying, control, malicious intent, exploitation, and emotional manipulation only seem to further strengthen Eron's story.
Now, why is this relevant? We've talked about Zoe Quinn to death, right? Well, no.
Zoe Quinn framed her life and work around a dedication to social justice activism. At the very core of Quinn's career was a desire for inclusivity and visibility for marginalized identities. However, Quinn's personal life shatters her work completely. Her abusive behavior and malicious intent has hurt nearly half a dozen people, which makes her dangerous in the eyes of an abuse survivor.
In other words, those of us who are survivors must be aware of Zoe Quinn. We must know who Zoe is, and whether her actions are abusive. And if so, we must distance ourselves from Zoe, as survivors are the very same vulnerable people that an abuser preys on. We have an obligation to know if the people in an accessible industry, the indie gaming industry, are abusive towards others. Doubly so when abuse survivors are approaching Zoe Quinn for twitters, tumblrs, DM's, e-mails, interviews, recommendations, autographs, friendly discussions, and professional funding.
However, Zoe Quinn truly strikes a nerve, because she is not an outlier. Zoe Quinn represents a much larger issue currently going on in social justice. And that's what I want to strike at now, while the iron is hot and the fire is rising. Ultimately, we need to explore how social justice communities operate, and how we often let the wrong people into them.
In social justice, the entry barrier for joining a social justice community is very low. The requirements are minimal at best: you must be able to understand systems of oppression. You have to do your homework on identity and identity politics. You need to understand what the patriarchy is, and how it affects people on both an interpersonal scale, as well as a sociocultural scale. You have to understand the ways in which the LGBTQ+ letters are not created equally, and some letters are more likely to receive institutional support (for better or for worse) than others. You have to engage with intersectionality, and understand the ways in which privilege and oppression can exist on different spheres within the same individual. You have to know your 101, and you MUST be able to engage with current events that pertain to social justice.
Understanding oppression is key to becoming a social justice activist. And not just do we pride ourselves on understanding social justice, but the more of an ability to identify and engage with social justice, the more empathetic and compassionate we appear to our fellow activists. If I take my analysis on patriarchy, and I try to bring it into my literature publication, I appear to be a strong ally for equality. If I take my views on trigger warnings, and attempt to inject them into the video game industry, I appear to be someone who cares deeply about the direction that the industry is heading. If I base my entire career on inclusivity for marginalized identities, I appear to be an extraordinary activist. We connect behavior with motive, and we assume that anyone who acts against the reigning sociocultural hegemony must be a fine-hearted and decent person.
But here's the problem: anyone can understand social justice. The entry barrier is so, so low, to the point where understanding and acting on basic knowledge is seen as a sign of severe compassion. It's so easy. All you have to do is a little research, and sprinkle in some basic empathy and compassion. Ta-da, you're done; personal growth be damned, your (extremely minimal) hard work means you must be A Compassionate Ally of Progressive Folk(tm).
You see, because the entry barrier for acceptance is so low, both of these traits can be easily exploited by individuals who secretly have ulterior motives. You can be an abuser, manipulator, and exploiter behind closed doors: but if you appear to be a good person on twitter, people will think you're a good person. If you work Really Hard(tm) to bring activism into your life, social justice activists give you the benefit of the doubt. And we make the assumption that people who work towards progressive causes MUST be good people, and we accept this as unquestioning, uncritical fact. Because, after all, why would anyone who seems so compassionate want to hurt people??
The truth is, opportunists have a lot to gain right now. We are looking at the same system of corruption that has led to academic imperialism among radicals in the States. Allies and activists who are acting in good faith have just started to make baby steps in institutions that are classically engrained in Old Boy clubs, and the fruit is ripe for the picking for huge activist support, if you have the right connections and the motivation. And, what happens is, social justice activists bite into the fruit that they originally aimed to destroy. Instead of demolishing the institutions, why not just join them and try to benefit from them? Why not forward your own liberation, while remaining radio silent on the plight of others? We don't simply bite into that fruit: we devour it. And we grow fat on the gains. And so the abusive power dynamic of capitalistic nepotism continues, on and on...
So why do I bring this up? We have a problem with exploitation and manipulation in social justice. We have a problem with people who do good things, but don't really mean it. They act in bad faith, and put their desire for personal gain - whether professional or not - above others. In other words, we have a problem with abusers gaining the power to abuse.
And because so many people equate actions with personal compassion, we begin to hero worship. We throw out the phrase "your fave is problematic." Hell, we throw out the idea that EVERYONE is problematic. We assume that anyone fighting the good fight can be given a little leeway. Who cares if a white male equates gamers with "ISIS with Steam accounts?" Who cares if you call someone a "scummy neckbeard with Cheetos," because it's all in good faith, huh? Who cares if a critically acclaimed writer says "I hope you die," because, hey, they're fighting the good fight - right? It's our side, so those kind of comments are A-OKAY, right?
No. This is wrong. This is inherently wrong, because we end up minimizing the collateral damage that we ultimately do. And we ignore the intersectional ramifications of our actions. Death is an intersectional issue. ISIS is an intersectional issue. Many of these insults further oppressive structures by weaponizing certain forms of oppression against someone who has certain forms of privilege. Comparing gamers to ISIS trivializes ISIS and minimizes the violent abuse perpetuated at the hands of the organization. Calling for someone's death trivializes suicidal idealization, which is something many gamers - both allied or against you - deal with on a regular basis. Jokes about "neckbeards" and "fat gamers" promote body-negativity, and shame the individual for their physical appearance, instead of targeting their comments and critique. We end up encouraging the abuse and oppression around us by engaging in this sort of commentary.
This is not fighting the good fight. This is not positive. This is not liberation. This is harassment. It is not just interpersonal, one-to-one harassment. It is often oppressive, because it promotes oppressive hegemonies that exist regardless of your "intent." Hateful vitriol can come from anyone. You can defend Anita Sarkeesian, and still be a shitty person. You do not get a free pass just because Anita has valid points. Sending harassment is sending harassment; let's be honest with ourselves. And the way that many people have conducted themselves in the past two weeks have been shameful, with people comparing us to ISIS and claiming we have sent bomb threats to SONY.
Why has it come to this? Where is your desire for intersectionality and compassion? Why do you refuse to check yourself when you clearly cross over into areas of privilege? You are more than happy to talk the talk, but you refuse to walk it. What kind of activist does that make you?
This week has opened up a nightmare for anyone who is interested in video games. Doubly so for any of us who want our video games to be inclusive towards marginalized identities. But there are serious problems with the way social justice activists are conducting themselves on the Internet. There are massive, frightening issues with how industry workers are approaching Zoe Quinn's abusive behavior. There are enormous red flags for abuse survivors, in which an industry actively downplays abuse, and sees certain forms of abuse and harassment as justified when required. The ends justify the means for some. And we forget that the means must ALWAYS justify the ends in social justice.
We are reaching a critical breaking point for many social justice activists. We are constantly fracturing from one another, across various lines. These are discussions that we must have after August, because we are only hurting ourselves by acting so thoughtlessly when we interact with others.
And we must have these discussions in good faith. By ourselves.
And finally, to Zoe and any of her supporters that stumble upon this: I don't want you to leave gaming. I just want you to be honest with others. Get the help you need and treat people right. We need strong voices in gaming. But we don't need any more "twitter armies" and weaponization of marginalized identities. I'd rather have you on my side than not, but if I have to pick a side, I cannot stand with people who will enable and promote abusive behavior. This does nothing to help the gaming industry. It only makes things worse.