Online sexual harassment

I’ve been doing research in and around World of Warcraft for longer than I care to admit, so I’ve been following the spate of publicity following the now infamous Dick Wolves episode, Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign, and the latest Girl Gamer installment on Salon (if I sound a bit disparaging about the last, it’s because I’m really tired of the “girl” in “girl gamer” and wish we could just be done with that argument).

At the risk of sounding even older than I am, I’m a bit perplexed about all the outrage, or maybe about the timbre of the outrage. From the time I was in graduate school, working for an equal employment opportunity office, then the department of transportation, and then on a construction site, I saw a lot of sexual harassment. In addition to seeing  street harassment on a pretty much daily basis (e.g. “hey honey, nice nipples”), I saw sexual harassment with some regularity. It was open back then and I just figured that it was the price I paid for my independence. And I never was on the receiving end of the worst of it since I was known for a) being “mouthy” (e.g. when a co-worker asked me how I was doing, while staring at my breasts, I said, “they’re both fine”) and b) having a dad who was in the mafia. My dad wasn’t in the mafia, but I saw no reason to dispel the myth.

Upwardly mobile, I thought that I’d leave all that behind when I finished graduate school and got a “real” job. Like many young women I’ve met since, I had this sense of infinite possibilities, unconstrained by structures of domination. If I’d been asked back then, I’d probably have said that I didn’t think I’d ever been discriminated against in my first real job. But that was before the real shit hit the fan.

I won’t bore you with the details of what happened at my first job and how I (and every other tenure-stream or tenured woman who’d ever been in that department) fled, but suffice to say, it was an eye-opener. I can remember my partner, an engineer, saying that he’d never seen behaviors like that anywhere else and it really made me see how serial sexual harassers work the tenure-system to their advantage.

But enough of that. In terms of the recent attention to harassment in games and gaming, I’m of two minds about it. In the first place, I think for many younger women, this may be their first bitter taste of sexual harassment and hostile climates. I’m sorry for that. I wish we’d done a better job of fighting sexual harassment. I wish that we could all play online games and post whatever we want without consequences. And while I don’t want to downplay online harassment, I’m still a bit squeamish about referring to those who’ve been harassed online as “survivors,” since embodied experiences of sexual harassment and violence are to my thinking different.

And I also think that we have online resources that allow us to fight back in ways that are impossible or dangerous IRL. I worry that by focusing only on victimization, we forget about those who are kicking ass and fighting back, like the bloggers and gamers and social justice activists Amanda Phillips talks about in her Laundry Day piece.



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