Sticks and Stones and the Internet

A couple weeks ago Chris and I went on a drive in our new car. The kids were with Grandma and we just enjoyed the journey. During our drive we discussed many things, including an upcoming project of mine that will make me more visible online.

Chris argued that by putting myself out there in any way and by simply being a woman, I am opening myself up to the unfortunate side of the Internet. He hates this side of the Internet, totally thinks I shouldn’t let this stop me, but just wanted to warn me. I told him I wasn’t worried because my focus isn’t anything, even seemingly, controversial. He replied, “It doesn’t matter. They don’t care. It’s just because you’re a woman. And smart. They hate that.”

I don’t get why people feel justified in harassing other people, on or off the Internet. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, he’s right.


By just having thoughts in my head, I’m controversial.

This underlying and sometimes blatant hatred of women just because they’re women and smart is…well, I just cannot put it into words. I honestly cannot comprehend any possible reason for such a stupid perspective. Why would someone hate anyone for being smart? Having opinions? Or even just existing?

You want to know what else bothers me? This thought that what happens online isn’t real. Last week I read an amazing article that expresses what is real and constant for many women in our society.

John Oliver breaks down the reality for women on the Internet with a little bit of humor.

For god’s sake, you’d think the way the people are lashing out at these women, they were axe murderers or even Hitler himself.

What happens online doesn’t stay online. This harassment affects our every day lives. By continuing to dismiss and accept these crimes against women, the oppressive power will persist on the Internet just as it has in society for thousands of years.

The Cloak of Invisibility Allows Gender-Based Violence

You can be an asshole on the Internet, but why?

On Monday I began listening to Invisibilia’s most recent episode, Our Computers, Ourselves and finished it yesterday afternoon.

The second half of the show strongly resonated in my mind. As the story goes, this commuter train rider was tired of rude commuters so he started a Twitter account where he’d post pictures of the infractions in attempt to shame rude people on the train. His crowd shaming efforts soon turned shameful. Not only did he post pictures of rude behavior, but he began being rude himself – the worst was posting a picture of a woman with terrible acne scarring and making a snide remark. When word about this Twitter account got out, his followers skyrocketed.

I’m sure there are other situations like this. Person is a jerk. People are fascinated by the tragedy. Jerk gets an audience.

Why are we as society so fascinated with the negative?

Why is it ok to say these things on the Internet?

The Internet is full of trolls. (See: This American Life “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS”) I theorize the troll to person ratio is 4:1. They will troll on anyone for any unconceivable reason. Even worse than the trolls are completely heinous dungeon dwellers. These individuals find it completely acceptable to threaten women, often with vicious, violent acts.

Gender-based violence is nothing new. There are still people in society who will say such comments or threats to a woman’s face, but the cloak of invisibility people feel the Internet provides seems to turn down the volume on the super-ego and unleash the unbridled id.

Unfortunately it seems to take a rally cry, hash tagging and a bunch of blogging to hold social media venues accountable for reacting to gender-based violence. For now, most offenses still receive boiler plate responses that include phrases like:

Just like when we are interacting in a public space we may overhear conversations that are offensive…

This same platform chirped further about how users can find such content “frustrating”. Yes, being told to “go get raped” or “get raped with a broken bottle” is totally frustrating, just like this rush hour traffic.

It is never ok to suggest or threaten violence against anyone. This plague of gender-based violence is open for everyone to see and affect. The best cure for a bully is an ally. Stand up and be an ally against gender-based violence. Don’t give the assholes an audience, report their heinous behavior, and their soapbox will cave in.

Expectations of Me

The topic of women has always been rather interesting to me and been at the front of my brain recently with topics such as sexual assault on college campuses, Gamer Gate, and harassment of women in tech frequently flickering across the media.

There are certain issues women run into more than our male counterparts while being us. Women often juggle and are judged. Our male counterparts who juggle are commended. What a terrible disservice to both genders.

Women are often told to “lean in” – I implore you. Tell me to “lean in”.

Try it.

This disgusts me how frequently I hear women telling other women to “lean in” or saying that they “leaned in”.

Women are not children’s punching bags. We don’t lean one way and remove ourselves from another direction of our lives. We are also not gyroscopes tilting involuntarily with the birth of a child, pursuit of a new career, illness, going back to school, etc. We grow in knowledge, interests and depth.

I am frequently baffled by the interpretations of others (women, men, media) of what women should do, be, are doing, etc. I was listening to TLDR this morning, catching up on some of my podcasts, and listened to “Episode 45”. I then listened to “Episode 46”. Please listen to these. Also see Quiet, Ladies. @wadhwa is speaking now for more explanation.

Most fascinating is the hack that finds fame in riding on the coattails of women.

Challenging the -isms

The -isms are never easy to talk about. They can be hurtful and embody so much history. Recently with the Ferguson event exposing continued racism in the region, St. Louis County issuing marriage licenses to all individuals, and attacks on women and feminism in various forms, Chris and I wanted to be sure to provide Kari with as much information as possible – and on an 8 year-old appropriate scale regarding feminism, heterosexism, and racism.

Over the past few months, feminism has been firmly on my mind with Senator McCaskill’s investigation into campus sexual assault (and frankly, every one could guess campuses were not honestly reporting incidents) and Gamergate.

More applicable to Kari right now is the topic of Gamergate. She loves video games, and has since a young age. She is certainly not going to ever give up games. She also loved going to PAX in 2013.

Will this change to more inclusive gaming continue, or will there be a divide? Is there a place for women in tech that will not have to be hard fought and never truly won?

Let’s start with a quote from Anita Sarkeesian:

One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.

Why is it when women report assault or harassment the first thought is skepticism?

Threats to women in tech are not new. Take the 2007 discussion prompted by the threats to Kathy Sierra. She is not the first and will not be the last woman to take a hiatus from the Internet and popular culture due to harassment and death threats. Why is this behavior ok? It’s not, but it is accepted. Why?

Going back to Gamergate, this disagreement about what gamers should be erupted into a division between those for women’s rights and those against. After nearly a month of heated debate, right after Kori was born in September, Chris stopped talking to his good friend of 15 years.  This hurt him terribly. No, not because of the loss so much, but because something so integral to him was ignored. Feminism is such an important part of who my husband is to disavow that part of him is to overlook so much of what makes him amazing. It’s part of his identity. Being married to such a strong, smart woman (uh-hum) and raising 2 daughters, women’s rights are very important to him. However, women’s rights would be equally as important to him if he were raising 2 sons as he would want to make sure they were just in the world.

On a sidenote: I am so proud he was on the list of users Gamergaters Twitter blacklisted. He’s just too equality and social justice for them. I think he’s rather proud of that too.

So many people in the industry are just like Chris. They are standing up for equal rights and uniting against the harassment of women. But there are the others too. There is no reason why anyone should be permitted to threaten another person or diminish their person.

This morning I made the comment that I am glad we are not going to PAX in the next couple years. Chris said he would love to go and challenge the issues. I guess I just think that part of my world is sacred. Video games are my immersive experience and I don’t want the neckbeards to pervade that too.

Interestingly enough, still many people do not think the issues of feminism are valid. Some comment that feminism was created by ugly, angry women and that women should enjoy sexually-charged attention. That particular individual was commenting on the video below.

Unfortunately, the “hello” in this video was not simply a chipper greeting. This is a challenge many women face on the daily: unsolicited sexual advances. Respond, you’re into them. Don’t respond, and you’re a bitch.

My favorite encounter to date (2003):
Guy: Girl, you got kids?
J: No.
Guy: You want some?
J: Not with you.
Guy: Damn, girl. Ain’t nobody gonna marry your bitch ass.

Where was this conversation? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Another argument many have tried is that women are inviting these advances because of where they go, what they wear, or by not doing more to stop the advances – see comments here (I know, don’t ever read the comments, but what do I do? I read the comments.)

Women should not have to be mindful of their attire, career choice, opinions, etc. to avoid sexual harassment, death threats or other exploitation. Women should receive support and action when situations like these are reported.

I want my girls to feel more like a Samus than a Peach and be embraced by the world for being so.

I’ll leave you with Computer Engineer Barbie, which still has Kari laughing.

K: Hey mom, I still remember that story about that Barbie who needed help doing tech things.
J: Yeah?
K: It was pretty dumb. The guys needing to help her. (she laughs)
J: Yeah, you don’t need anyone to write your code for you, do you?
K: Nope.


Gaming Girls for God’s Sake

I fell in love with games when I was little playing on my parents’ Apple II and the coveted computer time at school.  I was not allowed to have any game systems when I was little because they were expensive and my parents would rather I spent my time with my imagination and studying.  When visiting my cousins, I would just want to play Duck Hunt and games from the Mario franchise nonstop.  Then when I had my first boyfriend when I was 15, I discovered PlayStation.  Now I kind of wonder if I didn’t just continue to go out with him even after our relationship lapsed to continue my affair with Bushido Blade, Gran Turismo and Grand Theft Auto.

Enter the college years:  Chris and I moved in together after I graduated high school.  He had a PlayStation 2.  Growing up without games, my learning curve was high, and I felt embarrassed to play in front of Chris, who could get me through crazy jumps in Ico on the first try.  I binged if you will on games.  While at the time, I would not admit to skipping my feminist theory class a few times to stay home playing Jak and Daxer, I will now.  You will find the irony in this later.

Chris bought me my first Gameboy (Gameboy Color in Teal) when they came out.  Then I became a Pokemon nut and dappled in Animal Crossing, Kirby, Wario, and Mario Kart.  Then he got me an SP, then a Pink DS in 2007, and last year he bought me a 3DS after finding an admittedly amazing deal on Craigslist (and, no, it was not a stolen one sold on Craigslist – I wondered that myself).

Enter Kari:  Chris and I were very cautious about introducing television and video games with Kari. We were the parents who followed the rule book.  Then, we thought maybe at 3 or 4 she could start playing games with us.  As expected, she loved games just like us.

Now that she is getting older, the games she sees are appealing to her; however, being her parents, Chris and I have to look at how balanced that game is. We continue to be very choosy about what she sees us play and what she is able to play based upon themes and handling of gender roles.  Earlier this year we went to PAX East and Kari was totally into it.  She loved playing new games and giving suggestions to the developers.  Kari is currently big into Animal Crossing, Pokemon and Style Savvy.

Going back for a minute to when Kari was 3 or 4 playing on the Wii.  She used to love to look at the Mii Plaza then graduated into playing games herself.  I remember one time when she kept scrolling back and forth through the available characters.  She was frustrated and said she wanted to play the girl one.  Well, in video games there are not many girl heroes or protagonists.  Just like preschoolers said, “Where’s the camera?!” about the iPad, they nail it with video games too.

While I know Anita Sarkeesian received a lot of flack for her role in exposing gaming for what it has been and still kind of is, I connect a lot with her videos.  Why do we have to sit back and have the female stereotypes perpetuated in front of us, others and our children over and over and over again? Simple. We shouldn’t.

Recent examples of female stereotypes being perpetuated in video games include Chase’s character in Uncharted: Golden Abyss (released in 2012) and how the script was written.  Many of the focus group found her character to be annoying.  Maybe a more active Chase would have rendered her less annoying.  Then the design for the Comic ConQuest featuring Cosplayers.  I hope the traditional exaggeration of the feminine form is not an indication of the game play traditional to female characters in video games we might witness.

I truly hope once Kari is old enough to play more mature RPGs, there is more opportunity for female characters than to be Peached.