October 15, 2014

Movements all over the Richter Scale

There’s a broad change going on right now, and it’s manifesting in a variety of places.

For example, here’s this article in the Guardian by Roxane Gay, about the idea of “rebranding” feminism and trying to make it more palatable to everyone, but specifically men:

Recently, a young woman asked me how we can make feminism more accessible to men. I told her that I don’t care about making feminism more accessible to men. In truth, I don’t care about making feminism more accessible to anyone.

I care about making the liberties that men enjoy so freely fully accessible to women, and if men or celebrities claiming feminism for themselves has become the spoon full of sugar to make that medicine go down, so be it.

And this just made me laugh, because in essence the question is, “People benefiting from inequality are having some trouble with this ‘equality’ idea. Maybe there’s a way for us to not be so totally, 100%, absolutely in favor of equality, and try to support equality in some more measured, palatable ways, so they’ll like it more? Can we do that?” To which Gay, quite reasonably, responds, “No.”

The issue is fundamentally one of power. Some people derive power from an unequal status quo. If you want to make the status quo more equal, those people will be upset and do their best to prevent you from doing so.

And there’s really not much you can do about that. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing. What you want is something your opponents will never, never, ever tacitly accept, but that doesn’t mean you should change what you’re doing.

This is not about them, in other words.

And then here, on the other side of the internet, is the absolutely mind bogglingly insane phenomenon of Gamer Gate, which resulted in what might be the strangest headline I’ve seen in a while:


Gamergate has already produced a variety of thinkpieces – Is it a hate group, for example? – but a lot of it seems to be because some women, most prominently Anita Sarkeesian, made some valid points about how video games, both as an industry and a culture, have some pretty shitty opinions of women. This has led to some of these women having their personal home addresses and phone numbers released on the internet, and thus forced to flee their homes in the wake of countless death threats.

Most recently, Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech in Utah because someone threatened a mass shooting, Columbine-style. Sarkeesian requested security and gun-searches, but due to Utah’s open carry laws, police can’t prevent anyone from carrying lethal firearms, and I guess can only respond if someone starts using the lethal firearm in question to murder people by the truckload. Until that point, it is an innocent item. (This is another matter altogether, however. But it does suggest that open carry laws can encourage terrorism – which this is – rather than prevent it.)

Some Gamergaters will say that this is actually about ethical journalism. I believe that as much as I believe anyone who says a poll tax is actually about preventing voter fraud.

To bring this full circle:


This is all bullshit, through and through, but I think it’s expected bullshit. I think it’s inevitable bullshit. I think it’s people who are used to a comfortable and unspoken status quo suddenly realizing that that status quo is in peril, and acting out in bizarre, self-defeating manners.

Deadspin lays it out better than I ever could:

This is how a very few people can get their way, and the use of this technique is one of the many similarities between Gamergate and the ever-present aggrieved reactionaries whose most recent manifestation is the Tea Party.

This isn’t a complex jump. Like, say, the Christian right, which came together through the social media of its day—little-watched television broadcasts, church bulletins, newsletters—or the Tea Party, which found its way through self-selection on social media and through back channels, Gamergate, in the main, comprises an assortment of agitators who sense which way the winds are blowing and feel left out. It has found a mobilizing event, elicited response from the established press, and run a successful enough public relations campaign that it’s begun attracting visible advocates who agree with the broad talking points and respectful-enough coverage from the mainstream press. If there is a ground war being waged, as the movement’s increasingly militaristic rhetoric suggests, Gamergate is fighting largely unopposed.

A more important resemblance to the Tea Party, though, is in the way in which it’s focused the anger of people who realize the world is changing, and not necessarily to their benefit.

And I think we’re going to see this conflict emerge more and more on a whole host of new frontlines. And every day we’re going to have to step back and remember that, fundamentally, this is about equality, and no matter how much sugar you dump on it, those who fear it will never find it palatable.

The problem is not the message. As Frederick Douglass told his grandson when he asked what he should do to spread equality: “Agitate, agitate, agitate.”