I’ve recently been thinking a lot about feminism and equality.
While I’ve been (or at least have been attempting to be) a feminist* for a few years now, the discussion around inequality in regards to video games and game development has been increasing, and it is helping me slowly realise that while I believe in equality, I am still a ways off successfully viewing or approaching situations without the bias of privilege.
One thing that I want to get off my chest in particular is something that I see happen a lot on Twitter or on forums that I frequent.
A dude will jump in on a conversation about feminism or a recent issue that involved feminism in some way, and will offer a critique from his perspective to a feminist. This critique will usually be met with an invalidation – an alert that his critique is couched in bias – and the guy’s hackles will then be up, as he was just trying to help, just offering his honest opinion; he’s not sexist!
This will usually start an argument between the guy in question and whoever is trying to get him to understand why his approach isn’t correct, which can go on for hours. This debate involves well-meaning people attempting to explain why the guy’s opinion doesn’t make sense or is potentially offensive, and the guy being super defensive, attempting to derail every comment with a rejoinder that he’s figured out, and acting like he’s being silenced by a powerful majority for speaking his mind.
It’s incredibly frustrating to watch this happen, as not only do I usually agree with the people trying to help this guy see reason, but I know exactly how it is from his side as well, since I’ve been there (and continue at times to go there). I can see how he feels put upon, and how he fights back against that feeling.
These are some things that I always want to tell this guy directly, but usually don’t, because I usually feel that it’s pointless. He’ll feel I’m just another person piling on criticism, instead of someone who perhaps has gone through what he’s going through and can attempt to offer some (hopefully) helpful points of advice, like maybe these:
Try not to start from your perspective.
In life, when you figure things out, you start thinking from your perspective. You start with “this is a thing that I think”, and then you work your way forward from there, offering yourself logical points and taking them on or discarding them as you see fit.
If you’re in a discussion with another person, you do the same thing – you offer points from your perspective, and allow the other person to offer counter-points or observations that you then take on or don’t as you see fit. It is the responsibility of the other person to convince you that you’re wrong and they’re right, or to convince you of another point of view.
When you’re thinking about feminism and trying to figure things out, you start the same way, and you don’t know where to go from that starting point, as you have no frame of reference for it – you haven’t experienced living as a woman. So instead, you go to a woman on Twitter and say “this is where I am, offer me a logical point to move forward”.
I can’t figure out exactly how to explain it, but this simply does not work. I think it might have something to do with the fact that the method of argument that you use to learn is inherently biased because of the privilege that you enjoy.
You have had people listen to your opinions, and instead of ignoring them or shutting you down, these people have respected you enough to spend their time and energy to figure out the best way of explaining their reasoning to you in terms that you will understand – from your perspective.
This should be a right, but it is unfortunately a privilege that a lot of women experience far less than men; that the person you’re talking to actually cares about what you’re saying, about what you’re thinking, as much as they would if you were a man.
You are the majority.
This may not seem obvious at this point in time, considering you are a lone voice being told that you’re wrong by (probably) multiple voices. But that is just in the context of this conversation.
As soon as you move on and continue with your normal life, and as soon as the person you’re arguing with continues with their normal life, it will go the other way – they will be the lone voice, being told by everyone around them through words or actions that their opinion or perspective is wrong.
Likewise, everything around you will subtly confirm your opinions and reinforce your bias. This happens all the time without you even noticing. This is why feminism exists; because inequality is built into the foundations of our society, and permeates through the entirety of it.
You live 99.9% of your life being part of the majority. Savour this short amount of time that you’re the minority. Imagine feeling like that all the time.
Listen, don’t respond.
I left this one until last, because it’s going to be the hardest to get across. I know what this sounds like – it sounds like I’m saying that instead of honestly saying what you feel, you should just shut up and accept what the other person says without question.
I am not saying that. What I am saying is that you need to listen to what the other person has to say without figuring out a rejoinder that invalidates what they’re saying. It is always possible to argue against anything, and you’re not getting scored for displaying your intelligence as you find the best counter-point to every point.
The key to finding a resolution is to empathize. You need to remember that you have not gone through what this person has gone through. You have not had to deal with this your entire life. You are able to find endless points of logic to fire back because you don’t understand or empathize with this person.
Instead, you need to think about what they’re saying, and try to imagine how they’re feeling. It is no longer an argument; it is you listening to the other person and, having now listened, attempting to understand what they have said. Your task is not to agree or disagree with it, you simply need to try to understand what they said and why they said it.
You’re not doing this so that you can successfully offer an opinion, argument or counter-point. You are doing this because it is the only way that you will ever begin to attain a deeper understanding of this issue that you have an inherent bias against.
I regularly fail to follow these points of advice but I think, especially when I follow that last one, I become better able to understand the life of someone who isn’t a heterosexual white male, and why my instinctive reactions to situations and issues might be fundamentally biased.
Incidentally, one of the best ways to listen without responding is to play a game that communicates a life different to yours – I highly recommend Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia as a starting point. Playing that game earlier last year was a catalysing event in broadening my understanding.
* Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.