Why we need to talk and keep talking about #GamerGate

I figured if I was going to post a picture of video games, I’d kick it old school. Photo by Kari Sullivan. Used under cc license.

I originally thought about starting this post off with an apology. The #GamerGate controversy has been going on for a while at this point and I had yet to post about it. Furthermore, when I saw a few other bloggers writing posts about it, I had a passing thought of, “Well, then it’s covered” and went back to grading papers, planning lessons, or whatever it is that I was doing. Then I read John Spencer’s recent post as well as the comments on the post and realized that was the wrong approach, too.

Both John and Audrey Watters approached the issue succinctly and eloquently and I encourage anyone reading this post to read those two posts first. But put simply, the issues at hand are those of the threats made against Anita Sarkeesian, who has been not just criticized for her series of videos, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” but received rape and death threats as well as cancelled a speaking engagement at a university because extra security couldn’t be provided when someone threatened a mass shooting due to Utah’s concealed-carry laws.

Audrey and John both call out the educational technology community for their silence and rightfully so, pointing out how it’s an issue that goes beyond the niche of gamers, especially at a time when “Gamification” is still an edu-buzzword and online learning platforms are being marketed to children as young as preschool.

Audrey’s post does not have comments (at least not ones I could find), but John’s does and they are typical of the type of anonymous trolling this issue has been receiving. A quick sample (Note: they’re all anonymous, so I’m not sure if they are one person or many people):

Maybe the edutech circles aren’t talking about it because they know its not a big deal outside of the militant feminist circles.

The writer wants to take away “neutral spaces” on the internet so they can be policed by an authority. fascism? I’d love to see the objective research done on that. Basically you want to push an agenda without recourse.

Advocating censorship in the guise of concern, the girls I knew never needed to be babied.

You admit that you’re not a gamer so why are you writing about something you don’t even understand?

Some of these completely miss the point of John’s post and others are trying to deflect from the issue. He was questioning why Important Connected Educators and Education Social Media Icons were not addressing this when it clearly is an issue that hits home with a number of students; furthermore, not saying anything about it shows that they are living in an #edtech bubble wherein being online is a happy place where ideas are free to flow without consequence or repercussion.

All is well. Move along. Nothing to see here.

And like I said at the top of this post, I was silent on this until I read John’s post and thought about a few things:

1. Anita Sarkeesian has been dealing with this for two years and has not backed down. When she was seeking funding for her series of videos via Kickstarter, the Kickstarter campaign was similarly trolled and similar threats were made. I actually wrote about it back then in a post called “When the Authentic Audience is a Hostile Audience.” And I’m not saying that to promote my own stuff, but to point out that the whole controversy surrounding Sarkeesian and #GamerGate is not brand new, nor was it ever brand new.

2. While I’m not a gamer myself, I’m a geek. A comic and pop culture geek, to be exact. A month and a half ago, I attended the Baltimore Comic-Con and while the convention was awesome and a great atmosphere, the organizers of the con felt the need to clearly post a policy that read “Cosplay Is Not Consent.” This is in response to stories out of quite a number of comic conventions where women who have dressed up in superhero costumes have found themselves sexually harassed (or worse).

3. On Saturday, while I was getting ready for dinner, the local news here in Charlottesville tweeted that a press conference would be held at 5:30 to discuss a body found on a farm south of town and how that related to missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. While an announcement has been made that the Graham investigation is now a death investigation, a suspect is in custody (and has been indicted on a separate sexual assault and attempted murder in Fairfax County), as of this writing the police have not announced the results of lab tests that are currently being run on the body.

So wait, if #GamerGate has to do with video games, why am I bringing up cosplay and Hannah Graham? They’re not connected, are they?

Or are they?

Table any discussion you’d like to have about ethics in video game journalism or the specific video games and tropes that Sarkeesian is talking about in her video series. Both are topics that are worth the discussion and whether or not Sarkeesian is right about what she’s saying in terms of women and entertainment can be debated; in fact, I’m sure she’d welcome a civil debate.

But let’s make one thing clear: rape threats are not civil debate. Threats of violence are not civil debate. Death threats are not civil debate. Sarkeesian is not being “too sensitive” and neither are any of the other bloggers or tweeters who have shared their disgust with the way she’s been treated and threatened.

Of course, I’m not the first person to say this, so why did I finally write this post? Because when I watched John’s post go down in the flames of trolls, I realized that it doesn’t matter if I’m being timely or relevant here; it matters that I’m opening my mouth.

I am a man who is currently raising a boy. I want that boy to grow up to be a strong man who treats his fellow human beings with respect. I do not want him to see an inequality between men and women because I do not believe in inequality between men and women–don’t get me wrong, it certainly exists in our society, but I refuse to contribute to or perpetuate it. I want him to know that violence against anyone is wrong and that rape is a horrible, disgusting, vile act and that to be the better man means not to be the louder man but to be the smarter man, to speak with intelligence and understanding, act with respect and empathy, and give help to those who need it.

And that is the conversation we need to be having in the Connected Educator circles. How do you teach young boys and men not to grow up to make rape threats against a woman because she has said something they don’t like? How do you teach them that just because she has a different anatomical makeup it doesn’t mean she is weaker or somehow lesser? How do you teach them that because she’s wearing a certain outfit, it doesn’t mean that she “wants it?”

When are we going to have that #edchat? When are Innovative Educators everywhere going to talk about that? When are the Education Social Media Icons going to stand up, look around and say, “This is wrong and we need to talk about it?”

I am writing this to add my voice to the myriad others who have said the same thing. And when this post goes down in flames, I will continue to say what I’m saying and I will try and pass the baton to someone else who will write the same thing.

And I want them to do the same.

And I want the next person to do the same.

And the next.

And the next.

This is not a news cycle. This will not end. If it’s not #GamerGate, it’s a football team in Ohio. If it’s not cosplay, it’s a coed in Charlottesville. And it’s bullshit.

This is supposed to be a community and clearly there is a segment of the community that feels that it is not being heard, that it is being ignored, or maybe even worse. Be a true community. Make the next #edchat about this topic and this topic alone. No putting it up for a vote against the usual topics of professional development or formative assessment or teacher dress code (and no, I don’t want to suggest a topic or moderate myself–you should be doing it without me writing about it, that’s my point). You want to truly be an Innovative Educator? Go online and interrupt the bumper sticker sayings that people retweet at an expotential rate with a serious discussion of how to talk to our fellow teachers and our students about what goes on. You want to be an Educational Social Media Icon? Make that the topic of your next widely read, Bammy-nominated blog post. You want to stand for Student Voice? Spend an hour chatting about how you are helping your fellow students overcome bigotry, misogyny, harrassment, threats, and violence.

Take this issue head on. Take it and don’t stop. Shout down the trolls. Encourage, help, and support those who feel victimized, whether it be online or in the hallways at school to stand up for themselves. If you don’t, you’re as out of touch with students as you claim teachers are.


On Wearing Purple

[A quick note: I originally posted this entry on October 20, 2010, on my old blog. Since the blog has been taken down, I wanted to repost it (with some minor edits) today.]

I was bullied in school.

The most overt bullying I dealt with was from the fifth grade until right about the middle of the 10th grade and it was mainly because I was your typical nerdy kid who didn’t wear the right clothes and liked to spend his Friday nights watching movies and Star Trek reruns and poring over a stack of comic books instead of heading to the nearest keg party or wooded lake area to get completely obliterated and have sex. Not that I didn’t want to have sex, but my romantic ineptitude during my teenage years isn’t that relevant to this.

The bullying tapered off as I went through my junior and senior years, or at least it was more subtle than having a “kick me” sign taped to my back at the end of science class, or the kid sitting next to me on the bus threatening to beat the shit out of me if I said to anyone that he was threatening to beat the shit out of me. Some days, I’d go from first to eighth period and not deal with anything. Other days, my “friends” would cut me down because they came up with a creative and offensive nickname for me, or thought that my using a certain bathroom in the school because it had doors on the stalls and didn’t smell like smoke was hilarious. There were other things, too; right up through the time I graduated college I think I heard the phrase “Can’t you take a joke?” more than I ever thought I would.

Not that I was ever completely innocent, mind you. For every person who was a victim of being picked on and pushed around in my school, there was someone that victim found to pick on and push around, even if it was someone who was a friend, and even if he didn’t realize he was doing it. I think we called it “ribbing” or “busting balls,” and I don’t know how much we thought about what we were doing. Of course, does anyone?

Aside from being immature at that age I was also, for being a student who was very smart, extremely ignorant. My friends and I used to make fun of gay people–not anyone specifically, as I recall, just gay people in general. The town I grew up in is the gateway to Fire Island, so there were a lot of times where we cracked ourselves up by taking on a lisp and talking about going to “The Pines” and what have you. I think about that now and feel sick at my own behavior as well as the fact that I was extremely homophobic through high school and quite a bit of college, mainly because of the bubble I was living in: a mostly white, middle/upper-middle class community into which you could disappear or in which you could feel safe while making uninformed judgments about the world (and let’s not get started about the lessons against homosexuality I received at the hands of my local church).

I don’t recall that I had some dramatic “movie moment” wherein I realized how much of an idiot I was. To be honest, somewhere along the line I grew up and actually put my money where my mouth was when it came to being “open-minded.” I do, however, remember, seeing an article in Newsday once during those years about how tough it was for gay teens to come out and be out when they were still in high school. My ignorant thought at the time was something along the lines of, “Oh, how could you know?” or “Why would you want to do that?”

The latter, of course, being the typical “blame the victim” mentality of “They know how tough it is and how much they could get beaten up, I don’t know why they would invite it.” Nowadays, I still can’t totally wrap my head around it but in a different way, because I can’t feel empathy. Although I can feel admiration. I shouldn’t, in 2012, have to say “it’s brave” to come out in middle school or high school, but it is and as a teacher I can offer my support. Not in a way to atone for past mistakes, by the way, but because reprimanding someone who says something is “gay” or calls someone else a “faggot” is the right thing to do.

A couple of years ago, when the story of Tyler Clementi’s suicide as well as some others that made national headlines broke, I found it very hard to speak about it with colleagues in a professional manner because it disgusts me what people are capable of doing to one another, and how people can possibly defend that (especially when they decide to use the word “faith” when they are defending the actions of bigots). I mean, what are we teaching our students if we allow that type of crap to happen? I will tell you that there are days where I feel bullied by the students that I teach but in terms of the big picture I’d rather have them harass me, who has a direct line to principals and their parents and isn’t afraid to use it, than have them bully some kid by calling him/her “queer” or “fag” or make whatever joke/hurl whatever insult at them.

Because what does that lead to? Facebook groups that have to post things like this:

It’s been decided. On October 20th, 2010, we will wear purple in honor of the 8 homosexual teenagers who committed suicide in recent weeks/months due to homophobic abuse in their homes at at their schools. Purple represents Spirit on the LGBTQ flag and that’s exactly what we’d like all of you to have with you: spirit. Please know that times will get better and that you will meet people who will love you and respect you for who you are, no matter your sexuality. Please wear purple on October 20th. Tell your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and schools. RIP Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg,Eric Mohat, Meredith Rezak, Raymond Chase and Billy Lucas. You are loved.

I shouldn’t have had to wear a purple shirt and tie that day or today for any other reason besides the fact that I think I looked good. I shouldn’t have to read or hear stories about kids killing themselves because someone else thought who they were was weak. I shouldn’t have to worry about a kid who is defending him or herself getting suspended because of some bullshit zero tolerance policy. I shouldn’t have to get more and more frustrated writing this entry because I know there are students out there who have spent the day afraid to walk down the hall because of sick, disgusting pigs; and that there are teachers who may be just as afraid to be open about who they are because of fear of reprisal from the sick, disgusting parents of those sick, digusting pigs. Of course, today is over and Monday means … well, a blue shirt, maybe? But just because I won’t be wearing purple doesn’t mean that I’ll stop thinking about it and ignore it.