Being a woman interested in games and on the internet is a frighteningly hostile place to be. It’s a toxic environment where sexual harassment is widespread and threats of rape and murder are commonplace. This attitude doesn’t stem from women being vastly outnumbered on the playing field – according to the latest statistics from Entertainment Software Association 41 percent of gamers in the U.S. are female – rather it’s the attitude of some who wish gaming to be a space where being openly misogynistic is accepted, normal even, and women aren’t welcome. But what these misguided individuals fail to understand is that the world has moved on; women have left the kitchen, found the living room, turned on a games console and liked it.
This attitude reflects pre-pubescent behaviour where boys don’t want to associate with girls – they have ‘cooties’. It may have been more accepted when video games were a pastime mainly engaged in by immature boys who didn’t yet grasp the concept of gender equality, but gaming has grown up and so should the attitudes of the men that now play them.
With the vast availability and popularity of online gaming, the situation is worse than ever. If you’re a female gamer, verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment are an unavoidable part of the experience whatever way you interact with the medium. From the developers and journalists working in the industry to those that play online or broadcast via game streaming services like Twitch, all face scrutiny and abuse simply for being female.
The internet, it seems, is a free-for-all where people can say whatever threatening or lewd thing they like. A man wouldn’t walk up to a woman in the street and threaten to rape her without consequence and nor should he be free to do so online. These are real women, not verbal punch bags for spineless men who feel the need to convey their obvious contempt for women through the anonymity of an online persona. The problem is that very little is done to discourage such behaviour because the sheer scale of offences committed is too high for law enforcement to effectively police.
Even if they don’t actively participate in the abuse there are many that see it as no big deal. Abuse and sexual harassment of female players doesn’t affect the average male’s gaming experience and while some simply choose to ignore the issue, others see woman objecting to their treatment as an overreaction. They theorise that if you can’t take the insults then you shouldn’t be playing, or be on the internet at all for that matter. Forgoing what is supposed to be an enjoyable activity simply because people can’t help but be nasty is frankly ludicrous and not an effective solution to the problem.
Fortunately, there are those that would stand up against the abuse directed at women, both in the games industry and the internet as a whole, often at the risk of being exposed to even more criticism. Ashley Judd is one such woman. A few days before making the headlines for standing up for women’s rights at the women’s march against Trump in Washington D.C, Ashley made a speech at a TED conference calling for an end to sexual harassment and threats against women on the internet. “Online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends,” said an impassioned Judd.
With regard to the games industry, she went further than berating it for the harassment directed at women online and openly accused it of “profiteering off misogyny”.
“I’m so tired of hearing you talk to me about how deplorable #GamerGate was when you’re still making billions of dollars off games that maim and dump women for sport,” she said.
Judd’s comments are seemingly aimed at games like Grand Theft Auto, a series that allows players to utilise the services of prostitutes, kill them and reclaim their money, but has never had a female lead or any female character of particular note for that matter.
Judd is far from alone in her condemnation of the treatment of women. Prominent women like Brenda Romero, credited by the Game Developers Conference as “the longest continuously serving woman in the video game industry” has publicly spoken out on numerous occasions against the gender inequality that has infested the industry. Other women like Julia Hardy take on misogyny one vulgar message at a time. In her blog Misogyny Monday, Julia shares the obscene and abusive things said to her online, as well as her witty response to these trolls. It’s a fresh and entertaining approach to a very serious subject.
Prominent industry professionals can, of course, gain more attention for the issue, but it’s also up to each individual to help stamp out this horrible trend. Gaming is a fun, social and enjoyable activity and it should be so for everyone regardless of their gender. Women should not be afraid to speak out against the abuse they receive and should have the support of players who witness it. Those that get their kicks by hurling abuse at female gamers need to do some serious growing up and realise that this isn’t a game. They’re part of the real world – a world they’ll go a lot further in once they learn to have some respect for others
(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)