Thoughts on Online Harassment: the Culture War

[This is a continuation of the previous post about online harassment and Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic harassed and threatened for talking about video games. This was just an exploration of my thoughts, so it’s probably a little rough–warning for liberal and perhaps unfair use of “they” and “we” to lump amorphous groups of opinion-holders together, who I know in reality are very nuanced and multifaceted and not all violent or in agreement.]

But when we get to the core of the fact that people want these elements in their games, now we can have a real discussion. Do they want them because they find them funny? Realistic? Pleasing? These are the motivations we have to examine, and once people can accept that in themselves, they can start to explore their own feelings. If you find killing a prostitute funny, is that okay or something you should think about? If you find a game unrealistic unless women are being raped, what is the reason that realism trumps other people’s feelings that it’s traumatizing to see?

You can probably tell by my questions, by this whole thing, what side of the issue I agree with. In fact, I strongly hesitate to post this publicly (even though I don’t exactly have an audience) because of the fear of harassment. But that’s exactly why this issue needs to be addressed.

I just don’t get why people react so strongly, so violently, to opinions. I mean, this is the way I feel, I have absolutely no power to do anything about it, I’m not even sure what I would do if I did. I think the fairest thing is not fewer games that are, in my personal opinion, skeevy—but just more games that aren’t. More games, not less. I mean, there’s a part of me that would like to see no more games with sexualized dead women or rape, mostly because I’d like to see no more of that in the real world, but I realize that not everyone shares my opinion so I wouldn’t want a ban or anything like that.

Just discussion. Awareness. Options.

Why is that so threatening?

Why does that warrant such strong feelings as to want to hurt someone—with fear alone, in the case of threats, or with actual harm, in the case of carrying through on those threats? This is separate from trolling, which is a whole different thing (although I tend to believe it’s often used as a cover for actually wanting to silence people). I mean the people who actually want to hurt real human beings over these sorts of opinions.

Who would actually want to hurt me, frighten me, silence me because of what I think? [And by ‘me,’ I mean those with broader platforms that speak out on similar issues.] When I would not do the same thing to them (other than stopping them from hurting me or others).

They want me to stop talking. They want me to agree with them or not speak at all. They want my opinion, and all who might share it (all whom I might convince), to disappear forever. They want to be in control, and get what they want, and have their opinion be the only opinion—to be considered “right” beyond question. They want to never be judged or questioned or harassed for their opinion.

The truth is they fear that others will do to them and their opinion what they do to everyone else. They fear that the “others” who they don’t agree with, who want to take away their games, will be in control. So they try to take control with fear and intimidation and even violence. And then, when people try to stop them from doing this because violence is wrong, they see an even greater loss of control—so they react even more violently. And it’s a vicious cycle that leaves everyone afraid and angry and upset—and possibly even worse.

How do we stop this? How do you decide on an issue that boils down to this: “I want games with these elements” vs. “I want games that don’t have these elements.” The initial answer is to have both, games with and without, but I think there is a further argument about the harmfulness of having these elements at all, and that’s where things get really sticky.

My first thought is that games with these elements could still exist, but with more awareness around them. Make sure people know about possible harmful effects (which critics would say don’t exist, I realize). But if it’s between “have these games but with warnings” and “don’t have them at all,” surely even the most hardened critic would take the warning?

But then they don’t want the warning—they want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to enjoy these elements and not feel guilty or judged. That’s where the desire to silence comes from—they just literally do not want anyone to think what feminist critics think. By saying they’re lying, they’re wrong, they’re overreacting, they’re stupid, and so on, what they’re trying to say is: no one should think that way. Stop thinking that way. Stop speaking and trying to get others to think that way. Stop.

And I think that in some ways that’s the problem. There is no room for compromise if one side wants the other to not exist at all. And I realize that there’s a fair point to be made, that feminists want the other side to not think that way at all—to not view women as sex objects to be had and derived pleasure from, even in death, and to be not cared about when wounded or raped. There’s a part of me that desperately wants people who think that way to just… not. Ever. And I would argue for this point by discussing the harmfulness it perpetuates on real live human beings, and I would think myself right.

But I am willing to have a discussion with the recognition that I can’t go around demanding people stop thinking something if I argue against them going around demanding I stop thinking something. Both sides would claim that there is an objective “right” out there that will prove one side over the other—but until both can calm down and accept the possibility that the “right” will be on the other side, that right could never be heard without tantrums and anger and violence.

Maybe that’s what we’re seeing right now. Society (and the majority) is more and more seeing feminism (and anti-racism, anti-homophobia) as the one true “right,” and those that disagree are losing their minds about it.

And that is where this truly virulent harassment comes from—the anger that society, manifested in these individuals speaking out for certain ideals, is embracing these ideals that they disagree with. And that as a result, their ideals will be judged and criticized and erased as “wrong.” So they fixate on disproving and silencing certain individuals with harassment and violence, as though they can turn the tide and convince society that they are right again (or, rather, that they are not wrong). If these individuals are lying, overreacting, etc., then the society that listens to them is wrong—and perhaps can be convinced the other way.

Is there a solution here? I think time will get there, eventually. But in the meantime, I’m terrified to speak out lest I be threatened and harassed—which means I’m feeling silenced. Which means we need to figure out a way to deal with harassment somehow… Stopping the harassers at the source is probably going to be a big challenge, given that they are just as passionate about their opinions being right as we are about our opinions.

I don’t want to stop people from thinking and saying things, even if I feel those things are heinous. I just want to be able to think and say what I want without fear of being called a c***, being told I should be raped, having my home address listed so people can find me and carry through on their threats, being killed.

Is there a way to stop harassment without making people feel like we’re stopping their opinions along with it? Again, as much as I wish people didn’t have certain opinions, heading down that road of argument only leads to more anger and, thus, harassment. How can we separate out the harassment, on all sides of an issue, and make sure it doesn’t happen—so that all people can express themselves and have a real discussion about what’s right or wrong?

I know the harassers fear that discussion—hence, why they harass. But it’s a discussion that’s constantly happening whether they want it or not, and by bringing harassment into it, they only derail the possibility that their opinions could be legitimately heard. If we could all find a way to truly stop harassment, we could all speak—and I do mean all. I won’t agree with everyone who would speak, but I can hear them without attacking them, and I can speak back without being harassed.

Then we could really talk, and learn, and grow, and hopefully find the right path, whatever that is. Not everyone will like it, but if everyone is heard along the way, maybe they’ll be able to accept it a little bit better. And if no one is harassed along the way, everyone has a chance of getting some of what they want, because they’ll all be heard.

I don’t have an answer, but I think these are the questions we should be asking.

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About J. Sevick

Just write.
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