>> Friday, November 30, 2012
I'm trying to process this, figure out if I have anything clever to say about it or whether it's just one of those things you just kind of observe and move on. On the one hand, it was sort of educational; on the other hand, it isn't like it's the kind of thing I have to go through daily or against my will.
I'm one of those guys who usually ends up playing a female character in a videogame. Not always, but often. I'd love to tell you it's wholly noble and wonderful and open-minded of me, but I'll go ahead and confess that one reason I do it is entirely objectifying and therefore, some would say, sexist: if I'm going to be looking over the shoulder of an avatar for hours on end, I kind of prefer looking at something I like looking at. But that's not really important, it's just sort of a preface.
So, I'm playing Star Trek Online when I arguably should be writing. "Arguably" because of the issues with my writing I wrote about a couple of weeks ago; I've been trying not writing when I don't really have the words in me, so I logged on to this MMORPG I'm lately obsessed with and played a bit. And in this game I have a female toon, Stephanie Maturin, named after the sidekick in the Patrick O'Brian books.
And I have Stephanie out there on a fleet mission, blowing up some Borg with some other players, and at some point this person using the handle "Aestu" (and also, perhaps oddly, playing a female toon) begins talking about what an angry feminist girl gamer I must be, because, apparently, I use capitalization and punctuation in the chat box when messaging other team members.
I know, weird, right?
But the really weird part is he--if it's a he, gods know, "Aestu" might have been an actual girl gamer who was trolling ((s)he seemed at least vaguely familiar with Hanna Rosin; then again, I'm a guy and I'm vaguely familiar with Hanna Rosin)--the weird part, as I was saying, was that (s)he/it kept on rolling with it. I tried to deflect it with a comment about working through his neuroses after the battle was over, but he kept on going, going, going. Obsessively, compulsively. Maybe I should feel bad about joking about the guy being a neurotic.
Then the mission was over, we all returned to wherever we'd been in the Trek universe before we'd been called together to shoot at things--and the guy keeps going. I kind of experimentally wanted to see how long he'd go on, but eventually confessed I have balls--and he didn't believe me. And kept lecturing me about feminism being a dying movement and he has some kind of duty to belittle it and feminists in order to drive it underground, and he had some kind of weird metaphor involving the final scene from X2 (which I admit I'd completely forgotten about--a tiny blow to my geek cred, I'm afraid), and so on and so forth. It was just weird.
I don't know if he'll show up around here or not. I asked him to visit the blog and look at the author photo. Don't know if he'll comment or not if he straggles round.
If he does, he's expecting a "vitriolic blurb". (I told him I might just write about the whole thing.) I enjoy vitriol, as regulars know, but I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint: I found the whole experience a little surreal and pathetic.
But I was also painfully aware that I have a luxury in feeling that way: after all, this guy's bullying another man, which makes the whole thing sad and funny. And I turn off the computer and I'm not going to go into work in the morning and have someone make a comment about my tits or ass or how I'm dressed; I'm never going to get wolf-whistled, ironically or otherwise; I'm never going to have to wonder if I was passed up for a raise or promotion is because of my gender. I get to laugh the whole thing off, shake my head at the wonderment that this guy seems to be dead certain I'm a woman because of the way I type.
I have to wonder how I'd feel if I were my little sister, reading this text scrolling by in the little box on the edge of the screen, or how the ScatterKat would have viewed the whole affair if she'd been down here instead of having retired early to bed. I have to think I'd probably be really angry and upset if I had a lousy day at work, came home to retreat into a fun little fantasy, and then had some wiseacre calling me, "just a feminist loser" in a direct message, or announcing to a team I was a part of, "the reason stupid girl gamer trash like Maturin worship feminist idols who are so idealized they are essentially fiction is because they fail at competing in life". (I'm not inventing these lines: I CTRL-A'd and C'd the chatbox and copied it into a Notepad file before I logged off for the night.)
Yeah, I think I'd be pretty pissed.
And there are two things about this, one of which is that there are people who wonder why there aren't more females playing games, and of course this is one of the biggest reasons: that there are people who will attempt to drive them away merely because it amuses them in some obscure way. You have to wonder what's wrong with these people, what's wrong with them that that's how they get satisfaction.
And the other is that it's somehow even sadder when this kind of thing is happening in Mr. Roddenberry's neighborhood. I don't want to oversell the man or blindly extol the guy, who absolutely had his shortcomings on the gender issue. He had a kind of lecherous reputation and there were the infamous astronauts-in-miniskirts-and-go-go-boots running errands on the good ship Enterprise. He once described a character thus: "a strip-queen figure even a uniform cannot hide.... She undoubtedly dreams of serving Robert April with equal efficiency in personal departments." And yet I don't think it's at all unfair to point out that said infamous miniskirts were part of a second-pilot effort to make the show sexier and cooler, and that Star Trek's original pilot,"The Cage", featured a female first officer who was clearly intended to fill the role Leonard Nimoy's Spock ended up playing when they revamped and mostly recast the show (Nimoy appeared in both pilots, but the original star of Trek, Jeffrey Hunter, was replaced by William Shatner; John Hoyt by DeForest Kelley, etc.). In spite of sharing a lot of his generation's attitudes about gender and race, Roddenberry was, I think, always straining at the bounds, always trying to imagine a more-inclusive universe, always coming back to the idea that people were people (whether or not he always managed to see the individuals he worked with or wrote about quite so free and clear of whatever soft bigotries he sometimes couldn't wholly get past).
You might think everybody playing a Star Trek game would be a feminist, or feminist-ish. Or something. You certainly would think that anyone attracted to the optimism and ideologies that Roddenberry put front-and-center in Trek (even when they got in the way of storytelling, which was especially a problem in early seasons of The Next Generation) would be anti-bullying, would be kind and more forgiving. The chat channel, of late, has actually been depressingly filled with a fair amount of bigoted chatter, much of which I expect will fade away as we get farther from the political season here in the States. And then there's somebody like this "Aestu" character, who gets his kicks relentlessly disparaging someone--in a game set in a 'verse where that kind of behavior is explicitly derided as archaic and uncivilized.
It's kinda a bummer.
Coincidentally, this came up randomly on the playlist when I was tweeting that someone had tried to amuse himself abusing me. Seemed a little apt and I might as well toss it up as an epilogue.